5 Gravel Bike Buyers Guide

Gravel Bike Buyer's Guide - Five of Our Favorites

Written by Joseph Bonacci, on January 05, 2023

In the last few years the bike industry has seen the gravel blow up in popularity among riders. One reason is the addition of disc brakes that makes it much easier to add tire clearance without compromising handling or braking power. Tire clearance keeps getting wider and wider. Just in the last ten years, we have seen road bikes go from striving for a 19mm-23mm tire clearance to now even getting as wide as 35mm. This trend has led gravel bikes to become popular for drop-bar riding on all types of terrain.

The term gravel now encompasses many bicycles for many different riding types. This allows for you to get exactly the bike that will match your riding interests. So if you want to stick to pavement with a little bit of gravel, or if you are someone destined for the dirt and chunk only, there will be a bike for you. Use this guide to narrow down your search and find a bike that will align with what you are looking for. We highlight some of the bikes we have in store at Contender Bicycles, and show you the variability of these gravel bikes.


gravel bike buyers guide 2023 - downtube colors


Gravel bikes have a large amount of variability in the Gravel category itself. For the sake of simplicity we break down the vast gravel category into four sub-groups: all-road, adventure, gravel racing, and gravel. These groupings will also overlap a lot, so these categories act more as a guideline rather than a strict definition.

All-Road bikes have the geometry that would be standard on an endurance fit road bike, which gives the bike a more aggressive feel than your standard gravel bike. All-Road bikes generally have less tire clearance than their gravel compatriots, and are offered in 700c. An all-road bike would be great for someone who wants to stick to pavement and have a road bike feel, while still having the capability to do some dirt riding.

Gravel Racing bikes are like all-road bikes in that they share geometry that would be more standard on a road bike. The key difference between the two groups is that Gravel Racing bikes boost tire clearance, up to about 700c x 45mm, giving the rider a bike that can handle gravel roads with more confidence and capability, while still providing speed and responsiveness. These bikes, like the all-road bikes, are only offered in 700c wheel sizes.

Adventure bikes would be on the opposite side of the spectrum as an all-road bike. These bikes are designed for rough terrain and single-track dirt riding. Their geometry focuses on extending the top tube and raking the fork forward to give the bike more capabilities in rough terrain. They are offered in both 700c and 650b tire size configurations, with them being able to, in some cases, fit up to a 2.4” mountain bike tire. These bikes are great for bike-packing expeditions, or for someone who wants to spend long days on less-traveled trails and still be comfortable.

five favorite gravel bikes 2023 - front side hero profile

The gravel bikes will be the most versatile of all the groups. These originate with the start of the classification of gravel bikes as a whole, so they share their name with the larger group. They usually have a ‘Long and Low’ geometry, which brings your center of gravity back to allow the bike to be more comfortable than a standard road bike. These bikes are sometimes designed to be able to have anything from 700c road bike wheels, to 27.5 mountain bike wheels. These bikes are great for someone who wants to keep up on the road group ride, but still be able to do rugged gravel rides. This is the ‘one bike for every job’ category.

These four categories of bikes still overlap, and many of the bikes in the industry will have elements of multiple groups. These denotations are more guidelines than rigid constructs, so I try to find a specific bike that fits your interest rather than stay in one box. Personally, I do not see a good reason to confine bikes to set boxes, but it can help in narrowing down the search for the perfect bike. We chose five different bikes that are in these groups, and show where each bike would excel to help you find one that suits you.


Open UP on stairs at Contender


The Open UP and UPPER is a versatile bike family in the Gravel category. The Upper is a lightweight version of the UP due to its carbon layup, and it is offered in a different color. They burst onto the scene a few years ago and made the market standard in what should be offered by a versatile gravel bike. Open set a high bar for what the modern gravel bike should do. They have tire clearance for 700c x 40mm tires or for 27.5 x 2.1” tires, so it can be set up for anything from road riding to capable gravel riding. Open also combined stiffer more brittle carbon with stronger more durable carbon to give the bike a stiff feel without sacrificing durability and weight.

The UP is designed to be taken on any terrain and not affect the handling or the capabilities of the bike. If you are looking for something that you can ride single-track on and keep up with your friends on the road, you’d need two wheelsets, but the UP would do that. This is a do anything gravel bike that excels in many conditions. One of the only drawbacks, if you want to call it that, is it is not as aerodynamic as some of its competitors. The UP has a comfortable fit, while giving you capabilities to do pretty much any riding you might want to do. If you are interested in another bike that would be similarly capable, the Santa Cruz Stigmata or the Orbea Terra would be other great options.


BMC Kaius on stairs at Contender


The BMC Kaius is BMC’s venture into the world of gravel racing. Since this is designed to be raced on, the bike’s geometry is similar to that of the BMC Teammachine. This will give this bike a responsive and aggressive feel. This bike will fit up to a 700c x 44mm tire giving it tire clearance for the chunkier gravel races. For someone who is looking for a gravel bike to race on, or one that will have capabilities for gravel rides while keeping the road fit and handling, I would recommend the Kaius. 

This bike does have some mounts on the frames for extra bags on the top tube, but other than that I would not add bags to the frame other than a top tube or a frame bag. This bike is not designed for super long gravel adventures, or multi-day trips. This bike is designed to be lighter, more aggressive and responsive. I would recommend this bike for someone who is looking to race or if you are not as concerned with having a relaxed fit on your gravel bike. If you want more information on the Kaius, check out our video review or our other blog post on it. Some similar bikes we would have are the Cervelo Aspero and the SCOTT Addict Gravel, so if this Kaius isn’t for you, you may want to check out the Aspero or the Addict Gravel.


Moots Routt 45 on stairs at Contender


The Moots Routt 45 is the only titanium bike on this list. Titanium is a material that will never wear out, and will stand up to abuse. This Gravel bike you would never have to worry about the frame cracking or even deteriorating over time. Moots designed this bike to have a long top tube and shorter stem, which gives it better traction and handling in the roughest conditions. The tire clearance allows up to 700c x 50mm tires and is even able to pair with a 2x setup, instead of just a 1x.

The Routt 45 comes with many frame mounting points for packs and bottle cages, and due to the titanium frame, you do not have to worry at all about frame bags and straps rubbing the frame and causing wear, like you have to with a carbon frame. The biggest, and honestly only, drawback is the price tag. These bikes start at $9,072 with a mechanical drivetrain, but since it is the last gravel bike you would ever buy it may be worth it. There is no other bike even close to this in store, due to the frame material and the manufacturing. With the Moots brand there is no doubt you would be buying a quality bike built to endure. If you like the Moots brand and want something a little more gravel racing focused, you should check out the Moots Routt RSL.


Time ADHX Custom Build Studio Photo


The TIME ADHX is TIME’s first shot into the off-road world. They have been well-known for many years in the industry for their high quality carbon fiber and attention to detail. This new Alpe D’Huez X is an All-Road bike that has been designed for mix road and light gravel use. TIME preserved the reach and stack, and slightly changed the other geometry measurements from their lightweight, climbing focused Alpe D’Huez 21 road bike. This frame will still handle like a responsive road bike, but it does have added tire clearance. TIME claims up to a 700c x 38mm tire (what they claim and what actually fits may not be the same) so think of it as a 700c x 35mm clearance. The frame does have some extra frame mounting points on the top tube for bags or anything else you may want to put on.

This bike would not be a go to gravel machine, but is great for someone looking to do a lot of paved road and smoother dirt roads. The road geometry gives this bike a responsive feel and would preserve a quick road bike feel even when riding on the dirt. If TIME is also not your cup of tea, we do also have the BMC Roadmachine X that would be another awesome all road option for this type of riding.


3T Exploro Ultra on stairs at Contender


The 3T Exploro Ultra has the widest tire clearance on this list and it would fall into the adventure category. It is compatible with up to a 700c x 46mm tire, or even a 27.5 x 2.4” wide tire. 3T pairing this bike with a long top tube, and capable geometry means this bike will be set for any type of gravel riding you can throw at it, and even some mountain bike trails. They also added the road standard length fork to this bike, to offer capabzility, but also to give the bike a more responsive feel to it. This bike is for the people who want a bike to adventure on, and have their bike allow them to take them on any terrain they might want.

This bike is compatible with a 2x drivetrain, but the bike is optimized for a 1x system. The 1x system offers more capability and a wider gear range, which is perfect for the aggressive terrain that this bike is designed for. 3T designed a bike for any terrain, but to not lose too much speed in the process. If you are looking for a bike to ride more 50/50 gravel and pavement this might not be the best bike for you. This bike is close to the OPEN WIDE as well (it was designed by the same person), so the WIDE is another great option in this category of bikes.


gravel bike buyer's guide 2023 - front side hero profile


Whether you are looking for a bike to take you on rugged expeditions, or a bike you can sometimes venture onto dirt on, Contender will have a gravel bike for you. Give us a call or check out our website and we would be happy to answer your questions. If you want more information on any of these bikes mentioned in this article, check out our journal as we have in-depth write-ups on most of the bikes mentioned.



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