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The Grind: 20 gravel bikes I’m excited about for 2020

It seems every brand has a gravel bike these days. These gravel rigs are the 20 that we're most excited to ride in 2020.

Seemingly every bike brand under the sun has a gravel bike this year. And much like the wild and wooly gravel races that these machines are built for, there is no neatly defined box to put them in.

Below are the 20 gravel race bikes I’m most excited about for 2020. I’ve tested about half of them, and I hope to get on the rest of them in the coming months, as my colleagues Betsy Welch, Dan Cavallari, and I get out to race events like The Mid South, Dirty Kanza, Belgian Waffle Ride and more. Heck, we may even get VeloNews editor and new dad Fred Dreier out on the bike for a gravel race or two. Stay tuned for reviews on these bikes all year.

To clarify, I’m not saying these are the 20 best gravel bikes. Some of these I love and will happily endorse: Hello, Checkpoint, GT-1, and Diverge. And some, for me, are kinda weird; looking at you, MCR and Grail. But I’m happy the weird ones exist to push the envelope and experiment. We won’t know until we try, right?

One bike on this list doesn’t yet exist in public – a Salsa model created specifically for one premier gravel race and its unique conditions.

Trek Checkpoint

$1,599 to $5,999

Trek Checkpoint. Photo: Courtesy Trek

I raced this at Dirty Kanza and loved it. My primary regret was not running a third bottle cage on the frame… Lots of cool stuff here, but Trek’s engineering prowess (yes, the IsoSpeed Decoupler works nicely to smooth out incessant rattling) and economy of scale (bikes starting at $1,599) are probably the most notable.

trekbikes.com

Lauf True Grit

$3,690 to $10,490

Lauf True Grit. Photo: Courtesy Lauf

Don’t ‘lauf’ at my fork! The Icelandic leaf-spring design looks crazy, but really isn’t any different than a leaf spring used in a heavy commercial vehicle.

Not as immediately visually obvious, Lauf was an early adopter of the long top tube/slack head angle/short stem configuration now pushed to an extreme degree by Evil.

LaufCycling.com

Mosaic GT-1

$5,600

If you can overcome your weight-weenie tendencies (and you are financially well off), titanium is a lovely material for a gravel frame because of its natural damping and impact resistance. And if you get the chance to see Aaron Barcheck at work welding frames in his shop, or his paint crew doing their thing, you can witness some master craft.

I borrowed one of these for a few weeks last year, and all but resented having to return it.

mosaiccycles.com

Canyon Grail

$1,799 to $5,000

Canyon Grail
Canyon Grail CF SL. Photo: Brad Kaminski

Is the handlebar a visual stunt or an actual mechanical benefit? Depends on who you ask.

The idea is that the tops flex a bit while the bar at the hoods stays relatively rigid. Riding with your hands on the bar tops over rough stuff is the common old school wisdom for riding cobbles, but for sketchy gravel descents you’re always going to have your hands on the hoods or in the drops.

I think it’s weird, but I want to do some longer rides on this bike before I write it off.

canyon.com

Giant Revolt

$1,000 to $5,500

Giant Revolt Photo: Courtesy Giant Bicycles

Only a handful of brands here can claim to make their own bikes, and most of them (Mosaic, Allied) are tiny compared to the giant of the industry, Giant. Giant builds its own bikes and those for other brands including Trek, in Taiwan. They know what they’re doing. Also, vertical integration means better prices for us, the riders.

In the short time I’ve been riding the Revolt, I’ve found the seatpost to have a huge amount of flex, similar to the Specialized Diverge, and the steering to be stubborn at slow speeds but stable at high speeds, thanks to a huge amount of trail.

giant-bicycles.com

Specialized Diverge

$1,100 to $10,000

I used this bike for most of last year and really enjoyed it. Yes, the giraffe-in-a-turleneck look of the spring suspension isn’t svelte, but it does take the edge off the incessant stuttering of washboards or quick rock hits on descents. Similarly, the seatpost looks weird and does bend a ton, which takes some getting used to; hard, low-torque pedaling can induce flex almost as much as bumps can. But when riding gravel fast in a group without the benefit of a clear line of sight, a little flex is nice.

You know what I really like on this bike, though? The crazy-low bottom bracket, which means it’s easier to get a foot down when wobbling through tricky terrain. And yes, it keeps you feeling planted on descents, too, but I really notice the higher stance on other bikes now whenever I put a foot down.

specialized.com

3T Exploro

$3,690 to $8,800

3T Exploro. Photo: Courtesy 3T

The bike got mocked a lot when it came out. An aero gravel bike? Who wants that? Turns out, a lot of folks are into going as fast as possible on gravel.

And, it turns out, aerodynamics come into play when the rider is on the receiving end of wind, too, not just charging through it. By that I mean, consider 100 miles of headwind like there was at Dirty Kanza one year. Now, would you like more or less aerodynamic drag on your bike?

us.3t.bike

Niner MCR 9 RDO

$4,700 to $8,200

Niner MCR 9 RDO
The Niner MCR 9 RDO is a full-suspension gravel bike.

A full-suspension gravel bike? A bridge too far, some have said.

Yes, it’s heavier and more complex than a standard gravel bike. But after a few test rides over chunkier terrain, I’ve found that—gasp—suspension works. Staying seated and pedaling through rough sections is easier than standing and carefully picking your way around rocks. But is the weight penalty worth it?

ninerbikes.com

Evil Chamois Hagar

$4,799 to $5,899

Mirror, mirror, on the wall; who’s the slackest of them all? The Chamois Hagar is a mountain bike, or at least a bike with mountain-bike geometry, with a drop bar.

It is a blast to ride on mountain-bike-lite terrain, and it can hold its own on straight-ahead gravel roads, too.

Chamois Hagar review

Salsa unnamed model

Salsa unnamed model.

The old hands look to Salsa as the original production gravel race bike, with the Warbird back in 2013. The brand now boasts eight ‘all road’ gravel models. And you know what? They have another one coming later this year…

While many bikes are positioned as the go-anywhere, ride-anything solution, Salsa is cooking up something for one, very specific type of gravel racing condition at one race. Watch this space…

Allied Able

$5,499 to $9,499

Allied Able. Photo: Courtesy Allied

The folks at Arkansas-based Allied Cycling call this their ‘mountain skinny’ bike. The 2019 Dirty Kanza 200 winners Amity Rockwell and Colin Strickland just called it their bike. Whatever you call it, I love the fact that Allied is building carbon bikes here in the United States.

I haven’t ridden this one yet, but I have been enjoying Allied’s Alfa for well over a year.

alliedcycleworks.com

Pivot Vault

$5,299 to $6,999

Pivot Vault. Photo: Brad Kaminski

One-by or two-by, dropper post or flexing post, road tires or 45mm gravel tires? Yes.

VeloNews tech editor Dan Cavallari recently reviewed this bike after riding recon on the Big Sugar course. He found the handling to be race-oriented yet stable, but could have used a lower bailout gear.

Pivot Vault review

Moots Routt YBB

$8,092 to $10,280

Moots Routt YBB. Photo: Courtesy Moots

‘Rigid’ Moots titanium bikes already ride like pillowy dreams on dirt roads. Think this is spouting hype? Fight me.

So why add a bit of elastomer-damped travel? Because comfort. Moots has been making this design since the 1990s, and veteran Paris-Roubaix fans will remember similar designs popping up on road bikes back in the day.

moots.com

Cannondale Topstone

$1,750 to $6,750

Cannondale Topstone. Photo: Courtesy Cannondale

Cannondale got out early in the gravel suspension game with the Slate, which never gained huge traction with its Lefty fork and 650b wheels. But the Topstone stands to gain wider acceptance because a) less weird, b) great pricing, and c) suspension that people can see and understand.

cannondale.com

Chapter 2 AO

$2,699 (frame only)

Chapter 2 AO. Photo: Ben Delaney

We just got one of these shapeshifters in the shop for testing. A few brands have pushed their bikes as 700c/650b compatible, but switching wheel sizes also switches up a bike’s geometry and handling. So Chapter 2’s idea is to optimize the geometry for both sizes by using inserts at the axle that change the wheelbase.

chapter2bikes.com

Open U.P.P.E.R.

$4,500 (frameset)

Open U.P.P.E.R.
Open U.P.P.E.R. Photo: Courtesy Open

Dropped chainstays and dual wheel-size compatibility aren’t novel now, but they sure were when Open rolled out the U.P. The U.P.P.E.R. has the same design, but is a lot (~180g) lighter, and a lot ($1,600) more expensive.

Open U.P.P.E.R. review

Salsa Warbird

$2,599 to $5,699

Salsa Warbird. Photo: Courtesy Salsa

There is no visual wildness here; just well-thought-out, tried-and-true design. The original gravel gangster has mounts a’plenty, vibration-damping seatstays, and geometry designed solely for racing gravel.

salsacycles.com

Cérvelo Aspero

$2,800 to $6,000

Cérvelo Aspero. Photo: Courtesy Cérvelo

Similar to the Chapter 2, Cervélo’s first gravel racer can adjust its geometry at the fork to keep trail similar when swapping between 700c and 650b sizing.

Being a Cervélo, the Aspero is all about speed, not bikepacking. Instead of a ton of mounts, the Aspero offers aero shaping, and the company’s typical high stiffness-to-weight design.

cervelo.com

Santa Cruz Stigmata

$3,599 to $9,899

Santa Cruz Stigmata. Photo: Courtesy Santa Cruz

Isn’t a gravel bike really just a cyclocross bike? It’s a common question, and a reasonable one. At Santa Cruz, the Stigmata is the do-it-all gravel/’cross bike. While traditional ’cross bikes were tall and tight, the Stigmata has a low BB (70-74mm drop) more like a gravel bike, with a head angle also in the slacker (71-72 degree) neighborhood.

We have one in house for testing, so look for a review soon.

santacruzbicycles.com

Ibis Hakka MX

$3,399 to $4,399

Ibis Hakka MX. Photo: Courtesy Ibis Cycles

Sometimes it’s the simple things. Yes, the Hakka MX has internal routing (even an internal Di2 battery, if you like), sculpted carbon chainstays, fender mounts, and dropper-post options. But it also has — praises be — a threaded bottom bracket. A T47 BB, for the record, so you can run modern 30mm-spindle cranks, and not have to worry about, much less listen to, the dreaded squeaks.

Plus, the thing just looks beautiful. This is the personal bike of VeloNews senior editor Betsy Welch.

ibiscycles.com