VeloNews Gear Awards 2018: Affordable gravel bikes, trend of the year

The burgeoning gravel segment is the most exciting trend in cycling, and better still, brands are making it more affordable for new riders.

The exodus of many cyclists from pavement to dirt has created an entirely new gravel bike category that opens up riding potential for a new audience. And more importantly, manufacturers recognize a key component of this burgeoning segment that makes it attractive to new riders: affordability.

In 2018 the bike industry released a number of affordable gravel bicycles, and we couldn’t be happier.

Consider Trek’s Checkpoint SL6, which features a full carbon frame, Ultegra mechanical drivetrain, disc brakes, and Trek’s proprietary IsoSpeed decoupler in the rear. It’s designed specifically for gravel riding, though you can load it up with bikepacking gear, too. That versatility and high-end packaging costs $4,000. Not exactly cheap, but it doesn’t even approach the stratospheric price tags of high-end race bikes. Take a step down to the Checkpoint SL5 and you’re getting a carbon gravel bike for $2,900.

Not impressed? Check out Cannondale’s Topstone, which capitalizes on another current trend: the resurgence of aluminum. The Topstone ranges in price from $1,050 to the top-of-the-line Apex 1 build at $2,100. Salsa offers the Journeyman, which ranges in price from $900 up to $1,100. It’s an all-road bike with everything you need to get into bikepacking or just tackle the local gravel.

This is no accident. Manufacturers recognize that new riders often trend away from the racecourse in favor of more personal adventures. And the prices are right: Gravel riders know they’ll be putting their bikes through the wringer, and damage is likely to happen. A less expensive, less fragile bike is a wise choice.

Versatility matters, too. The proverbial quiver-killer still doesn’t exist, but gravel bikes tend to be multi-use tools. So, for a lower monetary investment, riders get a bike that can do a lot of things well, rather than a bike that does one thing exceptionally. That’s exactly what most riders need.