Specialized | Crux Comp
$4,200 // 19.1 LB (56CM)
The Crux looks like Specialized took its much-loved Aethos road bike platform, made some geometry tweaks, and gave it massive tire clearance, all while keeping it extremely light. They ended up with a bike that comes as close as we’ve seen to one that can almost do it all. The updated, longer and slacker geometry, clearance for 47mm tires, and low frameset weight make the Crux one of the snappiest and most exciting drop-bar bikes we’ve ridden off-road. The base Comp model comes equipped with the highly reliable SRAM Rival 1 mechanical drivetrain. The only riders who should look elsewhere are folks who need to fit racks, fenders, and other gear to their frames for bikepacking adventures. For everyone else, the Crux might just be the best bike you’ll swing a leg over.
Allied | Echo
$7,410 // 19.2 LB (Large)
Whether at coffee stops, on group rides, or even on the car rack in traffic, everyone wants to chat us up about the Echo. Maybe it’s the bike’s clean lines and satin wineberry paint upgrade? Or the ability to change up the geometry from gravel to road-oriented? But often the questions pertain to this being one of the few American-made carbon frames you can buy.
You read that correctly: Allied designs, manufactures, and paints the Echo (and its two other drop-bar models—the Able gravel bike and the Alfa Disc road bike) at its Bentonville, Arkansas, factory, where about 35 employees produce more than 1,000 framesets annually. This includes the frame’s small parts, like the beautifully crafted and intricate hidden-cable stem used on the bike.
But making a bike in the U.S. doesn’t automatically make it better than a bike made in any other corner of the world. So, how does the Echo ride? In short, beautifully, as should be expected from an over $7,000 bike with electronic shifting. What sets the Echo apart from other endurance road designs or fast gravel bikes is its ability to shapeshift between the two with relative ease. Simply reposition the dropout inserts at each end of the bike and the Echo takes on two very different characters.
In road orientation and paired with 28mm tires, the bike feels fast, light, and nimble, with handling resembling that of a bike designed for smooth high-speed corners and long climbs. In gravel mode and with 40mm rubber, the Echo is well suited for those long jaunts across wide-open farmland or even exploring some class-4 roads. We often ended up riding the Echo set up in between the two—with the front end in gravel position and the rear in road mode—for a balance of upright positioning and fast handling.
This groad configuration, with 30mm to 35mm tires, felt like unlocking a cheat code to a bike that could ride as spirited as a pro tour–style road bike but with the poise of a purpose-built gravel machine on dirt. In a further example of the Echo’s versatility, one of our test riders raced it in this setup to the top step of the podium in a pair of local cyclocross races.
Allied offers various build kits, including our tester’s almost-flawless SRAM Rival AXS 12-speed groupset. Though a tad heavier than pricier drivetrain offerings, it is hard to find fault with Rival for shifting or braking performance, as the stuff just plain works. Rolling on aluminum-rim Industry Nine UL250 CX wheels with 700x40c WTB Vulpine tires set up tubeless, the Echo weighed in at just over 19 pounds. Not flyweight, but not too portly.
If you are seeking a bike that can hang with the skinny-tire road crew, get gritty with the gravel cool kids, or even throw in a little cyclocross fun on autumn weekends, then this is one of the best choices out there. With the Echo and an extra wheelset, you really can have two, or even three, bikes in one.
Orbea | Terra M21e Team 1X
$5,800 // 19.3 LB (Medium)
Orbea made thoughtful updates to its second-generation Terra to modernize an under-the-radar gravel bike. The original Terra was a cautious gravel entry, with reasonable tire clearance, low weight, and a more road-like geometry. The new Terra bumps up tire clearance, tweaks the geometry, and keeps the low weight (1,030 grams for a medium raw frame), changes that clearly focus the Terra as a fast-gravel rig, not a bikepacker/adventure bike.
The new Terra’s geometry is in line with others in the genre. Reach grows by just 2mm to 5mm, depending on size. Head-tube angles slacken a bit, ranging from 70 to 72 degrees, which paired to the longer fork rake actually shortens trail to keep the handling feeling quick.
The new dropped chainstay design increases tire clearance to 700x45c or 650x50 (700x35 if you’re using fenders). Unlike some other dropstay gravel bikes, the Terra can fit both 1x and 2x drivetrains for added versatility.
A redesigned front end features hidden cable routing that will likely appeal to riders seeking a cleaner look. A down-tube storage compartment also cleans up the aesthetics, and is handy for stashing a pump, tube, and tools so they’re always there.
The modern road bike–like silhouette suits the new Terra perfectly. It’s a bike for riders looking to mix it up off-road with a more capable bike, without sacrificing the lively handling they enjoy on the road.
Squid | Gravtron
Starting at $3,000 // 20.9 LB (Small)
We’re big fans of Squid Bikes, both for their range of frames as well as for their involvement in the riding community. The duo of Sacramento, California–based Emily Kachorek and Chris Namba put out practical, sensible steel and aluminum frames, which they individually spray paint for buyers.
When Squid linked up with New York City–based cyclocross team Be Cyclocross, the results were some of the best-looking and unique bikes we've seen all year. Team rider Nicole Sin Quee’s Gravtron, custom painted by Squid and equipped with SRAM Rival AXS drivetrain, Industry Nine wheelset, and Easton cockpit, is perfect for long days on dirt roads and is versatile enough to hit some singletrack as well.
The chromoly Gravtron features a double-butted main triangle fits 700c tires up to 40mm in width and comes with a Whiskey MCX carbon fork. The adaptable frame features mounting points for three bottles and fenders and compatibility with cable-activated or electronic 1x drivetrains. The Gravtron’s geometry is not quite as aggressive as some bikes in the gravel segment. The shorter reach and taller front end are aimed at long-ride comfort versus speed and aerodynamics, while the 42cm chainstays provide the bike quick handling through tighter turns.
The Gravtron can be purchased as an unpainted frameset—with ED black coating for corrosion resistance—for $1,300, but we highly recommend spending the extra $150 for a spray-to-order finish. Choose from 10 different paint styles, 52 paint colors, and three finish treatments, and the folks at Squid will work with you to create a truly unique and custom bike.
Sage | Barlow
$10,330 // 19.7 LB (58CM)
The distinctive “ping” of rock chips striking the down tube as we rolled onto a bit of mixed-surface road on our first spin on the Barlow reminded us this was going to be a different bike. Not a road racing bike, yet not a full-on gravel bike, the Barlow sits in a useful zone on the spectrum of drop-bar bikes on the market. It became our go-to bike for rides where bikes with skinnier tires wouldn’t be comfortable, but where many current gravel bikes are too heavy or sluggish.
With carbon frames having become almost inescapable on high-
performance bikes, some might forget that there was a time when titanium once reigned as the material of choice for riders seeking a great-riding, lightweight, and durable bike. But don’t let nostalgia for the frame material fool you into thinking the Barlow is retro or a throwback; it’s fully contemporary and in many ways more modern than its carbon-framed competitors.
The Barlow’s versatility comes from a combination of geometry that closely resembles that of a road racing bike, but with tire clearance for up to 40mm tires. Add to the mix mounting points on the frame for extra bottles, top tube storage box, and fenders, and this becomes a bike suited for almost any ride. We are also big fans of Sage’s no-nonsense approach to standards on the Barlow. The T47 bottom bracket shell, 27.2mm seatpost, and ability to use both mechanical and electronic drivetrain should ensure parts compatibility for years to come.
Trek | Checkpoint SL6
$4,130 // 20.9 LB (52CM)
The SL range—slotting between the top-of-the-line SLR and the aluminum ALR—is the Checkpoint to buy. It has a carbon frame with internal storage on the down tube, tons of bag and cargo mounts (including three pack mounts on the fork legs), and good tire clearance (700x45mm or 27.5x2.1"). The SL has Trek’s proven IsoSpeed decoupler seat tube to smooth the ride (the ALR does not), but instead of the SLR’s proprietary seat mast, the SL accommodates a standard 27.2mm post and is dropper-compatible as well. This model has SRAM’s excellent Rival eTap AXS 1x12 drivetrain, which offers the range you need in an easy-to-shift system, along with excellent chain security and mud clearance. It handles superbly on singletrack and wide-open gravel roads, and has the performance for fast gravel rides, but is also ready for adventure and light bikepacking.
Otso | Fenrir Stainless
$8,180 // 24.2 LB (Medium)
Simply calling Otso’s Fenrir a gravel bike is an imperfect categorization. Otso says it’s a bike for bikepacking races and everyday adventures: an expansive definition that helps explain why there’s so much going on.
You’ll see a healthy mountain bike influence on the Fenrir: 1x-only drivetrain compatibility, geometry that accommodates a 100mm suspension fork, Boost axle spacing, lots of tire clearance, dropper-post cable routing, and adjustable geometry. But there are also gravel touches including reach and top tube dimensions that work with a drop- or flatbar and multiple mounts for fenders, racks, and carrying cargo. The frame is built of stainless steel with etched graphics, so you can strap bags or gear to the Fenrir without fear of wearing away paint.
Whatever the Fenrir is or can be, one thing is certain: Stripped down, it is a quick and giggle-inducing machine for slaying smooth singletrack. The stout frame is built for heavy-duty loaded touring, so it’s not the plushest thing around, but the damped twaaang of the stainless steel is full of good feels nonetheless. If you’re considering the Fenrir for a daily driver—don’t. The Fenrir is a lot of bike for a couple-hour ride on gravel. Ultimately, the Fenrir is made to load down and escape for days on the Kokopelli Trail, or weeks on the Tour Divide. But between those trips, this silver rocket is the perfect bike for carving up some singletrack or pulling off that ridiculous all-day mixed surface ride you’ve always wanted to try.
Crust | Bombora frameset
$1,125 // 24.9 LB (Medium)
Crust Bikes, founded in 2013 by Matt Whitehead and co-owned by Angelica Casaverde, was started after Matt discovered that touring on a modified steel cyclocross frameset didn’t quite meet his needs. Its first bike, the Evasion, was the perfect recipe, auspiciously timed for the resurgence in bikepacking: a trustworthy steel frame and fork with mounts aplenty and clearance for really big, really fun tires. The Evasion earned Crust a cult following among an emerging community of free-thinking, nontraditional riders who don’t dance to the beat of the often racing-focused cycling industry. As bikepacking and gravel riding evolve, Crust’s line has evolved along with it, if not a bit ahead of the needs of these riding groups.
The Bombora joins the Evasion in Crust’s lineup, where it’s labeled as the brand’s “gravel bike” (their quotes, not mine). It differs from the burlier Evasion in that it’s designed for flat mount brakes and uses a narrower, single-ring road crank (44T max) instead of an MTB crank. This means the Bombora only accepts a maximum tire size of 27.5x2.3 inches compared to the Evasion’s 27.5x2.8 inches. If you choose to roll on bigger wheels, the Bombora will fit up to 700x48c’s and a double-ring drivetrain, but in Crust’s words, “it’s on you to figure that out.”
At $1,125 for the frame and lovely bi-plane steel fork, the Taiwan-made Bombora sports a litany of accessory mounts and useful/whimsical details, such as a braze-on star reinforcing the fork’s internal dyno routing, which make it feel like a lot of bike for the money. The inside non-drive chainstay asks, “Where did all the mermaids go?” and under the BB shell, where you’d rarely look, there’s a pair of shoes. They’re just decals, but they add some character.
Crust doesn’t offer stock complete bikes, but it will do custom builds starting at $2,500. Our test bike was outfitted with a SRAM Force groupset and complemented by Nitto-, SimWorks-, and Crust-branded parts. The Crust parts included the brand’s 520mm flared dirt-drop Nullarbar, headset, own aluminum wheels with Shutter Precision Dynamo PL-7 front hub and light, and cable-to-hydro Palm Oil brake calipers. At 24.9 pounds, it’s not light; but if saving grams is your priority, there’s a Bombora available with a tapered head tube and Enve carbon fork.
Geometry on the Bombora leans toward the mountain bike side of the spectrum. Handling is easy, nimble yet predictable, and the Bombora will forgive you if those beefy tires carry you into a corner faster than intended. Crust recommends sizing up, and my medium (56cm) looked long on paper, but factoring the wide bar, short stem, and lack of toe overlap, the fit was spot-on. Like many steel bikes, the Bombora is lively and stiff enough, but hard efforts might reveal some sway in the bottom bracket.
There are other similarly priced steel bikes offering this mix of tire clearance, mount options, geometry, and all-around versatility. However, few other bikes carry the character, authenticity, and (gravel) street cred of the Bombora. Use it to commute Monday through Friday and, on weekends, point the Bombora toward the hills for bikepacking, or line up for a gravel event. The Bombora will handle it all in style.—Sean Coffey
State | 4130 All-Road Flatbar
$900 // 27.2 LB (Medium)
True to its name, the All-Road can handle a little bit of everything—bikepacking, trail riding, gravel, pavement, and maybe even light mountain biking. Priced at $900, with a steel frame and fork and an abundance of accessory mounts, the All-Road hits the sweet spot of affordability and versatility. State does use some generic, house-branded parts to keep the price reasonable, but riders still get mechanical disc brakes, a 1x 11-speed drivetrain, and Vittoria tires. You can also choose from 700c or 650b wheels (or both), and the drop bar version is the same price. The result: a bike that can handle almost any terrain and rides much better than its price point might indicate.
BMC | URS 01 One
$10,500 // 17.8 LB (Large)
Among BMC’s wide range of gravel bikes (three different configurations in aluminum or carbon), our favorites are the URS 01 models. We rode the $10,500, sub-18-pound, URS 01 One with a mix of SRAM Red/XX1 AXS, but the line starts at $4,000. Fully ready for use on burlier gravel roads or even singletrack, they feature 1x drivetrains with SRAM drop-bar shifters paired with SRAM mountain bike rear derailleurs and wide-range cassettes.
To further their off-pavement capability, the URS 01 models also have a lightweight rear suspension system built into the frame. Though only 10mm of travel, it takes a bit of the sting off some of those unexpected hits from potholes or rocks and helps to reduce fatigue during long days in the saddle. It also looks rather unobtrusive and clean, blending in with the bike’s design.
Untitled | Custom frameset
$6,700 // 20.6 LB (54CM)
Jacqueline Mautner, who builds under the name Untitled Cycles out of Philadelphia, pulls inspiration from many artists. In 2019 she made a bike that was a striking homage to Keith Haring that first captured our attention. The paint on her latest gravel bike—winner of the 2021 Philly Bike Expo People’s Choice award—is a gorgeous meditation on Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s 1937 Constructivist painting titled “Composition.”
This custom frameset was built using Columbus Zona tubing, which is ideal for off-road use due to its elevated reliability and fatigue life. A tapered head tube, bottom bracket shell, and thru-axle dropouts from Paragon Machine Works finish the frame. The build kit for this bike was a full suite of SRAM XPLR parts: drivetrain, wheels and tires, suspension fork and dropper post, right down to the Zipp XPLR handlebar.
And yet, on the spectrum of gravel bike geometry, the Untitled leans heavily toward a cyclocross feel. It’s agile, with quick steering and a more traditional road riding position. Combined with a 72-degree head-tube angle, this makes it an absolute blast to ride fast. Through tight corners, the Untitled can be flicked right into the apex and then swing out the other side, daring you to cut the next turn even tighter. As tempting as the dropper and suspension fork make it to ride the Untitled like a ’90s hardtail, it truly shines at long-distance, mixed-terrain adventures.