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I’m a casual cyclist. I've logged plenty of long rides but I don't get all kitted out like a pro. I just like the wind against my face and the meditative exercise that comes with pumping my legs on two wheels. And apparently, I'm not alone. The New York Times reported in mid-May that the U.S. was facing a shortage of bicycles as anxiety over public transportation and a desire to avoid gyms sent the demand for bikes surging.
It seems like most entry-level city hybrid bikes are hard to come by these days. Couple that with the desire to get out into nature after so many months of being cooped up indoors, and it's no wonder we're hearing more about gravel biking. It's been around for over a decade, but I'll admit, I'd never heard of it until about now. The idea is simple and has a youthful rebel quality. It's essentially riding your bike off a paved surface—country lanes, fire and access roads and power-line trails—not unlike when we were kids. And during a summer of social-distancing, stringing together various trails far away from standard streets and busy thoroughfares seems like just what we need.
What's more, the biking industry is running with this trend and introducing all-terrain bikes built to tackle everything from cobblestone roads to rocky trails. These drop-bar machines usually have a slightly longer wheelbase than your standard road bike, are configured for a more upright position with lower bottom brackets for stability and clearance for wider tires. They're sometimes dubbed adventure bikes, all-road or all-terrain bikes, but most commonly and technically referred to as gravel bikes. So ... who's hitting the trails with me?
The Best Gravel Bikes
Giordano is a New Jersey-based bike manufacturer inspired by Italy's cycling history. The Trieste is a straightforward starter gravel bike built around a lightweight chromoly steel frame and finished with 30mm wide tires.
The next step up from a starter bike would be this one from Co-Op, built around an aluminum frame and carbon fork, which balance durability (so you can carry a kit) and lightness (so you can climb with ease). The 35mm tires provide a smooth ride and slightly flared handlebars give you a wider, more upright hold.
Treviso, Italy-based Pinarello knows how to make a good bike. They've been designing and manufacturing many of the bikes used by Tour de France victors since 1952. This midrange model is an all-terrain workhorse that offers sharp handling and boasts a Monocoque carbon frame, flat-mount disc brakes and a Fizik Antares saddle.
Cannondale is one of the most trusted names in cycling. And this is the gravel bike to beat all gravel bikes. Dual suspension—complete with the brand's cutting-edge, built-for-gravel Lefty suspension fork—makes the Topstone the most off-road capable and on-road comfortable road bike on the market today. Plus, an integrated wheel sensor delivers accurate speed, route and distance info while reminding you of needed service, all through Cannondale's mobile app.