Road bikes are great, but they do come with a rather obvious caveat: they don’t like to stray from the tarmac. That’s fine if you don’t mind your rides being dictated by surface type, but what happens when adventure calls, or when you just fancy escaping the traffic for a while?
Enter: the gravel bike. These off-road, drop-bar machines represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the cycling marketplace. And for good reason.
Not only are gravel bikes great for exploring the path less ridden, but they also make excellent all-rounders for those who don’t want to commit to either a road bike or a mountain bike.
Their secret? A winning combination of drop handlebars, MTB-esque gearing, generous tyre clearance and road-bike handling.
These combined characteristics enable gravel bikes to zip over paved surfaces much more readily than cumbersome mountain bikes, while being fully at home in places road bikes and their narrow tyres would fear to tread.
Maybe you’re looking for an affordable bike that can cover all bases, or perhaps you’re looking to add a gravel bike to your pre-existing stable without casting yourself into financial ruin. Either way, there are plenty options around that will meet your needs.
To help you find the right one, we checked out some of the best gravel bikes for under £1,000, assessing them for value, quality and performance. Our conclusion: a solid entry-level gravel bike needn’t cost the earth. These are the best ones we found.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Genesis CDA 10
Genesis’ croix de fer is a very popular and highly versatile machine that the British brand touts as “the original adventure bike”. However, with prices starting at around £1,300, it may be a little too much for those on tight budgets. The CDA (croix de aluminium) addresses this problem by swapping steel for alloy, resulting in a bike that boasts all of its elder sibling’s versatility, but ringing in at a much more palatable price point.
The 10 is the most affordable option in the cda range but still provides everything a cyclist needs to take their adventures off-road. The Shimano Claris groupset offers reliable shifting and stopping is taken care of by a mechanical disc brake setup. We love the vibrant orange colour too, which is a nice change of pace from the bland paint jobs normally found on bikes in this price bracket.
Marin nicasio adventure road bike 2021
There’s a saying in the cycling community: steel is real. After all, this is the original frame building material, and although carbon fibre has eclipsed it over the last few decades, it still holds a special place in every red-blooded cyclist’s heart. A steel tourer is, after all, the vinyl record to a carbon aero machine’s Spotify subscription. But it’s not the most common choice for a budget bike, that honour belongs to aluminium.
That’s why this great looking bike from Marin is such a welcome change of pace, offering an all-access ticket to the ferrous-metal party for a very reasonable £785. It’s a super comfortable and cushioned ride, plus you get all of the strength benefits of steel too. Groupset-wise, Shimano Claris 2x 8 speed is the weapon of choice and braking is taken care of with a mechanical disc system. Admittedly, this isn’t as sharp as a hydraulic setup, but it’s pretty much par for the course at this price point.
Ribble CGR AL sport
We’re big fans of the CGR (that stands for “cross, gravel, road”) range from British bike brand Ribble. We recently featured the titanium Shimano GRX option as the best buy in our wider gravel bikes roundup. The CGR AL sport retains the same geometry and trademark versatility we loved about the titanium version but in a much more affordable aluminium package.
The CGR is designed to do it all. A quick wheel change and this thing can go from smashing its way through mud and techy, root-riddled woodland sections to keeping pace with roadie mates on the Saturday group ride. It comes equipped with Shimano Tiagra, which is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to budget groupsets and is famously durable and reliable, even in the less-than-perfect conditions you’ll undoubtedly find yourself in as a British cyclist.
Specialized diverge base E5 gravel bike
The base E5 is the cheapest offering in Specialized’s award-winning diverge range, serving up the same progressive geometry as the top-tier options for a fraction of the price. It’s a great-looking bike that we were immediately drawn to and it offers a planted yet playful ride that goes above and beyond its modest price tag.
Spec-wise, you’ll be getting a Shimano Claris groupset, Tektro mechanical disc brakes, an E5 aluminium frame with neat internally-routed cables, and a carbon fork which takes the worst of the chatter out of the trail. Admittedly, it does come in at a fraction over £1,000, but in return for the extra cash, you’ll be getting the peace of mind that comes with buying from a name as respected and well established as Specialized.
Kona rove AL 650 gravel bike
When it comes to taking drop-bar bikes off-road, Kona is a brand with pedigree. The Canadian company started out in the mountain-bike scene in the mid-1980s, but upon venturing into cyclocross, its true calling became clear. Today Kona is known for creating versatile bikes that can take a pounding and the new rove AL is no exception.
This all-road adventure machine is the cheapest of the four bikes in the rove lineup, substituting steel for aluminium and using less extravagant components to keep it below that magic £1,000 mark. That said, it’s still a highly capable piece of kit, sporting Shimano Claris shifting, mechanical disc brakes and a 650b wheelset – the prevailing go-to size for gravel-bike wheels – although there is a 700c version available too if you prefer yours bigger.
Genesis CDA 30
Genesis’ cda 30 is not to dissimilar from the CDA 10 (£749.99, Freewheel.co.uk) we mentioned earlier. It has the same aluminium frame, steel fork and adaptable geometry, but with a few upgrades that improve the overall performance and ride quality. If you like the look of the CDA and can make your budget stretch that little bit further, it’s well worth the money to do so.
The big talking point here is the inclusion of Shimano’s GRX gravel-specific groupset (well, parts of it anyway) which isn’t commonly found on bikes in the sub-£1,000 category. Both the front and rear mechs and the crankset are from the GRX line of components, which has been specifically engineered to provide optimum performance off-road and in less than favourable conditions. We’ve used GRX a lot and it’s something worth having if you’re serious about your gravel rides.
The verdict: Gravel bikes under £1,000
We’re big fans of Genesis and the CDA 10 offers a lot of bike for a fair price. If you’re looking for a solid all-rounder that can happily handle a bit of off-road action and the occasional bikepacking trip then we think this is your best option south of a grand.
For the latest discounts on bikes and other sports and fitness offers, try the links below:
For more products to fill your urge for an adventure read our round up of the best waterproof jackets for women to beat every drizzle and downpour
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.