MUCH THE WAY SUVs—America’s automotive top sellers—are versatile enough to traverse both city and backcountry, gravel bikes combine the ruggedness of mountain bikes with the lightweight agility of commuters. Surly, a popular brand that’s sold these happy-medium models since 2013, has seen double-digit sales growth in the category for the past several years. But could one gravel bike serve you just as well as the multiple, activity-specific cycles you might already own?
Joe Nocella, owner of 718 Cyclery in Brooklyn, would argue yes. Gravel bikes, he says, eliminate the need to own multiple rides just as high-end KitchenAid stand mixers combine the functions of pasta makers and dough mixers. “One bike can be used for commuting, riding fitness laps in the park, taking weekend trips to the beach, or for more serious ‘bikepacking’ adventures,” he said. Plus, to those in the know, the luxury versions of these bikes telegraph as much status on the road as multitasking mixers do on your (lightly veined, buffed, sealed marble) kitchen counter.
To let you assay an off-road trek through mud and sand as easily as a sprint down a paved road, gravel bikes combine a road bike’s dropped handlebar (to accommodate a more ergonomic rider position) with wider tire clearance. Here, our picks.
Midnight Special by Surly
For Budget Hard Liners
Want a bike that can hold up to being beat up and run down but won’t cost a small fortune? Snag this model from Surly, a gravel-bike specialist.
Surly bikes are known for their multitude of modular accessory mounts. The fender, front rack, rear rack and multiple water bottle holders are all designed to be switched in and out to suit your riding style and activity level. Their frames, meanwhile, are built to be compatible with most road and gravel bike components. You can buy just the frame ($685), and have a bike shop add all your favorite road-bike components, plus some wider, gravel tires for a more rugged setup. But be warned: Due to the frame’s more affordable chromoly-steel construction, such a franken-bike will end up heavier than pricier gravel bikes. ($2,099 for complete model at right, surlybikes.com)