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by Dave Rome
May 20, 2020
Photography by Dave Rome & James Huang
It’s taken us a few months to get here, but the inaugural 2020 CyclingTips gravel bike field test is now over. The test itself took place over a long and intense 10 days, filled with far more fun and drop-dead-gorgeous scenery than there was sleep.
We learned plenty from the experience: what we love about modern gravel bikes, what we don’t, where a gravel bike excels, where it hits its limits, and just how great budget gravel bikes have become. We also learned how efficient our video guy Phil is at capturing our rambling, and that it’s best not to leave the itinerary or booking of accommodation to James …
In this final video from our 2020 Field Test, we present our favourite bikes along with a little behind-the-scenes look at the endless light-hearted-mockery and antics.
You can find a summary of all content from the Field Test below.
The new BMC URS is one of the most innovative and progressive gravel bikes on the market. It borrows heavily from both BMC’s Teamelite cross country race bike and the Roadmachine to create a bike that’s more capable on rough terrain than is typical of a gravel bike, and does it with supreme comfort.
While it’s not perfect, the BMC URS is a groundbreaking bike that we’re sure others will follow.
Who’s it for: The rider looking for a high-end, comfortable and lightweight gravel bike that offers more capability for riding off-road terrain.
Highs: Progressive geometry that works, amazingly smooth ride quality, clean aesthetics, clever details throughout.
Lows: More extensive maintenance required, 1x gearing only, wanted even more tyre clearance, limited to four frame sizes, press-fit bottom bracket, high-end pricing.
See our full review of the 2020 BMC URS Three.
With a 66.6º head angle and long front centre, Evil’s new Chamois Hagar is the most progressive gravel bike on the market today. However, the concepts that work so well for gravity-focussed mountain bikes didn’t win us over when applied to a gravel bike.
Who’s it for: The gravity-loving mountain biker who’s used to pedalling long and slack bikes around.
Highs: Brilliant handling at high speed, striking design, conventional riding position.
Lows: Goofy low-speed handling, backbreaking ride quality.
See our full review of the Evil Chamois Hagar.
Given Santa Cruz is a mountain bike company, you might think the Stigmata is a mountain bike-inspired gravel bike, but it really isn’t. We knew this when we brought the Stigmata to the Field Test, and we wanted to use it to see if the new wave of progressive gravel bikes did indeed offer benefit.
The result? Mountain bike-inspired gravel bikes have their place, but so do more traditional gravel bikes like the Stigmata. The Stigmata is best compared to the bikes tested in our racing category, and there it stands as an impressively good and well-rounded choice. We loved this bike, but also felt it was a little too simple given the asking price.
Who’s it for: The performance rider with a more generous budget seeking a minimalist and well-rounded gravel bike that can go wherever.
Highs: Lightweight, refined ride and handling, looks fantastic.
Lows: Not great value, not terribly exciting.
See our full review of the 2020 Santa Cruz Stigmata CC.
– Is mountain bike geometry good for gravel?
– Gravel bike vs mountain bike: Are you just better off with a hardtail MTB?
– The future of gravel bike geometry: a podcast
The Canyon Grail AL 7.0 impressed us greatly and showed you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a high-performing ride. In fact, it proved an amazing example of diminishing returns and had us questioning why you would want to spend more at all (answer: more riding comfort, lower weight, greater refinement).
Canyon is often sold out of this bike, but it’s well worth considering if you’re looking for a road-like gravel bike at a great price. However, unless you’re extremely confident in your own abilities, you’ll want to factor in a little extra budget to have it properly fitted and maintained.
Who’s it for: The competent and experienced rider seeking a great value performance gravel bike that’s on the road end of the spectrum.
Highs: Excellent value, solid build kit, familiar handling.
Lows: Staid color scheme, the usual quirks of buying consumer-direct, getting your hands on one.
See our full review of the 2020 Canyon Grail AL 7.0.
Marin’s Gestalt is a fun bike to ride thanks to a little mountain bike-like personality. The geometry isn’t super progressive, but an upright ride and a short rear end had us enjoying the playful ride on offer, especially when riding well-maintained single and double tracks.
Just be wary of those brakes — they’re quite terrible given the bike’s price.
Who’s it for: Riders seeking a more upright and generally more playful gravel bike that’s most at home on off-road terrain.
Highs: Loves to wheelie, fun when it gets in over its head on technical trail.
Lows: Brakes are terrible, 1x-only could be an issue for some.
See our full review of the 2020 Marin Gestalt X10.
Giant’s Revolt 2 offers a whole lot of bike for the money. It’s US$1,000, and yet comes setup with tubeless tyres, semi-hydraulic disc brakes and a perfectly functional 2×9 drivetrain. Sure it has some unusual parts choices to hit the price point, but you’ll struggle to do better for the money.
Who’s it for: Just about anyone seeking a versatile dropbar bike for around US$1,000. It’s equally at home exploring gravel as it would be commuting daily.
Highs: Lots of bike for the money, clever brakes, stable handling, tubeless tyre setup.
See our full review of the 2020 Giant Revolt 2.
Trek offers various versions of the Checkpoint, and we typically love the quick handling and versatile nature of the higher-end options. This entry-level version is a reliable pick, but it was also fairly uninspiring when pitched against bikes of a similar price. But hey, sometimes boring is exactly what you want for getting from A-to-B without fuss.
Who’s it for: Anyone seeking an entry point to smoother gravel riding with a fuss-free ride. The geometry and tyre clearance of this certainly put it closer to the road and commuter end of the gravel spectrum.
Highs: An incredibly affordable bike that functions beyond its price, great for bikepacking, commuting, secret “groad” with your buddies, and more.
Lows: Heavy. It’s heavy. Also, it definitely needs a tire upgrade from the ones that come with it.
See our full review of the 2020 Trek Checkpoint AL4.
– How to choose a gravel bike
– How to buy the best gravel bike for under US$2,000
The Cervelo Aspero behaves almost like a road bike, and does so unapologetically. It’s a firm, almost harsh ride, but it’s seriously fast, too. Cervelo doesn’t follow the usual trends that suggest gravel bikes have to be covered in mounts, and as a result, this bike looks cleaner than many of its competitors.
With an adjustable fork rake that aims to keep the handling nimble between 650B and 700C wheels, the Aspero was also the closest thing to a dropbar quiver-killer that we had on test.
Who’s it for: The racer looking to take on the gravel scene, or the cyclist wanting to simplify the stable and have one dropbar bike (and maybe a few wheelsets) for the road and gravel.
Highs: Quick handling, sleek aesthetics, road-bike-like fit and feel, excellent tire clearances.
Lows: Road-bike-like fit and feel, press-fit bottom bracket, quick handling.
See our full review of the 2020 Cervelo Aspero.
The latest iteration of the Salsa Warbird Carbon retains the company’s attitude that a gravel race bike should be comfortable, stable and efficient. After all, the legacy of competitive gravel racing stems from the endurance cycling world.
As a result, the Warbird has a stable, almost lazy, handling that makes it an absolute weapon for endurance-based riding and events.
Who’s it for: The endurance athlete or rider seeking a lightweight, comfortable and efficient bike that’s designed to go very far.
Highs: Geometry that lets you switch off the mind, light and efficient, compliant, generous size range, considered cable routing, no proprietary components.
Lows: Basic spec for the money, not for lovers of quick-handling bikes.
See our full review of the 2020 Salsa Warbird Carbon.
Viathon is a relatively new consumer-direct brand that’s under the ownership of Walmart. The brand is focussed on providing high performing carbon bikes at low prices to consumers in the United States.
There’s no denying the performance-to-price ratio this bike offers, but like buying a Canyon, it’s a purchase best left to the educated and experienced buyer.
Who’s it for: The competent cyclist who knows basic bike maintenance and setup, and is keen to see their dollar go the furthest with a performance-focused gravel bike.
Highs: Price, well-rounded handling, race-ready, weight, all big-name components.
Lows: Stiff ride, assembly issues, gear cables, limited warranty, no small sizes.
See our full review of the 2020 Viathon G.1.
– How to pick a gravel race bike.
Niner was first to market with a full-suspension bike dedicated to gravel riding, and we’re confident they won’t be the last. This bike truly does meet the magic carpet-like ride of its moniker, and it’ll happily let you stay seated and keep pedalling through the most poorly surfaced of dirt roads.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the sheer weight and complexity introduced with such a system, and there’s no hiding the fact that suitable fork options are extremely limited at this time.
Who’s it for: The endurance gravel-munching enthusiast seeking the utmost riding comfort over a variety of terrain.
Highs: Superb rider comfort, a tangible boost in tire traction, good pedalling efficiency.
Lows: Very heavy, weird handling, ungainly aesthetics, suspension maintenance.
See our full review of the 2020 Niner MCR 9 RDO.