While my expertise is electric bikes, I have become very much interested in finding a non-electric gravel bike for less than $1500 that will suit my needs. My plans are to ride on pavement and gravel rail trails, with mostly flat terrain with some hills here and there. I’d like plenty of mounting points for racks and bags for bike touring. Mostly, I’m just looking for a good, versatile bike that is relatively lightweight with trustworthy components, and enough gears to handle moderate hills.
There are many options out there to choose from, which can make choosing the right bike difficult. But if I stick to my must-have features list (well, mostly stick to the list), I should be able to narrow down my choice.
Some of these bikes aren’t necessarily marketed as gravel bikes, but I think they would do well on gravel and crushed stone rail trails. At the end of this article, you can see which one I chose.
Must-Haves for My Gravel Bike
- 700 C x 40-45 mm wide tires
- A minimum of 9 gears, but really would prefer 11+
- Hydraulic Brakes
- Prefer a flat handlebar
- Name brand components, preferably above entry level
- A small frame size, since I’m short
- Mounting points for racks, bags, water bottle, etc
- Bike weight of around 25 lbs or less for easy lifting and greater efficiency
- Good reviews from owners, Reputable Brand
- Prefer a carbon fork
- And I’ll add that I also want a bike that I think looks great
The Bikes We’ll Look At
- Co-Op Cycles ADV 2.2
- Marin DSX 1
- Marin DSX 700 C
- Specialized Sirrus X 4.0
- Cannondale Topstone 3 Alloy
- Salsa Journeyer Claris 700 C
Co-op Cycles ADV 2.2 Gravel Bike
Here I go already breaking the rules for my must-have list, but I wanted to include the Co-op Cycles ADV 2.2 because I think it’s worth a look for just $100 above my $1500 budget. Co-Op branded bikes are REI’s brand, so if you have an REI nearby, you can possibly go see it in person. If you’re an REI member, you can potentially get back 10% of the bike’s cost, which brings it below $1500.
What I love about the ADV 2.2 is its low weight of 23.4 lbs, 20 gears, five frame sizes, and a carbon fork. It also has 12 mm through axles for the front and rear hub. The bike is equipped with drop bar handlebars, but that’s not a dealbreaker. An advantage of drop bars is that they allow for multiple hand positions, which can alleviate fatigue. I also love the look of the bike and the white frame for higher visibility and safety.
What I don’t like is that there are no mounting points on the front fork. I think that’s a big miss by Co-Op Cycles, and I would prefer hydraulic disc brakes since they require far less maintenance. The reasoning for the mechanical disc brakes is that they are easier to work on when out in the middle of nowhere.
Overall, the ADV 2.2 is a great entry level gravel bike that can be ridden on a variety of surfaces. The 40 mm tires are a good compromise for efficiency, stability, and comfort.
- 23.4 LBS
- Carbon Fork
- 20 Gears, 11-36 Cassette
- Shimano and Tektro Components
- Multi-Purpose Tires for Pavement and Off-Road
- Multiple Frame Sizes, XS, S, M, L, XL
- Mechanical Disc Brakes (Might be a pro for some)
- No Mounting Points on Front Fork
Where to buy: REI.com
Marin DSX1 Flat Bar Gravel Bike
The Marin DSX1 hits the sweet spot on many levels for my needs. It’s priced well at around $1200, has 45 mm wide tires with the ability to handle widths up to 2.1″, a Shimano Deore drivetrain which is above entry-level, dropper post routing, a carbon fork with 12 mm thru axle, an 11-51 tooth cassette for a wide range of gears, and Tektro hydraulic disc brakes.
Considering the price, I don’t see any major negatives of the Marin DX1. It’s a terrific choice for what I’m looking for. Of course, it doesn’t have high-end components, but it still offers decent components, and you can always upgrade later. It also weighs just under 25 lbs, which is one of my must-haves.
- 700 C x 45 mm tires, fork can accommodate up to 29″ x 2.1″ tires
- Above Entry Level Derailleur
- 11-51 Tooth Cassette; 11-Speed
- Carbon Fork
- Hydraulic Disc Brakes
- Plenty of Mounting Points
- Not the Lightest on my List (around 29 lbs for a medium frame), But Meets All My Other Must-Haves
Marin DSX 700 C
The Marin DSX 700 C is priced nicely at around $900, so it might be a good choice for the occasional weekend adventurer who is just getting into the sport. It differs from the Marin DSX 1 on a few features, including having an aluminum fork instead of carbon, and being equipped with MicroShift Shifters and a MicroShift 9-Speed derailleur. These are more entry level than the Shimano Deore transmission of the DSX 1.
What is shares with the DSX 1 is very similar frame geometry, a wide fork that can accommodate wheel sizes up to 29″ x 2.1″, and Tektro hydraulic disc brakes. It also has internal cable routing for a dropper post. The biggest difference for me is that it is a 9-speed with an 11-46 tooth cassette. That’s not a bad range, but I think I’d rather have a few more gears to tackle hills.
Otherwise, the DSX 700 C is priced affordably and worth a look for those on a tight budget.
- 700 C x 45 mm tires, can fit up to 29″ x 2.1″
- Hydraulic Disc Brakes
- Dropper Post Routing
- Just under 25 lbs
- Aluminum fork (more jarring and heavier than carbon)
- Entry-Level Derailleur and Shifters
Where to Buy Online: JensonUSA.com
Specialized Sirrus X 4.0
The list price for the Specialized Sirrus X 4.0 is $1,600, but you can catch it on sale for less. I found it for $1,279. Either way, it’s still a good one to consider as your first gravel bike. It deviates a little from my must-have list in that its tire width is 38 mm, but it can accommodate widths up to 42 mm. Advantages of 38 mm tire are greater efficiency and speed. This is a good pavement bike, and since I’m mostly on pavement, the 38 mm tires certainly aren’t a dealbreaker.
Something that is unique to the Sirrus X 4.0 is Specialized Future Shock 1.5 stem suspension that provides 20 mm of travel when going over bumps. Couple that with its carbon fork and it should provide good comfort up front when riding on gravel. My aching shoulders would appreciate that!
The Sirrus X 4.0 is equipped nicely for the price. You can find Specialized bikes from dealers all over the world, or buy online directly from Specialized. The Sirrus X 4.0 offers several frame sizes all the way down to XXS for riders as short as 4′ 8″ and an XXL frame for riders up to 6′ 6″.
This is a terrific choice if you want to stick to a major brand and have a bike with above entry level components.
- Tektro Hydraulic Disc Brakes
- SRAM NX 11-Speed Derailleur, 11-42 T
- Carbon Fork
- Future Shock 1.5 Stem Suspension
- Ergonomic Locking Grips
- Good Choice for Shorter Riders
- Just Under 25 lbs
- No mounting points on front fork
- The Gear Spread Isn’t as Wide as Some Other Options on This List (But still good)
- I Prefer Slightly Wider Tires But Appreciate the Efficiency of 38 mm
Where to Buy Online: Specialized.com
Cannondale Topstone 3 Alloy Bike
The Cannondale Topstone 3 Alloy bike is priced at just about $1500 and is the lightest bike on this list at just 22 lbs and 14.4 oz. It’s also an 18-speed, so you’ll have lots of options to find the gear you’re looking for, though it doesn’t have the widest spread on the list at 11-34 teeth. It’s closer to a road bike than any other on this list, but can handle gravel.
It’s an efficient bike, with its light weight, dropper bars, and 37 mm wide tires. The Topstone 3 Alloy is also equipped with a carbon fork, like many of the others on this list. It’s definitely worth a look due to its low weight and good components. Cannondale is also a respected brand. It’s available in multiple frame sizes for riders ranging from 5′ – 6’8″. If you’re going to be riding more pavement than gravel, this is a great choice.
- Just Under 23 lbs
- Carbon Fork
- Plenty of Mounting Points, Though None on Front Fork
- Very Efficient and Fast Bike
- More a Road Bike than a Gravel Bike, But That Might Be a Good Thing
Where to Buy Online: REI.com
Salsa Journeyer Claris 700 Gravel Bike
Salsa has made a name for themselves in producing some good budget-friendly gravel bikes. The Journeyer Claris 700 is one of them, and I happen to like the name, even though they spelled it wrong. :)
If ample mounting points for bottle cages, bags, and racks are a top priority, this bike has them, making it a good touring bike with some upgrades. It’s available in six sizes for riders, ranging from 4’8″ – 6’4″. So, it’s also a good gravel bike for shorter riders.
With 16 gears and an 11-34 tooth cassette, it should have plenty of gears for most hills. It uses a fan tail fork made of aluminum, but with several mounting points for racks and/or bags. The front and rear derailleurs are Shimano Claris R2000, which are considered entry-level for road bikes, but still quite good for most people’s needs.
The Journeyer Claris 700 is also equipped with 700 c x 38 mm tires, Tektro mechanical disc brakes, and has stealth dropper post routing, if you’d like to add a dropper post.
This bike really ticks a lot of boxes for me, but misses a few of my must-haves as well.
- Good Value
- Plenty of Mounting Points, Including on the Front Fork
- 16 Gears, 11-34 Tooth Cassette
- Bright Frame Color for Visibility
- Efficient Tires
- Aluminum Fork
- Mechanical Disc Brakes (May not be a con for you)
- 26 lbs, So Over My 25 lbs Preference
Where to Buy Online: REI.com
Which One Will I Choose?
Boy, this was a tough decision! There were several other bikes I considered besides what is on this list. There are many good gravel bikes out there, but we all have our own unique needs and preferences, and that helps narrow down the search. For me, it was a toss up between the Marin DSX 1 and the Co-Op ADV 2.2.
I prefer the flat handle bar of the DSX 1, its tire width, dropper post capabilities, the wide clearance for larger wheels, the wide gear spread (11-51!), plenty of mounting points, and the overall look of the bike. I think it would suit me very well. The only concern I have is the tire width (45 mm), since I’m wanting a bike with less resistance for easier pedaling. Also, it’s not as light as the ADV 2.2, but I’m still confident it would be a terrific gravel bike.
What attracts me to the Co-Op ADV 2.2 is its light weight (23.4 lbs), number of gears, tire size (40 mm) and tire tread that’s great for both pavement and off-road. The drop handlebar and mechanical brakes are potential negatives, but not dealbreakers. It’s just been about 35 years since the last time I rode a bike with drop bars! It also costs about $450 more than the DSX 1.
When the bike arrives, I’ll show you which one I chose!
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