Most gravel bikes are equipped with drop bars, but there are important advantages to flat bars. One, they put you in a more upright and comfortable riding position. This is great if you have a sensitive back or arthritis in your wrists or shoulders. They also allow for better control on bumpier terrain. For me, as a rider in her early 50s, I’ve definitely come to appreciate flat bars. I just feel more secure using them over drop bars.
What I love about gravel bikes is that you can make them to suit your needs. You’re not stuck to a purist’s idea of a road bike or mountain bike. They’re more casual and more suitable for a wider range of riding styles, from aggressive to your Sunday afternoon ride. You get the benefit of riding a lighter and more efficient bike, but can still have some comfort. They can be a city commuter or used as tour bike. If you’re only going to have one bike, a gravel bike makes the most sense.
There are many very good gravel bikes in the $800-$1500 price range. You really don’t need to spend more than that, since you probably don’t need an ultralight frame or expensive suspension. Even an old steel frame bike can make a terrific gravel bike!
The following are some of the best flat bar gravel bikes available in 2023 for less than $2k.
Marin DSX 700C
The Marin DSX 700C is a terrific choice for many recreational riders. Priced at $899, it’s definitely one of the most affordable gravel bikes that still offers plenty for your average rider. Equipped with MicroSHIFT shifters and a MicroSHIFT derailleur makes it more budget friendly, but still capable. I’ve always had good luck with MicroSHIFT shifting smoothly and holding up over time.
The MicroSHIFT Advent 9 derailleur also has a clutch, which is essential for a gravel bike. This keeps the chain from popping off of the chainring when going over uneven terrain. Many gravel bikes use derailleurs that are more suitable for road bikes meant to ride on smooth pavement, so this is great to see on the DSX 700C.
You’re also getting a 9-speed 11-46 tooth cassette paired up with a 38-tooth narrow-wide chain ring. This will provide plenty of gears and a wide-enough range of gears to be a good hill climber. The narrow-wide chainring also helps keep the chain where it belongs.
It’s equipped with WTB Riddler 700 x 45 mm tires, which will provide good stability and traction on gravel.
Other notable features include routing for a dropper bar, if you wish to add one in the future, and hydraulic disc brakes.
Overall, the Marin 600C is a great choice for the beginner gravel bike rider, or just someone wanting to save money.
Where to Buy Online: JensonUSA.com or BikesOnline.com
Marin DSX 1
Another great choice in a flat bar gravel bike comes from Marin. The Marin DSX 1 has a few upgrades over the DSX 700 c for a few hundred dollars more. These include a Shimano Deore 11-speed derailleur and a carbon fork. You’re also getting an 11-51-tooth cassette for a super wide range to help climb hills and reach faster speeds.
Is it worth spending more money on the DSX 1? The carbon fork on the DSX 1 makes it worth spending a little more, in my opinion. Not only does it make the bike lighter, but carbon forks are stronger and less jarring on gravel. It will be a more comfortable ride.
Otherwise, you’re getting the same frame, dropper post routing, mounting points for racks and accessories, and forks that allow for larger wheel sizes. That’s one of the things I love about the DSX lineup from Marin. The frames allow a lot of customization and choices in wheel size.
Marin also offers the DSX 2 with a 12-speed Shimano groupset for just a little more over the DSX 1. If you think you need that extra gear, it might be worth it.
If you want even more comfort, the Marin DSX FS 700C comes with front suspension and the same 12-speed Shimano Deore groupset as the DSX 2. If riding comfort matters the most to you, and you’re willing and able to spend a little more, the DSX FS 700C is the one to look at.
Where to Buy Online: JensonUSA.com
Salsa Journeyer FB Deore 10 700
Salsa is known for making some of the most popular gravel bikes. One of their most affordable ones is the Salsa Journeyer FB Deore 10 700. As you can guess, it comes with 700 c tires, but can accommodate tires up to 50 mm wide. Like the Marin flat bar gravel bikes, it also has dropper bar routing.
The frame of the Journeyer is designed specifically for gravel riding, so you’re not just getting a road bike or mountain bike frame with gravel bike components slapped on it. It’s purpose-built.
You’re getting a very capable Shimano Deore 10-speed transmission with an 11-46 tooth cassette, Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, tons of mounting points for water bottles, racks, and other gear. Of the bikes listed so far, this one has the most narrow tires at 38 mm, which will provide the greatest efficiency on pavement. If you’re going to use your bike mainly on pavement as a commuter, this one may roll the fastest.
Where to Buy Online: JensonUSA.com
Space Horse MicroShift Gravel Bike
The Space Horse MicroShift Gravel Bike has an old-school steel bike vibe going on in a good way. Its steel chromoly frame is stronger than aluminum and less jarring on bumps. This makes the Space Horse a workhorse on pavement and gravel.
One of the best things about it is that it is offered in seven frame sizes, so if you’re a shorter or taller rider, you should be able to find a frame size that will be the right fit.
Equipped with 650 b x 47 mm tires, it will handle about any surface you want to ride on. I’m a fan of 650 b tires for their stability and comfort. They also tend to put you a little closer to the ground, depending upon the frame, which I prefer.
Other good features are hydraulic disc brakes and an 11-48 tooth cassette for hill climbing ability.
Where to Buy Online: BackCountry.com
Specialized Sirrus X 4.0
The Specialized Sirrus X 4.0 is definitely one of the best flat bar gravel bikes you’ll find under $2k. This is a bike built with comfort in mind with its carbon fork, and Specialized custom Future Shock 1.5 stem suspension. Between the two, they’ll help reduce much of the shock from bumps in the road from jarring your wrists.
It’s also one of the lighter weight bikes on this list, averaging around 23 lbs. It’s outfitted nicely with a quality SRAM 11-speed derailleur, 11-42 tooth.
Equipped with 700 x 38 mm tires, it will efficiently roll across pavement. The tires have a smooth tread down the middle and knobs on the outer edges to get the best of both worlds. It won’t be so sluggish on pavement, and it won’t be too slick for off-road.
Where to Buy Online: Specialized.com
These are just a sampling of some of the more popular gravel bikes available in 2023. Hopefully, it’s enough to give you a good idea of what to look for in a capable, yet still affordable gravel bike.
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