Gravel bikes are extremely versatile, but that also means you have a wide range of setup options.
Every bike brand worth its salt has a gravel bike in its range, but there’s a vast array of different spec choices and setup options out there.
Some bikes are geared towards fast rides both on and off-road, while others are set up to carry luggage on long-haul adventures, well off the beaten track.
There’s a wide range of gravel bike geometry to reflect this, with gravel race bikes configured more like road race or fast endurance bikes, while bikepacking bikes will be designed for more relaxed handling when loaded.
Deciding on the best gravel bike for your needs partly depends on your requirements as a rider – where and how you ride – and its specific configuration, from gearing and wheel sizes, to tyre width and finishing kit.
What are the spec options to look out for when buying a bike? And what components can you tweak to adapt your gravel bike so it best suits your type of riding?
Whether you’re on the lookout for a new gravel bike, or you’re looking to upgrade your current ride, we’ve demystified the intricacies of gravel bike setup to help you make the right decision.
Over the last few years, many brands have developed their own designs for gravel wheels too.
The usual 700c road wheels continue to be popular, but there’s an increasing range of gravel bike wheels, which typically have a wider internal rim width than a road-going wheel to provide better support for wider gravel tyres.
Road rims are following fast in their wake and also getting wider, mirroring the trend for wider road bike tyres.
Gravel bikes are invariably designed with disc brakes, and rims are almost always tubeless-ready, except for some cases where tight budgets mean non-tubeless compatible wheels are specced. The puncture protection afforded by the sealant in a tubeless tyre is a godsend when riding over broken surfaces and thorny debris.
Many gravel wheels are supplied as ‘tubeless ready’, which means they’re already fitted with tubeless rim tape and supplied with tubeless valves.
Hookless rims, where there is no lip to the rim edge, are increasingly common. Hookless rims have been popular in mountain biking for some time, and are gaining prominence on the road and in the gravel scene too.
Once you’ve decided on 700c or 650b wheels, it’s time to think about tyre choice.
Fitting the best gravel tyres for the riding you’re doing is another key decision for your gravel bike setup.
In fact, changing the tyres on a gravel bike from the stock build can unleash the true potential of your machine, either significantly improving its ability off-road or adding a turn of road speed.
With gravel bikes used across such a wide range of terrain, it’s one area where you can easily change how your bike performs. We’d recommend tubeless tyres for gravel riding.
If off-road grip and stability are important, look for wider tyres with a more aggressive tread pattern; if you’re more likely to be riding on the road or dry, hardpack gravel, a narrower, slicker tyre will likely be more suitable.
Typical widths for 700c gravel tyres are 35mm, 40mm, 42mm and 45mm.
How wide you go will depend largely on the terrain you ride and your frameset’s clearance. If you live somewhere with a wet climate, it’s a good idea to leave some room for mud too.
Along with tread pattern and width, tyre pressure is a big determinant of how your gravel bike will handle.
The large air volume of wider tyres means you can drop your pressure, giving you better traction, potentially lower rolling resistance and a more comfortable ride.
Giving a rough starting point for tyre pressure is a tricky business because it’s so dependent on riding style, rider weight and terrain. However, as a guide, we would recommend around 40psi for a 40mm-wide 700c tyre, though you can usually drop below this.
It’s worth experimenting with tyre pressure to see what works for your tyre choice and where you ride. Too high and you’ll get bounced around and lose grip, while too low a pressure may result in sloppy handling and extra pedalling effort, as the tyre squirms on the rim.
Post time: Feb-28-2023