I have been getting a lot of requests to do some reviews on gravel bikes, so I recently enlisted help from Danny Donchev at Bikeberry.com.
We will be putting a series of 2, maybe 3 articles together on gravel bikes costing $500, $1,000 and $2,000. Here is the first installment.
So, you want to get started riding a gravel bike, but not sure what to get? As you already know, gravel bikes are becoming increasingly popular due to their versatility and the ability to ride them just about anywhere.
A good gravel bike will be a safe bike to ride both on the road or off-road. They typically have adventure-ready features such as disk brakes, a comfortable geometry that adapts easily to rougher terrains with additional clearance for wide tires.
Gravel bikes are more durable than road bikes and faster than mountain bikes, which makes them the preferred option for cyclists who prefer off-road rides.
Riding on rough terrains with a normal road bike can be very uncomfortable and even dangerous, and is very likely to damage the bicycle.
By choosing a gravel bike which is like a combination of a road bike and a cyclocross bike, you will ensure that you are safe and that the bike stays undamaged and performs well both on tarmac and mud.
Editor’s Note: The article was last updated in February 2021. As the demand for bikes skyrocketed in 2020, many bikes on the list are out of stock or unavailable. We’ll keep looking for alternatives and updating this article
In this review, we will look at gravel bikes for those of you on a tighter budget, or just want to dip your toe in the water.
There are some entry-level models of gravel bikes which are available for under $500 but have all the features necessary to withstand rough terrains and keep you safe while riding off-road.
Here are some of the best gravel bikes for under $500
Schwinn Sporterra Adventure Adult Gravel Bike
If you are looking at getting into gravel biking, the Schwinn Sporterra is a great option that sits around the $500 mark. This is a bike built to take a little more punishment than regular road bikes, making it more versatile.
The Schwinn Sporterra Adventure is an excellent option if your commute involves unpaved roads and light off-road terrain without buying a more expensive mountain bike or hybrid. This versatility comes from the wider tires and slightly more upright riding position.
The Shimano 14 speed drivetrain makes it easy to climb hills and speed along the flats, but one of the most significant selling points of the Sporterra is the brakes.
The brakes are mechanical disc brakes that deliver excellent stopping power, even in the wet. You will usually find brakes of this quality on more expensive bikes.
For a great introduction to gravel biking or for something a little more versatile than a standard road bike, the Schwinn Sporterra is the perfect option.
The North American company has surprised us with a perfect low-cost bike to start in the world of gravel. Mongoose Elroy is a versatile adventure bike with an alloy frame and steel fork.
A bicycle that will take you through any terrain and will make you enjoy your trip thanks to its 700c wheels and its geometry, which will allow you to carry bikepacking saddlebags because it has multiple holes to anchor them.
It even incorporates racks to carry more saddlebags as you can see in the picture. This gravel bike has a 2×7 drivetrain with Shimano Tourney derailleurs and mechanical disc brakes.
For a price under 500 $, what else can we get? Well, the internal routing of the cables, which will improve the aesthetics of the bicycle, while leaving space to place little bags or bottles in the lower tube of the frame.
Mongoose has also taken care of the aesthetics of this bike. If you are starting in the world of gravel and prefer to try first with a low-cost gravel bike before spending more money on a more expensive bike, without a doubt, Mongoose Elroy is one of the best choices that you will find on the market in 2020.
A great brand at an unbeatable price.
Royce Union Men’s’ Gravel Bike
Royce Union Men’s’ Gravel Bike comes with some decent features for the price. You get a lightweight aluminum frame with a relaxed geometry. It also comes with disk brakes, something you rarely find at this price.
Flat bar gravel bikes are becoming increasingly popular. They give improved comfort and control, especially when being ridden off-road. The Shimano’s 16 speed Claris drivetrain gives you a wide range of gears.
They are functional and reliable enough. However, you will notice a lot smoother changes with the high-end groupsets on more expensive bikes.
Due to the flat bars, you have trigger shifters on the bars, near where your hands will be. This makes for super easy and quick changes of gear when you need it.
The tires that come on the Royce Union Mens Gravel Bike are great for off-roading. They are wider than those that come with most gravel bikes, being 48mm wide.
If you are mainly going to be riding on the road in dry conditions, you will want to purchase a second set of tires to replace the ones that come with the bike.
At this price, you are getting a lot of bike for your money. This is an excellent introduction to the versatility that comes with owning a gravel bike.
Retrospec AMOK v3 8-Speed UrbanGravel Commuter Bike
The price range of the Retrospec AMOK gravel bike is around $450 but it still has some amazing features. This 8 speed gravel bike combines sophistication and agility.
It is light and sleek and provides quick gear transition for the transitions between roads and off-road terrains thanks to the Shimano Rapid Fire thumb gear shifter on the handlebar.
The geometry is suitable for smooth rides as well as for rough mountain riding. The 700x40C Innova tires can handle the shifts between different types of terrains smoothly and easily.
The low profile BMX pedals can hold up to very aggressive and tough pedaling. The Tektro mechanical disk brakes will ensure that you stop fast and no time, no matter the conditions.
Btwin by DECATHLON Road Bike Triban 100
The frame features a set of bottle mounts and eyelets for fenders and a rear rack.
Therefore, most people who buy a Triban 100 use it for commuting or as an introduction to cycling. However, they are also used for touring on a budget.
The Triban 100’s frame is made from 6061-T6 aluminum alloy. It has an unconventional box frame style tubing, giving it an unusual aesthetic but has a fairly smooth ride and a relaxed riding position. This makes it appealing for long journeys and for novice riders.
Its tires are semi-slick with knobbly tread on the sidewalls. These work well on paved roads as well as hard-packed dirt tracks.
The Triban 100’s drivetrain is an unusual mix of components, but it works well. The 7-speed Shimano A050 gear shifter works like a traditional indexed SIS item operated with your thumb to change gear. The shifter is ergonomic and comfortable and allows you to change gear without moving your hand from the top part of the handlebar.
The gearing is a 1×7, with a Shimano Tourney 7-speed rear derailleur. Which is widely known to be reliable and to give you a reasonable amount of gears for general riding around.
Braking comes from dual-pivot calipers, that provide reasonable stopping power at cruising speeds, and are operated via Tektro RL340 brake levers. These have a rubber hood to give you comfort and security.
Tommaso Sentiero Shimano Tourney Gravel Adventure Bike With Disc Brakes
The aluminum compact frame is paired with an SST steel fork providing maximum durability, and can be combined will all types of fenders and racks. Plus it has a lifetime warranty.
The other features of the Tommaso Sentiero Shimano Tourney gravel bike include a 3×7 Shimano Tourney Groupset with a 30/39/50T Claris crankset and a 12x28T Tourney cassette – superb for handling various types of terrain and conditions.
The Tommaso TC-20D rims are very rugged and the Tektro Lyra disk brakes are highly efficient and reliable in all kinds of weather conditions.
The geometry of this gravel bike is designed for optimal comfort.
One of the downsides is that it does require professional assembly, but for this price and the quality provided, it is absolutely worth the effort and the extra cost for the assembly.
Takara Shiro Adventure Bike, 700c
This superb Takara Shiro Adventure bike costs less than $250, so it is suitable for even the tightest budget.
It features a high tensile and strong steel frame and powerful and reliable front and rear disk brakes.
This gravel bike has 700c x 40mm high volume tires which are great for transitioning between terrains and for absorbing the impact from riding on potholes and rough terrains in all kinds of conditions.
The budget-friendly Takara Shiro gravel bike has a Shimano 21 speed drivetrain and is a very durable bike suitable for any kind of terrain – rural or urban.
Populo Quest 16-Speed Gravel Bike, Chromoly Steel Dirt/Road Bicycle
You can buy the Populo Quest 16-speed gravel bike for under $400. Its construction is made of durable 4130 double butted Cro-Mo steel.
It has durable and reliable 160mm Tekro disk brakes for added stopping power in all conditions. The gravel bike at an excellent price is fitted with Shimano Claris 16 speed drivetrain.
The frame and fork eyelets allow for fitting all kinds of fenders and racks. This Quest bike is a superb and affordable choice for those who like to ride on the roads, but also on rougher terrains and tracks.
Diamondback Haanjo Trail 24 Alternative Road Bike
The Diamondback Haanjo trail bike is a perfect gravel bike for children and youngsters and usually costs less than $500.
The frame is made of 6061 T6 aluminum tubing which is light, durable and is shaped for strength. The frame allows for a comfortable riding position and the strong head tube helps provide a great steering response, road absorption, and control.
This gravel bike for kids is fitted with 8 speed Shimano Claris components. The 46/36T chainrings help for safer and easier riding through rough and urban terrains.
The 24x 1-3/8 inch knobby tires and the Flaro road handlebars are just some of the other features of his affordable gravel bike for children.
Gravel bikes are versatile and good fun. The best gravel bikes under $500 are a great introduction to cycling that will allow you to explore some off-road trails.
Frame and Geometry
Gravel bikes have a more relaxed geometry than road bikes. You are not in such an aggressive riding position (you are more upright). This helps to stay comfortable on longer rides. For around $500, you do not get much of a choice of brands or frame designs of gravel bikes.
However, you can take an affordable road bike with an “endurance” geometry and make a few upgrades so that you can comfortably take your bike off-road.
At around $500, you have to expect a steel frame. They are a robust material for an entry-level bike as they are near bomb-proof, so you do not have to be too precious about dropping the bike down or worrying about the frame’s integrity if you are unfortunately involved in a crash.
The frames and bicycles maybe a little heavier than aluminum and carbon fiber, but you will not notice any difference in performance until you build up your fitness.
One of the benefits of a gravel bike is the ability to take it over different terrains without worrying about your bike not being able to handle the challenge.
At around $500, you can expect to get entry-level gears and components. Both Shimano and SRAM offer reliable entry groupsets that will help you conquer all the inclines and build and maintain speed with ease on the roads.
Although all the more expensive gravel bikes come with disk brakes, v and cantilever brakes will still do the job of helping you to stop. However, be aware that they do not perform as effectively in wet or muddy conditions.
They can easily get clogged if you will be doing a lot of off-roading. If possible, opt for disk brakes. Although they require more specialist maintenance, they are worth the additional peace of mind that no matter the weather, you will have the stopping power you need, when you need it!
Wheels and Tires
Gravel bikes are the perfect bike to take you over all types of terrain without being as cumbersome as mountain bikes. Their tires are wider than road and hybrid bikes and often have more tread and grip than tires designed purely for the road. 700c tires with a width of between 38mm and 42mm are perfect for your first gravel bike.
The best gravel bikes under $500 have strong enough wheels to keep you in control off-road but are not as robust as the more expensive options on the market.
If you are considering taking your bike on some rocky and technical trails, you should look to invest in a more expensive bike that will come with wheels up to the challenge (check out these options $1,000, or $2,000).
Most gravel bike wheelsets will have between 24 to 32 spokes. Spokes are vital to maintain the tension and keep the wheels from buckling. If you plan to load up your gravel bike with panniers for an adventure or anticipate spending time on more technical rides, you should look for a higher spoke count.
So tell us what you think of these low-cost entry gravel bikes. As you can see, you don’t really need to break the bank in order to become the proud owner of a gravel bike.
These bikes are just some of the few options available for limited budgets. As you can see by their reviews and features, they have everything which a gravel bike needs to ensure a safe and comfortable ride no matter the terrain, the transitions between tracks and in all weather conditions.
These gravel bikes for under $500 are superb for all adventurous riders who don’t limit their rides to roads only and want to be sure that they remain safe and in control of their bikes even if they decide to jump off the road and head off riding on uneven and rough terrains.
Next time, we will look at $1,000 gravel bikes, and what the differences are compared to the $500 models.
I have always enjoyed bicycling and, through a series of coincidences, became a Bicycle Industry Consultant and Product Tester. I continue to test prototype products for companies and publish only off the shelf production products on biketestreviews.com.