I’m a pretty casual cyclist. Sure, I’ve logged plenty of long rides but I don't get all kitted out like a pro. I just like the wind against my face and the meditative exercise that comes with pumping my legs on two wheels. And apparently, I'm not alone. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that last year, America was facing a shortage of bicycles as mid-pandemic anxiety over public transportation and a desire to avoid gyms sent the demand for bikes surging.
For a while, a lot of road and city hybrid bikes were hard to come by. Couple that with the desire to get out into nature after so many months of being cooped up indoors, and it's no wonder we're hearing more about gravel biking. While it’s been around for over a decade, I'll admit that I'd never heard of it until about now. But I like it. The idea is simple and has a youthful rebel quality to it. Gravel biking, as the name suggests, is essentially riding your bike off a paved surface - country lanes, fire and access roads and power-line trails - not unlike when we were kids.
Of course, for a long time, gravel was something most cyclists avoided, right? But now, it seems gravel has been scattered all over modern road cycling. In the last two years, all three of the Grand Tours have featured “gravel road” sections. And as we kick the tires on a new summer season, stringing together various trails far away from standard streets and busy thoroughfares seems like just what we need to get out of our heads and into a more relaxed mindset. Who needs to ride next to cars when you can get out into the middle of nowhere and enjoy the thrill of escapism while getting in a solid ride in the sunshine?
What's more, the biking industry is running with this trend and introducing new all-terrain bikes built to tackle everything from cobblestone roads to rocky trails. These drop-bar machines usually have a slightly longer wheelbase than your standard road bike, are configured for a more upright position with lower bottom brackets for stability and clearance for wider tires. But according to Bike Radar, they’re actually incredibly versatile bikes to own: “If you could only have one bike to cover as many aspects of the cycling spectrum as possible, a gravel bike, with its daring designs and new standards, is the way to go.”
As for which bikes to ride, you have some options—in a range of price points, too. Starter bikes, like the Trieste from Giordano ( a New Jersey-based bike manufacturer inspired by Italy's cycling history) will only run you about $680 and you can have it shipped overnight with Amazon Prime. It’s a solid, straightforward gravel bike built around a lightweight chromoly steel frame and finished with 30mm wide tires.
Or you go top-of-the-line with one of the most trusted names in cycling, Canondale. Dual suspension—complete with the brand's cutting-edge, built-for-gravel Lefty suspension fork—makes the Topstone Carbon Lefty 3 the most off-road capable and on-road comfortable road bike on the market today. Plus, an integrated wheel sensor delivers accurate speed, route and distance info while reminding you of needed service, all through Cannondale's mobile app—all for about four grand. Or head down to your local bike shop and tell them you want to get into gravel biking. They’ll be excited to show you what they’ve got in stock and introduce you to the rugged world of gravel biking.
* FYI: From San Diego to Seattle, our team has rounded up the best West Coast cities for road biking.