If you’re wondering how to get fit through winter, how to beat the train strikes, or how to use the car less, a gravel commuter bike could be just the option.
Fast enough to get to work on time, fun enough to dodge the traffic down the canal, or take a short cut across a field. Or, just burly enough to keep the potholes at bay.
Here’s our key features to look out for…
It’s a commuter bike, so an alloy frame will do just fine. A carbon fork will add a little comfort and reduce weight, but it’s not essential. We wouldn’t worry too much about going for anything fancy – it’s a workhorse, not a stallion. Similarly, you’re not trying to win a race, and the more upright and comfortable geometry of a gravel bike will help you keep your eyes up and on your fellow friendly car commuters.
We’d recommend going for 42C tyres for comfort and confidence. 37C tyres will get you by if you’re sticking to smoother surfaces, but come some winter leaves, or even a touch of snow, some 42C tyres with a touch of side tread will be very welcome. A smoother centre tread will keep your rolling speed up until you hit the rough stuff. Tubeless ready tyres (and wheels) will be very welcome on commutes – if you do get a flat you can be up and rolling again quickly enough to make it to work on time.
Don’t overthink it. Tubeless ready wheels would be a big plus. 700C wheels are probably preferable to get you to work quickly. Beyond that, just get rolling.
Disc brakes are great on a commuter bike because you can wear away your pads and rotors instead of your rims – and it’s a lot cheaper to replace rotors than wheels. Some budget cable disc brakes will need a little regular attention to adjust the pads inwards as you wear them down – keep an eye on that if you have some especially steep descents on your route. But we wouldn’t suggest you should dismiss a bike because it has cable disc brakes – many of them are very good.
They might not look cool, but mudguards will make those wet commutes a whole lot more comfortable. You can fit mudguards to a bike without eyelets, but it’s a whole lot easier with them. You may need to downsize your tyres to accommodate mudguards if your bike comes fitted with especially wide gravel tyres. Consider asking your local bike shop for help – fitting mudguards can be a lot more fiddly than you might think!
If you’re commuting a long way or carrying a lot of stuff, you might want to fit a rear rack to your bike. These days there are racks for almost any bike, but a frame with bosses for a rack will help you get a budget option fitted easily. It’s by no means essential though – a decent waterproof backpack will do the trick.
We wouldn’t worry too much about what gears your bike comes with. If you commute often enough you’re going to wear them out and replace them anyway, especially with all the winter grit. You’re simply not going to clean off your bike between every commute, so you are going to give the gears and chain more gritty punishment than any other bikes you might own. Keep it cheap and simple – or invest in hub gears.
- Price: From £1,150
This is a perennial favourite of our Forumites. Practical, comfortable geometry, and available at a range of budget price points. Few frills, a proven performer. Read our review.
- Price: from £1,100
A bit more more roadie than some of the other offerings here, this comes with 37C tyres. If your commute is more road and less gravel, this alloy version doesn’t have the quirky suspension elements of the carbon model. But that’s just less stuff to go wrong, right? Read our Topstone thoughts.
- Price: from £1,799.99
Prices start a little higher than some of the others here, but the Nukeproof Digger may have you playing out at weekends too. With its mountain biking pedigree, it’s a bike that might have you late for work as fail to resist the lure of the trails. Read our review.
- Price: from £1,749
Like the Nukeproof Digger, this is a gravel bike with mountain biking roots. It comes with such knobbly tyres that you’d best not be rushing to work, and you may want to consider swapping them out for something faster rolling if you’re sticking to roads.
But if you really can’t resist spending a bit more to get an all year round bike for summer holiday adventures as well as commutes, you could do a lot worse than this steel framed model. The one pictured here is our Amanda’s – she’s a big fan. Read our review.
- Price: From £1,249
- From: Sonder
The lower priced models offer more basic gears and brakes, but you’re still getting the same fun frame that could take you over the hills and far away come the weekend. There’s also a flat bar option if drop bars aren’t your thing. Read our review.
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