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Best Bikepacking Bikes 2022 | Buyer’s Guide

Gravel bikes are adventure-ready machines that make for the best bikepacking bikes – here’s why

The beauty of bikepacking is that you can do it on just about any bike. Just strap on your bikepacking bags and hit the road, whether you’re riding out on your local lanes or embarking on an off-road epic. Having said that, the growing popularity of bikepacking has also been accompanied by the rise of the gravel bike. Gravel bikes (sometimes referred to as adventure bikes) are designed to combine road speed with off-road capability, sitting in a sweet spot that opens up a wide range of riding. As such, gravel bikes are now widely seen as the best bikepacking bikes.

“If you were to own only one bike, chances are you’d want it to be a gravel bike”

“Going faster, further and deeper into the unknown is made easier with a bit of bike specialisation,” says Callum Nicklin, brand manager of Mason Cycles. “An adventure bike should allow you to cover ground quickly, both on and off-road, while still being comfortable enough to ride all day.”

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If you were to own only one bike, chances are you’d want it to be a gravel bike. These drop-handlebar, knobbly-tyred machines are capable and versatile. We’re going to take a closer look at what makes a gravel bike and why they’re ideal for bikepacking. We’ll then showcase some of our favourite machines.

Gravel bikes are typically made from aluminium, steel or carbon fibre. Some exotic – and expensive – titanium frames are also available too. While carbon fibre is the go-to material for many high-end bikes, aluminium is ideal for gravel and bikepacking thanks to its durability and affordability.

One brand’s definition of a gravel bike can vary significantly from another’s. Some lean more heavily towards the road, others are akin to the fully-rigid mountain bikes of old. But understanding the key features of an adventure-ready machine will help you pick the right bike for your style of riding.

Relaxed Geometry

Gravel bike geometry can vary depending on the bike’s manufacturer and its intended use. However, a typical adventure bike will have a more relaxed geometry than a road bike. This usually results in a longer wheelbase to improve stability over rough terrain. A taller front-end also provides a more relaxed position on rides that are often counted by the day, not hour. The frame angles are also likely to be slacker than a road bike, again to provide more sedate handling.

Disc Brakes

All gravel bikes have disc brakes. Budget models sport cable-actuated discs and mid to high-end machines come equipped with hydraulic discs. “Stopping in all conditions with a heavily loaded bike is way easier with disc brakes,” says Nicklin. If your budget allows, go for hydraulic discs. They offer significantly improved performance over cable-operated stoppers.

Wide Tyres

Here’s where gravel bikes begin to look noticeably different from road bikes. Wider tyres improve comfort and enable you to venture off-road. Most gravel bikes accommodate 35mm-45mm rubber. “The gnarlier the terrain, the fatter you’ll need to go, so make sure your bike can accommodate wide tyres if it needs to,” says Joshua Cunningham, author of Escape by Bike: Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking and Touring Off-Road.

Many gravel bikes are also compatible with smaller diameter 650b wheels, boosting tyre clearance again and increasing versatility. “That gives you the ability to switch wheelsets, so you have a road-focused one, and then a smaller wheelset with larger tyres for an off-road adventure,” says Nicklin. Tubeless wheels and tyres further improve grip and ride comfort, while also reducing the likelihood of punctures.

How To Choose The Right Tyres

Tyres make a big difference to how your bike rides. Provided your frame has the necessary clearance, they can be easily upgraded to suit different types of terrain. “Modern tubeless road tyres, around 28-32mm in width, will cover a huge range of conditions and are certainly good enough for all road riding and lots of gravel/bridleways in Europe”, says Nicklin.

“Larger volume gravel tyres will extend how far off-road you can go. It’s common to see chunky 650b x 45-50mm tyres in place of traditional road rubber, with riders sensibly prioritising grip and comfort over speed on rough terrain.”

Credit: Mason Bikes

Low Gearing

Gravel bike gearing is normally lower than a road bike but not quite as forgiving as a mountain bike. Expect to see a compact (50-34t) or sub-compact (48-32t) chainset with two chainrings, or a single-chainring setup with a wide-ranging rear cassette. Regardless, if you’re planning a lumpy bikepacking route, make sure your bike is geared accordingly. “Remember that your bike weighs more when you’re bikepacking,” says Nicklin. “Gear it for the climbs.”

Cunningham adds: “Make sure you give yourself a good enough gear ratio for the terrain you plan on riding. For a weekend in Essex this might be a regular road groupset, but for an off-road Himalayan epic you’re going to need much smaller ratios.”

Accessories

Versatility is at the heart of gravel bike design. Expect to see plenty of mounts across the frame. As well as the regular bottle cage mounts on the downtube and seattube, many gravel frames have a third set of drillings on the underside of the downtube. This is for an additional bottle or tool caddy.

You may also find additional mounts on either side of the fork to increase the bike’s carrying capacity. There may even be a dynamo mount on the fork crown. “A dynamo makes life easier on the road,” says Nicklin. “You can charge a battery pack or your devices in the day, and light the way at night.” Most gravel frames are also compatible with mudguards, making them ideal for all-weather commuting.

What Is The Best Bikepacking Bike?

So what’s the best bikepacking bike? The answer is: there isn’t one. Every bikepacking ride is different. That’s where a gravel bike’s inherent versatility comes in, according to Nicklin. “Your bikepacking steed becomes an expression of your intent and your character,” he says.

“There is no ‘perfect’ bike but the setup you ride is in a state of constant change, endlessly adapting to your ride, and will work best for you alone. It’s only through first-hand experience that you’ll really learn what bike you need for bikepacking.”

Bike setup is a major part of the planning of any long bikepacking ride. This is especially true if you’re venturing far afield into unchartered territory. Obsessing over tyre choice and the gear you’ll need on the road is all part of the fun.

“Prepare the bike to best suit the majority of the ride,” advises Nicklin. “For example, don’t put big 650b or MTB tyres on if they are only ideal for ten per cent of the ride. I would use the best setup for 90 per cent of the ride and be prepared to walk if I have to.”

Best Bikepacking Bikes

We’ve picked out ten of the most versatile gravel bikes available on the market right now. If you’re serious about bikepacking, all of these are well worth a look.

  • Mason Bokeh GRX
  • Surly Ghost Grappler
  • Brother Mehteh
  • Stayer Groadinger UG
  • Sonder Camino
  • Surly Bridge Club
  • Salsa Fargo APEX 1
  • Cannondale Topstone Alloy
  • Canyon Grail 7
  • Specialized Diverge Comp E5

 

Mason Bokeh GRX

Price: £3205
Weight: 9.2kg

British boutique brand Mason Cycles describes the Bokeh as an ‘Adventure Sport’ bike. This is a bike to take you off the beaten track, but it’s also a machine designed to be ridden quickly.

This is the second iteration of the Bokeh, launched back in June 2019. The custom-formed aluminium frame is made in Italy. It has been paired with an all-new carbon fibre fork, which now features internal routing for a dynamo wire. It also has additional cage mounts. There’s an added cage mount on the underside of the downtube too.

The frame and fork have clearance for 700c x 45mm or 650b x 50mm tyres. That’s plenty of room for chunky off-road rubber, opening the Bokeh up to some seriously spicy adventures. If you need to go wider still, Mason’s ISO 29er has more clearance, all the way up to 650b x 2.8” tyres.

The Bokeh’s versatility is further increased by discreet mudguard mounts. However, what we like most about this bike is the attention to detail across the entire frame. This includes the beautiful finish. This particular model comes specced with Shimano’s all-new, gravel-specific GRX groupset.

BUY NOW: MASONCYCLES.CC

 

Surly Ghost Grappler

Price: £2200
Weight: 13.34kg

Cult bike brand Surly are big favourites in the bikepacking game. From dedicated trail ‘fat bikes’ and all-season tourers to ‘haulin’ cargo bikes and versatile road riders; there’s a hell of a lot to choose from. In terms of a bikepacking all-rounder, we reckon the ‘Ghost Grappler’ is a pretty good contender though.

It’s a drop-bar trail bike that’ll work just as well on single tracks and country roads as dirt paths and grassy trails. In this sense, it would suit a trip like King Alfred’s Way or the all-new West Kernow Way, for example.

In terms of technical specs and features, there’s enough clearance for both 27.5 x 2.8” or 29 x 2.1″ tyres, and 142mm or Boost 148mm rear hubs. There’s also a 100% Chromoly Steel frame and fork, an internal routed dropper post, bottle and rack mounts throughout, and an internally geared hub that can be set up to single speed if you prefer.

It’s also got a uniquely long front end to suit a flat bar option, or perhaps just a better fit depending on your body type. This additionally means it’s got a good amount of space for both a frame bag and some handlebar bags for your bikepacking excursions.

BUY NOW: SURLYBIKES.COM

 

Brother Mehteh Complete

Price: from £949
Weight: 2.2kg (medium frame)

Based in Kent, Brother Cycles are a family-run business with a big passion for organising community bikepacking events as well as building bikes like the Mehteh.

Named after the mountain dwelling Himalayan Yeti (and literally translated as ‘Man Beast’), the Mehteh is a bit of a tank. It has a Reynolds 725 heat-treated steel gravel frame, a Brother carbon gravel fork featuring fender mounts and triple cage mounts on each fork blade, and a clearance of up to 650b x 2.1″ or 700c x 45 tyres – more than enough for the demands of travelling off the beaten track.

Other neat features include thru-axle flat-mount dropouts, a replaceable derailleur hanger, three bottle cage mounts, stealth dropper post routing and a custom Brother seatclamp. There’s also SPAM RIVAL 1 hydro brakes and size options ranging from XS to XL.

BUY NOW: BROTHERCYCLES.COM

Stayer Groadinger UG

Price: £1350 (frame only)
Weight: from 1.9kg (frame only)

Based in East London, Stayer Cycles started in 2015 and have been making waves in the biking community ever since. Along with intricately designed custom fork and wheel builds, they also build custom road and gravel bikes if you’re in need of a whole new set-up.

The Groadinger UG (Ultra Grav Grav) is our favourite, and is made for ‘do-it-all’ gravel and road adventuring, with custom builds available as well as ‘regular’ sizing options. You’ve got 1X or 2X gearing options, a max. tyre clearance of 650b x 2.1″/52 and 700c x 40, and a flat mount brake compatibility. The customisable frame options also include bottle cage mounts, internal cable routing, mudguard mounting, top tube and rear rack mounts, and various colour options, to name a few.

You can also choose from a carbon or steel fork, depending on your cycling focus, though the frame remains a TIG welded, MK2 UG sturdy steel frame. There’s even fat-tyre and MTB Groadingers too if you’re after something a bit more gnarly and off-piste…

BUY NOW: STAYERCYCLES.COM

Sonder Camino

Price: from £869
Weight: 1.9kg to 2.1kg (frame only)

From Peak District brand Alpkit, we have the brand new Sonder Camino. Available in both aluminium and titanium builds, there’s a good amount of customisation options to choose from. If you’re on a budget, prices start from £869 – not bad for a gravel bike – and can reach up to roughly £3300 depending on your preferred groupset and frame type.

It has a short 50-70mm stem to accommodate frame sizes from S to XL, a long wheelbase, a 69° head angle, and a large tyre clearance up to 700c x 50mm or 650b x 2.2”. The fork is made from a lightweight carbon monocoque and is kitted out with mudguard and rack mounts. There’s also plenty of other mounts throughout the rest of the bike for panniers, bottle cages and more.

BUY NOW: ALPKIT.COM

Surly Bridge Club

Price: £1550
Weight: approx. 15kg

Though coined a road touring bike, the Surly Bridge Club is very versatile and can still accommodate 700 x 47mm tires (with or without fenders), 27.5 x 2.8” tires (27.5 x 2.6” with fenders), and 26 x 3” tires (26 x 2.8” with fenders). In this sense, it’s still a solid choice for both on and off-road routes, as well as everyday use around-the-town. In fact, Surly claim it’ll suit all sorts of multi-surface adventures, including ‘long-forgotten stretches of highway, small-town oddities’, and ‘desolate stretches of desert dirt roads or lush green forest trails’.

In terms of features, there’s pavement (700c) and off-road (27.5) build options, a single position vertical rear dropout, and a 4130 Chromoly steel frame and fork. The frameset is rigid and can accommodate a large framebag, whilst there’s multiple bottle mounts, rack mounts and fender mounts throughout.

BUY NOW: TRITONCYCLE.CO.UK

 

Salsa Fargo APEX 1

Price: £2550
Weight: approx. 11.2kg

The Salsa Fargo APEX 1 is another beast of a bike, edging ever so slightly into MTB/ ‘fat bike’ territory with its 29 x 2.2” Teravail Sparwood fast-rolling tyres. It also boasts a triple-butted steel frame and carbon Firestarter 110 fork, paired with a SRAM Apex 1 drivechain for easy gear shifting.

There’s two sets of three-pack mounts on each fork leg for all of your bikepacking needs, as well as a drop-bar build and slack geometry for ultimate comfort on the trails. Check out Salsa’s bikepacking bags for Fargo-specific gear.

BUY NOW: DAMIANHARRISCYCLES.CO.UK

 

Cannondale Topstone Alloy

Price: from £1100
Weight: 10.05kg

Another all-rounder, the Cannondale Topstone Alloy should suit everything from commuting and general road use, to gravel riding and grass-laden country paths. The dropped bars and upright riding position work well in this sense, giving you both comfort and control on rockier terrain while still low enough for optimum speed throughout your journey.

There’s a clearance for tyres up to 42mm wide, three water bottle mounts, plus mounts for top tube storage and big frame bags. The Topstone’s SmartForm C2 Alloy aluminium construction makes it relatively lightweight for a gravel bike, but still sturdy enough for the open road.

With a starting price of £1100, there are various shifting options including: 2×11 Shimano 105 GRX, 2×11 Shimano 800/600 GRX, 2×10 Shimano Tiagra GRX, 2×9 Shimano Sora, and 1×10 shifting.

BUY NOW: CANNONDALE.COM

Canyon Grail 7

Price: £1,349
Weight: 9.4kg

Direct-sales brand Canyon has a reputation for producing top-quality bikes at bargain prices. The bikes are sold through the Canyon website, cutting out the middleman. The Grail 7 is the German company’s aluminium gravel bike.

Because it’s made from aluminium, the Grail 7 is ready to handle the demands of rough-and- ready bikepacking, while also offering excellent value for money.

This is a bike designed to be as capable on the tarmac as it is off-road. Canyon has opted to spec 40mm Continental Terra Trail tyres that balance relatively low rolling resistance with plenty of grip. As we’ve come to expect from Canyon, the rest of the bike is impressively specced, too. Shimano’s workhorse GRX groupset takes care of shifting and braking duties.

The frame itself has 3 bottle mounts and mudguard mounts throughout, so you can dress the Grail with fenders for winter training or commuting. Canyon also offers a range of bikepacking bags for when you decide to hit the open road.

BUY NOW: CANYON.COM

 

Specialized Diverge Comp E5

Price: £1,949
Weight: 9.8kg

The Specialized Diverge is laden with tech that makes this one of the most capable gravel bikes out there. While the Mason Bokeh and Canyon Grail AL are based around an aluminium frame, the Diverge upgrades to a lightweight carbon fibre chassis.

The key talking point is Specialized’s Future Shock micro-suspension. This suspends the handlebar above the headtube with a spring that offers up to 20mm of travel. It ensures a cushioned, confidence-inspiring ride on rough terrain.

Throw clearance for 700 x 42mm or 650b x 47mm tyres into the mix and the Diverge is very capable indeed. It can even take on the kind of trails that veer into mountain bike territory. The frame’s geometry also balances the stability required off-road with the playfulness that brings a road ride to life.

In this Diverge Comp spec you have the precise shifting offered by Shimano’s second-tier Ultegra groupset. You also benefit from the all-weather stopping power of hydraulic disc brakes.

BUY NOW: SPECIALIZED.COM

 

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