Buying guide

For the last 12 months, I have been testing and reviewing many different gravel bikes and bike parts that should improve riding comfort. I started my gravelbikes.cc project with the aim of finding the most comfortable bike and bike parts but during my testing, I slightly changed my approach. I discovered that too much comfort at the cost of fun is no good so now I try to evaluate every product that I review both in terms of comfort and fun that it brings to the rides. So nowadays I look for the best possible comfort without losing the fun factor and below you will find gravel bikes and bike parts that meet those criteria the best. This list is open and I will update it accordingly to the results of my future tests. Enjoy!


Gravel bike


The best:
Titanium Enigma Escape

Enigma Escape


It can be seen as a personal preference but I truly think that among all the gravel bikes that I managed to test up to this point, Enigma Escape equipped with Redshift suspension stem and seatpost is the most accomplished gravel bike. If offers a very good blend of comfort and fun ride, and it looks great. It could be lighter though and certainly is not the cheapest option out there.

Runner up:
Specialized Diverge 2021

Specialized Diverge

Specialized Diverge 2021 is the jack of all trades. Nothing spectacular (apart from truly great FutureShock 2.0) but also no real weaknesses. The long wheelbase and the increased weight (compared to the previous model) did not spoil the fun of the ride and even added extra stability/confidence so you can hammer with this bike in any (reasonable) situation.

Runner up:
Cannondale Topstone Carbon

Cannondale Topstone Carbon

Topstone carbon (with SAVE handlebar) offers the best out of the box bled of front and rear comfort. Although KingPin suspension is not a revelation that I thought it would be, it certainly helps you hammer through rough roads with great speed, and the SAVE handlebar in conjunction with a carbon fork makes your hands much less tired in doing so. Short chainstay and big bottom bracket area help to accelerate fast and maintain the high speed as long as you want to.


Front suspension


The best:
Specialized FutureShock 2.0.

Specialized FutureShock 2.0

If you are after the best possible comfort, especially on fast gravel rides, then there is no better solution than Specialized FutureShock 2.0. Not only it offers the best overall comfort but also it is achieved without any handlebar diving and you can enjoy the comfortable ride both when on hoods and on tops. Unfortunately, it comes with the bike so you will have to invest a lot, to enjoy having it…

Runner up:
Redshift suspension stem.

Redshift suspension stem

Not that effective but with harsher elastomers, its movement is not that pronounced, and still makes your ride much more smooth. And you can use it on any bike you want.


Suspension seatpost


The best:
Redshift suspension seatpost

Redshift suspension seatpost

This is the best spring-based suspension and the best overall seatpost suspension. Thanks to a clever design (an engineered sag, just like with FutureShock 2.0 front suspension), your butt is constantly floating over the bumps making the ride, especially on truly bumpy roads much, much more enjoyable. On the fast gravel route, the effect is less pronounced, but still, Redshift improves the experience quite noticeably there. The only downside is the little bounciness that can’t be completely eliminated since this is a spring-based suspension.
 
Runner up:
Canyon VCLS 2.0

In terms of the suspension efficacy it is a second-best option (after Redshift suspension seatpost) but in terms of ride feel it is the best one you can buy. It smooths out the road imperfections very well, but at the same time, the bounciness is almost not present and you can always feel connected with the bike when riding on this seatpost.


Saddle

The best:
SQLab 612 Ergowave Active

SQ Lab 612 saddle

When I was testing the saddles, I said that I really enjoyed the SQLab saddle but I still prefer my Brooks C17. Since then the situation has changed. Mostly because I found out that Brooks C17 does not work very well with suspension seatpost like Redshift one (mostly because Brooks flexes a lot and when you tune the spring suspension to be rather stiff, then you can definitely hear and feel the unwanted additional movement of the Brooks saddle itself). In those situations, SQLab saddle works flawlessly and I even managed to get used to its flat surface so now it is my first choice in terms of the saddle. With a soft set of elastomers, it is also as comfortable as Brooks saddle (SQLab saddle is using an elastomer allowing for the side to side saddle movement which makes your sit bones much less irritated during longer rides).


Runner up:
Brooks C17

brooks c17 saddle

If you have a more traditional seatpost and your tires are not inflated to the highest possible PSI marks, then Brooks C17 saddle is the best choice for you. Also, it looks cool, but the weight could be a problem for some.


Handlebar

The best:
Ritchey WCS VentureMax

Ritchey VentureMax handlebar

Ritchey has tremendous experience in making very good bike parts and handlebars in particular. This VentrureMax handlebar is a perfect ready to go product. You just mount it, grab it and you know you will be happy with it. Great shape of the tops, very useful but also very unique drops shape, and the overall ride feel creates a truly exceptional handlebar (and you don’t even have to buy a carbon version to enjoy all of those benefits). But, VentureMax comes with a big flare so if this is not your cup of tea, then you should look elsewhere. Yet, surprisingly, because I am not a big fun of flare, I found that big flare can make riding on the hoods more comfortable due to the hood’s angle.

Runner up:
Coefficient Wave

Wave handlebar

The coefficient Wave handlebar is somehow like a posture correction chair. You can have a hard time getting used to it but once you do you will find that everything else is somehow worse in comparison. Wave handlebar has a revolutionary shape of the tops that perfectly aligns with the way we hold our hands in front of us and by this, it makes your hands less tired in the process. Additionally, it gives you a plethora of holding options that reduces the potential hand numbness even more. On top of that, the shape of the tops brings your elbows closer and by this, improves the aerodynamics and your breathing. You just have to give it a try to experience all of those benefits for yourself.


Tires

The best:
Rene Herse Barlow Pass (in Endurance casing)

Rene Herse Barlow Pass tires

I always thought that the best gravel tire should be the tire that is the best all-arounder. That is why I always prized Soma Cazadero for its great combination of comfort (suppleness) and traction in every situation. But then, I finally tested ReneHerse tires (formerly known as Compass tires) which are famous for their suppleness (I did not go with the lightest possible casing because I wanted a more sturdy tire). The biggest surprise was that although the casing was Endurance, ReneHerse tire was still on pair with Cazadero tire comfort-wise, but at the same time, it was much quicker on asphalt and shockingly good on gravel (for a semi-slick tire and of course up to the point you encounter a muddy or really wet condition). After I learned how to ride a semi-slick tire, I am enjoying Barlow Pass very much. It suits my riding the best and the weight is great so the acceleration of my bike improved a lot.

Runner up:
Soma Cazadero

Soma Cazadero tire

This is a great tire. No question about it. But its performance on asphalt is subpar and the noise it creates when on road can be tiring. Yet, when you ride mostly on gravel and singletrack and you want a tire that will perform superbly both in dry and wet conditions, then you will have a really hard time finding something better than Cazadero. And even harder time, when trying to find a more supple tire…

Fork

The best:
OPEN U-Turn GravelPlus fork

OPEN GravelPlus fork

For a long time, I thought that Lauf Grit SL suspension fork is the best you can get in terms of front-end suspension. But then I tested FutureShock 2.0 form Specialized and did a quick comparison between Grit SL and Argon’s 18 Dark Matter gravel bike fork and OPEN GravelPlus fork. It turns out that Lauf Grit SL works relatively well only on truly bumpy roads (although the difference is not that big) and on fast gravel routs, something like well-engineered OPEN GravelPlus fork works surprisingly better. And without any unwanted bounciness or weight penalty. So now I can wholeheartedly recommend the OPEN GravelPlus fork over Lauf Grit one. Half the price, half the weight, and very comparable results in terms of compliance.


Bar tape

The best:
Cinelli Gel Cork tape

Cinneli Gel bar tape

I have read many bar tape reviews and usually at the top of the list are the Lizard Skin DSP tape or Supacaz tapes. Cinelli Ger Cork tape is rarely mentioned there. And this is a pity, because it is much cheaper and yet, very effective in vibration-reducing bar tape. The installation process (compared to something like Supacaz sticky tape) is silky smooth and the only small downside I can think of is the texture feel that can be somehow irritating in touch for some. Other than that, this is excellent, yet a budget solution.
 
Runner up:
Lizard skins DSP 3,2 mm

Lizzard Skins 3,2 mm bar tape

Yes, I have tried a 3,2 mm variant and it worked well in terms of reducing vibrations. But, I am not the biggest fan of this bar tape feel (although I know that many are), and to be honest, the price compared to the Cinelli tape, seems too big for what you getting for it. Yet, there is no denying the fact, that this is a very good handlebar tape. So, if you are into the look of it, go for it!

Drivetrain

The best:
Shimano GRX 2x

I have used for many years Shimano 105 setup but after riding a couple of Shimano GRX bikes I switched to Shimano GRX 2x drivetrain and I am very happy with the performance I got from it. Brakes are very well balanced and efficient, the lever grips are super wide and grippy and 2x setup (48/31) works beautifully with my 11-40 rear cassette giving me all the gears I need in every possible situation. But if you can afford it, go for the Di2 variant because there is nothing more satisfying than the quick and crisp shifting of an electronic setup.

Runner up:
SRAM Force eTap AXS Wide

I have tested recently Cannondale Topstone Carbon with eTap AXS drivetrain and I really liked it. Very quick and precise, but also intuitive shifting. The only thing it was lacking was the gear range (like SRAM Eagle AXS 1x drive is too much gravel oriented, the 2x AXS was on the other end of the spectrum, too much road-oriented and hard for climbing). But now SRAM introduced the AXS Wide variant (10-36 cassette and 43/30 crankset) that addresses nicely this issue making it a much more all-around solution. A very expensive one, but if you can afford it, I truly think, you will be very happy riding it.