After testing a fair share of gravel bikes, I can safely say I found the best five ones for tight budgets. All of the bikes listed are worth a shot, but if you’re in a hurry, my top option is definitely the Tommaso Siena.
Buying a gravel bike means you’re an adventurer by nature. Traversing rough terrains and gravel roads on a bike takes some courage, but you need the right bike for that.
Buying a bike on a tight budget can seem like a challenge, but you’d be surprised at the variety of market options.
If you want to explore the best cheap gravel bikes on the market, you’ve landed on the right page!
Read More: The Best Beginner Road Bikes For You In 2021
The Best Cheap Gravel Bike Overview
- Tommaso Siena Shimano Tourney Gravel Adventure Bike – Best Overall
- Tommaso Sterrata Shimano Claris R2000 Gravel Adventure Bike – Best for Serious Riders
- Mongoose Men’s Elroy Adventure Bike – Best for Beginners
- Tommaso Sentiero Shimano Claris Gravel Adventure Bike – Best for Commuting
- Vilano Gravel Bike with Disc Brakes – Best for Tight Budgets
The Best Cheap Gravel Bikes Reviewed
Most gravel bikes on the market cost from $2000 and up. And unless you’re really serious about biking, I doubt you’ll pay that whole lot for a bike. That’s why I scoured the market for budget-friendly options, and I came up with these fellas.
Tommaso Siena Shimano Tourney Gravel Adventure Bike – Best Overall
The Siena is the most affordable Tommaso bike on my list. It features a durable, corrosion-resistant aluminum frame that’s also lightweight. You can haul the bike with ease whenever you need to.
The Siena’s frame is compact and fully equipped with a steel fork. It’s as durable as gravel bikes get, and the steel fork absorbs impact like a pro, especially on off-road trails.
If you tend to go off-roading with a couple of saddlebags, the Siena is fully prepared with a drilled frame for racks and fenders. This means the bike is both suitable for off-roading adventures and commuting.
Like all Tommaso bikes on this list, the Siena has a Shimano Groupset, promising high speed and good performance and delivering both. The set consists of a Tourney cassette and a Claris crankset.
- Lifetimes warranty for both fork and body
- Lightweight for easy storage
- Suitable for commuting
- Comes unassembled
Tommaso Sterrata Shimano Claris R2000 Gravel Adventure Bike – Best for Serious Riders
The Tommaso Sterrata is on the expensive side of affordable bikes if that makes sense. But it’s worth every dollar you’ll pay for it, and it’s still more affordable than most gravel bikes with the same qualities.
The bike comes fully equipped with a Shimano Claris groupset, accounting for smooth rides and stability on rough trails. The wide tires also tackle gravel with ease, allowing you to ride at high speeds without a hitch.
The Sterrata has a carbon fiber fork, contrary to most options in the same price range with steel forks. Carbon fiber’s best quality is its lightweight and durability. It’s usually the choice of high-end manufacturers.
The lightweight doesn’t only make the bike easy to haul around, but it also maintains smooth rides.
- Lightweight and durable carbon fiber fork
- Equipped with disc brakes and Shimano groupset
- Multiple sizes available
- Some users mentioned the handlebar makes a noise when moved.
Mongoose Men’s Elroy Adventure Bike – Best for Beginners
If you’re new to gravel biking, you need safety features the most. Ensuring your bike is stable on the rock trail as you’re riding should be your priority, and the Mongoose offers just that. With its steel fork and alloy construction, the bike performs excellently on bumpy trails and gravel.
The Mongoose features a pair of sturdy 700c wheels, which are known for providing more momentum and less resistance. You can traverse virtually any terrain with these wheels.
Plus, if you want to carry saddlebags, there are anchor holes for that. There’s also a rack on the front to give you more room for bags.
The Mongoose dons disc brakes and Shimano derailleurs, offering excellent value for money. It’s the ideal gravel bike for a beginner because it offers safety and an unrivaled price.
- Safe for beginners
- Equipped with Shimano derailleurs
- Excellent value for money
- Some users complained about the parts’ quality.
Tommaso Sentiero Shimano Claris Gravel Adventure Bike – Best for Commuting
Tommaso has long been a renowned leader of the bike industry, and for all the good reasons. The company alone has three options on my list, which tells you a lot about the quality it offers for affordable prices.
The Sentiero here is one of Tommaso’s best offerings, with 700c tires and a Shimano groupset. If you’re a veteran of the biking world, you probably don’t need an introduction to Shimano. The groupset provides an unbeatable pedaling efficiency, maintaining its smoothness even on rocky trails.
The bike comes bearing a steel fork and an aluminum frame. The aluminum frame stays stable on the pebbles, and the disc brakes provide instant stops when needed.
If you’re using the bike for commuting, the frame is all ready for fenders and racks, so you won’t need to do any drilling.
- Compact size for storage
- Equipped with Shimano groupset
- Suitable for commuting
- Some users said the wheels should’ve been better.
Vilano Gravel Bike with Disc Brakes – Best for Tight Budgets
The Vilano gravel bike is as versatile as gravel bikes can get. If you own this bike, you’ll be able to go commuting, go on off-roading adventures, or tackle all kinds of terrains you can think of. Accompanied by a pair of disc brakes and 700c tires, the Vilano passed my safety tests with an A.
I can tell you a whole lot of reasons why disc brakes are better than the other types. For one, their stopping power is unrivaled, which will be of great help on slopes. Plus, they don’t cause friction that may heat the rims, eliminating the risk of tire blowouts. You can safely go on any terrain, no matter how rough it is.
The only thing users seemed to complain about is the Vilano’s seat. Some of them said it’s not too comfortable for long rides.
The Vilano arrives unassembled. It’ll need assembly and tuning before you can ride it.
- Equipped with disc brakes
- Sturdy 700c tires
- Highly safe for rough gravel roads
- The seat may not be comfortable enough for long rides.
Buying Guide: What to Consider When Looking for the Best Cheap Gravel Bike
Most people won’t pay enough attention to the features when buying cheap bikes. The way they think, they’re buying a bike that’ll only stay for a couple of years, then they’ll replace it.
That’s a pretty odd way of thinking, though. If you’re paying money for a bike, you want to enjoy its features to the fullest and make sure it’s safe enough for you.
That’s why I gathered this buying guide for all the features you’ll want to consider before buying.
You can think of a bike’s geometry as its anatomy. Do you know how you test a chair before buying it? You want to make sure its back is comfortable, its dimensions are suited for your body, and it’s not leaving your feet dangling. Buying a bike is close enough.
You’ll want to make sure your riding position is comfortable enough for you. Gravel bikes should keep you relaxed because you’re not looking for high-speed riding. You can make sure of that before buying by checking the bike’s dimensions and confirming they go well with your body.
Most cheap gravel bikes have steel or aluminum frames, which are both good materials for starters. Both are also sturdy, so you can drop your bike and drag it around all you want without fearing it’d scratch.
The main purpose of gravel bikes is to ride on rocky trails without a hitch. That’s why you’re buying a gravel bike, and that’s what you expect from it. The key to that is the wheels, which are the main difference between road, mountain, and gravel bikes.
Mountain wheels will be awkward on gravel, and road wheels will be too slim for that. For gravel riding, you need 700c wheels with 38mm–42mm tires.
The spoke count is also essential to consider, especially if you intend on carrying saddlebags while riding. Most trail bikes have 24–32 spokes on their rims. These should be good for casual riding on all kinds of terrains. For example, the Tommaso Sterrata has 28 spokes on its rim.
However, you should aim higher if you want to carry heavy loads, so the wheels don’t buckle under the weight.
Buying a gravel bike means you expect to ride on rocky trails and rough terrains. In turn, this means you should make sure the bike’s parts are sturdy enough to handle that. A lot of affordable gravel bikes feature Shimano parts, which are known for their durability and reliability.
Some entry-level bikes also have SRAM gears, which are just as good. When you see either of these names, you can buy the bike without worry.
Other than that, try to make sure your bike has disc brakes. They cost more than cantilever bikes, but they perform better during emergency situations because they offer instant stops.
Regular brakes are also at risk of getting clogged if you ride on muddy terrains. Bear in mind that disc brakes need more maintenance than their counterparts, though.
Gravel bikes either come with 1x or 2x drivetrains. 1x drivetrains have only one chainring on the front and 11–12 gears. They’re generally easier to use and lighter, so they don’t add to the bike’s overall weight. On the other hand, 2x drivetrains have two chainrings instead of one, and they have more gears—16–22.
Bikes with 1x drivetrains are suitable if you don’t frequently ride on long descents and slopes. Meanwhile, 2x drivetrains are ideal for steep terrains because they ride smoother on uphills and downhills. They’re heavier, though, so that’s one thing to consider.
In the case of gravel bikes, it’s better to stick to 1x drivetrains. You can always upgrade them with more gear if you need to tackle slopes. Besides, they cost less.
I think you’re as convinced as I am that disc brakes are the better option for you. If you’re not, you should. They’re safer than other types because they don’t apply heat to the rims, and they stop instantly whenever you need them to.
The question here: are hydraulic disc brakes better or mechanical disc brakes?
The major difference between both types is the way they operate. Hydraulic disc brakes don’t use cables; they use fluid instead to stop the wheels. Meanwhile, mechanical brakes depend on cable systems.
If you want my final opinion, hydraulic disc brakes are surely the better option, but you’ll rarely find them on cheap bikes. They’re better because they offer more stopping power, and they don’t get dirty or show rust like mechanical ones do. So, you won’t have to worry about debris or mud on rough terrains.
That doesn’t mean mechanical brakes aren’t good. They’re equally efficient, but they need maintenance because they collect all kinds of dirt.
Difference Between Gravel Bikes, Mountain Bikes, and Cyclocross Bikes
You may notice people talking about three types of bikes interchangeably: gravel bikes, mountain bikes, and cyclocross bikes. They’re frequently used in the same context, although they have different purposes.
Here’s an overview of each type and what it’s used for.
You can think of a gravel bike as a road bike with better tires and a more robust fork. These bikes are used by riders who go on different terrains constantly. A road bike will prove to be a hassle on the pebbly ground, and it won’t hold up on muddy terrains. A gravel bike will ride on all of these surfaces like they’re nothing because its tires offer better rolling resistance.
Mountain bikes are superior to gravel bikes with their bigger tires and robust braking systems. They’re built to tackle loose terrains and rocky areas without a hitch; that’s why they have wider tires than most bike types.
Mountain bikes also often have puncture-proof wheels, contrary to gravel bikes. That way, you’re not at risk of anything if you step on a sharp rock.
In terms of geometry, mountain bikes have slack head angles, ranging from 62 degrees to 73 degrees, with 62 being the slackest.
A cyclocross bike is designed to be used on courses, which may be rocky, muddy, or sandy. The concept may be similar to that of a gravel bike, but cyclocross bikes need to be fully prepared to tackle all the course’s challenges. These include bunny hopping and suddenly slowing down, then accelerating to full speed again.
For that, cyclocross bikes have lower stack heights, accounting for better agility. They also have short chainstays.
Frequently Asked Questions About Gravel Bikes
To resolve any confusions you have about gravel bikes, here are the most frequently asked questions I got about the matter. You’ll hopefully decide whether to buy your bike of choice after reading these answers.
What handlebars do gravel bikes have?
Gravel bikes come fully equipped with drop handlebars, accounting for a lower gravity center. That way, you can ride smoothly down steep paths.
Are mountain bikes better than gravel bikes?
Not necessarily; it depends on your usage, after all. Gravel bikes are the better options for trails and long distances. Mountain bikes are better for mountainous roads and descents. It’s worth mentioning that mountain bikes have wide tires, which will feel awkward against rocky trails.
Is the frame material necessary?
Not as much as you think it is. Of course, it’s an important factor to consider, but it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker because it’ll hardly affect your ride’s quality. Most budget bikes are made of aluminum because it’s cheap yet sturdy. It’s also corrosion-resistant and lightweight.
More expensive bikes come with titanium or carbon fiber frames. Titanium is the best material all over, and it gives bikes one hell of a sleek look. Carbon fiber is lightweight and durable, and it’s the material of choice for most mid-range bikes.
Do gravel bikes need suspension?
No, you don’t need suspension when riding a gravel bike. These fellows are already safe enough with disc brakes and stable frames. What’s important is your bike’s ability to attenuate or absorb the terrain’s feedback. If your bike of choice is sturdy enough for that, you won’t need suspension.
The Final Verdict
My top pick for the best cheap gravel bike is undoubtedly the Tommaso Siena Shimano Tourney Gravel. The bike is made for all riders with its Shimano groupset and aluminum body. It provides smooth rides, safety features, and a long life expectancy—all for a price lower than most competitors. I’d say the Siena is quite the bargain for a cheap gravel bike.
If you want a bike that better suits your tight budget, you may want to consider the Mongoose Men’s Elroy. It’s equally good, and it’s an excellent option for beginners.