It’s no secret that gravel riding has taken the cycling industry, and indeed the entire sport, by storm. What began as a niche offshoot of road riding with a cult following comprised of a unique mix of burnt-out racers, ex-mountain bikers, hipsters, and salty enthusiasts has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon that has attracted some of the biggest names in cycling. Indeed, the Dirty Kanza 200—perhaps the most iconic of all gravel races—went from a small race in rural Kansas with a few dedicated participants, to a race that sold out almost instantly, to now a race that requires a lottery to even register in the first place.
And it’s easy to understand why! Gravel riding arguably represents everything that is good and pure about cycling. It necessarily takes riders off the beaten path, allowing riders to test themselves and their equipment against the elements, against massive distances, and against challenging terrain that road riding simply can’t match.
Yes, it’s safe to say that gravel riding is here to stay for the time being. But gravel is more than just a new discipline. Rather, it has created an entirely new segment of the cycling industry and an entirely new market to serve. In the olden days of gravel riding, when there were no dedicated gravel bikes, tubeless tires, disc brakes, or even carbon frames, riders would seek out road bikes with the most tire clearance, mount up the burliest set of training tires they could find, and start pedaling. In those days, riders were lucky to find a frame that could clear 28mm tires!
Now, however, any respectable cycling brand would be remiss to neglect the gravel market. Tire manufactures now offer complete ranges of gravel-specific tires in every width, diameter, and tread pattern a rider could desire; wheel manufacturers make gravel-specific wheels using burlier rims, spokes, and 2-cross and 3-cross lacing patterns for added strength, and of course, frame manufacturers make gravel-specific frames on which to mount all this shiny new equipment.
Now, this is not to say you need a gravel bike to enjoy gravel riding. Indeed, nothing would contradict the “run what you brung” ethos of gravel riding more! Remember, cyclists have been enjoying gravel riding for decades. But the exponential expansion of interest in gravel riding that the cycling industry has seen over the last several years has incentivized companies to invest some serious cash into gravel R&D, leading to some very impressive new technologies that have found their way into other disciplines as well (think about the near-ubiquity of disc brakes that we now see on modern road bikes, for example). And there’s no question that running gravel-specific equipment can make your time on the bike that much more enjoyable.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at a few of the best women’s-specific gravel bikes on the market today.
Best Women’s Gravel Bikes
Women have become more and more represented in cycling over the past couple of decades, and gravel riding is no different. Although some manufacturers do not yet make women’s-specific gravel bikes, a few out there do.
Those companies recognize that women aren’t just small men who can ride the same bikes in a smaller size. Women’s gravel bikes, rather, are designed specifically with women in mind, using different material layups, components, and contact points than bikes made for men. Below is an overview of a few of our favorite women’s-specific gravel bikes and the features that cause them to stand out.
Juliana advertises itself as “The Original Women’s Mountain Bike.” Since 1999, Juliana has sought to design bikes specifically for the bold female athletes who pioneered the once male-dominated sport of mountain biking. Now owned by mountain bike mainstay Santa Cruz, Juliana has even more resources at its disposal to design and manufacture bikes specifically for women.
The advent and expansion of gravel riding has not gone unnoticed by Juliana. What began as a brand dedicated to creating women’s-specific mountain bikes has expanded to serve the more and more women seeking to enter the gravel arena.
Juliana’s gravel offering is called the Quincy. Juliana touts the Quincy as “the bike to get lost on.” And they’re not wrong. With the ability to run up to a 2.1” mountain bike tire on 650b rims, the Quincy is a true adventure bike. But this characteristic doesn’t stop it from also being able to hang on to fast group rides, scorch fire road climbs, and bomb down sketchy descents! When set up with a pair of fast-rolling slicks like the Rene Herse Barlow Pass or the Panaracer GravelKing+ on 700c rims, the Quincy is nearly as much at home at Tuesday Night Worlds as it is in the backcountry. What is more, the Quincy offers riders the options of running single-ring or double-ring set ups in the front, meaning whatever your gearing preference is, you’ll be able to run it on this bike.
The full-carbon Quincy frame comes with a full-carbon fork in a complete range of sizes to fit riders from 5’0” to 5’9”. Juliana currently offers two full-bike configurations along with a frame-only option. The first option is a Sram Rival build, featuring a single-ring drivetrain, 11-speed shifting on a 10-42 cassette, Easton cockpit, WTB rims laced to DT Swiss hubs, burly 700x40c Maxxis tires, thru-axles, flat mount disc brakes, and 160mm rotors.
The second option is a very trick Sram Force AXS build. In case you missed its rollout a while back, AXS is Sram’s second-generation wireless drivetrain. It expands on Sram’s first-of-its-kind eTap wireless groupset to provide for expanded versatility and useful cross-compatibility between shifters and derailleurs.
The Force AXS build also utilizes a single-ring drivetrain, but with this build the single front chainring is paired to an X01 Eagle 12-speed rear derailleur that shifts across a massive 10-50 cassette, providing not only a bailout gear for the steepest climbs, but also plenty of top end speed for the county line sprint. The Force AXS build comes with Santa Cruz’s durable 650b Reserve carbon rims laced to DT hubs and wrapped in venerable 2.1” WTB Rangers. The Force AXS build is rounded out with the same Easton cockpit, thru-axles, flat mount brakes, and 160mm rotors as the Rival build.
Liv Cycling is the sister brand of the world’s largest bicycle manufacture, Giant. Liv truly recognizes that women are not just shorter riders with shorter legs, but rather that women are altogether different cyclists with different needs. Liv’s partnership with Giant allows it to leverage the technology, resources, and experience of an industry leader in order to create truly unique bicycles designed solely for women.
Liv’s gravel offering is on the racier end of off-road drop bar bikes, serving also as a championship-caliber cyclocross bike piloted to numerous high-profile victories by one of the most prolific female cyclists of all time, Marianne Vos. But don’t mistake the purebred Liv Brava SLR for a one-trick pony. No, the Brava is truly a do-it-all machine, equally comfortable on the race course or all-day explorations.
The Brava SLR features an aluminum frame with full carbon fork and a geometry designed to facilitate quick, responsive, and stable steering at any speed. Disc brakes ensure braking power remains unphased by dirt, dust, mud, water, and any other condition riders are sure to encounter when venturing off the grid. Offered in sizes extra-small, small, and medium, the Brava is made to fit a range of riders as broad as it intended application. The Brava SLR features a single-ring setup complete with durable Sram Apex shifters, hydraulic disc brakes, and rear derailleur that shifts across an 11×42 cassette. The wheels are Giant’s own P- X2 wheelset, featuring disc-specific rims and thru-axle hubs to provide stiff and secure handling in all conditions.
Rounding out the package is a piece of equipment that doesn’t get nearly as much praise as it deserves: a chainguide! Although modern single-ring-specific chainrings utilize tooth profiles that are highly effective at keeping the chain secure most of the time, the gnarly conditions of a race course or bombed-out county road can bounce a chain right off even a brand new chainring. A simple chainguide, however, gives riders the confidence to know their chain will stay in place regardless of how bumpy the ride gets. As the old saying goes, it’s much better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it!
Liv offers one model of the Brava SLR. What is more, Liv is currently offering 0% financing through Affirm, making it easier than ever to add a shiny new Liv to the stable. So, if you’re in the market for a race-oriented bike that can also handle whatever epic adventure you throw at it, the Liv Brava SLR deserves a keen look.
The German bike maker Canyon is an innovator in more ways than one. Not only do they make outstanding bikes, they offer them at outstanding value. Indeed, Canyon is able to undercut the prices of many other bike manufacturers thanks to their willingness to pioneer the direct-to-consumer sale model. Although other
major industry players such as Trek and Giant have also now adopted direct-to-consumer sales to some degree, Canyon was one of the first manufacturers to do it, and it provided them with both a foothold and loyal customer base that has only helped it to grow more.
Canyon’s gravel bike is called the Grail. The women’s version, fittingly, is denominated the Grail WMN. Canyon boasts that the Grail WMN is more than just a downsized version of the men’s Grail. Rather, the Grail WMN is designed from the ground up with women in mind.
Canyon offers the Grail WMN in both aluminum and carbon frame options, as well as a variety of builds on each variant to fit nearly any budget and style of rider. The top end carbon model, denominated the Grail WMN CF SL 8.0, is built around a Sram Force AXS drivetrain complete with matching Force AXS hydraulic flat-mount brakes, single-ring Force AXS crankset, and 42T chainring. A 12-speed X01 Eagle AXS derailleur handles shifting duties in the rear across a 10-50 cassette, providing plenty of range to conquer any terrain. The CF SL 8.0 rolls on bulletproof DT Swiss G1800 wheels wrapped in Schwalbe G- One Bite 40mm tires.
But despite this already-impressive build kit, the most notable feature by far is the Grail WMN’s one-of-a- kind handlebar. The Grail WMN’s cockpit is built around Canyon’s unique (to say the least) CP07 Gravelcockpit. This dual-layered handlebar features the drops of a traditional road-style handlebar, but the upper part of the handlebar is unlike any other product on the market. Instead of simply sweeping up into the top, horizontal part of the handlebar, the CP07 Gravelcockpit features a second horizontal bar connecting the middle of drops, providing riders with the option of a second, lower hand position without using the drops. As an added benfit, Canyon claims this bifurcated handlebar design dramatically reduces road vibrations when the rider’s hands are positioned on the top bar.
Canyon also offers four other builds, from carbon frame and Shimano GRX RX810 mechanical 11-speed groupset to an alloy frame and Shimano GRX RX400 groupset.
The Grail WMN comes in sizes 2XS to M, with the two smallest sizes rolling on 650b wheels to provide the perfect fit regardless of rider height.
The Buying Guide
The bikes featured above are just a few of the women’s-specific gravel bikes currently on the market. But before reading about all the features, components, and options available to choose from (which can overwhelm even experienced cyclists!), you may be wondering how you could ever pick the right bike or maybe even where to start.
In this section, we’re going to set out a few of the key considerations and decisions to make before starting the hunt for your gravel bike.
Cyclocross bike versus gravel bike
One of the first decisions to make is whether you want a cyclocross bike or a dedicated gravel bike. To be sure, many cyclocross bikes excel as gravel bikes and there are pros and cons of each. Moreover, as technology progresses, more brands are blurring the lines between their cyclocross bikes and their gravel bikes, with some even becoming one in the same.
Cyclocross, as a discipline in the sport of cycling, is a type of racing that occurs on a closed course, typically 1 to 3 miles long, which contains a variety of surfaces from grass, to dirt, to pavement, to straight mud. The races generally last 45 minutes to one hour and therefore typically involve all-out efforts. Cyclocross bikes, therefore, tend to feature more aggressive geometry, tighter handling, and few if any accessory mounts. Cyclocross bikes tends to be lighter than dedicated gravel bikes, but due to their steeper headtube angles and shorter wheelbases, they also tend to be less stable on long, technical descents. Thus, riders who are confident in their bike handling skills and willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort for performance often appreciate the responsive steering, lower weight, and corresponding snappy acceleration that cyclocross bikes offer.
Gravel riding, on the other hand, is typically less intense and longer in distance and duration. For these reasons, dedicated gravel bikes typically feature slacker headtube angles, longer wheelbases and top tubes, fender and accessory mounts to store extra food and hydration, and more tire clearance than their more race- oriented counterparts. Thus, many riders find dedicated gravel bikes to be more comfortable over long distance rides. Accordingly, riders who are seeking the ultimate adventure rig and willing to sacrifice snappy handling and quick acceleration in order to gain stability and comfort often gravitate toward dedicated gravel bikes when the road gets rough.
Frame and frame material
The next consideration is the frame and frame material. A bike’s frame determines a variety of factors including what types of axles and brakes and bike uses, to a bike’s maximum tire size, to a bike’s overall ride quality.
With respect to brakes, axles, and tires, nearly all modern gravel frames use the same types of components. First, modern gravel tend to use thru-axles and disc brakes. Thru-axles are axles that route through the wheels’ hub and bolt into the frame to secure each wheel, as opposed to the old style “quick release” axles which essentially clamped each wheel into the frame. Thru-axles allow for stiffer wheels and perfect wheel alignment in the frame every time. Nearly all modern gravel bikes also use disc brakes to provide maximum stopping power regardless of weather conditions. Finally, most modern gravel bike frames can accommodate tires at least up to 40mm wide on a 700c wheel (more on that in a bit). And some frames can fit much wider tires, too.
When it comes to frame materials, the most common are aluminum and carbon fiber. Some brands also offer steel frames and some manufacturers make frames out of even more exotic materials like titanium!
Frame material is one of the key factors that dictates a bike’s ride quality. It’s also a key factor in determining a bike’s price point. As a general matter, aluminum bikes are the most affordable. Aluminum is a solid material, offering relatively low weight, a good stiffness to weight ratio, and good durability. Drawbacks include a rougher ride quality when compared to (some) carbon frames and all steel and titanium frames. Still, aluminum bikes strike a nice balance between performance and value, and it is an excellent material to start with if you’re just getting into gravel riding.
Carbon fiber is another very common frame material. The main benefit of carbon fiber is its very low weight and exceptional stiffness to weight ratio. Carbon fiber is a premium material and accordingly almost always costs more than an aluminum bike with a similar build kit. But it’s hard to beat the feeling of pedaling a light bike uphill. The added efficiency, furthermore, can be a gamechanger on long rides, where it takes everything you have to get home and every ounce of energy matters.
Steel and titanium are other somewhat common frame materials. Steel bikes offer the best ride quality of any frame material, very effectively dampening the vibrations of even the roughest roads and giving the rider an unprecedented riding experience. But steel bikes do so at a serious weight penalty. Steel bikes also sacrifice stiffness for comfort. Still, nearly all classic bicycles were made of steel, providing intrinsic satisfaction to pedaling a modern steel bike. What is more, today’s steel bikes have adopted many modern features such as thru-axles, flat-mount brakes, and carbon fiber forks, making them quite competitive even if a bit heavier than their flashier counterparts.
Lastly, titanium is perhaps the most premium frame material available. Titanium offers nearly the best of all worlds in terms of weight, durability, and ride quality. Although not as light as carbon fiber, titanium bikes are significantly lighter than steel bikes, yet they are extremely durable and provide an ultra-smooth ride quality that rivals that of steel bikes. Of course, being a super-material in these respects, titanium also carries
a premium price tag. But if you’re in the market for a premium gravel bike to be your “bike for life,” titanium is the way to go.
Below you’ll read much about single-ring versus double-ring drivetrains. This refers to the number of chainrings on the crankset. Standard road bikes use two chainrings—a “big ring” and a “small ring.” Gravel bikes, however, have largely adopted single-ring drivetrains that first gained popularity in the mountain bike world.
Double-ring setups are typically paired with smaller cassettes to provide for smaller “jumps” between gears upon each shift. Single-ring setups, on the other hand, are typically paired with “wide range” cassettes, which aim to provide a low climbing gear to compensate for dropping the small chainring while not sacrificing too much top end speed.
Single-ring drivetrains offer increased simplicity, as there is only one derailleur to worry about instead of two. Single-ring drivetrains are also a bit lighter simply by virtue of using few parts. Double-ring setups provide riders with more gear options, meaning the rider will more likely be able to find that “perfect” gear for whichever cadence she is pedaling in at the moment. Ultimately, however, choosing between a single- ring and double-ring setup often comes down to how a manufacturer has configured the bike. Many if not most gravel bikes ship with single-ring setups, but most bikes can accommodate a front derailleur and double-ring crankset if the rider decides she wants to switch things up.
One of the last variables to consider is wheel size. Gravel bikes utilize two main wheel sizes—650b and 700c. 650b wheels are about 1.5 inches smaller in diameter than 700c wheels, allowing riders using them to often run wider tires than they could run on larger wheels. 650b wheels are a bit lighter than 700c wheels, due to their smaller size, and they are also more nimble to handle. 700c wheels, on the other hand, roll over obstacles more effectively than their smaller counterparts. Some riders also claim 700c wheels roll faster than 650b wheels do, but research into this claim so far has been inconclusive. Ultimately, choosing the best wheel size comes down to how each individual rider prefers her bike to handle and where and how she intends to ride. Thankfully, many modern gravel bikes can accommodate both wheel sizes, meaning the rider can opt for 650×2.1” mountain bike tires if she’s heading out for an epic all-day adventure or for more narrow 700x35c tires if she’s going out for a fast group ride.
Gravel riding is one of the most exciting and satisfying disciplines in the entire sport of cycling. Long- distance adventures down roads less traveled often lead cyclists to new places they never would have found otherwise. Modern gravel bikes make these excursions all the more enjoyable. Ultimately, like any piece of equipment, the gravel bike that’s right for you is a deeply personal decision that involves many trade-offs and much cost-benefit analysis. We hope you’ll find this guide helpful in making your decision.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back soon!