Back in the day, if you wanted a road bike that could handle rougher terrain you would simply find an old steel rigid-framed mountain bike, fit a set of drop handlebars to it and maybe some mixed terrain tyres and hey presto… you’d have a gravel bike or ‘gravel grinder’. Bike manufacturers have recently been producing some very capable all-terrain drop handlebar bikes that have design cues from cyclo-cross and mountain bikes. In this article I will take a closer look at 10 of the best electric gravel bikes that are currently available in 2021 – my shortlist includes gravel e-bikes from all the top brands.
It was inevitable that the gravel bike would sooner or later be available in electric assist form, and most of the big names in cycling have been quick to release e-assist versions.
What is the difference between a road bike and gravel bike?
The main differences between a regular road bike and gravel bike are subtle, yet very important. First of all you need to understand the origins of gravel bikes and how they came about.
It’s widely accepted that gravel bikes have their origins in the US. There was increasing demand for a bike that could handle the countless miles of unused tracks that crisscross the vast wilderness and forests. A regular road bike designed for use on tarmac wouldn’t cut the mustard, so riders looked to cyclo-cross bikes – but they were designed for short and often muddy courses. Mountain bikes are designed for handling rugged terrain, but they are often quite heavy, and the high-volume tyres don’t roll so well on compacted gravel surfaces.
What was needed was a bike that could cover ground fast, and yet be capable of handling more technical single track routes.. and so, the gravel bike was born!
With a true all-terrain bike, versatility is the key. And if there’s one type of bike that epitomises the word ‘versatile’ more than any other it’s the gravel bike. Equally at home on tarmac, forest trails and canal towpaths (here in the UK), gravel bikes have seen a meteoric rise in popularity amongst recreational cyclists and commuters alike.
Gravel bikes are characterised by frame geometry that is more relaxed than that or a regular road bike. A taller head tube and slacker angle for more relaxed steering, making it less twitchy than a road bike. The wheelbase will also be longer than that of a regular road bike, thus increasing stability on the road and over rough surfaces (plus increasing comfort over longer distances). A sloping top tube reduces the stand-over height making it easier to get on and off the bike. There’s also increased clearance for much wider tyres than a regular road bike – very important if you’re going to be using the bike as intended!
Why Flared drop handlebars?
Another characteristic of the gravel bike is flared drop handlebars, but why are these types of bars used on gravel bikes? The reason is simple – they offer more control and stability, plus the additional width gives a more natural position.
When riding off-road, a simple set-up like the latest 1 x 11 gearing is much more desirable on a gravel bike. SRAM Apex and Shimano’s latest GRX groupset offer a 42t front chainring combined with an 11-42t rear cassette along with hydraulic brakes. Having the important 1:1 gear ration is important, especially when climbing steep, gravel tracks.
There’s also gear set-ups that use double compact cranksets with 46 / 30 combined with an 11-34 cassette at the rear, Shimano offer this configuration with the GRX.
Hydraulic disc brakes are now in widespread use, not just on gravel bikes but endurance road bikes and cyclo-cross bikes. The benefits of hydraulic disc brakes are well-known – better modulation, better stopping power and excellent braking when riding in wet weather.
Wheels and Tyres
Most gravel bikes uses either the traditional 700c (28″ rim) size or the 650b (27.5″ rim) size, more commonly found on mountain bikes. What are the advantages of 650b over 700c? The most obvious one would be smaller wheel diameters equal tougher wheels.
Most gravel bikes will be fitted with gravel-specific tyres like Schwalbe’s G-One Allround or WTB ByWay. These tyres are much wider than traditional road tyres – usually between 35mm all the way up to 47mm – they’re especially designed for all-terrain riding, and although they will handle a multitude of terrains, they still roll okay on tarmac.
What electric assist systems are commonly used on gravel e-bikes?
The two most popular e-assist systems currently in use on gravel e-bikes are the Fazua Evation and X35 ebikmotion systems. Both of these electric motors have been designed specifically for applications where a lighter weight is considered important – road and gravel bikes in particular. The Fazua features a small drive system / gearbox located where the bottom bracket would be, this is driven by a motor and battery combination which is neatly integrated into the down-tube of the bike. The great thing about the Fazua motor is it can be removed, leaving only the gearbox in place. This means you can litterally have an e-bike and regular bike rolled into one.
The X35 ebikemotion system approaches things differently – it is based on the ‘just enough assist’ idea, where you have an incredibly lightweight system (3.5kg including battery) that can provide assist on demand, whilst keeping the total weight of the bike to under 14kg, meaning you can ride it without the assist and only use the boost when you really need it. For more information on e-bikes and the types of motor used check out my electric bike buyers guide.
The best electric gravel bikes available in 2021 are…
I have tried to represent a wide range of budgets in my selection, none of them are particularly cheap. But they all have their redeeming features. One of the reasons gravel e-bikes have become so popular is their incredibly versatility. They are popular with commuters and adventurers alike.
Ribble Gravel AL e?
The Ribble Gravel AL e delivers on its promises - here is a really capable gravel e-bike that benefits from improved frame geometry and a choice of Shimano GRX components. The bike can be further customised using the 'bike builder' option. In my opinion the Gravel AL e is one of the best value electric gravel bikes currently available.
MATERIAL: 6061 T6 Heat-Treated Aluminium
GROUPSET: Shimano GRX RX400 2×10 Speed
WHEELS: LEVEL Gravel Alloy 650-e
MOTOR SYSTEM: MAHLE Ebikemotion X35+
Orbea Gain M30 1X
This latest incarnation of the Orbea Gain really does ooze quality from every angle. Everything about this bike is perfect and the fact it weighs in at around 12kg means it's unlikely you'll notice the extra weight with the assist off - a truly versatile machine!
The new Orbea Gain M30 1X is a big leap forward from last years model. With newly designed frame geometry which provides greater stability by lowering the bottom bracket and keeping the centre of gravity nice and low – this also helps make the handling fast and nimble.
Shimano’s GRX 1 x 11 gearing helps keep the ratios just right for long days in the saddle and the Fulcrum E-Racing 900 wheelset shod in Schwalbe G-One Bite 700x38c tyres provide assured strength and grip.
Cannondale Topstone NEO SL 1
Cannondale now have the most comprehensive range of electric gravel bikes of any manufacturer. The Topstone Neo SL1 is a super-lightweight carbon fame gravel e-bike that uses the proven Mahle X35+ ebikemotion system combined with a Shimano GRX 1 x 11 groupset. The Topstone Neo SL1 is very competitively priced for a carbon gravel e-bike and looks like excellent value for money.
Cannondale have further expanded their electric gravel bike range for 2021 with the new Topstone Neo SL1 and SL2 models – these new additions benefit from the latest X35+ ebikemotion motor, making the SL models ‘superlight’ when compared with their mid-drive counterparts. Both models boast Shimano GRX components and gravel-specific frame geometry – these bikes are very reasonably priced as well.
Merida ESilex +600
The new Merida eSilex +600 looks like a really capable gravel e-bike. Using the Mahle x35+ rear hub motor and Shimano GRX, the eSilex has impressed enough to win a recent design and technology award for innovation.
Merida have been producing decent e-MTB’s for quite some time now and have only recently entered the world of gravel e-bikes. The new Merida eSilex +600 is a cracking bike and borrows heavily from their already successful Silex gravel range of bikes.
The eSilex ticks all the right boxes with typical gravel-specific frame geometry, Shimano GRX drivetrain and X35+ motor with 250Wh internal battery. The whole bike weighs in at a very reasonable 14kg and what I really like about the Merida is the addition of four luggage mounting points inside the frame triangle and on the forks – Merida can supply a whole range of bikepacking bags specifically for this bike.
I think Merida have got it spot on with the new eSilex, it’s a well thought out bike and recently won a Design and Innovation award.
BMC Alpenchallenge AMP Sport Three DB
The BMC Alpenchallenge AMP Sport Three DB is an excellent all-terrain mile muncher. The Alpenchallenge uses the Shimano Steps E6100 motor and 504Wh battery to provide a potential range of up to 100 miles
The BMC Alpenchallenge AMP Sport Three DB is one of the few e-bikes that use the excellent Shimano Steps E6100 mid-drive motor wrapped up in a lightweight carbon frame. This bike is designed for long days in the saddle riding on mixed terrain. Shimano’s E6100 mid-drive motor produces a punchy 60Nm of torque and will stretch to around 100 miles of battery range when ‘eco’ mode is used.
My own e-bike uses this exact motor and battery configuration and I can testify to its reliability, efficiency and performance. BMC have also designed micro-suspension into the seat stays and the wide 40c tyres will add to the comfort. As with other bikes featured here, the BMC uses a Shimano GRX 11-speed rear derailleur with 11-42 cassette. Highly recommended and one of the best electric gravel bikes here.
Cannondale Topstone NEO Carbon Lefty 1
I had a ride on one of these last year and it's amazing - unfortunately for me so is the price. Love it or hate it there's no denying the Cannondale Topstone Neo Carbon Lefty 1 is anything but run-of-the-mill -This much fun doesn't come cheap!.
I’ve always read with interest the comments regarding the Cannondale Topstone Neo Carbon Lefty1 – it’s a Marmite bike (you either love it or hate it) but one thing’s for sure, it’s off the scale when it comes to off-road fun! The Lefty1 is brimming with technology including SRAM eTap 12-speed wireless shifting and the 85Nm Bosch CX Performance 4th Gen motor with 500Wh battery. There’s nothing out there like the Cannondale that’s for sure.
Specialized S-Works Turbo Creo Evo SL
You've got to hand it to Specialized, when it comes to designing the pinnacle of gravel e-bike technology they're always at the top of the game. This is superbike design and performance with added snap crackle and pop!
There’s not really a lot more I can say about the Specialized S-Works Turbo Creo Evo SL – it’s an amazing motor wrapped up in a stunning package. This electric gravel bike is a technophiles dream come true – SRAM Red AXS eTap, integrated power meter, dropper seat post and superlight advanced carbon frame and wheelset – if you’ve got this kind of money to spend, why not?
Cannondale Synapse NEO SE 27.5″ 2021
The Cannondale Synapse Neo SE has been around for a couple of years now and it's still a very tempting package for the price.
I’ve got a soft spot for the Cannondale Synapse Neo SE 27.5″ – it was one of the first gravel-specific electric bikes available and it has stood the test of time. The Bosch Active Line Plus motor delivers a pleasingly quiet and smooth boost of assist and with the 500Wh battery you can squeeze about 80 miles out of a single charge. The 650b gravel tyres help smooth out the rough stuff and SRAM Apex 1 x 11 gearing provides a decent gear range. It’s specification still looks impressive alongside the current crop of gravel e-bikes. If you’re not bothered about the weight (18kg) it’s a very capable and enjoyable bike to ride.
Vitus E-Substance Aluminium Electric Gravel Bike
The Vitus E-Substance Aluminium is one of the best value Fazua Evation powered electric gravel bikes currently available. It's everything a gravel bike should be with a tough wheelset and SRAM Apex 1 x 11 gearing. I'm a big fan of Vitus e-bikes (I own one myself) and the E-Substance is going to be very popular.
Released for the 2021 season, the Vitus E-Substance is an excellent gravel e-bike and is sold exclusively through Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles. I’ve ridden a few Vitus electric bikes over the last couple of years and have always been impressed with the excellent build quality. So much so, that I purchased a Vitus Mach E last October.
The E-Substance uses the excellent Fazua Evation modular mid-drive motor which is lightweight and can be removed – you can have an e-bike and regular bike together. SRAM Apex 1 x 11 provides crisp and precise gear shifting and the price is a remarkable £2999 which makes it one of the best value gravel e-bikes in its class.
GT eGrade AMP Electric Gravel Bike
It's great to see GT cycles have released a gravel e-bike based on their excellent Grade series of gravel / adventure bikes. The new eGrade AMP looks like excellent value for money.
It was inevitable that GT cycles would release an electric version of their iconic Grade gravel bike – the new GT eGrade AMP looks like a great package for the price, and ticks all the right boxes when it comes to lightweight electric gravel bikes. From the Shimano GRX 1 x 11 groupset through to the WTB Resolute tubeless-ready tyres, I think GT have nailed it with this one – definitely worth a look if you’re in the market for a capable and tough gravel e-bike at a very reasonable price.
So there you have it – 9 of the best electric gravel bikes currently available. Is there a clear winner? This really depends on who much you are wiling or able to spend. Personally I think the Specialized S-Works is a luxury item – sure if you can justify spending that kind of money on an e-bike then it’s an absolutely fantastic piece of engineering. I think if money’s no object I would tend to lean towards the Cannondale Topstone Lefty 1 simply because of its off-road ability and fun factor.
As far as the more affordable gravel e-bikes are concerned, I think the latest Ribble Gravel AL e takes some beating for sheer value and all-round ability. Following very close behind would be the Cannondale Topstone Neo SL2 – it’s also an excellent gravel bike and comes in at only a couple of hundred pounds more than the Ribble.
The new Merida eSilex +600 is a very well thought out gravel e-bike and benefits from multiple luggage mounting points making it a serious contender for the best bikepacking electric bike here.
If it’s the strong climbing ability of a mid-drive you require then it’s really a toss-up between the Cannondale Synapse Neo SE and the BMC Alpenchallenge AMP Sport Three DB – the latter is in my opinion the better bike as it’s lighter and has a full carbon frame (although it’s £500 more expensive).
The Orbea Gain M30 1X is an absolute gem of a bike – it’s very light, incredibly responsive and a lot of fun to ride. Finally the Vitus E-Substance Aluminium is well worth a look. The fact you can remove the motor drive system and battery complete thus reducing the weight by 3kg means you can has an e-bike and regular bike all in one – it also have a great specification and is one of the best value gravel e-bikes here.
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions or comments please leave them below – I usually reply within 24hrs.