Believe it or not, steel is actually one of the best materials for building gravel bikes.
For a long time, steel frames dwindled in popularity due to the rise of aluminum, titanium, and carbon-framed bikes which dominated most major bike brands.
Claims about amazing strength to weight ratios and state-of-the-art processes used to make bikes from these newer materials caused many people to forget about steel and its merits altogether.
Thankfully, this is starting to change and a wave of truly stunning steel-framed gravel and adventure bikes have been launched in recent years to revive the usage of one of the best materials a bike can be made out of.
With the rising popularity of bike touring, ‘bike packing’, and other long-distance adventure cycling, it’s no surprise that steel has clawed its way back into the forefront of bike manufacturing.
For the longest time, steel was the go-to frame material for bikes due to its strength and reliability, however lighter alloys led to a rush towards scraping as much weight from bikes as possible, as manufacturers scrambled to make their bikes as lightweight as they could.
Steel got left in the wake of this, and its merits were forgotten about in the mainstream biking world.
While those high-tech materials are definitely still popular among some disciplines, where speed and maneuverability are key, steel-framed bikes have found a refuge, which is becoming a fast-growing home as it’s now the leading material for gravel bike designers.
The reason for this is that steel is simply much more reliable and stronger than these other materials, and can take the strain of the gear and equipment bike tourers love strapping to their steeds.
Steel has the brawn to shoulder the burden of this extra weight and is also capable of handling it over multi-day tours, which are growing in popularity as people learn the pleasure of exploring and adventuring on their bikes.
Steel manufacturing has also come a long way over the years, and some of the better steels can even outperform titanium or aluminum frames in terms of their stiffness while also remaining resistant to fatigue and other damage.
Another thing that has improved over the years is bike geometry and the manufacturing process for bikes.
This means that steel bikes can take advantage of thinner tubing and perfect geometry setups while still offering the renowned strength and durability that steel provides to bike frames.
The famed durability of steel is also another key reason for it being the preferred choice for most gravel bike brands.
Quite simply, steel is far more capable of resisting damage but it is also far more reliable than other high-tech materials, and can usually sustain huge amounts of abuse and carry damage without failing.
This is a key thing to note. It's become a well-known fact that when aluminum or carbon bikes fail, it’s usually catastrophic and can cut your ride significantly short, as well as being nearly impossible or very very costly to repair.
Steel, on the other hand, carries damage well and fails incredibly slowly, giving you the chance to get back to base without endangering yourself or the integrity of your bike long term.
Steel is also far easier to fix than other materials, which makes these bikes incredibly long-lived and excellent value for money.
The major downside to steel, its heavier weight, is pretty much negligible when compared to other bike materials, with most steel bikes weighing in at between 10 and 13 kilograms, which is often the weight of the average bike regardless of its frame material.
This means that you can get all the benefits that steel will provide you without the huge drawback of a noticeably heavier weight.
Even the lightest carbon bikes are typically only 3 or 4 kilos lighter than a steel bike.
This is actually really negligible when you consider that as a gravel bike you will often be hauling many kilos in gear, water food, and other supplies that allow you to take multi-day adventures.
A few kilos won’t make a massive difference to the situation when all this extra weight is being carried anyway, and the extra strength steel provides is actually essential to allow this sort of load to be carried.
If you’re a speedster looking for the fastest possible time around your local cross-country track, then steel may not be the best option for you.
However, if you’re not phased about shaving seconds from your riding times, steel gravel bikes will still perform well off-road and allow you much more flexibility and reliability.
There’s also one final characteristic that people are being reminded of as more bikers rediscover steel-framed bikes.
This is that the ride quality and ‘feel’ of riding a steel bike cannot be compared to any other style of bike.
They handle incredibly well on rough terrain and are known to feel stiff and reassuringly strong while also providing amazing feedback and comfort.
Steel bikes allow you to fly over the rough stuff with confidence, when compared to aluminum bikes which transfer a lot of vibration to the rider.
Steel’s ability to absorb these vibrations and dampen shocks makes for a far smoother ride and a much more comfortable experience.
All in all, it’s quite easy to see why steel bikes are seeing a resurgence in popularity.
A perfect confluence of performance, reliability, and strength makes it perfect for long punishing rides which is exactly what gravel bikes are made to handle.
Now that we’ve explained all the reasons why steel gravel bikes are so great, we’re now going to look at some of the best steel gravel bikes available.
Marin Nicasio +
Marin is one of the biggest brands in the bike industry and has built a reputation for excellent performance across several disciplines from road biking to mountain biking and downhill biking.
The Nicasio + is a great drop bar gravel bike featuring a CrMo Steel frame and fork which provide excellent performance and strength as well as great efficiency.
The 9-speed drivetrain is wide enough to allow you to get up steep inclines and power across smoother terrain with ease.
The Tektro disc brakes work well, providing assured control and the 650b wheels provide an excellent compromise between rolling speed, maneuverability, and offroad performance.
Ribble CGR 725 Steel
Ribble is a brand out of the UK who have been making bikes for several years and has recently produced some very sleek and attractive bikes in the gravel bike niche.
The Reynolds 725 steel construction is superbly strong and comfortable and is capable of handling commutes as easily as scaling your local mountain trails.
This bike’s versatility is complete with its enhanced tire clearance, balanced geometry, and optional wheel sizes.
The rack compatibility is also a nice touch for those who want to mount fixed storage on their bikes.
Founded in 1998, Surly has been ahead of the curve on gravel bikes and steel frames, producing some of the best models of the last 15 or so years.
They’re known for their innovation too, being early producers of the now popular fat bikes aimed at the off-road market.
The Straggler is very different from the Pugsley, however, and has a much more balanced and road-friendly profile for all-around usage.
The versatile geometry gives excellent road and gravel performance, allowing for maximum comfort and pedal efficiency.
The steel frame and forks are strong enough to easily handle gravel trails as a light tourer and excellent commuter.
Jamis Renegade S1
Jamis is another brand known for its quality steel frames and versatile performance.
The frame has excellent ‘go-anywhere’ geometry that is balanced between strong road performance and capable off-road stability.
The Hydraulic brakes perform superbly and the 11x1 drivetrain has ample room for you to climb comfortably and descend rapidly.
The carbon fork is also a great weight saver that makes the renegade a very light bike overall, despite its sturdy steel construction.
The wheels are 29” wide and provide excellent rolling speed on the road and the low attack angle makes them glide over rough terrain with ease.
Genesis Fugio 30
The Genesis Fugio features a 725 steel frame and thin tubes that are strong and lightweight providing an excellent strength compared to its weight.
There are a lot of features that make this a capable off-roader too, with the dropper post being a giveaway to the fun this bike is capable of.
The 650b wheels are nimble and provide great control and the 11-speed gear profile will allow you to go anywhere with purpose.
Bombtrack Hook EXT
Bombtrack is a massive up and comer in the gravel bike space and they have developed some of the most popular designs and grabbed a lot of positive attention from backpackers and tourers alike.
The Hook EXT comes with capable 650b wheels and 2” tires that give great flexibility, and the lightweight steel frame is paired with carbon forks that have plenty of space for attachments and mounts.
There are also a series of mounts on the top tube and down tube, as well as the lower part of the seat tube to allow you to customize your gear set up in various configurations.
The 1x11 gear setup is a popular choice among tourers that gives good versatility, and the tires are tubeless-ready so you can upgrade if you prefer.
Kona Rove ST
The Rove ST is a very classic-looking offering from one of cycling’s most popular manufacturers.
The 650b wheels run well and the SRAM drivetrain is an excellent choice to give great flexibility.
The flat-mounted brakes have excellent performance and there are various bottle mounts to allow you to position your gear wherever you want.
In many ways, the Terlingua has a profile that looks comparable to a cyclocross bike but doesn’t let this fool you.
While it has excellent straight-line speed and acceleration, it’s much more capable of off road use than it looks, while also being lightweight.
Specialized Sequoia Elite
The Sequoia has tour-focused geometry, several bottle mounts, and custom-sized head tubes, making it a perfectly balanced tourer ready for immediate use.
The carbon forks are stable and light, and the hand-built Hayfield wheels are a superb addition that feels amazing.
Genesis Croix De Fer 30
As we’ve seen, UK-based Genesis has some of the best steel bikes and the Croix de Fer is one of the reasons for this amazing reputation.
Made from Reynolds 725 steel and featuring 12mm thru-axles at both the front and rear, this bike can handle a lot of different environments with confidence.
The well-regarded Shimano brakes are some of the best hydraulics available and the bottle mounts are well thought out if a little more sparse than you’d hope from a touring bike.
Purpose-built to provide amazing performance while commuting or exploring, the Salsa Vaya features a durable steel frame, balanced geometry, and a carbon fork for a perfect mix of strength and control.
The drivetrain is especially good for road cycling and gravel routes, providing ample room to push yourself or take it easy and catch your breath.
Norco Search XR Steel
The Norco Search Steel has a nice muted colorway that’s classy and understated, which works well with the ample drivetrain, lightweight carbon forks, and strong frame.
Otso Warakin Stainless Steel
The beauty of a stainless steel frame is that you get all of the strength and shock absorption that steel provides without having to worry about corrosion from rain, muck, or the other crud that bikes tend to collect when being used for touring.
The ride quality and componentry on this bike are excellent, making it a great option for those who don’t want to worry about wet weather usage.
Another offering from Surly, the Krampus is a much more aggressive steel framed bike geared towards bike packing and offroad riding, while still being capable of handling serious road mileage thanks to its 29+ wheels, slack head angle, and ChroMo Steel frame.
Breezer RADAR Expert
The RADAR has one of the widest gear ranges of any bike on this list, and also has a fairly tight cockpit that is a perfect fit for riders who enjoy getting up in the saddle on long ascents.
The 29” wheels provide solid gravel performance and great road speed and the tires perform well in various conditions.
Bjorn Stainless Steel Rival
The brown and silver accents of the Rival are very classy and work to create a very smart and elevated aesthetic, however, this bike certainly isn’t above getting down and dirty.
Featuring an excellent power-focused gear range and a lovely slack head angle, this bike benefits from many modern touches including Rival 1 shifters, Rival hydraulic disc brakes, and excellent DT Swiss wheels.
Twin Six Standard Rando 105
While the frame is a very stable and well-thought-out performer, the specs on this bike are what really make it stand out.
A very wide gear range, Shimano shifters, and derailleurs coupled with Mavic wheels provide superb value and a bike that will perform great right out of the box.
Another great entry by Genesis, the longitude is another slightly more aggressive, off-road-focused gravel bike that can still provide very respectable performance on the commute or on longer road tours.
Marin Four Corners
The relatively rare 3x9 drivetrain on the Marin Four Corners is seldom seen outside of dedicated road bikes, and this speaks to the comfort that this bike is focused on providing for its rider.
With a large, comfortable cockpit and relaxed geometry, the Four Corners give a certain sense of calm and serenity when compared with some of the more frantic, aggressive platforms that gravel bikes are increasingly adopting.
Fustle Causeway GR1
The Fustle Causeway could easily be mistaken for a cross country bike, thanks to its slack geometry, 2.1” tires, and 29” wheels, all of which provide outstanding offroad performance and confidence in the most challenging terrain.
The dropper post also gives away its fun-loving nature, but the drop bars and aerodynamic forks also give away its road-based capabilities.
The Surly Ogre is much like the Krampus in that it’s a capable off-roader that can also handle roads with comfort and efficiency.
While a little less aggressive than the Krampus, the Ogre has a superb drivetrain setup, a very balanced geometry setup, and a host of well-positioned mounts which make this bike a true all-rounder capable of as many miles of fun as you can throw at it.
Sticking with the mythological theme, the Satyr by Ritte is much like its namesake in that it is very at home in woodlands and can skip over rough terrain with enviable ease.
The angles provide great control and precision, while the comfortable and elevated cockpit allows for very nice road performance.
The drivetrain is well thought out and the brakes are powerful, the only drawback is the relatively low number of mounts for those who want to carry a lot on their journey.
Much like the Rove, the Kona Sutra is a very well-respected gravel bike among experienced riders who see it as a very capable bikepacking steed capable of long-distance and awkward terrain.
Powerful SRAM Rival brakes make stopping reassuringly easy and controlled, while the Rival groupset handles power very effectively by an 11x1 groupset that’s very popular among backpackers due to its simplicity and effective range.
Curve Kevin of Steel
This has to be one of the most customizable touring bikes in the market currently and can be set up in many ways depending on your preference.
It’s capable of running both 27.5” and 29” wheels, a testament to the quality of the geometry specs on this bike, as well as numerous mounts positioned on the seat tube, downtube, and forks.
Another great offering from Salsa, the Marrakesh has a wide gear range and unlike a lot of gravel bikes, it’s been built to easily accommodate front and rear panniers for urban commuters or long-range tourers who need as much storage space as they can get.
The head angle is slack for excellent cornering control, while the top tube is positioned to allow for very good on-road comfort and performance.
Brother has been making bikes for around 10 years now and has slowly grown in popularity thanks to their detailed designs and quality componentry.
The 4130 ChroMo Steel is durable and has an ED coating to help stave off corrosion, which will give riders in wet climates peace of mind.
The Rival 1 groupset is a staple among touring bikes known for its performance and reliability, while the thru-axles and wheels provide a wonderfully fast and smooth roll.
While Nordest doesn’t offer fully built bikes just yet, their steel frames are definitely worth checking out due to their gorgeous aesthetics and excellent reputation.
The Albarda has many of the features you would expect to find on a gravel bike, and the slack head angle and seat tube angle offer great off-road control.
Rondo Ruut ST
The Rondo Ruut has one of the most striking aesthetics of any gravel bike so if you want to stand out, this is the one for you.
A strong steel frame, lightweight carbon forks, and modern geometry, coupled with a perfectly balanced drive train mean this bike isn’t just for show and can take you wherever you want to explore.