The Secret to Choosing a Gravel Bike

If you’re like me, the number of hours of cardio on my Peloton and my mountain bike make me feel like I’m doing enough. How are we supposed to fit in gym time?

Hundreds of gravel bikes, multiple test rides, countless YouTube videos, and six months of indecision later, and I have finally found the perfect gravel bike. Well, for me anyway.

So why on Earth did it take me so long to pull the trigger? Why did I get this close to buying the wrong bike? And how can you avoid analysis paralysis or, worse, an expensive mistake?

I think the bike industry can’t decide what a gravel bike is, and they’re so good at muddying the waters. But in the end, I found a secret weapon. (A secret weapon? I wonder what it could be.)

To help me understand why I was procrastinating, and combined with our “get clear” checklist from our first video, I figured out how to go from “which bike” to “the bike.”

I think the bike industry is taking its cues from Big Cereal.

There are over 10 varieties of just Cheerios. Land on any of the top bikes, like, I don’t know, let’s say the Giant Revolt, and what do you get? 26 versions of Revolts. Track Checkpoint, ditto. Specialized Diverge? Here you go.

In the meantime, there are ways to simplify getting to the right bike, starting with tip number one: getting clear so you can get to your shortlist.

The first order of business is knowing what you’re looking for so that you can dispense with all the bikes that don’t fit the bill. So let’s recap the six categories we talked about in our last video and where we landed.

Ask yourself, how will you really use your gravel bike?

Your idea of a gravel bike and mine may vary widely. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the gravel bike spectrum is getting wider and wider. I really don’t get how this goes with these trails. Like, isn’t this how mountain bikes started back in the ’80s? Come on.

For us on the spectrum from race bike to single track-worthy, we’re here: fast on pavement, can handle legit gravel roads, and comfortable for those long haul rides.

Just figure out your pavement to gravel to trail ratio, and then move on to: can it be test-ridden? ‘Cause I haven’t ridden a curly bar bike since the ’70s. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Gen Xers will remember: they were simply called ten speeds. Simpler times. Anyway, if I can’t test ride the bike, it’s goodbye bike.

Next, decide on:

Mounts for bike packing?

Yay or nay? Yay. I’m not sure if bikepacking will be your jam, but what if it is? No lugs? No way.

Which drivetrain?

One by or two by? Two by. I love the single-ring setup on my mountain bike, but this time around, I’ve decided to change gears. Now, decide which specs are must-haves and which ones are nice to haves. For example, carbon frame: must-have. I want this baby to be super light.

Carbon wheels?

Really nice to have, but also can be upgraded down the road pretty easily.

Electronic shifting?

Nope, too much money. E-bike: uh-uh. If you watch this video, you’ll realize that I have some fat to burn.


Big nope. I have a mountain bike, that’s what that’s for. I want more efficiency this time, not less. And of course, max price.

What’s your max price?

We’ve upped the max price at least twice in this process, but I think you’re going to see that there are times when it may pay to spend a little more.

Once we got clear on all of this, it was so much easier to get to our shortlist. And in no particular order, here’s where we landed in our final three: weighing in at 21 lbs in Ferrari red with frame storage, the number one community pick: the Trek Checkpoint SL5. Number two was also the number two pick, but not to be confused with number two (don’t be gross, don’t be that girl): it’s the Giant Revolt Advanced 0. Finally, making the cut, the fourth most recommended bike and putting the special in Specialized is the Diverge Sport Comp. So, can you guess what’s under this sheet?

Lock in your vote now, but first…

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Now, back to me.

Tip number two is:

Beware of shiny object syndrome

A couple of eagle-eyed followers on Strava noticed a gravel ride in February and said, “Did you finally get your gravel bike?” Yes, finally. Okay, here’s what happened. Last fall, we pretty much decided on the Trek Checkpoint. All we had to do was go to the store that we can walk to, so like, just go on, do it, go talk to the guy, get a good deal, and then Glen asked, “What’s going on with the gravel bikes? Are we even doing that anymore?” You see, the thing is, something was holding me back. The Checkpoint is just so pretty. It has that cool frame storage, and the bike shop was like a great experience. They were really helpful. And if you watched this video, you’ll know why.

But deep down, I just knew it wasn’t the most comfortable bike I had tested. I was falling in love with the way it looked and not paying attention to, you know, things that kind of matter, like fit and comfort. And if I was being honest with myself, both the Diverge and the Revolt were just more comfortable bikes. And I know this sounds stupid, but the Diverge came in blue sparkle paint last year. Glen called it “bassboat.” I don’t know.

It shouldn’t matter so much, but bikes are so expensive. Shouldn’t we like the look of them?

But just as the whole idea of a gravel bike was kind of drifting away, I found my secret weapon, and I got my eye back on what really mattered so I could find the one. But first, tip number three and my secret weapon:

Drop your shortlist into

So let’s hop down here first, because specs don’t matter if the fit is wrong. These two graphs helped me understand so much. So from relaxed to aggressive, the Checkpoint felt aggressive, and the Diverge and the Revolt were more comfortable. And remember, in our bike-buying criteria, I said lots of pavement, some legit gravel, not a lot of single track. The Diverge is all the way over here in rugged territory, while the Trek and the Giant Revolt are over here in more neutral territory.

So things were getting a lot clearer.

Diving deeper on geometry, what I cared about most was reach, and the Checkpoint’s reach turned out to be, no surprise, substantially longer than the other two bikes. And I felt that this tool just helped confirm what my gut was telling me and why the bike I wanted to be the one wasn’t. So, things are getting clearer, and I was getting closer.

Now let’s use this super helpful graphic to make a value call. Down here is price, and the Y-axis is spec level, so you can see the Diverge and the Checkpoint are almost the same, but for a little bump in price. The Revolt is quite a leap up in terms of specs.

Pretty quickly up here, you can see why the Revolt Advanced 0 comes with carbon wheels and an upgraded GRX 800 group set. And for the weight weenies out there, the cranks alone shave 100 grams off the bike. So while the Revolt was on average $588 Canadian more than the other two, the carbon wheels are worth $1,400. And then I noticed the blue sparkle paint was gone, the Trek Checkpoint was out, and I was down to two. But one required us to stretch the budget again.

Okay, enough already.

What’s under here?

I give you….. the Giant Revolt Advanced 0. We spent a little more, but I really think it was the best value for money: full carbon frame and fork, and back here in the rear dropout, there’s a flip chip so that you can set it up shorter for quicker handling or longer and in the longer setting, that’s more stable. You can also go up to a 53 mm tire. And I think that’s what I’m really going to enjoy about the gravel bike is that, you know, if I want to, I could try and go right down to a really speedy, racy tire.

Or, you know, if I decide to do, I don’t know, the Great Divide, I could throw on a set of 53 mm tires. Lots of mounts here for bottles and packs.

This is Giant’s DFuse seat post and handlebars, which kind of, like the Checkpoint and the Diverge, everybody has their own, what they call, compliance or vibration dampening technology. Honestly, I don’t know if I felt sort of the effects of any of them, but maybe it’s because I’m coming from a full squish mountain bike. So, I mentioned it comes with the GRX 800 groupset, and I’m really loving the 2x setup. The steps between the gears are really nice and nuanced, and the range seems to be great so far. A couple of things I’ve added to my bike are my new Garmin Rally power pedals, so now I’m going to have power data on my rides. Yay!

Thank you, Glen. Got those for my birthday.

And the other thing is, I’ve put the Fidlock mount on the frame for the ThirstMaster that came with my mountain bike. I love this thing because it’s 835 ml in one bottle, and it just locks in there with magnets, and it’s just a super great system. And then when it’s not on the bike, it’s just a cleaner look to me. I do have a carbon cage that I’m going to put here for my first group ride.

So, early impressions

First of all, it’s so light, I love that.

Secondly, I really don’t understand why anybody would buy a road bike today. Gravel bikes are plenty fast on the pavement, but look at what we can clean with these things. I’m super glad, no shoulder pain, no knee pain, everything’s feeling really good. I was a little bit worried about that after having ridden a mountain bike for 20 years. And part of the reason why that may be is because friend of the channel, shout out to you, Chris, hooked us up with Sam at Cyclepath Woodbridge, who not only gave us a great deal on two bikes, but he also offered to do bike fits for both of us. And so he really set us up in a good way to get started on this journey.

And that’s the thing about a good bike shop: they’ll help you avoid the number one problem in the bike buying process: ending up on a bike that’s too big for you.

Check out this video where we talk about how to get clear on that early in the process.

That’s it. I’ll see you next time!