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Which gravel bike is best suited for your needs? Exploring a variety of builds

Urbane Cyclist's collection of Marin, All-City and Surly bikes has something for everyone

Photo by: Marin

The gravel scene is exploding across Canada and the world. Bikes given the ‘gravel’ title have extremely diverse geometry, builds, uses and costs, so it can be a bit overwhelming trying to figure out what bike would best suit your personal needs.

We spoke to Samantha Richter, sales manager and worker-owner at Urbane Cyclist who shared some of the shop’s best options for anyone from the gravel-curious to those ready to take on epic mixed-surface adventures.

Marin Nicasio+

Urbane Cyclist carries a number of Marin’s gravel bikes. “Marin is the place to be when it comes to affordable and fun options,” says Richter. “They have really good design and engineering all the way through their price points.”

One of Marin’s latest bikes, the Nicasio+ has been selling quickly at Urbane. Richter says the bike has a, “really hip and progressive drivetrain,” and notes the 650b wheels and Microshift Advent 1×9 drivetrain. “It hits all the points for someone trying to get into gravel or some light bikepacking for the first time,” she says. “They’ve used the frame from their Nicasio series but they’ve put together a kit for it that is really adventure gravel focused. A lot of folks enjoy it as a city ripper as well, the tires are really comfortable and the mounts on the front and back can be used for everyday commuting panniers.”

This bike is well suited for someone who is looking for just one bike that can do it all. It’s also compatible with a 700c wheelset, which opens it up to an entirely different type of riding.

Good for:
Adventure gravel riding
Geared-up city commuting
One bike to do it all

Marin Nicasio+ highlights

– Series 1 Double Butted CrMo frame
– MicroSHIFT Advent, 1×9 drivetrain
– Tektro Road Mechanical Disc brakes
– Marin Aluminum Double Wall rims w/WTB Horizon 650Bx47mm tires
Cost: $1,249

Upgrades: The Nicasio also comes in an upgraded 700c version for $2,069. “The tiagra drivetrain and wheel spec fit more into the classic gravel category,” says Richter. “The Nicasio 2 is very reliable for a light tour, or long days of gravel on country roads.”

All-City Space Horse

“The nice thing about All-City is that they’re a company of bike people. When you talk to All-City at trade shows they listen, and you see that attention show up in the bikes that they make, ”says Richter.

The Space Horse has been the hottest bike of this season. I always joke that all of our partners end up getting this bike— if you’re going to have one for bike for tours, gravel riding, endurance or commuter cycling the Space Horse is the one.”

The butting profiles on the All-City Space Horse are manufactured per-size, so riders from size 42 to 61 will have an enjoyable ride. “They’re not size discriminatory,” says Richter, “everyone gets a sick bike.”

“The Shimano Tiagra 10-speed drivetrain on this bike is the quintessential workhorse competent groupset,” she says. “You can put a lot into it and get a lot out of it.” At $2,299 she describes this bike as a great sweet-spot: “You really get a bang for your buck. With good quality steel, which is finished with E.D. coating and liquid paint finishing, these bikes are meant to be used and abused. The paint won’t chip easily—it’s something you can ride and enjoy for a long time.”

Good for:
Tall or short cyclists

All-City Space Horse highlights:
– 612 Select Tubing, brazed-on seat collar, and reinforced water bottle bosses
– Custom-designed lugged fork crown, 4-point rack mounts, and stealth dynamo routing
– Signature fork ends and dropouts accommodate 12mm thru-axles, flat-mount disc brakes
– Front and rear rack mounts, hidden fender mounts
– E.D. Coating ensures smooth paint application, and protects against rust and corrosion and ensures long term durability.
– English Threaded, pantographed bottom bracket shell
– Clearance for 650b x 47mm on all sizes, and the 49-61cm frame sizes also fit 700c x 45mm
Cost: $2,299

Upgrades: The Space Horse also comes in a Shimano GRX 650b spec for $2,899. “What you end up with is the same frame with a deeper off-road or softer ride feel,”says Richter. “If you know you’re leaning a little more towards bikepacking, singletrack or cyclocross riding you can take this bike a bit further in that direction with GRX. If you’re worried about hills and you want a little extra help, those compact chainrings and wide gear range will help with confidence.”

Surly Midnight Special

Adjacent to the Space Horse is the Midnight Special. It serves a comparable purpose, but runs a SRAM Apex drivetrain. “It’s a really similar bike,” says Richter. “We stock the Space Horse and the Midnight Special because some people specifically want 1x or 2x.”

With SRAM Apex 1×11, the Midnight Special is more of an off-road experience than the Space Horse, but is still great for endurance road rides.

“From a fitting perspective,” says Richter, “All-City and Surly fit a bit long. We keep the stack height quite tall on them. Part of getting on a nice bike is getting a nice fit.” In non-pandemic times Urbane will do a bike fit for customers buying a new ride.

Good for:
Endurance rides
1x fans

Surly Midnight Special highlights
-Frame is 4130 CroMoly, double-butted main triangle, ED coated, TIG-welded
-Flat-mount disc brakes, 12mm front and rear thru-axles, and a 44mm head tube
-Clearance for 650b x 60mm or 700c x 42mm tires without fenders (650b x 50mm or 700c x 38mm with fenders)
Cost: $2,899

Upgrades: Urbane Cyclist sells a special edition of the Midnight Special, the Urbane Custom x Surly Midnight Special Campagnolo. The bike, currently on sale for $4,399, is spec’d with a Campagnolo Potenza groupset, custom built carbon fibre Knight Composites wheels with White Industries hubs and many other upgrades.

Marin Lombard 1

If you’re looking for a more aggressive and snappier gravel ride, Urbane also stocks Marin’s Lombard 1. Compared to the compact Nicasio+, this bike is leaner with a shorter stack and a sporty aluminum frame.

Spec’d with a 2×9 Shimano Sora drivetrain, 700c wheels and 45c tires, Richter is quick to note that the Lombard 1 is still very much a gravel bike. “It’s comfy and confident,” she says. “It can do city riding, it can do endurance, and it can do road. It will feel fast and peppy like a road bike, so it’s good if you’re getting into some gravel from road.”

Good for:
Endurance rides
Fast, road-style gravel
City riding

Marin Lombard 1 highlights:
– Series 2 Lombard 6061 Aluminum frame and Straight-Blade fork
– Shimano Sora 2×9 drivetrain
– Tektro Road Mechanical Disc brakes
– Marin Aluminum Double Wall rims w/Vee Tire G-Sport 700x40c tires
Cost: $1,249

Upgrades: The Lombard also comes in an upgraded version for $2,069. “These are for riders who know what they want,” says Richter. “They already have a commuter and mountain bike and their Lombard will be used specifically for gravel and endurance.”

Marin DSX 1

“We’re super stoked on the two DSX iterations that came out this year,” says Richter. “At $1,249 they have an entry level price point but they’re not an entry level bike.”

These lighter weight aluminium framed bikes feature refined gussets and a full carbon fork. “They’re not as rigid as some bikes,” says Richter. “They’re comfy to ride on, durable and give you a lot of control—they have great handling.”

Marin is known for its mountain bikes, so it’s no surprise the company put out a flat bar gravel rig. With a ton of tire clearance, the DSX is spec’d with WTB Riddler 700Cx45mm tires and can fit fenders through the front and rear.

“This bike is comfortable and confident on longer rides, but it doubles as a great city bike as well—it doesn’t have to be just one thing.” She notes that a lot of Urbane’s off-road bikes are well suited for city riding.

Good for:
Light singletrack
Thick trails
Living life not knowing where you’re going to end up

Marin DSX 1 highlights:
-Shimano Deore 11-51T
-WTB Riddler, 700Cx45mm tires
-Internal Cable Routing
-Tektro Hydraulic brakes
Cost: $1,249

Upgrades: The DSX 1 runs a 1x Shimano Deore drivetrain, but with an upgrade the bike can be spec’d with Deore 12 speed.

Marin Headlands

Marin also carries higher-end carbon fibre gravel bikes. “The Headlands is a unidirectional carbon fibre bike,” says Richter. “There are a few really neat points on this frame that show how mindful Marin is of the spread of their different riders and their needs.”

She notes that they designed the bike with flared out chainstays that are wide enough to provide a lot of tire clearance, allowing for 650b x 50mm or 700c x 45mm tires. The frame is designed to be 1x specific.

“What I like about this bike is that it comes back to Marin’s mountain bike roots,” says Richter. “You have a really compact cockpit and a more setback seat tube. This bike is great for endurance and travel—there are bikepacking mounts everywhere on it. This is a sporty, carbon, mountain capable machine.”

Good for:
Trail riding
Cost: $3,699

Marin Headlands Highlights:
-Shimano GRX RX810 drivetrain & FSA Gossamer Pro crankset
-Shimano GRX BRX810 hydraulic disc brakes
-Schwalbe G-One Performance tubeless ready tires

Upgrades: The higher-end version of the Headlands comes with a dropper post, to allow riders to get deeper into trails. “The bike’s slacker angles allow you to throw your weight around,” says Richter, “and the dropper post is good for descending a gravel hill or trail section.”