With temperatures dropping around the country, gravel-riding season is upon us. Here are some of our top accessory picks for making your unpaved road rides a little more comfortable.
Wahoo Elemnt Roam Cycling Computer ($380)
Best for: Epic Adventures on Unknown Roads
There are dozens of cycling computers on the market, but the Roam should be on every gravel grinder’s short list. Like all of Wahoo’s cycling computers, the companion app makes it painless to upload routes from third-party sites like RideWithGPS and Strava. The Roam offers turn-by-turn navigation and will even route you back on track if you decide to take a detour to a scenic overlook or coffeeshop. If you’re really into data, the Roam easily syncs with power meters, heart rate monitors, and other sensors to provide mountains of information for post-ride analysis. The two features we came to appreciate most were the intuitive interface, which becomes critical when your mind is muddled midway through a grueling gravel race, and the 17-hour battery life, key for endurance competitions and bikepacking adventures.
WTB Venture Tire ($60)
Best for: Fast and Confident Mixed-Surface Riding
When it comes to gravel tires, there are myriad options for riders to choose from. Some tread designs favor pavement with a dash of dirt, while others are downsized mountain bike tires. WTB’s Venture hits the sweet spot with a fast-rolling center tread pattern for pavement and sturdy edge knobs that instill confidence when turning on sandy or rocky gravel roads. We even tested them on swoopy singletrack and came away impressed with how much grip they provided. WTB offers the Venture in a range of widths and diameters, but we like the high-volume 700c x 50mm version. Not every gravel bike will have enough tire clearance for its heft, but the smaller, 40-millimeter version is also a winner. The tan-wall option adds a touch of class to any gravel bike.
Easton EC90AX Wheelset ($1,550)
Best for: Unpaved Performance
Until recently, gravel riders had to rely on wheels designed for road bikes. These wheelsets were frequently underbuilt for rough, unpaved surfaces and built around narrow rims that weren’t a good match for progressively larger gravel tires. Thankfully, those days are in the dust, as brands have developed wheelsets that meet the specific needs of the growing category. Easton’s premium EC90AX wheelset is roadie light at just 1,470 grams yet stiff enough for the rigors of gravel racing. The carbon rims have an internal width of 24 millimeters, which pairs well with gravel tires measuring 35 to 50 millimeters wide. The hubs are fast-rolling, and the Vault freehub is user-serviceable, should the need arise. Carbon hoops are pricey, but you can ride away secure in the knowledge that a two-year, no-fault guarantee backs these wheels against any damage.
Redshift ShockStop Stem ($150)
Best for: Taking the Edge Off
A handful of gravel bikes on the market use some form of front suspension—the Specialized Diverge and latest Cannondale Topstone come to mind—but there aren’t many options if you want to improve the ride of the gravel bike you already own. That’s where the ShockStop suspension stem comes in. Yes, we tried this technology in the bad old days of mountain biking, but this stem is much more refined than the flex stems of the early 1990s. Redshift includes multiple elastomers so riders can fine-tune the amount of flex based on their weight, riding style, and terrain. This stem does a great job of absorbing high-speed vibrations that will wear you down after several hours in the saddle. As someone who suffers from shoulder pain and hand numbness during ultra-endurance events, I appreciate the extra bit of compliance the ShockStop provides.
Apidura Racing Bolt-On Top Tube Pack ($69)
Best for: Mid-Ride Munchies
As the gravel genre has matured, some bike features have become standardized. One such example is top-tube mounts for bolt-on cargo carriers—a carryover from the world of triathlon. Apidura’s Top Tube Pack is impeccably constructed from a lightweight, laminated waterproof fabric. Rather than relying on a zipper than can snag or fail, the company used a clever magnetic flap for speedy, reliable snack access. The pack is slim enough that it won’t rub against your knees yet has room aplenty for multiple energy bags and a smartphone. There’s even a cable port, so ultra-distance riders can run a backup battery to their cycling computer.
Zipp SL-70 XPLR Handlebar ($110)
Best for: Comfort and Controlled Steering
Flared bars are a common sight on gravel bikes, but not all handlebars are created equal. Many flared designs angle the brake/shift levers into a position they weren’t designed for, negating their ergonomic benefits and occasionally creating pressure points on the rider’s palms. The Zipp SL-70 XPLR uses a different approach. This gravel handlebar keeps the controls in the same neutral position as a standard road handlebar and creates sweep below the controls for a wider, more confident hand position when riding in the drops. We appreciate the ergonomic top with an extended, 100-millimeter clamp zone that’s perfect for mounting a cycling computer, aero bars, handlebar bag, lights, and anything else we might need to bring along on our adventure outings.
Shimano GRX Drivetrain (from $1,490)
Best for: The Smoothest Shifting on the Roughest Roads
Shimano’s new GRX line is the world’s first purpose-built gravel component group. Why should riders choose this over other drivetrain options? For starters, Shimano offers GRX in both 1x and 2x drivetrains with gearing ranges optimized for gravel and bikepacking. The Japanese drivetrain specialist gives riders a choice between a more affordable mechanical version ($1,490) and the more expensive but incredibly impressive Di2 electronic version ($2,610). Shift performance is standard Shimano: quick, flawless, and utterly reliable. The feature we like best may sound subtle but makes a big difference after countless hours on the bike: the brand adjusted the pivot location on the brake levers to give riders more control when riding on the top of the hoods, the position most gravel riders find themselves in for hours on end. Precision, comfort, and control add up to drivetrain worth investing in.
Specialized S-Works Prevail II with ANGi ($250)
Best for: Saving Brain Cells with Smart Protection
Aero helmets may save you a few watts, but a well-ventilated helmet will keep you riding in cool comfort for hours on end. The S-Works Prevail II is Specialized’s lightest and best-ventilated helmet yet. This premium lid doubles down on safety features: the MIPS SL system reduces rotational forces during impacts, and when paired with Specialized’s Ride app, the ANGi sensor can alert your emergency contacts in the event of a crash and send them your last-known GPS coordinates. We appreciated this peace of mind when riding off the beaten path.
Smith Pathway ($179)
Best for: High-Res Landscape Viewing
Some sunglasses look fast even at a standstill, but that might not always be the look you’re going for. The Pathway offers a balance of everyday style, technical performance, and ample coverage that’s perfect for bikepacking and gravel adventures. The polycarbonate lenses have impressive clarity, and a hydrophobic coating keeps sweat from obscuring your view. Smith offers the Pathway with Chromapop lenses for ultra-vibrant views, as well as a version with photochromic clear-to-gray lenses that are well suited to rides that may stretch from day into night.
Giro Sector ($225)
Best for: Fast, Efficient Footwork
Giro describes the Sector as a cycling shoe that is “race-ready and adventure inspired.” From our testing, that description is spot-on. Despite their low weight and the stiff carbon soles that feel efficient underfoot when pedaling, these aren’t fragile racing kicks: the Sector features a grippy, lugged rubber outsole that came in handy during occasional hike-a-bike moments and while striding through convenience stores during mid-ride refuels. We also appreciate the breathability of the one-piece bonded mesh upper when the mercury climbs.
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Lead Photo: Justin VanAlstyne