I built up my own gravel mutt from parts I had around, but it's too much the touring bike for long gravel road rides or modern unpaved touring: camping gear is now lighter, so too should be the bike.
- Off-the-peg, because one's own build is too spendy.
- Canti brakes are derided, but they are still easier to maintain, allow you to run a more compliant fork and allow plenty of tire clearance.
- Disks are the fashion now, but there isn't the need if you set up your cantis right, and use wide-profile like the CR720. I will not suggest hydraulic brakes for use far afield.
- Steel frame for best value by pricepoint.
- Shimano Tiagra quality grouppo, or better.
- Geometry more slack than road, but less than touring.
- Bar-end shifters or brifters? There's an argument for both. Certainly not on the down-tube. Gevenalle Retro-Shifters might be best, but never come standard.
Here's my list of the bikes.
All City Space Horse is the closest to a one-bike to rule them all, but 2015 Tiagra chainrings are ugly!
Surly Cross Check is nearly the same thing, but has a bottom-bracket higher than ideal.
Raleigh Clubman Disc: not a real gravel-bike, but works in a pinch and a hell of a price-point. Best all-around bike with discs? That ugly chainring again!
Raleigh Tamland 1
Salsa Vaya 2