As I wandered around the Sea Otter Classic this year, a collection of unique-looking bikes all the way at the edge of the expo caught my eye. The noticeable difference between these bikes and most other bikes was the downtube—a curved arc replaced what is normally a straight piece of tubing.
As I stopped to take a closer look, one of the guys manning the booth came over and asked me if I’d like to take it for a test ride. I didn’t have time to go far, but I jumped on the bike and pedaled around the perimeter of the expo. It rode very smoothly—it turns out that the crazy-looking downtube actually acts as a type of suspension, absorbing shock from bumpy roads while also improving pedaling efficiency.
When I got back from my brief ride, I got the lowdown.
In addition to the curved downtube, which Alter Cycles calls the Rider Fit Tube, a specially-designed top tube provides vertical flex while minimizing horizontal movement. Together, the tubes flex as you pedal or encounter bumps.
Alter Cycles also claims that this design improves pedaling efficiency, storing power during the downstroke and releasing it at the bottom of the pedal stroke (normally the “dead zone”). I didn’t spend enough time on the bike to confidently attest or refute that this is the case.
There are four models available, all based around an aluminum frame and a steel Rider Fit Tube. The Reflex line offers three different hybrids with varying components. The top-of-the-line Reflex Elite 500 comes with a carbon fork, Shimano Tiagra and Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, while the budget-friendly Reflex Sport 100 is set up with a steel fork, a Shimano Altus 3×8 drivetrain and mechanical disc brakes. Pricing starts at $749 for the Reflex 100 and goes up to $1399 for the Reflex 500.
The Route 400 is a drop bar gravel and road bike featuring an aluminum fork, a Tiagra 2×10 drivetrain and Spyre mechanical disc brakes. It comes in at $1599.
The downtube is customizable, with seven different colors as well as a few patterns. There are also four different flex options of varying stiffness, allowing riders to tune the bike to work optimally for their weight and desired riding style.
Alter Cycles can be ordered online or bought from a number of authorized dealers across the United States.
Keep Reading: Check out more stuff we saw at the 2017 Sea Otter Classic!
At Sea Otter Classic this year, Breezer was showing off a new gravel bike that will be available for 2018.
The Doppler bridges the gap between Breezer’s two current drop bar adventure bikes, the Inversion and the Radar. The Inversion is an all-road model while the Radar is more dirt oriented with 29 x 2.1 inch mountain bike tires.
The Doppler is designed for road, gravel and dirt touring and randonneuring, featuring tubeless-ready 27.5 inch wheels with stainless fenders, rack mounts and disc brakes.
There will be three different models available. The top two will be spec’d with traditional drop bars and Shimano Ultegra or Tiagra. The model pictured, called the Doppler Cafe, will feature SRAM Apex 1×11 and a 680 mm wide sweeper bar.
Pricing for the Doppler will hit under $900, while the Ultegra-equipped Doppler Team will roll out at just under $2,000 and the Doppler Pro with Tiagra 10 speed will come in at around $1250.
All models will be available this coming fall.
Keep Reading: Check out some other Breezer bikes we’ve covered here or take a look at more Sea Otter Classic 2017 content. Subscribe to our email newsletter to get quality news and stories delivered to your inbox every Tuesday!Tweet Print
Words and photos by Katherine Fuller
When I started cycling nearly 20 years ago, there were three options for the aspiring roadie: high-end race bikes, lower-end models based on race bikes and dedicated touring rigs. That was about it. Hope you liked 120 mm stems and an aggressive riding position or heavy steel with a heavy mountain drivetrain.
In many ways, the current diversification of the bicycle strata can seem based on little more than surgically subdividing the activity for company profits subsidized by tattoo-rich Instagram stories. Not so with machines like the Advocate Lorax: a product that successfully represents one branch of road bike evolution that makes total sense.
The Lorax is described as a road, gravel, commuter, cyclocross and light-touring bicycle with a geometry that puts it in league with the Salsa Vaya and Niner RLT (the Lorax price falls between the two).
The Lorax is named after a Dr. Seuss book about environmentalism and its title character who is a protector of trees. The bike’s understated look is punctuated by a graphic depicting the state tree of Minnesota (where Advocate Cycles is based). Local artist Adam Turman was tapped to sketch the Norway Pine, following an artistic trend of the company’s other models.
The Lorax is crafted of Reynolds 525 steel mated to a carbon fork, which offers a remarkably smooth ride (a titanium frame is also available). The bike comes with 135 mm quick-release wheels, but the rear dropouts can be swapped for single speed or 142 mm thru-axles. Included are Alex rims laced to Formula hubs, Avid BB7S mechanical disc brakes with 160 mm rotors, a 2×10 Shimano Tiagra compact road crankset and 11-34 cassette, a WTB Rocket Comp saddle (not pictured), Cane Creek headset and Innova Pro Flint 700x38c tires.
The frame has mounts for three bottle cages, fenders and rear rack. You can run up to a 40 mm tire (35 mm with fenders). Cable routing is external and downtube bosses offer the option to run old-school shifters. Despite not being fancy, everything works pretty well on the bike and the spec’d options help keep its cost down. The frame itself is wholly worthy of being upgraded as you see fit. Hydraulic disc brakes? More carbon? Lighter wheels? If you have the coin, go for it.
Speaking of coin, another factor that sets this bike apart is that Advocate Cycles gives all its profits, after expenses, back to bicycle advocacy. Adventure Cycling Association, PeopleForBikes, Bicycles for Humanity, the International Mountain Bicycling Association and the National Interscholastic Cycling Association are all beneficiaries—the buyer chooses which one their purchase will support.
I’m not a racer. I’m not even remotely fast. My rides tend to resemble loitering more than anything else, and yet it still took a while to get used to the upright position of the Lorax. I kept feeling as if I wanted to be more hunched over, a testament to the kinds of road bikes I’ve spent half of my life riding. The short stem mated to a rather tall head tube means you aren’t going to feel super powerful even in the drops. Even so, that riding position contributed to the fact that the Lorax is extremely comfortable.
“Comfort” is sometimes interpreted as a derogatory term when applied to a road bike, but my brain kept returning to that word as the Lorax and I got acquainted. The upright riding position, wide wheelbase, cushy tires and steel-carbon combination meant this bike cruised comfortably over rough roads, dirt two-track and even some trails. The Lorax is a bike I would take almost anywhere and is ideal for anyone who regularly rides over less-than-perfect pavement or who has opportunities to explore gravel roads off the beaten path.
The short, upright stem and 75 mm bottom bracket drop contributed to this bike’s off-paved stability. I usually ride a taller cyclocross bike that can get skittish on the chunk of my preferred neighborhood two-track. The ride of the Lorax was a stark and welcome contrast as it ate that terrain up with much more ease and confidence.
The Lorax is also touted as a light touring bike so I loaded it up with frame bags filled with everything I’d need for an overnight campout and headed for the Colorado foothills. The 11-34 cassette and 50/34 crankset provides a 1:1 granny gear ratio. On the steepest climbs, that gearing still didn’t feel quite low enough when riding fully loaded, but is a practical build for an all-around bike. (It also probably means I need to hit the gym this winter.) Notably, the Shimano Tiagra build kit is very, very good—both shifting and looking.
The bike’s front end, normally nice and light with its carbon fork, felt a little sluggish with all the added weight. Still, the Lorax trucked along with stability as I heaved myself up and over steep dirt roads. On the descent back down the canyon, I let it run fast and loose and felt completely trusting—again thanks to the bike’s stability. Other than my legs running out of options on some climbs, I would be perfectly happy with the Lorax serving as “the one” if my regular cycling life included a mix of commuting, road riding, gravel grinding and short, overnight trips.
Worth noting is that Advocate recently announced a new model, the Sand Country, with a 3×9 mountain drivetrain and a steel fork sporting bottle mounts. If you want a bike more dedicated to touring, you might want to wait to check that one out. If you want a bike more dedicated to just riding, exploring and adapting to your ever-evolving cycling preferences, the Lorax is highly worthy of your attention.
Tester:Katherine Fuller, 5’4”, 120 lbs., Inseam 31”
Weight: 24.5 lbs.
Sizes: 49, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 61 cm
This review originally appeared in Bicycle Times #43. Check out more bike reviews on our website here and subscribe to our email newsletter to get content like this delivered to your inbox every Tuesday!
Adventure outlet REI is ushering in spring 2017 with their new bike line, Co-op Cycles. This new line of bicycles increases their focus on adventure products by placing a slightly increased emphasis on the popular, and growing, segment of gravel and adventure inspired bikes. Feedback from a co-op members survey directed REI’s decision making after it was determined that members were looking to purchase bikes for adventure, freedom and fun. Sounds good to me.
Select representatives from the cycling and outdoor industry were invited to kick the tires on the new offerings and do a short mixed surface bikepacking overnight in the outskirts of Austin, Texas. Part of the Austin REI team led the ride on paved and gravel county roads, giving riders the full experience on the Co-Op ARD 1.2, their all-around, gravel/adventure bicycle.
The ARD 1.2 represents the middle-of-the-road option in terms of trim and pricing. It features an aluminum frame with a carbon fork, Shimano 105 drivetrain, TRP Spyre-C dual piston mechanical disc brakes, rack mounts and a front thru-axle.
The bike comes stock with 28mm tires and a generous amount of room for fenders. For this ride, the ARD 1.2 was set up with beefier 35mm tires as we made our way through some thicker dirt and gravel areas. There is still a fair amount of clearance with the 35mm tires, but REI doesn’t recommend using fenders with tires larger than 28mm.
The ARD 1.2 was capable of riding through a variety of terrain and was just fun to ride. The Shimano 105 2×11 drivetrain offered enough of a range to see me up and over most of what Texas hill country could dish out and the carbon fork helped dampen front impacts while remaining stiff and light.
While I don’t often ride drop bars bikes, I really enjoyed my (relatively brief) time on the ARD 1.2. It handled both smooth, flat asphalt stretches and sketchy, gravels descents with equal predictability and seemed up for just about anything else I might want to throw at it.
Available in men’s and women’s sizing, The Co-Op ARD 1.2 will set you back $1,299. If this is a little rich for your blood, Co-Op offers a more reasonably priced (the Co-Op ARD 1.1) model which goes for $849. Of course, the componentry is not as robust as the 1.2, but that is pretty typical when the price drops on a bike (top tip!).
There are also two higher priced carbon models. The ARD 1.3 has a carbon frame and fork, is equipped with Shimano Tiagra components and is priced at $1,799. The most pricey model is the full carbon ARD 1.4, which comes with American Classic wheels and weighs in at 19lbs 1.1oz(!) and will set you back $2,299.
I walked away impressed with the Co-Op ARD 1.2 and feel like REI really took their members’ feedback to heart. This bike is a great choice for a wide range of cyclists who are looking for a moderately priced adventure bike.Tweet Print
Words and photos by Jeff Lockwood
The Italian bicycle brand Bianchi has been an icon in the world of cycling for well over 100 years, and its celeste green paint is lusted after by legions of bicycle lovers from all walks of life. While Bianchi regularly sees its bikes in the pro peloton, the brand is also known for building a solid stable of rigs for mere mortal cyclists. For example, Bianchi produced a very popular series of singlespeed mountain bikes, like the SiSS, in the early- to mid-2000s.
We know from watching races like the Giro d’Italia and Strade Bianche that Italy has some rough roads and that Italians love to ride bikes. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Bianchi’s All Road collection offers a couple of bikes to be ridden atop such surfaces. As part of this collection, the All Road Disc 105 hits a market that prefers a bike that can handle the rugged white roads in Tuscany as well as riding to the local café or winery. While that sounds quite utopian, more practical applications for the All Road for the rest of us means we can ride the bike around town during the week and then take it on some modest adventures on the weekend.
The aluminum All Road frame is designed to be ridden in a variety of scenarios, on differing surfaces—sometimes all on the same ride. While people sometimes simply opt to buy cyclocross bikes for off-road riding, the All Road offers some features that are more specific and useful to the average cyclist—and offers more comfort than a racy cyclocross frame.
Bianchi’s own marketing copy positions the bike as a capable all-terrain steed, “The All Road best suits the needs of riders looking to enjoy endless miles ‘off the grid’ — whether their excursions take them up fire roads, down gravel roads, over mountain bike trails or ‘all of the above.’” However, I find the bike does better with riding situations closer to home. Without failing miserably at being too many things to too many people, the All Road deftly presents a product that wisely offers three important characteristics needed for varying types of riding.
For starters, the amusingly (yet appropriately) named 35 mm Kenda Happy Medium tires offer a tread that will roll nicely on smooth tarmac, grab enough on loose dirt roads and absorb some impact from neglected city streets. The fender mounts are key if you’re more into commuting to the office, as well as light touring. The 35 mm tires are about as wide as you can fit here, but there’s still plenty of room for the fenders. While the rack mounts offer a certain level of utility by allowing you to attach some bags and other bits, I wouldn’t say this bike is quite suited to heavy touring or bikepacking.
The key aspect of the bike’s versatility, in my opinion, is the fact that it’s a bicycle that is quite stable and comfortable on rougher roads for long distances. However, it’s still nimble enough that it can confidently cut and dice around traffic and errant pedestrians as you ride from your apartment to those glorious dirty stretches of road. And, of course, everything in between.
While you could theoretically use the All Road to test the waters of a cyclocross race if you’ve never done one before, the bike has a more relaxed and comfortable geometry and measurements than its racy siblings. The chainstays are a bit longer, which offers more straightline stability, yet the front end of the bike remains on the short side. This lets the bike get snappy when you need/want it to be.
Its taller headtube puts the rider in a more upright (read: comfortable) position, which is always good for those long days in the saddle. This comfortable position is bolstered by the compact handlebars, which offer a shallow drop and slightly flared drops. I love the comfort and confidence this cockpit offers. It’s not often that I find myself riding in the drops on road or ‘cross bikes too much, so it was a pleasure to get into such a position with the All Road.
The All Road is spec’d with a wider diameter seatpost (31.6 mm). Combined with its aluminum frame, I was expecting a rather rigid and unforgiving feel—especially on rough roads. I was pleasantly surprised that the bike muted some of the vibrations on rougher roads. While it didn’t offer steel-frame-level forgiveness, I found it to be plenty comfortable. Sure, this is mostly thanks to the wider tires, but the whole package rode really nicely.
Let’s be honest. The All Road is not designed, or priced, to be a hard-edged racing machine. It’s meant to be more of the trusty Swiss Army knife you have at the ready for whatever might come your way. However, since it’s billed as something to play in the dirt with, I sought out to see how the bike would perform on some tasty singletrack. It’s definitely no cyclocross bike, nor can it withstand truly technical trails with gnarly rocks and roots. But when the path was smooth, flowy and tacky, the All Road was fun. As long as I approached turns with a bit of care, the All Road stuck nicely to the trail.
The component spec on the All Road is typical for what you would find on a similarly priced rig. Shimano 105 takes care of the drivetrain. The 105 group is the workhorse of the shifter/derailleur world, and it’s hard to beat its performance-to-cost ratio. Disc brakes are a must for a bike like this, and Shimano’s road-specific hydraulic brakes offer smooth modulation and confidence. The aluminum stem, bars and seatpost, all branded as Bianchi’s Reparto Corse products, do their respective jobs with neither complaint nor fanfare. The carbon fiber fork is a nice touch. It tracks nicely and doesn’t really chatter on the rough stuff, which is welcome for more dirty sorts of riding.
While the Reparto Corse DRAW 1.9 Disc wheels and the Happy Medium tires performed well during the testing period, I would have preferred to run a tubeless setup. I understand that would have priced the bike a bit higher, but the performance gains, and confidence, offered by tubeless tires is key for such off-road specific bikes like this. I did worry about pinch flats when I would drop the pressure to further smooth out the ride.
While it was designed and built to be primarily ridden off-road, I found the Bianchi All Road more adept at rides along varying types of surfaces, rather than a pure gravel machine as marketed. If you’re into riding what you want, when you want, the All Road is certainly worth consideration. It may lack the sexiness that Bianchi is known for, but it’s a reliable rig that’s versatile, comfortable, decently spec’d and comes in below the $2,000 threshold.
Sizes: 50, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 61 cm
Weight: 24.3 lbs
This review originally appeared in Bicycle Times #44. Read more reviews online here, and subscribe to our weekly email newsletter to get content like this delivered directly to your inbox every Tuesday.Tweet Print
The Outdoor Demo of Interbike was thin on test offerings this year, but the stainless steel Warakin from Otso Cycles caught my eye. Otso is the brainchild of the Wolf Tooth Components team, started to build off-the-shelf bikes that “were not available.” We hear that excuse a lot, especially in the last few years with the explosion of several new, small bike brands. I took the Warakin for a short test ride to see if there might be any substance to the hype. I also like shiny things.
(Try not to mind the blue plastic flat pedals on our test bike; it’s what we had.)
Why stainless steel? The answer I got: “Why not? It’s unique.” It was chosen for ride quality and because it’s not commonly used other than by custom frame builders. The frame is indeed beautiful, though I think a black carbon fork would look better than the attempt to color match paint to brushed steel.
Though I only had about an hour to spend with this bike, it already felt more balanced than many of the other bikes in this category. I liked it right away. When bikes like this claim to be just as adept at cyclocross racing as they are at light touring, they usually aren’t. They tend to lean much more toward one of those ends of the spectrum. While I didn’t ride the Warakin with any load other than my own 120 pounds, it gave me a sneaking suspicion that it might actually occupy that elusive middle ground. (Though it has a rounded top tube, so it’s not the “perfect” CX race bike.”)
The ride quality of the material impressed both on smooth pavement and rough dirt roads. The Warakin stayed more stable than a traditional road bike as I meandered down sandy desert washes, and held on better than a dedicated touring bicycle when I hit the road and enjoyed leaning it hard and fast through a series of car-free roundabouts.
Of course, I can’t just credit the material for the ride. The geometry is well balanced and I can only imagine how much more comfortable I would have been had I had the time to really set the bike up per my preferences. The numbers change quite a bit across sizes, so check out Otso’s site for complete geometry information.
Unique to this frame is the use of Wolf Tooth’s flip-chip adjustable dropouts. I fiddled with the mechanism, and it takes no more than five minutes to adjust your chainstay length from 420 mm to 440 mm, with subtle changes to head tube angle and bottom bracket height, as well (about 0.2 degrees on each). Those changes affect how the bike handles and the tire size it will accept, which makes the Warakin truly more versatile than some of its category siblings. And because the rear disc brake mount and derailleur mount are each attached to the flip chip, their alignment self-adjusts. We’ve seen this feature on mountain bikes for a while and I’m actually intrigued to see it on a road bike, especially since Otso/Wolf Tooth kept the setup so simple.
The price of the Warakin—complete—starts at $3,200 and weighs 22.8 pounds. Practically speaking, the frame is ready to go wherever as a light tourer or commuter with rack and fender mounts plus three bottle mounts. It has a threaded bottom bracket (yay!) and clearance for 40-50 mm tires, depending on which chainstay length you’re using.
That’s a great deal, especially since you get disc brakes, thru axles, a carbon fork and a Shimano 105 build at that price. Alchemy sells a stainless frameset with a carbon fork plus headset (but nothing else) for $3,500. Soma Fabrications used to sell a stainless frame, but it no longer seems to be available. Spot Bicycles has a complete stainless bike, the Denver Zephyr that will set you back $5,400.
There aren’t many names in cycling as recognizable as Merckx. Undoubtedly the greatest male bike racer of all time, Eddy’s namesake bicycle brand naturally offers up some performance-oriented models.
According to the Merckx Cycles website, at the 1971 Tour de France, Eddy Merckx won the first stage in Strasbourg that ended on a gravel track where Merckx narrowly beat Roger De Vlaeminck in a sprint. This new bike is an homage to that win with ample tire clearance and high performance disc brakes.
We saw the aluminum Strasbourg71 last year, and checked out the new carbon version at Interbike. It’s not just for racers, either, it has full fender and rack mounts as well as some unusual extra bottle cage mounts along the downtube to mount whatever you’d like. Under the down tube is another bottle cage, as well as a protective barrier just like many carbon mountain bikes have.
The carbon frame allows Merckx to use a BB86 bottom bracket that is truly massive, and the tire clearance fits a big 40mm tire as well. The build kits include SRAM Rival, Shimano 105 and Shimano Ultegra.
The Strasbourg71 Carbon will start at $3,999.
Tester: Jon Pratt
Weight: 26.6 pounds
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
More info: Novara Mazama
For those who aren’t familiar with Novara, it’s the in-house bike line of outdoor mega-retailer REI, and features everything from kids’ to mountain to road bikes. Novara already had successful road and off-road touring bikes in the Randonee and Safari models, but the Mazama splits the difference between those two. It’s designed to handle not just the smooth surfaces around town, but also the gravel and dirt routes that a lot of us dream of while sitting at our desks or leafing through the pages of our favorite cycling magazine.
Personally, bikes like the Mazama are exactly what I envision when I’m thinking of the bike that can get me to and from work, haul my beer, grind out miles on the crushed gravel and dirt paths of my local parks, and guide me through a self-supported bikepacking excursion into the wilderness.
What makes the Mazama lust-worthy—for lack of a better term? For me it’s pretty simple actually. It’s all price to performance ratio. There are lots of bikes out there that can take us from the store to the woods and back. Some of them are really expensive—some not-so-much. The Mazama is definitely in the later category. Yes, I know we all have different ideas of inexpensive, but at around a grand I think it’s fair to say the Mazama fits the bill.
But just hitting a price point isn’t enough. The bike needs to get us out and back safely, comfortably, and provide a platform to attach all our gadgets and gear for our adventures. Besides attaching a water bottle or two and some lights to your bike to get back and forth from work, you might find the need to haul a bit more. Novara designed the Mazama to adapt to those situations as well. There are front and rear bosses that will handle almost any configuration of fenders and racks. There are three bottle cage mounts, with one on the bottom of the down tube.
Do you need another clue that the Mazama was purposefully designed? There’s a guide on the right front fork leg so you can cleanly attach the wire from a dynamo hub. Sure it doesn’t come with one, but at least Novara’s team knows it might be a future upgrade you’d consider.
Now that we’ve got all your hauling needs covered, there’s the task of keeping you and that gear in control on varied surfaces. That’s where a good wheelset and brakes come into play. Novara opted for tubeless ready AT470s rims from Alex rims matched up with Clement X’Plor MSO 40c tires. The rim selection is a bit puzzling—17 mm wide rims seem a bit too narrow for a multi-surface touring bike, especially when it is loaded. While not the fastest tires on smooth, hard surfaces, the Clements do a fantastic job of transitioning between the multitude of surfaces you’ll encounter on tour or on your daily commute. Off road they are pretty awesome.
Of course when you go fast you’ll need to stop fast too. The Mazama relies on TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes matched with 160 mm rotors to bring you safely back from the brink. They are not the most powerful mechanical discs I’ve used, but they do perform well. I could see an upgrade here if you needed a bit more umph. There aren’t any significant bends in the brake line so compression-less housing might help increase the power.
Let’s not forget that handlebar selection is an important consideration for any bike, especially one that you may spend days on end riding in a touring situation. The Mazama’s flared drops provide a comfortable position while descending or just when I needed to mix things up a bit. Unfortunately, the positioning of the hoods down and off the front of the bars just felt awkward. I like the hoods to be positioned so that there is a flat surface beginning on the tops of the bars and continuing to the upturn in the hoods. With the Mazama’s stock hood position I felt halfway in-between where the hoods “should be” and the drops.
Novara chose to spec Microshift BS-M10 bar-end shifters because they are compatible with the Deore rear mountain bike derailleur. It is one of few derailleurs that are capable of handling all the chain needed to wrap around the 48 tooth front ring and 34 rear cog. This allows for a rear mountain bike cassette and 48/36/26 triple chainrings to produce a good range of gears, including a great low end which is well-suited for touring. I also found the frame to be stiff enough and provide plenty of carrying space for all the gear I need for multi-day adventures packed into handlebar, frame and seatpost bags.
The last thing worth a shout-out is the turn limiter that’s built into the FSA headset. There’s an extra bit to this headset you don’t normally see, and its purpose is to stop you from banging the handlebars into the top tube and saving the bar-end shifters in a crash. The bars are in no way hard to steer, but it’s just enough to protect your bike. It seems like a simple idea that I expect to start showing up a bit more in other bikes. We’ve already seen a similar version of it in one of the mountain bikes we’re currently testing in our other publication, Dirt Rag.
No matter if loaded, unloaded, on road or off, there was no unexpected or unwanted feedback from the Mazama. It felt ready to keep trucking along for as long as my legs could pedal. Novara has done a great job putting together a bike that I consider to be a good value and worthy of serious consideration if you are in the market for something that will perform well in a wide range of situations.
Tester: Emily Walley
Weight: 26.9 pounds
Sizes: S (tested), M, L, XL
This year is Marin Bikes’ 30th anniversary, and it marks the introduction of an all-new “utilitour” model, the Four Corners. The neutral gray steel frame gives the bike a timeless look, while disc brakes, wide tire clearance and an upright riding position keep pace with cyclists’ expectations for adventure touring and bikepacking.
What piqued my interest in this bike was its Gemini, do-it-all attitude packaged at an approachable price point. The Four Corners is equipped with a Shimano Sora 50/39/30 crank and 12-36 cassette, wide Schwalbe Silento 700×40 tires and the stopping power of Promax Render 160 mm disc brakes. The bike’s tour-ready spec is rounded out with mounts for racks front and rear, fenders and three water bottles.
Marin also offers the upgraded Four Corners Elite model with a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes for $2,300.
The Four Corners was designed with a long top tube—21.8 inches on the small—but also a long stem offering ample room for adjustment. An upright riding position is facilitated by a tall head tube, and the Marin bars have a 20-degree flare to the drop, which allows for a natural hand position that opens up your core. This had me in the drops more than usual, and I’ll struggle to return to a bar without flare.
On a weekend tour I split my gear between a front rack, frame pack and seat bag. It can be a struggle to fit standard-sized frame packs on small-sized frames, but the long top tube opens up the interior space, expanding storage options for shorter folks. The tires are a good middle-of-the-road rubber, offering adequate rolling speed on hard roads and off-road traction. Best of all they’re stout, making them a good fit in any terrain where you’re susceptible to punctures.
While the stock tires were capable on smooth sections of singletrack and confident when loaded down with touring gear, there’s ample clearance for swapping to larger tires: up to 700×45 with fenders or 29×2.1 without.
The bike remained poised across varying terrain, its balance un-phased by rutted dirt roads and chunky railroad ballast, proving competent to carry the weight for an extended tour. I found the gear range to be ample for touring Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, but an easier gear may be advantageous on an extended tour with sustained climbs.
For days between 45 and 85 miles, the WTB Volt Sport saddle was comfortable and supportive, even on long sections of rail trail. “The Four Corners was designed for the rider who is looking for a versatile, modern take on a touring bike,” said Chris Holmes, brand director for Marin Bikes. “[It’s] one that is equally at home with a weekday commute as it is on a week-long adventure.”
For the city dweller, it fills the niche for everyday commuting needs, and for the adventure seeker, the large tire clearance and touring capability encourages exploring on gravel and dirt. As cyclists, what tales would we have to share if everything went as planned? The Marin Four Corners is ready for a change of route and a story to tell.
Salsa’s all-road/touring line received minor tweaks and updates for 2017. The most recent big news in this cycling realm was the previous launch of the Marrakesh flat/drop bar steel road touring bike, which became available this year. So while Salsa had no new drop-bar bikes to show the Bicycle Times audience at this year’s Saddle Drive, three staple models of the line have notable updates (and color changes).
The Cutthroat is Salsa’s top-of-the-line, drop-bar mountain touring bike that has been under the butt of many a Tour Divide racer and the like. When the bike was launched, it utilized an existing carbon fork in Salsa’s lineup and looked a bit funky. For 2017, it gets its own fork that mates better to the beefy headtube, plus internal dynamo front hub wiring.
Otherwise, the only notable changes are the colors. The bike will now be offered in silver/blue and dark red. Cutthroat with SRAM Force and hydraulic brakes retails for $4,000. The SRAM Rival 22 model with hydraulic brakes goes for $3,000. The new colors with the new fork should hit bike shops in October/November.
The other significant update to a Salsa bike is the ability of the Fargo touring bike to now run 27plus, 29er or 29plus tires.
The bike got Salsa’s new Cobra Kai tubing which is made stronger to meet newer, more stringent testing standards. A slightly tweaked headtube angle accommodates a 51 mm offset fork and will still happily accept a suspension fork.
The rear end gets Salsa’s splitting Alternator Dropout so you can run this bike with a belt drive. New 2017 colors are matte warm gray (which has a unique, color-changing shine to it) and the currently super-trendy Forest Service green. Look for the updated Fargo models in bike shops by November. You can get a 27plus SRAM Rival build for $2,300 or a 29er SRAM GX build for $1,700.
Only two things will change for the 2017 Warbird: its color options and your ability to now run fenders on the bike via hidden eyelets. New colors include purple, white, teal, raw carbon (black) and red orange.
The new colors should arrive in bike shops August/September (depending on build kit). Model pricing is as follows:
- Warbird Carbon Ultegra – $4,000
- Warbird Carbon Rival 22 Hydro – $3,000
- Warbird Aluminum 105 – $2,300
Tester: Justin Steiner
Price: $620 (frameset)
Weight: 7.1 pounds (frameset)
Sizes: 50, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 60, 62 cm
I’ve always been a sucker for bicycles that offer heaps of versatility. Sure, some folks will argue that aiming for versatility results in a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” scenario, but in reality most of us are more jack than master anyway.
On paper, Soma’s Wolverine offers compelling versatility in terms of tire and drivetrain flexibility as well as options for mounting racks and fenders. The Wolverine frame is constructed from Tange Prestige heat-treated chromoly steel and butted chromoly stays. The rear triangle offers mounts for fenders and racks, and the disc brake caliper mounts to the sliding dropout.
The Tange/IRD rear dropouts offer adjustable chainstay length and the ability to run a singlespeed setup. These dropouts are also compatible with many of Paragon Machine Works’ dropout offerings, including Rohloff, thru axle, direct mount and other options.
The fork uses a flat crown and Tange Infinity chromoly fork legs with double braze-ons at the dropout for rack and fender mounts as well as mid-mount eyelets and mini rack mounts for a front rack.
A small section of the drive-side chainstay also unbolts in order to install or remove a belt for belt drive. Originally, the Wolverine was slated for development as a belt drive compatible version of Soma’s popular Double Cross. However, Soma employee Evan Baird suggested the company push tire clearance into the monster ‘cross realm to give riders more options.
The team’s effort to maximize utility then led them to lengthen the wheelbase and increase stack height to improve on the Wolverine’s light touring chops. With clearance for 45 mm tires with fenders, or 1.8 to 2 inch wide knobby tires—depending on volume and knob size—without fenders, the Wolverine holds up the monster ‘cross description quite well.
Top tube lengths on the smaller sizes run on the longer side, so be sure to take a close look at the 50 and 52 cm frames. The smallest is said to fit riders from 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 8 inches, while the 52 cm spans 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 10 inches.
Soma currently offers the Wolverine as a frameset only, but the company built up a complete bike to facilitate testing, including a SRAM Rival 1×11 drivetrain and Avid BB7 brakes. The Easton Heist 24 mountain bike wheels offer ample width for the Shikoro tires in a 42 mm width. Soma’s Rain Dog fenders round out the build and keep salty winter road spray and spring showers at bay.
A couple things struck me on my first couple of rides aboard the Wolverine. First, I had forgotten how supple and lively a steel bike can feel, even at this price point. The ride quality improvement when you jump from a basic 4130 tubeset to even an entry-level, name-brand tubeset is significant.
Secondly, the big Shikoro tires rolled very well and were incredibly comfortable. This was my first extended test of SRAM’s 1×11 drivetrain on a drop bar bike and I’ve come away impressed. At first, the larger ratio jumps between gears were noticeable, but I quickly acclimated.
This setup is great for all-around recreational and commuting use, but may not offer enough gearing range for steep terrain when loaded for a camping weekend. My test rig had the 42-tooth chainring up front, which I would definitely swap for the 38-tooth for touring—the smallest chainring offered with the Rival crankset.
Just as Soma intended, the handling of the Wolverine straddles the middle ground between drop-bar commuter, monster ‘cross bike and light touring rig. Handling is quicker than you’d find on a true touring rig, but slightly more relaxed than you’d find on a cyclocross bike.
Off road, the Wolverine feels great on graded dirt surfaces or anything that could be loosely classified as a road. When you turn onto singletrack the Wolverine holds its own but the road-oriented geometry requires quick reflexes. With its plethora of rack options the Wolverine is ready for adventure.
However, it’s important to keep in mind this is designed as a light touring bike. It’s more than up to the task, but the lighter your load the more fun you’ll have. If you’re looking for a round-the-world-with-the-kitchen-sink rig, there are better choices on the market such as Soma’s Saga touring bike.
With a reasonable weekend’s worth of gear, the Wolverine’s handling and frame stiffness both felt great. In day-to-day use as a commuter rig, the Wolverine was a treat. Handling is lively and fun if you’re feeling frisky, yet mellow enough to let you zone out and decompress on your way home from work.
Set it up with fenders and commuting tires for weekly commutes. Rip the fenders off and throw on some knobbies for a long weekend gravel bikepacking adventure. Run it as a singlespeed commuter during the winter to save your drivetrain. The options are nearly limitless if you enjoy tinkering.
No doubt, there are a lot of bikes on the market promising versatility. Soma’s Wolverine is a fine example of one that offers highly functional versatility with a few features, such as the sliding dropouts and belt drive capability, that set it apart from entry-level offerings. It’s easy to see this as a versatile drop-bar solution for anyone outside of the performance road or ‘cross racing realm.
It’s now available in black in addition to orange.
Jamis announced its early-release 2017 bicycle—the Nova Cyclocross Series and Renegade Adventure Series—due to be available in stores as early as late July, with the rest of the Jamis bike line revealed in September.
The Jamis Renegade line of adventure/gravel/all-road bikes was refreshed with two carbon, two steel (Reynolds 631 and 520) and one aluminum frames. Complete bikes range in price from $3,900 (full carbon, Shimano Ultegra, 19 pounds) to $800 (full aluminum, Shimano Claris, 24 pounds).
The Renegades feature disc brakes, front and rear thru axles (on most models), room for 700×40 mm tires and carbon forks on all but the base aluminum model. The wheels feature tubeless-ready mountain rims that are 23-24 mm wide. The full-carbon bikes have internal cable routing and are ready to accept an internally-routed dropper post (seat post size is still 27.2 mm, but there are more and more options now available in that size).
The Renegade frame geometry is “long and tall,” with three different fork offsets, bottom bracket drops and rear-center measurements available so that bike fits are consistent and appropriate across sizes 48 to 61 cm.
With a wide collection of fork and frame mounts, you can mount fenders, a rear rack, a low-rider front rack (or two fork cages for water bottles/storage) and three front triangle bottle cages.
The Jamis Nova Cyclocross Series features two carbon models and one aluminum, ranging in price from $4,000 down to $1,900.
All three models of the Nova have been updated to includes 142×12 mm thru axles in the rear. A unique carbon molding process for the top two models purports to be lighter and stiffer while being less harsh. The frames use size-specific tubing, in which top and down tubes get smaller as the frame size gets smaller, which is intended to keep performance characteristics consistent across the line. The carbon models also get a 15 mm thru-axle fork, internal cable routing and Di2 compatibility.
We just returned from a week at Press Camp in Park City, Utah, where several companies announced new stuff for model year 2017. Cannondale, GT, Blue, Ridley and component maker 3T all trotted out fresh bikes at the event for industry journalists to check out.
Full disclosure, Press Camp is not a standard bike industry event, which often involves camping or at least staying in a sub-par hotel with questionable sheets and discolored bath water. Press Camp is held at a swanky ski resort with very crisp white sheets and fabulous meals. But that won’t stop me from saying I think some of these bikes are more technical exercise and designer fantasy than anything else. Some are very practical while others are just plain neat-o.
Stay tuned for coverage of new soft goods, gear and gadgets that we also saw at Press Camp.
3T Exploro Aero Gravel
The 3T Exploro Aero Gravel bike was one of the most talked-about bikes at Press Camp, partly because it’s 3T’s first foray into frame design and partly because it looks wild with square carbon tubes and mountain tires. In a nutshell, it’s a bike with road-ish geometry and clearance for 27.5 knobbies. Or, as I kept thinking, a hardcore roadie’s gravel grinder. Or a serious gravel racer for contenders. Or an n+1 for people with equal (significant) amounts of money and curiosity.
3T emphasized that the geometry of this bike means it will ride almost the same with 700 x 28 mm tires as it will with 27.5 x 2.1-inch tires. It has a 415 mm chainstay, 50 mm rake, 70 mm bottom bracket drop, 72.5 mm seatube angle and, depending on size (small through extra-large) a headtube angle of 69.5 mm to 72.5 mm and a headtube length of 100.6 mm to 180 mm.
The company actually put this thing in a wind tunnel with two water bottles and a coating of fake, 3D-printed mud. The fan was set to 20 mph for more realistic conditions (rather than the standard 30 mph), and what resulted was a frame claimed to go faster with 40 mm knobby tires than will a round-tubed frame with 28 mm road slicks. And that’s why it’s called an “aero gravel bike.”
The Exploro will be sold at two levels as a frameset, only. The Limited (pictured) frame weighs 950 grams and retails for a whopping $4,200, while a white and red “Team” frame will sell for $3,000. Does this bike solve a non-existent problem, or is it the natural evolution of frame technology and the ever-expansion of bicycle versatility? That’s up to you, consumer.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the far-less-expensive Cannondale Quick, a line of practical commuter bikes that will be updated for 2017. With its Quick, the company is seeking to target a younger demographic of riders that is mostly focused on fitness and outings such as weekend bike path rides.
The new Quick bikes will each feature a 55 mm fork offset, more upright position and a slacker head angle than previous models for a more stable ride. Quicks will come with rack and fender mounts, reflective graphics, the same road vibration-absorbing rear triangle design as Cannondale’s high-end road bikes, puncture-resistant tires and the option for an integrated kickstand ($30).
Eight Quick models for women and eight for men will be available, including three in each line with disc brakes. Prices will range from $400-$1,300.
Cannondale is adding a new Slate to its lineup of quirky 650b gravel bikes: two models with rigid forks and Apex one-by build kits (one for men and one for women; women’s model is pictured). The Solo Rigid fork allows the price of this Slate to drop below $2,000 while keeping the same geometry and road-chatter-absorbing rear triangle design.
The rigid Lefty-like fork makes this much more of a traditional gravel bike, just one that is designed around 650b x 42 mm tires. This women’s version is no different other than a brown-and-pink paint job and different “touch points” more specific to some women—saddle, bar width and the like. It will come in two sizes (small and medium).
To answer the question some have asked: this bike does not have front fender/rack mounts.
Blue Prosecco PRO EX and AL
Blue Bicycles, formerly based in Georgia and now in California, struggled for a few years despite the success of its triathlon and cyclocross bikes. Now, the company is spooling up again and significantly expanding its line, adding mountain bikes and gravel bikes for 2017.
At the top of its new gravel line sits the Prosecco PRO EX, a $2,700 carbon bike with Shimano Ultegra Di2 and room for up to 700 x 42 mm tires. Yes, that sub-$3,000 MSRP is accurate.
The frame is Blue’s own design. The company was striving for comfort with an adventure/trekking perspective. The bike has seastays designed for damping, a tall headtube, bento box mounts, thru axles front and rear, house-built wheels and internal cable routing.
The Prosecco AL aluminum version (pictured above) with a slightly less fancy frame design, Shimano 105 components and mechanical disc brakes will retail for $1,090. A carbon model with non-electronic Ultegra will be available between the two price points.
Ridley Helium SLA
Ridley bikes is better known as a performance brand and, true to style, did not have a new gravel grinder or touring bike on display at Press Camp. I almost didn’t go check them out but was drawn in by its new road bike, the Helium SLA, the company’s first new aluminum frame in five years.
The Helium SLA comes with a carbon fork and Shimano Ultegra for $1,900. The bike pictured is an extra-extra small and weighs about 17 pounds. A Shimano 105 model will weigh one pound more and retail for $1,500. All frames feature smoother, double-pass welding and internal cable routing. Sizes will range from XXS to XL.
This bike has nothing to do with anything other than it’s rad. The GT Performer is a complete replica of a 1986 BMX bike, but with a long-enough seatpost and 26-inch wheels to facilitate cruising about town. It’s the bike you rode as a kid (or lusted after) now in an adult-friendly size. For $560, GT might just have your new bar bike.
Tester: Adam Newman
Weight: 27.8 pounds
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL (tested)
More info: GT Bicycles
Practicality and fashion are a difficult mix. Some would say they’re even incompatible. Many bikes will get you where you need to go, but they aren’t exactly turning heads.
If you’re reading this magazine you likely have more than a passing interest in two-wheeled transit. But you don’t have to be a bike nerd to appreciate having fun in the saddle, and that’s what I found with the GT Traffic.
Sitting atop the line of three Traffic models, GT says the 1.0 is built for urban professionals, suburban commuters or anyone who wants a really practical bike that doesn’t just blend in with the crowd. It takes several design cues from the sportier GT Grade models, but incorporates a more upright posture and commuter-friendly features like the kickstand mount.
The aluminum frame features the classic GT Triple Triangle, and the silver finish is classy without a ton of logos marring it. It is available in six sizes, so almost anyone should be able to find a good fit. At 6-foot-2, I rode the XL.
The Traffic is a solid platform for getting where you need to go and fun enough to take you a little bit beyond. While I will admit to being spoiled by some of the high-end bicycles we get to demo, I was impressed with the value of the build. Included are Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, full coverage fenders and even a bell. Add some lights and a lock and you’re off.
Propulsion runs through an SR Suntour triple crankset and 8-speed cassette. I’ll admit to using the center 38-tooth chainring the vast majority of the time, but the 28-tooth granny gear was appreciated once in a while. I think I used the 48-tooth big ring only once or twice.
Moving the chain from one chainring to a larger one is a bit slow but it always got there. Out back the wide range of the 11-32 Sunrace cassette was great for hills, and shifting through the Shimano Altus rear derailleur was crisp and easy, a remarkable difference from the front.
One hangup was the Acera shifter only has a “pull” motion for the cable release, not the two-way release of high-end Shimano shifters, so you have to take your index finger off the brakes to shift. After a few rides I had adapted to it though.
On the road the ride is smooth with a sporty, but not aggressive, body position. The swept back handlebars keep your head up and your elbows bent, ready to dodge that errant taxi cab about to pull out in front of you.
The 40 mm Schwalbe Road Cruiser tires offer a smooth ride without much risk of punctures, and while many purists will scoff at the aluminum fork, I didn’t even notice it.
The best thing about the Traffic is its versatility. For rides around town I found myself repeatedly reaching for it. There aren’t many places you couldn’t go on this thing, and knowing that you didn’t break the bank to get there only makes it that much more fun.
I wouldn’t hesitate to take it out for rides through the countryside, or throw some front and rear racks on and go for a tour. Dirt? Gravel? Pavement? Sure, why not?
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Weight: 22.4 pounds
Sizes: 43, 45, 51, 54, 56, 58 (tested), 61
More info: Felt Bicycles V85
Felt makes a lot of drop-bar bikes: race, endurance, aero, cyclocross, track and women’s. This V85 is the middle child of the adventure branch of the Felt drop-bar family. What makes this bike adventurous? “With a slightly longer wheelbase, rugged components and wheels, the V is the perfect bike for anyone searching for an exciting new experience. Be it an epic tour or simply continuing to ride beyond the road’s end, the V is made to last,” Felt says.
To tackle adventure, Felt starts with an aluminum frame, carbon fork, disc brakes and tire clearance for up to 38 mm tires. Shimano’s excellent 105 group provides the shifters, 50/34 crankset, derailleurs and 11-32 cassette. Discs are de rigueur for adventure, and TRP’s Spyres take care of stopping duties with 160/140 mm rotors. All good stuff.
I took a particular shine to a few items. The tubeless rims are a nice touch for future tire upgrades, but even with tubes, the stock Challenge Strada Bianca 33 mm tires provide a stellar ride. I wasn’t a fan of the big, gel-padded Selle Royal Look In saddle—it seems out of place on an otherwise sporty bike.
Overall it is a nice group of parts for the money, but how does it ride? In a word, refined.
Taking the best of cyclocross and endurance road DNA, the V85 goes down the road with more panache than the average aluminum-framed road bike. Some of the credit for that goes the those Challange tires. This isn’t my first time on these tires, and every time I get back on them I’m reminded they are some of the finest clinchers I’ve ever ridden. For a bigger tire they never felt slow and took the edge off harsh roads and off-road shenanigans.
Handling was not razor sharp, but it is a very sporty feeling bike. While it handles itself well when the pavement turns to dirt, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a true rough-and-tumble adventure bike like a Specialized AWOL or Trek 920. The V85 likes to get dirty, but starts to feel out of its element on anything that starts to look mountain-bikey.
As a tool for fun and fitness, the V85 should keep a lot of people very happy. Fast enough for group rides and sturdy enough for dirt road exploring, the V85 also has rack and fender mounts. This could also make it great for long-distance commutes, or even short tours. The easily adjustable stem makes it simple to change handlebar height for a more comfortable or more sporty position on the bike, so going from weekday commuter to weekend speedster is easy.
With some sturdier tires this could make for a solid gravel race bike. It handles all types of unpaved roads and responds well to aggressive riding, both sprinting up hills and attacking the corners on the way down. A little more tire clearance would help, as some of the rougher courses would be better suited to 40 mm tires.
Felt is known as a racing company, and that racing spirit was always in the back of my mind while riding this bike. The V85 is a versatile drop-bar bike that took me all over on all kinds of adventures: five hour rainy slogs to my parents for Thanksgiving, back road exploring, fumbly attempts at “training” rides and plenty of off-road detours.
Not much to complain about here, Felt did a great job creating what I would call an “adventure-lite” bike for riders looking for plenty of on-road speed with some dirt aptitude.
What the heck is this thing?
It seems completely out of left field. It’s a mountain bike with drop bars, right? Not even close. So it’s an adventuremobile gravel grinder? Wrong again. Cannondale labels the new Slate as a “new road” bike, and I’d say it leans heavily toward just that: roads. Dirt roads sure, but if you were expecting an all-terrain monstercross machine, this isn’t it.
At its introduction the engineers explained that the very reason the bike was built with 650b wheels was that the smaller wheels with larger tires kept the overall circumference of a 700c race tire. Despite the added height of the suspension fork they were able to maintain the stack height they wanted and the 405 mm chainstays. The bike’s fit falls somewhere between the Supersix EVO race bike and the Synapse endurance bike. The Slate does have a longer front center and slacker head tube, though.
So, it’s a road bike with suspension? It’s not a new idea. RockShox was building a road bike fork in the early 1990s and it had success in pro races across the brutal Belgian cobblestones. Cannondale was also making versions of its road and cyclocross bikes with a Headshok a decade ago.
This time around the Slate uses a completely new version of Cannondale’s unique Lefty suspension fork that has a dedicated following in the mountain bike world. (Nerd alert: It’s technically not a fork at all, but a strut.) Known as Oliver, it has 30 mm of travel controlled through an air spring and has adjustable rebound damping via a knob on the top and a lockout button labeled “Push to climb.” With a completely new damper designed just for the Slate, it has a high compression threshold and limited sag so it doesn’t bob into the mid-stroke while you’re riding.
What you’re really buying here is a very high-end fork with a frame attached to it. In this case it uses Cannondale’s classic aluminum construction with more compliance built in than any previous model. The seatstays and chainstays use radically shaped tubing to allow the frame to match the comfort of the fork. Err, strut. Cannondale could have used the 25.4 mm seatpost of its Synapse line for even more compliance, but instead it opted for 27.2 mm so it can accommodate a dropper seatpost. Drop bars and dropper posts will be the story of 2016. You read it here first.
The Slate we tested was the middle of three build kit offerings, with an 11-speed Shimano Ultegra drivetrain running through Cannondale’s own Hollowgram Si crankset with 52/36 chainrings and an 11-28 cassette. The shifting works well, but the feel of the cable release lever is still a bit vague for my liking.
The frame has eyelets at the rear dropouts to attach fenders or a minimal rack, but without eyelets at the top you’re going to have to get creative. A front fender is a DIY-only affair at this point. I learned the hard way that because there is no fork crown, if you ride on wet roads a plume of water shoots directly up in the air off the front wheel, subsequently spraying you in the face.
All in all, the Slate rides like, well, a road bike. The posture is classic skinny-tire aggressive, but unless you look down you might not even notice the larger rubber. The 42 mm tires themselves, made by Panaracer for Cannondale, are amazingly light and supple with a faint file tread. Both the wheels and the tires are tubeless compatible, but the Slate doesn’t ship with them set up as such.
I’ll admit, when I first caught wind of this bike I expected something more akin to a “gravel” bike or monstercross. Now that I’ve met the design team and ridden the bike, I can say that isn’t what we have here. There isn’t much room in the frame for more rubber or a knobby tread, so forget about putting mountain bike tires on it. I think it falls much closer to the “road” end of the spectrum than it might seem at first glance. As such, it has absolutely no problems holding its own in a paceline or in a group ride. It has all the responsiveness of a traditional road bike, albeit an outrageously comfortable one.
Here in Oregon, we have endless dirt roads through the misty coastal mountains, and this is where I had the most fun on the Slate. The fat tires neutralize high speed vibrations from the ground while the Lefty Oliver eats potholes for breakfast. While the lockout button is within easy reach, I felt fine leaving the compression open all the time, and the Oliver was only absorbing bumps and not watts. I took the Slate through all kinds of pavement, gravel, dirt, mud, roots and rocks and it really is a versatile machine.
Yes, a more aggressive tire would have been appreciated when I started venturing into some singletrack, but that’s really at the very edge of this bike’s intended use. What is the intended use? The Slate is for anyone who wants a really, really comfortable road bike. With the current state of American roads and infrastructure, perhaps that isn’t a bad idea. Here at Bicycle Times, we’re big fans of pushing boundaries in terms of where you can take your bike. Maybe it’s a new road, after all.
- Price: $3,520
- Weight: 20.9 pounds
- Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL (tested)
- More info: Cannondale Slate
Testers: Eric Mckeegan and Jon Pratt shared this back-to-back review in Bicycle Times Issue #38
Bianchi has been at the bike game for a long, long time. One hundred thirty years to be exact. Almost as old is Bianchi’s signature celeste green, perhaps the most recognizable color in cycling. While much of Bianchi’s history revolves around road racing, it has also had much success in the urban market and with a line of now extinct singlespeed mountain bikes.
The Volpe (silver) and Zurigo (green) represent the road bike market’s move from racing to more general riding pursuits. In years past these bikes would have been categorized as cyclocross bikes, but now fall under the banner of “all-road” bikes, a much better term to describe sturdy, versatile drop-bar bikes that can commute, tour and maybe even see the start line of a dirt road race or cyclocross course.
It isn’t often we get to ride two such similarly equipped bikes from the same manufacturer at the same time, so we assigned a pair of riders to ride them both and report back. Both bikes have Shimano 10-speed Tiagra drivetrains with compact cranks, Hayes CX 1 disc brakes and nearly identical geometry. Both bikes have rack and fender mounts, too.
Of the two, the Volpe is probably the more familiar—the rim-brake version has been a favorite of utility cyclists for years. This steel-frame stalwart has low-rider rack mounts on the fork, downtube cable adjusters and a well-padded WTB Speed V saddle. The Zurigo has an expensive looking celeste paint job adorning its aluminum frame and carbon fork, a racy Selle San Marco saddle, and tubeless-ready rims. The Zurigo pictured here is the 2015 model, but will be updated for 2016 with a SRAM Apex drivetrain and a price increase to $1,700.
Eric: The Zurigo is perhaps the most expensive-looking $1,600 bike I’ve ever ridden. All that green should look tacky but this bike manages to be understated, classy and attract attention. It also looks and feels racy. The Volpe looked and rode like an old friend, although after a few rides I installed a more sporty saddle to try to get the fit and feel more similar between bikes.
Jon: I couldn’t agree with Eric more. The Zurigo looks and feels the racier of the two bikes. A bit too over-the-top with the colors for my taste, but it is classic Bianchi. Immediately, I felt like the Volpe was “my bike.” Understated and comfortable.
Eric: My first long ride on the Zurigo was a doozy. A road spin to watch a Red Bull mountain bike event, followed by a group mountain bike ride, and then ride back home. Even with the street tires the Zurigo was game for some dry trails. The drivetrain wasn’t very happy be bounced around off-road, and it paid me back by bouncing between gears, but all in all, it was a willing companion for this type of riding.
The Volpe struck me as a much more laid back ride, and where the cyclocross racing heritage of the Zurigo had me attacking climbs, the Volpe took a kinder and gentler approach. Easier gears, sit down, relax, we’ll get there. One of the main things that stood out to me was how much of the ride feel was about things other than frame material. I noticed the saddle, the handlebar height and the tire pressure much more so than any perceived diff erences between the frame and fork. That said, the Zurigo felt lighter and stiffer, but less forgiving than the Volpe.
Jon: To sum up my riding experiences with both bikes, I’ll harken back to the day Eric and I met up at a coffee shop downtown to swap bikes. I had ridden down on the Volpe, feeling at ease. It lazily darted in and out of alleyways and felt compliant as I navigated the sometimes broken streets of Pittsburgh. The Volpe wanted me to keep exploring. The combination of the saddle and handlebar height made my experience on the Volpe a very pleasant, relaxed one.
After a relaxing, tasty espresso, I headed home on the Zurigo. It felt like it was begging me to stand up and mash. Find the quickest route home and go. The bike felt snappier, more rigid and not as friendly to the errant pothole or crack in the street. As Eric pointed out, a lot of that feeling is directly related to the seat, tires and handlebars.
Which Would You Choose?
Eric: Normally, I’m a steel guy. But something about the Zurigo clicked with me. I could use a racier bike in my stable, and my mountain bike background is very attracted to the tubeless rims. While I don’t plan to mix it up on a cyclocross course anytime soon, this would make a fine race bike for dirt roads, although it does lose a few points to purpose-built, all-road bikes with its cyclocross racing genealogy. And those rack and fender mounts would make this a great winter commuter in areas that salt the hellout of the roads, such as my home city of Pittsburgh, no worries about rust.
Jon: While I feel the Zurigo is a fine bike, and both bikes are great deals at their price points, there’s no doubt I would buy the Volpe. It better fits my riding style, which tends to be a slow exploration of urban cityscapes or a short run the store. Where the Volpe felt like a bike I had been riding all along, the Zurigo’s racier touch made the bike feel like it was something I borrowed from one of my friends and could never really get comfortable on. I can see why so many people around town choose the Volpe as their go-to urban commuter.
- Price: Volpe – $1,500; Zurgio – $1,600
- Weight: Volpe – 26.3 pounds; Zurigo – 22.6 pounds
- Sizes: Volpe: 46, 49, 51, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 61; Zurigo: 49, 52, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 610
- More info: bianchiusa.com
From Issue #37
Bicycle touring has changed a lot over the past few years, and while riders once rejoiced for a smooth ribbon of asphalt, a rough and rocky road is now de rigueur. Right on the Trek website you see signs of this preference as the new 920 Disc is classified under the banner of “touring and adventure,” and it’s clearly been designed to peg the needle at the latter end of that dial.
I have to say, the matte green paint and knobby tires look pretty badass, like something you’d expect to see with CALL OF DUTY EDITION stenciled on the side. Besides its looks the main draw of the 920 is of course the wheels and tires, which are straight out of the Bontrager mountain bike catalog: duster elite tubeless ready 29-inch wheels with thru-axles front and rear and XR1 29×2.0 tires. There is ample clearance for a 29×2.2 or a set of fenders with the stock tires.
When not exploring the back roads of the Wild West, the 920 Disc would make an excellent commuter. The build powering those big wheels is a Sram 10-speed drivetrain with 42/28 chainrings and an 11-36 cassette, also borrowed from a mountain bike. Old-school bike tourists will appreciate the bar-end shifters, though I wish the modern SRAM versions could be switched to friction mode. The double chainrings are more than adequate for most riding, but don’t offer a huge range. This might be the first bike I’ve ridden where I was wishing for a little bit lower gear and a higher gear; usually it’s just one or the other.
Built from Trek’s 100 Series Alpha Aluminum, the frame’s tubing is aggressively shaped with a massive downtube and a distinctly kinked top tube. That kink makes room for a second bottle cage on the top of the down tube on frames size 56 and up, for a total of four on the main triangle. There are also bottle cage mounts on each fork leg that do double duty as the front rack mount. In fact, the 920 Disc includes both front and rear Bontrager aluminum racks. While the rear rack is a fairly conventional design, the front rack sits up a bit higher than a set of traditional low-riders, though with the panniers mounted on the second bar from the top the bike handles just fine with plenty of toe clearance.
Bringing it all to a halt is a pair of TRP’s Hylex hydraulic disc brakes, which stand out for their stopping power but are also distinctive for their ergonomics. The main body of the lever houses the master cylinder, and to make room they are quite long. So much so that if you swapped these onto another bike, you’d have to shorten the stem by 10 mm or so to compensate to achieve the same reach to the hoods. The compact bend of the handlebar keeps things pretty comfortable though. I also swapped out the stock stem for a shorter one to dial in a perfect fit.
I loaded the 920 up with panniers and hit the pavement for a 100-mile overnight road ride, and then ditched the racks for some forest road exploring. It’s perhaps a bit too heavy for all-out gravel racing, but I found it’s an excellent companion for all-day back road explorations and dirt road rambling. Despite the aluminum frame, the big tires are more than enough to soak up the road vibrations, and the Bontrager saddle and I got along just fine.
While the basic layout of the 920 Disc is fairly traditional, the details are anything but. Shift cables run internally and the frame is equipped with a port for the Trek DuoTrap S speed and cadence sensor system. The hydraulic brakes might scare off some traditionalists, but they are much appreciated when you’re careening down a mountain with 70 pounds of gear. Purists will also scoff at the notion of an aluminum frame and fork on a touring bike, but if you really think you need a frame that can somehow be pieced back together on the side of the road by a good samaritan with a blowtorch in Uzbekistan, so be it. But I doubt you do.
The other refrain I’ve seen echoing through the message boards is that Trek copied the Salsa Fargo, as if that were the first bike with 29-inch tires and drop bars. While the Salsa is at heart a mountain bike and can run a suspension fork, the 920 Disc isn’t meant for singletrack. Think of it more as a Subaru Outback than a Jeep Wrangler.
The stock tires are most at home on double-track or gravel, but they roll well enough that I left them on for road rides as well. Because they are tubeless ready the bead sits incredibly tight on the rim and fixing a flat requires very high air pressure, some strong thumbs and a bit of cursing to get the tires to seat properly. I recommend setting them up tubeless from the beginning to shed weight and eliminate pinch flats.
While the 920 is meant for more rough and tumble adventures rather than smooth pavement, I would still choose it over the classic Trek 520 model for traditional road touring. My mountain bike experience has made me a big fan of hydraulic disc brakes and thru-axles—modern features that have earned my trust. Whether you go slicks or knobbies, with racks or without, the 920 Disc is a versatile bike that is ready for your next adventure.
- Price: $2,090
- Weight: 24.8 pounds (without racks), 27.5 pounds (with racks)
- Sizes: 49, 52, 54, 56, 58 (tested) and 61 cm
- More: trekbikes.com
With the Slot, Traitor Cycles set out to create a bicycle that could transition easily between urban commuter and off-road explorer. The idea was to have a bike that could be ridden through the city, to the trailhead, and continue into the wilderness without sacrificing too much from any one experience. Traitor is definitely targeting a rider who wants a do-it-all bike and doesn’t need a more robust mountain bike.
The Slot is made from steel and features a decent component group built from a mix of SRAM and Shimano throughout. The 44/32/22 chainrings matched to a 9-speed, 11-34 cassette provided me with a gear for just about every situation, and it all costs less than some of the more modern single and double crank setups.
The stock Avid BB5 brakes and 160 mm rotors are OK; I’m sure the BB5 brakes help to hit the price point, but I missed the adjustability of the BB7 versions and would have liked a larger rotor up front. Swapping rotors is a cheap and easy upgrade that you can do yourself, if needed. Traitor deserves a shout-out for the rear brake placement inside the stays so that it doesn’t interfere with mounting a rack or fender. Nice.
Speaking of touring, the Slot has braze-ons for front and rear racks, fenders and two water bottle cages. The front rack mounts are compatible with low-rider racks like the Tubus Tara. The down tube/ head tube junction has been formed so that even the smaller-sized Slots can accommodate an under-the- down-tube bottle and fender while still using 29-inch wheels. A water bottle under the down tube can get a bit crusty while touring, but it’s useful if you decide to outfit the bike with a frame pack and thus lose the use of cage mounts inside the front triangle.
For rubber, Traitor chose 29×2.1-inch Kenda Small Block Eights. While not the best tire for muddy or wet trails, they did an admirable job in most situations. I found them to be a perfect choice for a bike that is going to be jumping back and forth from the street, to gravel, to dirt. If you want to install full fenders you’ll have to swap out the 2.1s as the Slot will only accommodate up to a 700×45 mm tire with your splash guards on.
When I took it into the woods, the Slot did reasonably well on singletrack. Without bags, it performed just as you would expect a full rigid steel bike to. Without power lost to shock or fork compression, the bike felt efficient, albeit a bit rough in some of the more technical sections of the trail. And as long as the route up the hill wasn’t too muddy, it climbed like a champ.
Loaded up with bags and gear, the Slot didn’t flinch. Of course the weight slowed my progress down, but the frame handled the increased bulk well and I didn’t notice any unwelcome flex or loss of maneuverability. Even on some of the more challenging trails the bike felt well balanced and comfortable. The frame is compatible with an 80 mm suspension fork, but Traitor has also been mulling over selling a version with a suspension fork. I have a feeling that would be just plain awesome.
The bike really showed its worth when it transitioned from riding on a dirt trail to asphalt or gravel. Without any fanfare it just kept trucking along. I took the Slot on some pretty substantial rides with varying types of terrain and it performed as well as I could ask for from a multisurface rig. Long 17.9-inch chainstays and a low bottom bracket kept the bike stable in the dirt and the tires were able to crunch along gravel and roll pretty well along the smoother routes I explored.
The only real problem I had was with the seatpost clamp. I could never get the quick release mechanism to stay tight enough and the 26.8 mm seatpost slipped a bit while traversing rougher roads. I would suggest switching to a bolt-on collar if you experience the same. While Joel DeJong, the general manager at Traitor cycles, wasn’t aware of this issue, he stated they will likely change the post to the more standard 27.2 mm size with the next run of frames.
I really have to hand it to Traitor Cycles. They did a fantastic job building a reasonably priced, great-looking bike that can handle a wide range of terrain and activities. If you are in the market for a bike that you can ride to work or the store, tackle moderate singletrack, and take on tour I definitely recommend looking at the Slot.
- Price: $1,399
- Weight: 29.7 pounds
- Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
- More info: traitorcycles.com
Norco’s Search line is new for this year, promising road-based adventure from asphalt to dirt. The carbon XR model reviewed here sits atop the heap at $3,700, with two more price points in carbon; $3,150 for ultegra and $2,110 for 105. three steel search models range in price from $1,525 to $885.
Search carbon frames utilize many of Norco’s high performance technologies. Size-scaled tubing yields larger diameter tubes on larger frame sizes, smaller tubes on smaller sizes. This maintains proportional stiffness that corresponds to rider weight. A burly downtube and sizeable chainstays resist pedaling forces, providing a chassis that transfers power well. But, both the fork and seatstays are tuned for a touch of vertical compliance and noticeably take the edge off road vibration. Thru axles front and rear contribute stiffness and security.
In carbon form, Search models lean toward the performance end of the adventure realm — think fast and light, not packhorse style. Convenient front and rear mounts ease fender installation, but the asymmetric rear mounts do not accommodate a rear rack. Multi-day adventures will require a rackless setup — not a bad thing as traveling light has its perks.
The XR model’s stock 35 mm-wide Clement X’plor USH tires have become a favorite around Bicycle Times headquarters for their versatility and capability on-road and off-road. On the Search these tires have plenty of breathing room for mud clearance or fenders. But, according to Norco, the maximum tire size is 35 mm.
The Xr’s Easton EA70 XCT wheels hail from the company’s mountain bike line, so they’ll certainly take all the abuse the search can throw their way. These wheels are tubeless compatible, though the tubeless cross tire selection is still pretty thin.
Like my previous experiences with Shimano’s Ultegra 11-speed drivetrain and hydraulic brakes, I continue to be amazed by how well these components perform. Shifts are instantaneous and the brakes are incredibly powerful while offering stellar modulation.
The Search’s handling falls on the quicker side of the mixed-surface equation with a 72-degree head tube angle. That’s similar to the Jamis Renegade, but quite a bit steeper than the more relaxed 70.5-degree head tube angle of Salsa’s Warbird carbon. If you’re looking for a bike that’s a tire-swap away from being a quick and agile road bike, the Search has you covered.
From spec to geometry to intended use, the Search and the Jamis Renegade (reviewed in issue #34) are very close competitors. The proliferation of this style of bike speaks volumes about the popularity of adventure seeking and mixed surface riding.
In reality, you can’t go wrong with either of these bikes, but it’s worth noting the Norco comes in $500 less expensive for virtually the same parts selection, though it is just over half a pound heavier as well. That price difference will replace quite a few worn out tires and chains, and have some change left over for a ton of road-side Twinkies to fuel your adventure.
- Norco Search XR
- Price as tested: $3,700
- Weight: 19.1 pounds
- Sizes: 48, 50.5, 53 (tested), 55.5, 58, 60.5 cm