Today Surly launched the Pack Rat, a road/commuter bike designed specifically for front-loaded cargo. The Pack Rat is the culmination of years of experimentation with different ways of hauling stuff on the front of bikes, with geometry and design features that offset the negative handling characteristics of front-loaded bicycles.
Why would you want to put your cargo on the front of your bike? As Surly says, “Having your stuff in front of you means it’s close at hand and easily accessible. It also allows for better weight distribution. A front load keeps the bike nimble and allows you to more efficiently use your body English to steer from the rear.” However, front-loaded bikes traditionally have their own handling drawbacks. The weight pulls you through turns with less control and makes for a less enjoyable ride. The Pack Rat’s design aims to eliminate these issues while still providing a great ride without any cargo, and it accommodates a rear rack as well.
The Pack Rat is built around a steel frame and fork with front and rear rack and fender mounts. The fork features internal routing for generator hubs, and the horizontal dropouts can accommodate singlespeed or geared setups. The frame comes in sizes 38-58 cm. As the company is starting to do with most of its bikes, Surly designed the Pack Rat frames with size-specific geometry, meaning that smaller bikes are not just scaled-down versions of larger bikes and they are designed around two different wheel sizes depending on size. Frame sizes 38-50 cm are designed around 26 inch while 52-58 cm are designed for 650b wheels. Surly states that “smaller diameter wheels keep the weight of the load lower than a 700c wheel would, thereby improving handling and ride feel.”
The Pack Rat will retail for $1349 and will be available at the end of this month. For more information about the design of the Pack Rat directly from Surly, check out their blog post.
Full Specs and geometry:
Words and photos by Jeff Archer
Many of the early mountain bike pioneers cut their teeth building road bikes. When they started building in the mid 1970s, mountain bikes were still a good half decade away from being “invented.” Before Salsa, Ross Shafer built road bikes and tandems under the Red Bush moniker. Chris Chance was just Chris Chance before making Fat Chance mountain bikes. The road bike featured here predates Jeff Lindsay’s switch to focusing on the the Mountain Goat brand by about six years.
These builders, along with most others, were known to pull out all the stops when making bikes for loved ones. Take a look around the floor of NAHBS and you will see bikes like the Vanilla tricycle Sacha White built for his daughter or the titanium 20-inch wheel bike Jeremy Sycip built for his daughter. These Phil Wood, Brooks, XTR-equipped machines would likely run towards $10,000 if you bought them at retail. An earlier example would be the 24-inch wheel Salsa Ross Shafer built for his son around 1994. Not all examples were for children. Jeff Lindsay built this bike for his then-girlfriend, Pam, in 1975.
Lindsay spent quite a bit of extra time and care to carve up a set of Nervex lugs. The seat lug area has been cut down significantly and features an integrated bolt a little lower on the seat stays. Many of the builders of that era did their own paint, which wasn’t always perfect, so this one has a fair amount of paint loss but the gold lug outlines still glisten. The drivetrain is mostly Shimano Dura Ace with a Crane GS rear derailleur.
Many of the ancillary components are from Campagnolo including the hubs, headset, seat post and brakes. One interesting part would be the Phil Wood CHP pedals. The extrusion allowed reflectors to be built in which made it the first pedal to be formally certified by the California Highway Patrol. Better head out to the garage and make sure your pedals are certified. You don’t want Erik Estrada busting down your door.
This bike can be seen at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology which is housed at First Flight Bicycles in historic downtown Statesville, NC. If you can’t visit in person, check out the collection at www.mombat.org.
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!
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.
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.
The steel Space Horse has long been All-City’s most popular and versatile model, ridden by commuters, tourers and gravel grinders alike. It features the geometry of a road-meets-touring bike, room for wider tires, a bottom bracket that’s lower than a standard road bike and stability when loaded down. Now it features disc brakes, a new parts spec and a wider size range.
The Space Horse Disc will be offered in seven sizes: 43, 46, 49, 52, 55, 58 and 61 cm. The 49-61 cm fit a 700c x 42 tire while the 43 and 46 cm bikes will take a 650b x 45. The 43 cm bike has a 495 mm top tube length to fit riders in the five-foot range and the 46 cm has a top tube length of 515 mm, which is a half centimeter shorter than the cantilever Space Horse version.
Other updates include a new vertical dropout with a replaceable derailleur hanger and a 2×11 Shimano 105 parts spec. You still get an E.D. coated frame (protects against rust), internal cable routing, a lugged crown fork and hidden fender mounts. The Space Horse Disc will be priced at $1800 and will hit dealers in mid-August.
Photos from All-City don’t accurately reflect the stock build that will be offered. See the Space Horse Disc page for complete information.
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: 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
Fuji released its newest road bike this week, the Gran Fondo. The bike’s primary selling point is that is was designed to significantly reduce road vibrations for those who love long rides.
The Gran Fondo is made with Fuji’s VRTech (Vibration Reduction Technology), a Polyurethane-treated natural fiber strategically placed within the frame’s high-modulus carbon layup that dissipates high-frequency vibrations. The carbon layups are tailored to the bike’s size, as a rider on a 46 cm frame does not need the same stiffness that a rider on a 61 cm frame does.
The Gran Fondo was designed with “endurance geometry.” A taller head tube puts the rider in a more upright position, easing lower back fatigue. The bike also features longer chainstays and a longer wheelbase for increased compliance and stability.
The Gran Fondo features flat-mount disc brakes, PF30 bottom bracket, integrated chain watcher, room for 700 x 30c tires and 12 mm front and rear thru axles. A convertible axle system means you can swap out a few bits and still use your old, favorite quick-release wheels.
The non-Di2 top-of-the-line Gran Fondo 1.1 retails for $4,110 and weighs 16.4 pounds. The bike features an 11-speed Shimano Dura Ace groupset, Shimano hydraulic brakes with 160 mm rotors, Oval Concepts stem/bars/seatpost/saddle/wheels and Vittoria Open Corsa 700 x 28c tires. The Shimano Ultegra Di2 Gran Fondo is a mere $50 more, retailing at $4,160.
There are five total models in the lineup, with the least expensive—the Gran Fondo 2.5—set to retail for $1,940. The 2.5, still with a carbon frame and VRTech fibers, will feature 11-speed Shimano 105 components and weighs 19.7 pounds.
Each bike will be available in seven sizes from 46 cm to 61 cm. The bike will be available in April. Two flat-bar models will be added to the lineup at a later date.
Images provided by Fuji