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Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like :The Dirty Kanza". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

Gravelbike decision

Old 06-05-20, 10:04 AM
  #1  
mbe
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Gravelbike decision

I am looking to get into gravelbiking and need some input on bike recommendations.

I have been riding a 2015 Synapse Carbon 105 for the last 4 years and have really enjoyed it, but there are lots of gravel paths that I would like to try, but am limited by my current bike.

My plan is to keep my Synapse for the road and get a gravel bike for doing gravel rides, some commuting as well as some road touring. Naturally having a carbon Synapse I have been leaning towards a carbon Topstone. However, doing some research it looks like there are no eyelets for the rear to mount a rack due to the Kingpin system on the rear. While I wouldn't always need the use of the rear rack, the option to mount one is somewhat necessary. I am not sure how you can carry much on the carbon Topstone without provision for some rack.

As such, I have been looking at a carbon Checkpoint (SL5), since it has the carbon frame and rear rack mounts. The carbon Checkpoint also has the rear Isoflex. I am not sure how effective it is compared to the Kingpin system on the Topstone. 105 vs Ultegra seem pretty comparable these days. I have 105 on my Synapse and it works great. I see that the alloy 105 Topstone has rear rack mounts. I am wondering if I would be disappointed going from a carbon to an alloy bike. I recently rode my father's ALR5 Checkpoint and found it to be very secure and solid feeling, but you could definitely feel the weight. It didn't really feel that lively, but perhaps that could be improved upon with better rubber and lighter wheel. I am going to try a Topstone soon to compare.

Anyways my budget for a gravel bike would be in the $3500-$4000 range. Haven't really looked into other gravel bike as Cannondale and Trek are really well supported brands in my area. Part of me sees that gravel bikes are really similar to road bikes. Since I already have a road bike that I plant to keep, part of me wants something that is a bit more unique and different. Are there any others that would meet my needs well that I should consider?
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Old 06-05-20, 10:52 AM
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If you're looking for something different, take a look at Lynskey. They offer several in your price range. Titanium, made in USA.
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Old 06-05-20, 11:12 AM
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How committed are you to using a rack for touring?

Most overnight setups using gravel bikes tend toward ďbike packingĒ rather than touring. That is, the use of bags hung from the seat post and handlebar as well as within the frame to carry your gear. These tend to be lighter setups that allow for greater maneuverability and better handling that might be required when riding off road or on gravel roads.

That being said, thereís nothing wrong with the touring approach, especially if you already have the gear for it. But there are going to be fewer carbon framed options that support a rear rack, as youíre already finding.
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Old 06-05-20, 11:28 AM
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Salsa Warbird or Cutthroat both have rack mounts

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Old 06-05-20, 12:32 PM
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Jamis Renegade Expert / Elite have rack mounts
Thesis OB1
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Old 06-05-20, 02:04 PM
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Those two bikes strike me as pretty different. Checkpoint is more capable as a touring bike. Its been a long time since I used a rack and panniers - frame bags, seat bags, handlebar bags are in voge these days. Much more aero. Still, you can put a lot of stuff on a rear rack. In my experience, putting a rear rack on a bike not designed for it really messes up the handling. The checkpoint has a relatively long wheelbase and a relatively short trail that is going to allow it to handle well under a heavy load.
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Old 06-05-20, 02:38 PM
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I think the price range you're shopping clearly puts you into a carbon frame. They tend to be lighter than alloy versions and as result you somewhat defeat the point of saving weight on the frame material and than add a 2 lbs rack. I'd be doing the bike-packing bag route at that point, even though you cannot carry quite as much as with a set of good sized panniers. Attendant with the weight of a rack and larger panniers is are the wheels on a bike designed to be light-er strong enough to carry the weight of rack/panniers/gear on top of rack, etc.... ?. At some point you might want a bike-packing bike.

What are you carrying on the commute ? and how wedded are you to a rack ?.

As note about an experience with a gravel bike designed to mount a rear rack is the Cannondale Topstone aluminum I purchased last November. It's a great bike in every way. I added a 2nd set of wheels with 32mm road tires and a tighter road cassette, specifically as my "go-fast" commuting bike for when I don't need to carry commuting panniers (I have that on my touring bike). The eyelet on the frame at the rear axle is located in such away that if you install a rack, the bolt interferes with the thru axle handle. That means you have to unbolt and remove the rack at the eyelet to turn the axle handle and get the wheel off if you have a flat, OR you remove the handle on the thru axle (it's set up for removal) and use an Allen key to get the axle off. I have no intention to use a a rack on this bike so not an issue, but something to look at in terms of how and where a bike designer locates the eyelet.
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Old 06-05-20, 03:35 PM
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My experience in using a rack and panniers is from an older aluminum Cannondale Touring bike.

I do see the appeal of the bikepacking when you are limited in what you can carry, but a rack and pannier might be more suitable for me, at least from what I have used in the past. I get that the rack adds weight and it might defeat the point in getting a lighter carbon bike in the first place. Having said that, I very likely would only commute part of the year with it, leaving the rack off the bike for the rest of the year (unless I am going on a tour).

Again, the option to at least mount a rack at this point makes the Checkpoint more appealing over the Topstone (along with the previously mentioned differences in wheelbase). If I am commuting for work I would need to carry change of clothes and laptop. I haven't done enough research to see exactly what cargo can be carried in a bikepacking setup.

Looking up the Warbird it looks quite specifically setup as a gravel racing bike, which might not quite suite my needs. Are there any thoughts on the Shimano GRX groupsets and why one would choose it over a comparable 105 or Ultegra?

Lots to consider, that is for sure. Hoping to get out and take a few bikes for a spin over the coming month.
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Old 06-05-20, 03:59 PM
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Carrying a laptop , clothing and food pretty much begs for a rear rack and small’ish panniers. This is what I occasionally carry on my touring bike. Not seeing that gear in an under seat bike-packing type bag. For the occasional need, maybe think about a rack that clamps to the seat post, that lets you hang a set of panniers off of. Topeak makes a model that uses a quick release clamp. You’d not want this on a carbon seatpost. The center of gravity sits higher then a touring style rear rack, but maybe not an issue if not a lot of weight.

https://www.rei.com/product/697096/t...rear-bike-rack
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Old 06-05-20, 04:06 PM
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Originally Posted by mbe View Post

Looking up the Warbird it looks quite specifically setup as a gravel racing bike, which might not quite suite my needs. Are there any thoughts on the Shimano GRX groupsets and why one would choose it over a comparable 105 or Ultegra?

Lots to consider, that is for sure. Hoping to get out and take a few bikes for a spin over the coming month.
GRX gives an option for cranks with smaller chainrings then a road group. Note that the carbon Checkpoint I looked at had an Ultegra crank with 50/34 chainrings. GRX and FSA cranks for gravel are often 46/30 which gives much better low gearing. I think as well one of the GRX rear derailers can do a 11-40 cassette, maybe an Ultegra can do the same. Low gearing on a gravel bike is helpful.

And note that a constant topic here is that for folks looking to buy a new bike, itís sometimes SOL. The shops have been selling inventory like crazy. You might be able to get something at the price point your looking but donít be surprised if you are waiting 6 mos, or a year.
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Old 06-05-20, 05:43 PM
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0 chance I could carry what I want for camping/touring in a trendy half frame bag, comical looking seatpost tail bag(its like a roosters tail when loaded), and handlebar roll.

Well I could do it, but it would be for probably a single overnight during a hot day so I don't have to bring much for clothing, and I would eat at places along the way.
Plus, I would have to spend a bunch of money more than it costs to get a rack and bags to get those trendy bikepack bags with less convenient storage.

Its great that some enjoy the minimalist challenge of bikepacking. I hardly carry a lot with my panniers, but I do enjoy having the space for food and easy access to gear.
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Old 06-05-20, 06:16 PM
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Originally Posted by wsteve464 View Post
Salsa Warbird or Cutthroat both have rack mounts

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Donít forget the WarRoad. Itís closer to the Checkpoint SLs. I planned on a new bike in May but Iím waiting.

oh 2021 Checkpoints, the 5 and up will have GRX. I like the rear derailleur but want the road compact ring side in front.

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Old 06-05-20, 06:27 PM
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Fwiw here's my Topstone Carbon 105. It has a 15L seatpack with an aluminum miniframe, probably a 1.5L toptube bag, and a 6L Ortlieb front bag. I've done 100+ mile rides on various surfaces, often a 30/70 mix of gravel/paved. It is more road feeling on gravel then the aluminum Topstone. Sometimes it's a plus, other times it's a bit tiring. Max tire width is only 40mm, though you could probably go to 45 in front. I wish a had more compliance on the front, but the kingpin suspension works really well. Make a note that the promised "30mm of travel" is with the "SAVE" carbon post, but when the alloy post is nice. I probably could have fit either a medium or large, but opted for a medium for more seat post exposure. Toe overlap to front with fenders is 1/2". I plan on "sport touring" and trying to snag cheap hotels to overnight. Though there are a nice collection of mounting points. It does well for it's more sport focus.

I plan on eventually getting a 650b wheelset, I think this would make the Topstone very capable. The maximum tire width of 40mm in 700c is a little limiting. I'm aiming for some gravel centuries but more then 60 miles on 37mm tires can be rough, mostly when you ride unexpectedly into freshly laid gravel.

Before I bought my bike I test rode an aluminum Topstone 105 for about 7 miles on gravel and pavement, great bike. The king pin suspension won me over, not so much for bump absorption but for minimizing the rebound you get without suspension.
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Old 06-05-20, 07:48 PM
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr View Post
0 chance I could carry what I want for camping/touring in a trendy half frame bag, comical looking seatpost tail bag(its like a roosters tail when loaded), and handlebar roll.

Well I could do it, but it would be for probably a single overnight during a hot day so I don't have to bring much for clothing, and I would eat at places along the way.
Plus, I would have to spend a bunch of money more than it costs to get a rack and bags to get those trendy bikepack bags with less convenient storage.

Its great that some enjoy the minimalist challenge of bikepacking. I hardly carry a lot with my panniers, but I do enjoy having the space for food and easy access to gear.
Sorry, I missed the road touring requirement.

Not seeing an all purpose gravel bike thatíll be an all rounded bike plus do loaded touring, not in carbon. Iíd be looking at steel or aluminum with a good GRX 2X component group that has low gearing, has rack eyelets front and rear, maybe room for plus tires to do touring off road and to provide comfort. Maybe a 650B bike. Or a Salsa Vaya or equivalent.
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Old 06-05-20, 07:59 PM
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Warbird War road and especially the jamis renegade are excellent choices for you. And well in your budget. Renegade is hard to beat and one of the most popular for good reason.
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Old 06-05-20, 08:24 PM
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What about Marin Headlands? Plenty of attachments for bikepaking, lightweight,MTB geo, great value for the money, cool company. We have the Headlands 2 and we are very impressed with the quality and value/performance packed in a great price.
The bike has the potential with some upgrades to be very light and comfortable.

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Old 06-05-20, 10:23 PM
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Niner RLT9 carbon or steel
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Old 06-06-20, 08:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Metieval View Post
Niner RLT9 carbon or steel
Yup, good find
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Old 06-06-20, 10:42 AM
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Is it possible to put 650B wheels on a Checkpoint? From my quick search it doesn't look like it is supported due to clearance issues with the bottom bracket. Max tire clearance on the Checkpoint in 700C is 45mm.

Any thoughts on threaded vs press fit bottom bracket? Interesting to see that the alloy 105 Topstone has a threaded bottom bracket. If they upgrade the alloy 105 with GRX next year that might be a nice unit. I am still not sure if carbon will be ideal for carrying weight, even if it is only on occasion. I have always toured with steel or alloy bikes.
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Old 06-13-20, 10:35 AM
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Well decided to pull the trigger on a nautical blue 2021 Checkpoint SL5. Will be picking it up next week once the local Trek dealer swaps the tires over to tubeless.

During my 10 minute test ride, I made it a point to ride over every man hole cover and road imperfection. I also tried an ALR5 to compare. The SL5 was noticeably smoother. Looking forward to getting it out on gravel.

I wasn't able to test ride the Topstone as all the stores were sold out of stock. My local Cannondale dealer indicated that 2021s Topstone will apparently be coming equipped with GRX, but won't arrive until late summer or early fall. I did want to try out a Salsa or Jamis but there are limited dealer options here where I am. My local Trek dealer was great and allowed me a test ride whereas other dealers would not.

Dealer stock is really limited right now. I got the last 2021 SL5 on the floor and the sales rep indicated they wouldn't have any new stock until September.
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