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Which Gravel Bike for $2k? Is full carbon worth it?

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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 : "Unbound Gravel". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

Which Gravel Bike for $2k? Is full carbon worth it?

Old 06-10-20, 05:23 PM
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kosmo886
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Which Gravel Bike for $2k? Is full carbon worth it?

So, I am new to biking and trading my regular hybrid for something that I can ride mainly on asphalt but with the ability to ride on dirt, gravel etc. I may get into longer road rides, but not entirely sure. Given this, it seems a bike in the gravel category would be most versatile and the best fit. Assuming this is correct...I have essentially narrowed down to the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 and Topstone 105. Bikes are similarly prices at 2100 and 1750 respectively. I am struggling to make the decision between the two. Any thoughts would be very helpful. The final challenge is that I canít seem to find the Topstone available except for the full Carbon version which is 2750. This adds complication in that it seems general opinion is the Trek is slightly better compared to the Cannondale, but then if I am looking at just $600 to go from the aluminum Trek to the full Carbon Topstone...is that worth it?

Sorry for the long description...any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.
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Old 06-10-20, 05:37 PM
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I’d love to tell you how nice my Topstone 105 is, but as there are none to be purchased, don’t want to upset you.

Note that I think Cannondale is allowing shops to ship, so if you find one, grab it.
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Old 06-10-20, 05:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Steve B. View Post
Iíd love to tell you how nice my Topstone 105 is, but as there are none to be purchased, donít want to upset you.

Note that I think Cannondale is allowing shops to ship, so if you find one, grab it.
Which one do you have and how do you use it mainly? Did you look at other bikes before you bought it? Interested in the trade offs/comparisons. I did find a Topstone 105 carbon in what I think is my size.
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Old 06-10-20, 06:30 PM
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Well I'm starting to sound like a total Giant shill on this forum...but check out the Revolt Advanced...and yes it's worth it.
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Old 06-10-20, 08:42 PM
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Originally Posted by kosmo886 View Post
Which one do you have and how do you use it mainly? Did you look at other bikes before you bought it? Interested in the trade offs/comparisons. I did find a Topstone 105 carbon in what I think is my size.
I have the aluminum 105. I looked at/researched about 15 bikes before getting the Topstone. I did not want the carbon, don’t like the look, didn't like the rear suspension design. C-Dale likes to go their own route on stuff like the rear suspension, Lefty fork, etc.... stuff I’m not sold on for reliability and I was happier with an aluminum for my needs. As well, for my budget I got a 2nd set of wheels which have road tires and a tighter cassette, so an urban commuter. The Topstone aluminum 105 had a good component mix with 105 and the FSA 46/30 crank. A lot of 105 level bikes were 1X which I didn’t want, or full 105 with a 50/34 crank which I didn’t want. Add in features like the 3rd bottle cage, rear rack mounts, top tube accessory bolts and it’s a well rounded and equipped bike.

I have some dirt and gravel locally, but uses this a lot for road and commuting. With a
wide gravel wheel (24mm) my 28mm Conti GP4S tires ended up at 32mm. With 70/80 psi this is a very comfortable bike.

Last edited by Steve B.; 06-10-20 at 08:45 PM.
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Old 06-11-20, 07:22 AM
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I just purchased a 2021 Trek Checkpoint ALR5 myself this week. I already owned a 2019, and find the geometry, ride, brakes, etc. work very well for me. I will admit that I don't do gravel myself, mainly rough Michigan rural roads, but I would have no fear of venturing offroad with it.

The only things about the 2021 I am not sure about are the GR1 Comp tires and the GRX components. My 2019 has Schwalbe G-One tires and 105. Going out for the first ride this afternoon, so I will have an opinion on those after that.

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Old 06-11-20, 08:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Roger Ramjet View Post
I just purchased a 2021 Trek Checkpoint ALR5 myself this week. I already owned a 2019, and find the geometry, ride, brakes, etc. work very well for me. I will admit that I don't do gravel myself, mainly rough Michigan rural roads, but I would have no fear of venturing offroad with it.

The only things about the 2021 I am not sure about are the GR1 Comp tires and the GRX components. My 2019 has Schwalbe G-One tires and 105. Going out for the first ride this afternoon, so I will have an opinion on those after that.
Hi - curious why you got a 2021 if you already have a 2019? Did you check out the Topstone or any other bikes in your process?
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Old 06-11-20, 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Grasschopper View Post
Well I'm starting to sound like a total Giant shill on this forum...but check out the Revolt Advanced...and yes it's worth it.
Which version do you have? Is it better with the Shimano 105 or SRAM Apex? Wondering is the 11 gears on the SRAM version is enough or not?
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Old 06-11-20, 09:43 AM
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Originally Posted by kosmo886 View Post
Hi - curious why you got a 2021 if you already have a 2019? Did you check out the Topstone or any other bikes in your process?
Color.......I got the Teal.

I also wanted to try GRX with the updated 30/46 chainring gearing (my 2019 has 34/50 chainrings).

I personally have NO interest in the Topstone. I have a carbon 2019 Checkpoint SL5 already. I like the ALR5 just as much.

Last edited by Roger Ramjet; 06-11-20 at 09:49 AM.
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Old 06-11-20, 09:57 AM
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Originally Posted by kosmo886 View Post
Which version do you have? Is it better with the Shimano 105 or SRAM Apex? Wondering is the 11 gears on the SRAM version is enough or not?
So I got the 2020 Revolt Advanced 1. The one that came stock with SRAM APEX 1x. I really like 1x for gravel riding and I have road bikes for road riding...so if the use of the bike will be both then I'd suggest the double. But if all you're doing is gravel and easy MTB type trails then I'd go (and did go) 1x.

Gearing being enough is always going to be subjective to the rider and the terrain. The range of the APEX 1x is wide going from a 10t cog to a 42t cog. But for me (a clydesdale) in my area (lots of steep borderline MTB trails) I need a bit lower gearing. I'm currently awaiting a 10-48 cassette and 38t chainring. This combo hopefully allows me to do longer rides in my area (Rothrock forest in Central PA). If the terrain is less relentless then the stock gearing is fine for me.

But gearing choice aside the bike is amazing...I honestly prefer it to my 2020 Defy Advanced Pro 1 which seemed like only a slight upgrade to the 2012 Defy Advanced it replaced in my stable. The Revolt replaced a 2016 Salsa Warbird and OMG is the Revolt night and day a nicer bike to ride. Lighter, smoother (to be expected moving from AL to CF) and handles better.

I've upgraded my Revolt to the max now. Reynolds CF wheels, Force 1x shifters, brakes, crankset and a Quarq power meter. Can't wait to ride it again later today.

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Old 06-11-20, 09:57 AM
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I have the Carbon Topstone, and if you're coming from a hybrid I don't think you'll like it as much as an alloy Topstone or ALR5. The carbon Topstone has limited tire clearance and a high bottom bracket.

The checkpoints have a cool rear dropout design, but I'd go with the alloy Topstone. The dealer experience would be what would make my decision between the two.
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Old 06-11-20, 10:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Roger Ramjet View Post
Color.......I got the Teal.

I also wanted to try GRX with the updated 30/46 chainring gearing (my 2019 has 34/50 chainrings).

I personally have NO interest in the Topstone. I have a carbon 2019 Checkpoint SL5 already. I like the ALR5 just as much.
why such a strong no to the topstone?
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Old 06-11-20, 10:15 AM
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Originally Posted by kosmo886 View Post
why such a strong no to the topstone?
Topstone is really a poor design decision by Cannondale. Too little clearance and the geometry is just that of the Synapse...so a road bike. If it fits your terrain and riding style it could be fine...I really wanted it when it came out and then I did more research and was disapointed.
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Old 06-11-20, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Grasschopper View Post
Topstone is really a poor design decision by Cannondale. Too little clearance and the geometry is just that of the Synapse...so a road bike. If it fits your terrain and riding style it could be fine...I really wanted it when it came out and then I did more research and was disapointed.
Pretty much this, though I love mine. The rear design is great imo and I plan on eventually getting a 650b wheelset, which would pair well with the bb drop.
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Old 06-11-20, 10:53 AM
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Checkpoint ALR is a no brainer at this price point. It's a bike and geometry that is versatile and rides well.
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Old 06-11-20, 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by GrainBrain View Post
I have the Carbon Topstone, and if you're coming from a hybrid I don't think you'll like it as much as an alloy Topstone or ALR5. The carbon Topstone has limited tire clearance and a high bottom bracket.

The checkpoints have a cool rear dropout design, but I'd go with the alloy Topstone. The dealer experience would be what would make my decision between the two.
Interesting. I have been leaning a bit toward the carbon models given the seat post shock devices and weight. Curious why the Carbon wonít feel as good? I can only ride the aluminum ones before buying...carbon is in a warehouse.
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Old 06-11-20, 10:59 AM
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What are the biggest geometry differences...doing a quick “on paper” comparison, they seem relatively similar. What is the feel difference on each? All of the bikes are a decent change for me so not sure I will immediately pickup on the subtle differences in a short test ride. Thanks!!
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Old 06-11-20, 11:40 AM
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Does the revolt still use that weird shaped seatpost which keeps you from using any other type of seatpost?
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Old 06-11-20, 02:15 PM
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Originally Posted by kosmo886 View Post
why such a strong no to the topstone?
I have 2019 ALR5 and 2019 SL5 bikes already. I am totally sold on the Checkpoint from 2 years of riding experience.

Added by edit: I took the 2021 ALR5 out for its first ride this afternoon. GRX shifted flawlessly, GR1 Comp tires handled perfectly. Excellent ride.

Last edited by Roger Ramjet; 06-11-20 at 02:19 PM.
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Old 06-11-20, 02:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Roger Ramjet View Post
I have 2019 ALR5 and 2019 SL5 bikes already. I am totally sold on the Checkpoint from 2 years of riding experience.

Added by edit: I took the 2021 ALR5 out for its first ride this afternoon. GRX shifted flawlessly, GR1 Comp tires handled perfectly. Excellent ride.
I can only get the 2020 ALR5, not 2021, so wouldnít have GRX. So itís either that or the Topstone 105 Carbon.
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Old 06-11-20, 02:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Grasschopper View Post
Topstone is really a poor design decision by Cannondale. Too little clearance and the geometry is just that of the Synapse...so a road bike. If it fits your terrain and riding style it could be fine...I really wanted it when it came out and then I did more research and was disapointed.
I assume you are talking about the carbon Topstone ?.

Tire clearance on the aluminum is better, I run 45mm WTB Riddlers with no clearance issues.
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Old 06-11-20, 02:46 PM
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Originally Posted by kosmo886 View Post
I can only get the 2020 ALR5, not 2021, so wouldn’t have GRX. So it’s either that or the Topstone 105 Carbon.
The Trek comes with a 105 crank with 50/34 chainrings. The 105 aluminum Topstone comes with an FSA crank with 46/30 rings. This lower gearing was one of the deciding factors for me to get a Topstone. My LBS lists the Topstone at $1750 list, with the Checkpoint at $2099. That's a substantial price difference, not sure why.

And note I'm not trying to justify my own decision as I think the Checkpoint is also a great bike as are the Giants, except that the 2020 Revolt Advanced 1 mentioned here is easily $800-$900 more. I would take about anybody else's carbon gravel over a carbon Topstone. I really don't think it's a good design and for the money there's a lot else out there.

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Old 06-11-20, 02:57 PM
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Is the design issue strictly a clearance problem in the rear? Does this just limit the size tires you can use? If so, what is the limit on the Carbon? Feels like I probably won’t need to go super wide given I’ll still be mostly road.
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Old 06-13-20, 04:57 AM
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Is the Topstone a more upright geometry vs. Checkpoint? It appears so from the specs, but I can't get the bikes side by side? Also...how would either function as a road bike either with existing tires or by changing to road wheels/tires?
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Old 06-13-20, 10:16 AM
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Originally Posted by kosmo886 View Post
Is the Topstone a more upright geometry vs. Checkpoint? It appears so from the specs, but I can't get the bikes side by side? Also...how would either function as a road bike either with existing tires or by changing to road wheels/tires?
You can compare geometry for both bikes on a site call geometry geeks.
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