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Gravel bike suggestions, SRAM caveat

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Gravel bike suggestions, SRAM caveat

Old 10-19-20, 11:25 AM
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martymc
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Gravel bike suggestions, SRAM caveat

I would appreciate a few gravel bikes to put on my list to consider, considering my situation:
* Watt/Kg = 3.9, 48 years old, road and mountain biked for 20 years
* Gravel goal is just cold months riding, alternating with mountain biking (going back to road/MTB in warm months)
* Looking for a good balance of comfort and speed. May do an event or two, but primarily just fun/fitness.
* The bike will be 99% exclusive gravel use; will use pavement only to get to the gravel
* Live in NWArk, loads of gravel with most being rather coarse bladed road / rougher

SRAM: On my MTB, I screwed with SRAM components for years trying to get it right. Their brakes are sublime, but the shifting always felt sub-standard to me and never as smooth as I would have liked. Tried Eagle X01, XX1, and GX / wasted a good wad of money hoping for better. On each group, after giving it my best, I'd take it to different LBSs hoping they could dial it in better than me -- and none could. Changed perfectly straight hangers just to see, chains, lubes, waxing, etc. Always "ok" was as good as I could get. Main issue was shifting up/dn in the larger cogs and anything under load was poor. Was considering a 4th group, SRAM AXS, but just gave up and put on plain old Shimano XT with an XTR shifter and couldn't be happier. Have rode that about 1000 miles with no issues at and sublime shifting without exception. The groupset just disappears and I don't even think about it on a ride anymore. I intentionally let the drivetrain get really dirty with no cleaning or lube for many rides in a row with likewise no issues. All of that is to say I am reluctant to buy a gravel bike with SRAM MTB-like components.

List of contenders thus far:
* Trek Checkpoint SL 6 or 7
* Allied Able
* Argon Dark Matter

If I had to make a choice right this second, I'd buy the Checkpoint SL6 with Shimano GRX, take the wheels off and put on a set of Enve G23s. However, my experience with gravel is so small I just want other's more knowledgeable experience before making a purchase...

Many thanks in advance.

Last edited by martymc; 10-19-20 at 11:28 AM.
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Old 10-19-20, 12:45 PM
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I've never ridden a Checkpoint, but GRX 800 is a pretty awesome groupset. I have a combo of 600/800 in a 1x setup on a current bike and the shifts are fast and effortless, and the whole thing runs really quiet. As you say, it kind of disappears and I don't think about it.

That said, I've never had the issues you describe with SRAM. I've had a Force 1x drivetrain on my CX bike for a few years and it works perfectly. It's a lot different than GRX. The SRAM shifting action requires more effort and the shifts tend to pop in place with a little more force, and the drivetrain makes a lot more noise, but I've never had trouble getting it adjusted for perfect shifting up and down the cassette, or while under load.
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Old 10-19-20, 01:16 PM
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Originally Posted by martymc View Post
I would appreciate a few gravel bikes to put on my list to consider, considering my situation:
* Watt/Kg = 3.9, 48 years old, road and mountain biked for 20 years
* Gravel goal is just cold months riding, alternating with mountain biking (going back to road/MTB in warm months)
* Looking for a good balance of comfort and speed. May do an event or two, but primarily just fun/fitness.
* The bike will be 99% exclusive gravel use; will use pavement only to get to the gravel
* Live in NWArk, loads of gravel with most being rather coarse bladed road / rougher

SRAM: On my MTB, I screwed with SRAM components for years trying to get it right. Their brakes are sublime, but the shifting always felt sub-standard to me and never as smooth as I would have liked. Tried Eagle X01, XX1, and GX / wasted a good wad of money hoping for better. On each group, after giving it my best, I'd take it to different LBSs hoping they could dial it in better than me -- and none could. Changed perfectly straight hangers just to see, chains, lubes, waxing, etc. Always "ok" was as good as I could get. Main issue was shifting up/dn in the larger cogs and anything under load was poor. Was considering a 4th group, SRAM AXS, but just gave up and put on plain old Shimano XT with an XTR shifter and couldn't be happier. Have rode that about 1000 miles with no issues at and sublime shifting without exception. The groupset just disappears and I don't even think about it on a ride anymore. I intentionally let the drivetrain get really dirty with no cleaning or lube for many rides in a row with likewise no issues. All of that is to say I am reluctant to buy a gravel bike with SRAM MTB-like components.

List of contenders thus far:
* Trek Checkpoint SL 6 or 7
* Allied Able
* Argon Dark Matter

If I had to make a choice right this second, I'd buy the Checkpoint SL6 with Shimano GRX, take the wheels off and put on a set of Enve G23s. However, my experience with gravel is so small I just want other's more knowledgeable experience before making a purchase...

Many thanks in advance.
i also live in nwa and know our gravel well. I went with the specialized diverge carbon comp. Am changing stock rims to spinergy gxx. Thought about the checkpoint but seemed more a roadbike with gravel tires than a true roadbike, kind of like kona rove is more mtB than gravel. Allied looks nice.
bought the diverge at highroller in rogers. If i were to get the trek would get at phatt tire in bvile. They carry salsa as well as all city.
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Old 10-19-20, 03:59 PM
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Also look at a Cannondale Topstone aluminum. Good bang for buck, one of the models is a GRX group. Iím a year on mine, love it. The Checkpoint would also now be on my list as the GRX group uses a 46/30 or so crank, last year it was a 105 with 50/34 which was a poor choice.
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Old 10-19-20, 07:02 PM
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Not sure of your budget or other preferences, but you might want to go with a 650b wheelset if you have really chunky stuff so you can forget about the rocks and just enjoy riding. With 650b you can pretty much ignore anything smaller than a brick as long as you have a good tire and right pressure (Have been loving the Vittoria Terreno dry for all-round and still very fast on the road.) As far as bikes, I ride an Open U.P. and think it is one or the finest out there for gravel. Number 2 & 3 on my list (I have owned both) are Bombtrack Hook EXT-C and Salsa Warbird. If budget is more of a factor I like the Jamis Renegade steel and Giant Revolt (my wife rides both and I sneak them out occasionally). And GRX 600 or 810 all the way! Where you live isn't it more gravel than pavement?
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Old 10-20-20, 06:07 AM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
I ride an Open U.P. and think it is one or the finest out there for gravel.
That looks quite interesting / lots of very favorable reviews and articles. Looks too I could just order a frame and build it up myself, Di2 GRX, Enve, Specialized power saddle, etc. and have a pretty sweet ride. I looked at their selection. The UP looks great, the UP(PER) seemed like a lot of extra money for saving 180g. Would you buy the UP again over the Mega?

In re your Q on about terrain around here: I'd say we are blessed with a great intersection for all MTB, road, and gravel. Our singletrack network is immense -- many hundreds of miles and new trail being built at the rate of 2 miles / week (not a typo). Trail quality is world-class. Lots of good rural pavement for wonderful group rides; however, the area is growing so fast that once isolated rural pavement is getting quite a few more cars daily. The gravel goes in every direction with the old farm roads in every direction. No issue at all stringing together a many dozen different 50 mile gravel rides.
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Old 10-20-20, 06:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Steve B. View Post
Also look at a Cannondale Topstone aluminum. Good bang for buck, one of the models is a GRX group.
Thank you. Will put it on the list.
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Old 10-20-20, 06:11 AM
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Originally Posted by bbledsoe View Post
i also live in nwa and know our gravel well. I went with the specialized diverge carbon comp. Am changing stock rims to spinergy gxx. Thought about the checkpoint but seemed more a roadbike with gravel tires than a true roadbike, kind of like kona rove is more mtB than gravel. Allied looks nice.
bought the diverge at highroller in rogers. If i were to get the trek would get at phatt tire in bvile. They carry salsa as well as all city.
Can you elaborate a little more on some gravel bikes being more road or MTB -- and why you would or wouldn't want one or the other? Which way does the Specialized lean - road, MTB?

Thanks.
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Old 10-20-20, 06:13 AM
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I don’t agree with you on sram at all. Their brakes suck too.
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Old 10-20-20, 08:06 AM
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Originally Posted by martymc View Post
Can you elaborate a little more on some gravel bikes being more road or MTB -- and why you would or wouldn't want one or the other? Which way does the Specialized lean - road, MTB?

Thanks.
I didnt make the comment, but Ill sure insert myself into the discussion!

Some gravel bikes have geometry that is closer to current MTB(Evil Chamois Hagar) while others have geometry that is closer to current road bikes(Fairlight Secan, Cervelo Aspero, etc). Look at the head tube angle, fork rake, and overall trail number- some bikes will be super slack with a long front center(think the front half of the bike) and that geometry will feel very stable in a straight line going down a hill. Other bikes will have less trail and feel more like a large tire road bike which will require less effort to turn at speed and not wander around left and right when climbing slowly.
Then there is bottom bracket height which also greatly affects the feel- MTBs usually have a high bottom bracket(so small bottom bracket drop) and road bikes will then have a lower bottom bracket(so large bottom bracket drop). A high bottom bracket makes it feel like you are riding atop the bike and is helpful for clearing obstacles on the trail. A low bottom bracket makes it feel like you are riding in the bike.

There is no right or wrong geometry- there is seemingly endless geometry and there are seemingly endless preferences by riders.

Here is some relatively neutral current gravel geometry ranges- 72.5-73.5 degree seat tube angle, 71.5-72.5 degree head tube angle, 45-50mm fork offset, 70-75mm bottom bracket drop, 60-70mm trail.
These are general numbers and doesnt mean bikes with numbers outside these are bad. My bike has some numbers outside the ranges above and many large brands have gravel bikes with numbers outside the ranges I list. These are just general so you can look at the geometry of your MTB and road bikes, and then compare it to gravel bikes you are considering.
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Old 10-20-20, 08:54 AM
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr View Post
I didnt make the comment, but Ill sure insert myself into the discussion!
Thank you greatly for your comment and time. That helps me a good bit.
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Old 10-20-20, 02:29 PM
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Also worth noting that there are several CX bikes that also make excellent gravel bikes, particularly if you already are a MTB rider and aren't trying to find a drop bar bike to ride on singletrack or more extreme gravel stuff. CX bikes generally have more aggressive geometry and trend closer to road bikes in terms of handling. They typically have higher BB and steeper head tube angles than gravel bikes, but can still fit pretty big tires, most can handle 40-42c now.

You can compare the geometry between something like the Diverge and Crux to get an idea of differences. The Diverge will be a bit more upright with a shorter reach, and taller stack. The BB drop on the Diverge is 85mm vs 69mm on the Crux. Both bikes have a similar head tube angle (71.9 on the Diverge vs 71.5 on the Crux). The Crux doesn't have the Future Shock 20mm suspension and will likely feel a little stiffer, but that will also translate to snappier acceleration and lighter weight, so it depends on what you prefer.
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Old 10-21-20, 07:44 AM
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Q: Zero'ing in on a Open U.P. with 2x GRX. Ratios? Thoughts?

I've ran into a few more serious gravel riders who own many bikes yet rave about their Open U.P.. Looked at the Specialized and Cannondale (already looked at Allied and Trek) and the Open is too intriguing to pass up.

Thought hard about the Open Wide. However, it only accepting a 1x gave me pause. Also, I have an excellent MTB for the hundreds of miles of single-track around here (Yeti 4.5), and while hitting some of our trails in basically a drop-bar hard-tail would be interesting, I can't see doing it too often without having some mishaps. If I was doing some off-trail cross country (vs. trails intentionally made challenging with obstacles), the Open Wide with something like 2.4 tires would be interesting. But I think I will leave mountain biking to an actual mountain bike.

Therefore, for gravel-specific riding I am thinking the Open UP. It may be fun to swap my road wheels (Enve 5.6) every once in a while, so that has me leaning Shimano GRX 2x on the Open. Bad idea? Any particular sweet-spot ratios people like? I'd consider myself an above-average rider in terms of strength but I am still big - 6'2"/180 - and don't want to give up too much on the climbing gear. The easiest gear on my road bike (Domane SLR) is a 34x32 and I only use it on the hardest of hills / find myself climbing in the big chainring often. For gravel-specific while still maybe doing some road riding, should I stick with the same road ratio, buy an easier gear or two for hard gravel climbs, etc?

Many thanks.
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Old 10-21-20, 08:04 AM
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My main road bike has 34x32 bailout gearing and I cant remember the last time I used it. 34x28 would be enough for me.
My gravel bike has 32x36 bailout gearing and I use it a couple times every few rides, but its rare and brief.

So 34x28 is used on my road bike and 32x36 on my gravel bike.

- gravel roads around me are hillier and steeper than paved roads. It makes sense- pave/create the route that is flatter for auto traffic. Having easier gearing on a gravel bike makes sense here.
- gravel is a slower surface and it takes more power/energy to ride up a gravel hill. Again, having easier gearing on a gravel bike makes sense here.

I used to run 46/34 and currently run 48/32 up front. If I could, I would run 46/32 for sure. But the 48/32 works plenty fine for paved road and gravel. I am not held back by gearing on paved roads as 48/11 is more than I can push for extended miles on pavement as that is 28.8mph with my tire size at 80rpm.

There is a similar GRX crank to what I use- I think its 48/31. If I had a GRX group, I would use that crank and pair it with an 11-34 cassette. 31/34 is a hair different from 32/36 for gear ratio.

Hopefully this gives you an idea on gearing based on what I need for paved road and gravel.
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Old 10-21-20, 08:58 AM
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mstateglfr - Thanks greatly for taking the time for the gear ratio advice. Really helpful and what I was looking for. Thanks.
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Old 10-21-20, 06:49 PM
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Originally Posted by martymc View Post
Q: Zero'ing in on a Open U.P. with 2x GRX. Ratios? Thoughts?

I've ran into a few more serious gravel riders who own many bikes yet rave about their Open U.P.. Looked at the Specialized and Cannondale (already looked at Allied and Trek) and the Open is too intriguing to pass up.

Thought hard about the Open Wide. However, it only accepting a 1x gave me pause. Also, I have an excellent MTB for the hundreds of miles of single-track around here (Yeti 4.5), and while hitting some of our trails in basically a drop-bar hard-tail would be interesting, I can't see doing it too often without having some mishaps. If I was doing some off-trail cross country (vs. trails intentionally made challenging with obstacles), the Open Wide with something like 2.4 tires would be interesting. But I think I will leave mountain biking to an actual mountain bike.

Therefore, for gravel-specific riding I am thinking the Open UP. It may be fun to swap my road wheels (Enve 5.6) every once in a while, so that has me leaning Shimano GRX 2x on the Open. Bad idea? Any particular sweet-spot ratios people like? I'd consider myself an above-average rider in terms of strength but I am still big - 6'2"/180 - and don't want to give up too much on the climbing gear. The easiest gear on my road bike (Domane SLR) is a 34x32 and I only use it on the hardest of hills / find myself climbing in the big chainring often. For gravel-specific while still maybe doing some road riding, should I stick with the same road ratio, buy an easier gear or two for hard gravel climbs, etc?

Many thanks.
Your instincts are right. I got into gravel from MTB a few months ago, have a hardtail FB (with 29+ wheel set), yeti SB100 and a Pivot enduro bike - all Sram 1x. When I shopped gravel bikes this year I assumed 1x was the way to go. Dealer let me test ride a GRX 2x and it sold me. I ended up with a bike that is like the Open, pretty road bike geo for a GG, can go 700x45 (but running 40), with GRX 2x Di2. 48/31 - 11/34. Debated the gears, but they are perfect, I use the bail out on the steepest grades, but ride 90+% of the time 48-11 to 30. Very glad I did. Its fast on pavement, rails on gravel, and if we're going single track I take a mountain bike.
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Old 10-22-20, 10:44 AM
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I'm from NWA also, the Allied's look NICE and they have a few you can test ride at their shop in Bentonville. I'm a bit of a Santa Cruz snob.... You might take a look at the Santa Cruz Stigmata. the Force AXS build is the only one close to your contender list. But for what it looks like you might spend, you could get their Reserve carbon wheels also. Your only problem will be sourcing your frame/components or complete bike. COVID has things sooooooooo screwed up. I was at Phat Tire talking to them about 2021 bikes and they said they don't know when they'll get anything in
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