Gravel biking has been the fastest growing bike category for several years and the growth of dirty drop riding from racing to off-piste adventuring shows no sign of slowing in 2024. Bike Perfect's technical editor, Guy Kesteven, reckons we could see some refinements of existing benchmarks and hopefully some radical envelope stretchers too.
1. Cervelo Aspero
I’m a big fan of the current Cervelo Aspero with it’s ‘haul ass not cargo’ character and aero advantage. It’s been around for a long while now though and definitely due an upgrade even from a competitive point of view. Races like the mud plagued Unbound 2023 showed that even if you don’t run big tires, then you need big tire clearance to keep the rubber you have revolving. That leaves the 40mm tire compatibility of the current Aspero looking distinctly tight.
With frames like Specialized’s Crux and Scott’s Addict Gravel dropping frame weights well below a kilo, the Aspero is also looking a bit chonky. Given that the new Cervelo Rouvida e–bike is remarkably light and slim for a frame with a decent capacity battery, we can expect some of those composite learnings will moved over to a new frame. While it’s still likely to be very aero focused (especially as the Stigmata from Pon sibling brand, Santa Cruz, is a sturdy, singletrack fiend with internal storage), it’ll almost certainly get a UDH gear hanger for T-Type MTB rear mech and extra large 'mullet' 10-52 gear cassette compatibility.
2. Yeti C-700
Now that Santa Cruz, Lapierre, Mondraker and Commencal have all jumped on the gravel wagon, that leaves Yeti as the only major mountain bike brand I can think of that doesn’t have a dropped bar bike in their line up. That’s particularly ironic as back in the day some of the most iconic MTB images involved John Tomac using drop bars on his Yeti C–26 hardtail.
The BMX-style looped stays of the original FRO would look pretty fine with a 700c wheel slotted into them and they could probably be made to ride well. Then again, I’m pretty sure that most Yeti fans wouldn’t care how it rode as long as it came with a Tioga Disc Drive rear wheel option. Oh and that signature Chrysler auto paint 'desert turquoise' color scheme obviously.
3. Motor-free Mondraker gravel bike
Mondraker’s decision to jump into the gravel market with the motor powered Dusty was a surprise for many (me included when I turned up at the press launch). As much as I enjoyed riding the progressive geometry bike and the Mahle rear hub drive is quiet and effective, the extra weight in the rear was an issue. Basically because as soon as I or any other riders on the press camp started really enjoying how rowdy we could get on the Dusty, the rear tire would pinch flat. The carbon frame also made it fast and light enough that for many of the climbs I didn’t even bother switching the motor on. So a gravel bike with the Dusty handling, sweet Mondraker aesthetic and smooth ride, but with more tire clearance and a weight balance that improves rear rubber survival, could really put the radical Spaniards in the gravel game for more adventurous non-assisted pilots.
4. Specialized Epic World Cup Gravel
OK bear with me here, as this is deeply unlikely to actually happen, but I think it could be a sick experiment for the company with an 'Innovate or die' motto. The whole time I was testing Specialized’s Epic World Cup XC bike, I was thinking it could be a spectacular full-suspension gravel bike. At under 1,800g, it’s lighter than a lot of steel and alloy frames but still has 80mm of travel. The unique zero sag suspension design and BRAIN fork can be set up to be super smooth over ripples and rough surfaces, or super stiff so it only moves when you hit something significant.
The top tube embedded rear shock leaves the mainframe free for twin bottle cages and/or frame bags. It comes with a fixed rather than a dropper post as standard, so seat bags are no problem either.
It’s narrow off-road performance bandwidth has also led to some decidedly luke warm reviews in pure MTB terms. That means repositioning it as a gravel bike might add a whole new and potentially more welcoming audience. This would give Specialized a better return on what must have been some very significant investment in bespoke frame and suspension tech, and turn the Epic World Cup into a hit rather than a miss.
5. Pace RC429
One company diving deep into both the ‘isn’t a progressive gravel bike just an XC hardtail?’ and ‘gravel biking is just early 1990s MTB’ truths are Pace Cycles in Yorkshire. Their new RC429 ‘unicorn’ bike is being offered in build kits ranging from full on RockShox Pike forked, chunky Michelin tire ’T Pack’ trail hardtail, to carbon rigid fork and 700c wheel 'G Pack' and anywhere in between.
Pace certainly have the heritage to back up that early 1990s MTB vibe too, as they launched their revolutionary box section alloy, three-piece crank, bolted crown fork, hydraulic braked RC100 back in 1989. Co-founder Adrian Carter also organized a lot of the first MTB events in the north of England, but he recognizes that the equipment being used for riding and exploring his beloved wild forests and moors has changed a lot.
That translates into a 64.5 to 66.5 degree unsagged head angle depending on fork choice and full MTB reach designed to work with either flat bars or a short stem and drops. There’s a SRAM UDH ready rear gear hanger to futureproof your shifting choices, and gear lines are external for easy servicing. The frame also has a bunch of bottle, bikepacking and even old school rack mounts. If you go with the rigid fork option, you’ll have enough extra mounting nipples to keep a litter of piglets happy. If you’re into keeping the world you ride through as green and pleasant as possible you’ll be pleased to hear the RC429 has not only been designed and developed in Yorkshire, but the tubes are UK made Reynolds 853 premium steel and the frames are made and painted by Fort in Czech Republic. A company Pace used to supply bikes and parts to themselves over thirty years ago. Frames, standard builds and custom options should be available in March, but hopefully I’ll be testing a couple of the configurations earlier, so stay tuned for full ride details soon.