Cinelli’s King Zydeco is a carbon framed gravel bike that at the flip of a fork chip and the swap of a wheel can transform from sporty 700c race machine to a stable big tire 650b adventurer.
Alternative wheel sizes to run bigger tires pre-date gravel bikes, but the addition of a flip-chip by speccing the Columbus Futura Cross fork means the King Zydeco’s ride feel can be adjusted to alter ride feel or compensate for the handling effects of heavy front loads and smaller wheels.
This extra adjustability could prove to be a real selling point for those looking for as much versatility from their gravel bike as possible. To find out, I have been putting in the wide variety of gravel miles on the King Zydeco to see if it rules over the best gravel bikes around.
Design and geometry
The King Zydeco is built using a carbon monocoque construction and Cinelli says it uses a dual response system, which increases stiffness in the lower part of the frame for better power transfer. This manifests itself in a large downtube that leads into some stout rectangular dropped chainstays while the slimmer seat stays, and a flattened top tube should help add an element of comfort. The seatpost is a standard 27.2mm and the frame uses a BB86 bottom bracket. Cinelli claims that the King Zydeco frame weighs 1000g (medium) which is actually pretty good.
The frame can take both 700c and 650b wheels and can clear a 47mm or adventurous 2.1in tire size respectively. There are two sets of bosses for water bottles in the frame and bosses on the top tube for a top tube bag, there's no bottle cage under the downtube or mudguard mounts on the frame.
Cinelli has specced a Columbus Futura Cross fork which features a flip-chip in the drop-out. The chip enables riders to adjust the fork rake between 47mm and 52mm, which in turn affects the trail number and affects the bike’s handling. More rake lowers the trail figure and speeds up handling and vice versa, which gives the option to change the bike’s ride feel based on riding style, tire choice, and wheel size.
The 380mm reach combined with the 100mm stem and protruding bars combined with the low stack put you in more of a stretched-out road position than the relaxed endurance fit of gravel bikes. The 71.5-degree head angle and 73-degree seat angle are pretty standard and the 70mm of bottom bracket drop helps keep the rider centered in the bike.
The internal routing keeps things relatively clean although the entry ports behind the headtube mean there is still a risk of cable rube around the headtube. It's also basic cables into the tubes, rather than molded routing into the tube walls, which means a little rattling when riding over rough terrain. While there are more refined methods, it works fine. The same can’t be said for the external cable guide that sits in front of the bottom bracket shell though. The cables are routed over this guide, surfacing without any outer protection. This internal yet external routing exposes the bare cable to wheel spray and results in shifting being a bit unresponsive.
Components and build
The King Zydeco comes as a frameset or with different build options depending on which region you're based. I have the GRX 1x11 build which is fitted with Vision Team 30 TLR wheels, Schwalbe CX Comp tires, Tifosi finishing kit, and a Selle San Marco Shortfit saddle.
Although it's been around for a while now, GRX is still a solid workhorse groupset, with reliable shifting and chain retention, comfortable hoods, and some of the best drop bar braking performance, even with the small 140mm rotor on the rear.
While the basic Tifosi finishing kit is functional out of the box, the same thing can’t really be said about the rolling stock. Vision’s Team 30 wheels aren’t just heavy, weighing almost 2kg, but they are also overly stiff. The narrow 19mm rims don’t lend themselves well to wide gravel tires and, despite being tubeless compatible, don’t come with tubeless tape. The Schwalbe CX Comp tires are even worse, not only do they give a very numb ride feel but they aren’t even tubeless compatible. At the very least you should consider budgeting for tubeless sealant, rim tape, valves, and gravel bike tires before you venture off-road.
Ride, handling and performance
The definition of gravel is still quite fluid and what makes a gravel bike good is very subjective. The King Zydeco leans towards the go-fast camp although it certainly has the capability to actually go camping too, especially if you take advantage of the bike's voluminous 27.5 x 2.1 tire clearance.
The long stem and out front bars give a long road bike feel that is at odds with the modern trend of long top tubes and short stems found on modern gravel bikes. That's not a criticism though, I found the position comfortable, efficient, and well-balanced. The handling is quite neutral as well, it's not overly twitchy but still has enough liveliness to enthusiastically lean and carve into corners whether it's Tarmac or gravel. The King Zydeco will become unstuck a little earlier when the terrain gets rougher, but for all riding that I would consider “gravel”, the King Zydeco was very confident.
This leads me neatly onto the flip-chip in the front fork, flipping it from short trail to longer trail actually made a surprising amount of difference. While the steering is noticeably more settled, it's the increase in stability that was most apparent. I personally preferred the sharper handling setting for the majority of riding I did on the King Zydeco, but the increased trail setting definitely added a layer of calm on rides that involved fast and rough descents.
While there are plenty of lighter gravel bikes around, the King Zydeco still climbed reasonably well, although despite the stiff frame it felt labored when mustering a surge of speed should you need to kick it up a gear. Sprinting on the flat isn’t a forte either, requiring more power to get the bike moving.
The major contributing factor to the King Zydeco’s limited acceleration and off-road handling is the wheels that come stock on the GRX build I have to test. The stiff wheels and unpredictable tubed tires are very unforgiving off-road, feeding much of the trail vibrations into the rider. The stiffness of the wheels and higher pinch-resistant pressures not only results in a serious lack of traction, but can suffer badly from deflection as the front wheel pinballs off potholes, larger rocks, and roots. That makes it disruptive on climbs and extremely unnerving on descents.
Switching wheels to a set of Hunt 35 X-Wides or Prime Orra V2’s not only saved around 200g off each end but also added more comfort and control too. I added some budget American Classic 40mm tubeless tires which made a considerable difference to the tire shape and suppleness. This resolved a lot of my initial issues with the bike by enhancing the available grip and giving the bike a more predictable ride feel. Obviously, a tire is only capable of offering so much added comfort. Despite the better rubber, there is still a noticeable directness from the frame and finishing kit. However, this could be further helped by using the full 47mm of tire clearance, fitting thicker bar tape, and a more compliant handlebar and seatpost.
The upgraded wheels also dramatically changed the energy of the bike, giving the King Zydeco a far more lively feel when climbing and sprinting. There was more of an eagerness to accelerate out of corners and maintain speed across a variety of surfaces.
All this talk of upgrades leads us nicely to the pricing. Cinelli quotes £3,399 for the King Zydeco, which I think is a bit off the mark due to the very budget wheels and tires that really need to be replaced right out of the box. Considering brands like Giant and Canyon have bikes around the same RRP which come decked out with SRAM Rival XPLR AXS wireless groupsets, wide tubeless rims, and proper tires as standard. Many of the best budget gravel bikes outshine the Cinelli as well, bikes like the On One Rujo which is half the price, equally specced, and ready to ride straight from the box. If your budget can stretch, the Campagnolo Ekar equipped King Zydeco is much better value than the GRX version I tested, although you will still want to upgrade the tires.
Cinelli’s proposition is better in the US as the King Zydeco comes specced with a Rival AXS groupset, Fulcrum Rapid Red wheelset, and WTB Riddler tires for $3,881.95 which is in line with other gravel bikes.
I really didn't get on with the Cinelli King Zydeco out of the box, the low-end finishing kit was jarring both in ride quality and value for money. The stiff heavy wheels and terrible tubed tires especially killed the fast gravel bike vibe with a dulled, harsh, and often vague riding experience.
Once I swapped the wheels to something a little lighter and livelier and fitted them with some proper tubeless gravel tires, the King Zydeco was transformed. I was assured the bike was going to go where I pointed it and the riding experience became a lot more fun. The King Zydeco felt far more confident and controlled when riding gravel at speed and really allowed me to leverage the more road-style riding position to its full advantage. It feels direct and purposeful on descents too and I was able to accurately pick and stick lines.
I stuck with 40mm tires but there's scope to further improve comfort or speed by sizing up or down too. The flip-chip makes a genuinely noticeable difference to ride characteristics and while it isn’t really an on-the-go modification, it does offer a tuning option for different riding.
Tech specs: Cinelli King Zydeco GRX 1X11
- Discipline: Gravel/Adventure
- Price: $5,500 / £2,899 / €4,815
- Head angle: 71.5 degrees
- Frame material: Carbon
- Fork material: Columbus Futura Cross
- Sizes: S, M (tested), L, and XL
- Weight: 9.7kg (medium)
- Wheel size: 700C or 650B
- Drivetrain and gears: Shimano GRX 1X11, 40t chainring, Miche EVO Max BB386
- Brakes: Shimano GRX with 160/140mm rotors
- Wheels: Vision Team 30 TLR Tubeless Ready Disc
- Tires: Schwalbe CX Comp 700x38c
- Bar and stem: Tifosi Alloy Gravel 42cm bar and Tifosi Alloy 100mm stem
- Seatpost and saddle: Tifosi Alloy 27.2mm diameter post with Selle San Marco Shortfit saddle.