Making a move into e-gravel with the Mondraker Dusty may seem an unusual move for a brand that's spent a long time building a richly deserved reputation for making some of the best mountain bikes around – not to mention winning multiple DH World Championships and XC World Cups to prove it. Mondraker’s first product was a DH race bike, they changed the face of MTB handling with ‘Forward Geometry’ (incorporating stem lengths into longer top tubes for more stable/capable bikes) and even their Grommy kids' e-bikes are fully off-road focused. That makes their move into drop bars and gravel a big shift for the brand, but Mondraker fans needn’t worry because the new Dusty XR is a proper tech trail-ready player, not just an on-trend energy boost for the bikepacking bandwagon.
Design and geometry
Mondraker aren’t mucking around with the new Dusty range either. All three bike options (XR, RR and R) use the same high tech, lightweight (1280g for a medium) carbon fiber frame that follows design and lay up cues from their Podium SL. The lightest production XC race hardtail available.
Cutaways at the launch presentation we attended highlighted the intricately designed rear dropouts and features like the pipes inside the down tube (and on the rigid fork) for easy control threading. Tube profiles are classic Mondraker too, with a super flat but broad top tube and pronounced ‘cheekbones’ on the big head tube which the brake line runs into via a spout under the stem. There’s a neat flush fit seat clamp at the end of the low, sloped top tube and the seat tube is home to the charging port for the battery.
While all complete bikes are currently single chainring, there’s a rubber covered front mech mount point if you want to double up. The rear end is the most interesting bit though as the Dusty uses super low seatstays that deflect dramatically downwards just before they join the frame. Kind of like a four-bar linkage, but in fixed carbon fiber. The seatstays are also extended back past the rear axle to give maximum flex length, while the big dropouts hide the rear brake mount and the wireless sensor for the Mahle hub motor. The chainstays are swerved and curved in for crank clearance, but tire space is limited to 700 x 47mm.
Bikepacking bolt counters will rejoice in three mounts on each fork leg, three bottle cage mounts, and a top tube bag mount behind the on switch and mode/battery life indicator for the Mahle system. There are rack/fender mounts on the extended seatstay corners too, although lack of upper mounts means you’ll have to use something like Ortlieb’s Quick Rack. Mondraker also offer two custom Alpkit top tube and mini frame bag options for the Dusty.
While their long top tube, zero length stem ‘Forward Geometry’ bikes revolutionized the handling of production bikes in 2013, the Spaniards have mellowed a bit since then and let other brands do the really radical stuff. There’s still a sniff of Forward Geometry on the Dusty though with a long reach on the medium I rode matched to an 80mm stem. The angles aren’t crazy though with a 70-degree head angle and a 75
-degree seat angle, so only the super short 425mm chainstays really stand out for a powered bike.
Components and build
E-bikes often live or die by their motors but Mondraker have never been afraid to innovate. All the Dusty bikes use Mahle’s latest X20 hub motor system. At 1.39kg, the new hub is 400g lighter than the previous X35 and the smaller size with straight pull spokes means a tougher, but smoother riding wheel. Torque increases to 55nm from 40nm on the X35 too, so it’s competitive with Fazua motors. The hub is controlled wirelessly and the patent pending Mahle Automatic Motor Connection setup aligns the electrical contacts automatically when you refit the rear wheel too which is super convenient.
The hub motor is powered by a 350WH battery inside the downtube and Mahle’s Smart torque sensing BB gives a conventional DUB crank fit. That means the XR gets carbon fiber SRAM Force crank arms driving a 10-52 tooth Eagle MTB cassette under command of a SRAM X01 Eagle AXS wireless rear mech and SRAM Force wireless drop bar shifters. There are up and down buttons for the three Mahle power modes just underneath the shifters on the inside, but the top tube button also alters power modes too. Speed, distance, predicted range and percentage battery remaining data is all displayed on a neat Pulsar One wireless head unit. This attaches to a Garmin style bayonet out-front adapter that clamps into the front plate of the stem. Bars are either 44 or 46cm wide depending on bike size with a 18-degree flare to the tips for extra descending control.
The real win in terms of descending control comes from the combination of a RockShox Rudy 40mm suspension fork up front and a Reverb AXS XPLR wireless gravel dropper/suspension post at the rear. Wheels are Mavic's top spec Allroad Pro Carbon SL Disc with Mavic front hub and 45mm Maxxis Rambler EXO tires. Fizik’s broad, short Terra Argo gravel saddle completes the picture.
The Dusty also comes in RR with Rival AXS XPLR kit with a fixed fork and 40mm tires (£5499, 13.33kg), or the R with cable operated Apex XPLR kit and the same fixed fork and 40mm tires (£4499, 13.39kg). While the frames are made and painted in the far east, all Mondrakers are assembled in Spain on a state-of-the-art computer prompted production line in their new Spanish headquarters to guarantee quality control. While they use inner tubes for clean and easy shipping, all bikes are supplied with valves for the tubeless ready Mavic rims and I tested the bike set up tubeless. At first anyway, but more on that later.
Ride, handling and performance
Mondraker have taken a big jump from their previously MTB-only stance to add the Dusty to the range so there’s one critical thing to confirm straight away. It might have drop bars and a motor but this bike is definitely a Mondraker. It’s hard to describe beyond saying there’s a level of surefootedness yet cheeky agility that goes beyond the simple numbers. Talking to their designers they spent a lot of time refining the geometry and particularly the rear center length. Prototypes with longer chainstays had more stability and better climbing grip, but the weight of the motor at the far end of the bike was much more obvious in the handling balance. That's why they’ve compromised slightly on tire clearance and tucked the wheel right in close and it really works well.
While loose Spanish gravel, loooooong switchback descents and the fact that all press launches inevitably turn into a race (well they do for me) meant a lot of sliding and foot out flailing on the XR. Even with the limited tread Rambler tire both ends and X20 hub weight out back it was always the rear end that stepped out first in a predictable drift that I soon started provoking for the hell of it. And if you’re thinking that sounds more like a phrase from a mountain bike review than a gravel bike review then that’s exactly the vibe that the Dusty XR delivered on pretty much every part of an intense day and half of testing.
Steep sketchy loose rock chutes. Power assisted sprinting into and out of corners on bush weaving threads of dusty or slippery clay singletrack. Eye wateringly fast loose rock descents with blind corners that could be flat out sweepers or tightening stranglers with no run out apart from mountain air. Silly steep ‘I wonder if I can get up that’ technical climbs of rock steps or skittery scree, that turned corners to reveal the same every pedal counts intensity all the way to the sky. It didn’t matter that I was obviously working through drop bars and trying to connect to the ground with basically slick 45mm tires, I attacked everything like I was on a mountain bike. Even on the road sections I’d drop the saddle and chuck the Dusty extra low into dirty blind corners chasing Theo the fast French journo not just to look good on the GoPro but because the Mondraker was clearly gagging for it.
So what makes that happen? RockShox definitely deserve credit for the far better than it should be Rudy fork giving impressive control and traction up front and the Reverb dropper that also doubles as a butt saving air-sprung suspension post. What’s remarkable is that the cranked and extended seatstays and MTB hardtail derived carbon lay up manage to take enough sting and add enough traction to the back end that the Dusty never feels unbalanced. To put this into context every other e-gravel bike I’ve ridden has clattered and banged around as the limited tire volume struggled to cope with the numb extra weight, either in the mid frame or dragging along at the back. For the most part, I completely forgot I was riding an e-bike though, it hopped, popped, slid, skidded, boosted off lips and turned every drainage gully rampart into a sender, even if it put being able to slow down enough for a safe entry into the next corner in jeopardy.
When the speeds slowed down in turns or up climbs though the Mahle motor suddenly reminds you it’s there with a useful surge of power whether you’re heaving from low revs (it picks up from 6kmh) or spinning out. Mondraker have also specified their own ‘watts on demand’ tune for the motor that essentially works similarly to the e-MTB setting on Bosch motors by adding more power when you do. It does that in every setting too, although the lower two settings need you to add more power yourself to get the motor to match it, but go hard and it’ll still give you the full 250W beans. Because the torque tops out at 55Nm, it still feels really natural in a ‘wow I’ve got good legs today’ not the artificial superhero surge of a 90Nm full power motor. That also makes it easier to keep the skinny rear tire connected, although again the compliance of the frame really helps give you much more skip than stick. Even having a proper crank makes a considerable difference in how much feedback and drive you can get to the ground, and means you can still go hard beyond the 26kmh top speed of the motor – or when I decided to be an idiot and see how long I could keep up with the media pack with the motor turned off.
That’s unlikely to happen accidentally though as there’s enough juice in the battery to go hard regularly and still get a reasonable range. The mountains behind Alicante chewed through the cell fast enough for most bikes to be low on energy after 60km and 1800m of climbing, but on the flat the display tops out at 140km fully charged. You can plug in a 172W bottle shaped range extender to take that out beyond 200km. The motor levels can be fully tuned through the Mahle smartphone app if you want to really push the distance or dial a particular performance out of the battery. And even though we (well the handful of us at the front anyway) rode like idiots as often as possible on both days, thanks to the short-travel suspension and frame compliance the Dusty still brought us home much less beaten up than we’d have been on some XC hardtails.
And there in lies the main issue with the Dusty XR. Because it’s so much fun to ride and it does such a good job of disguising how hard you’re going, that thin walled 45mm Maxxis Rambler tire at the back is living on borrowed time. To be fair, it lasted the first couple of hours of contouring singletrack, some short MTB style descents and chunky rocky climbing, but as our confidence/recklessness grew both Theo (my French front of pack dueling pal) and I rear flatted on both the second and third descents. Even though we ended up rolling home on ‘inner tubes of shame’ at 50psi it was still more comfortable and controllable than a lot of gravel e-bikes I’ve ridden with much bigger tires, so adding more pressure to boost survivability isn’t an automatic back breaker. If you know you’re likely to get carried away, I’d definitely recommend fitting a tire inset to stop pinch flats though and fitting a tougher rear tire like something from the Teravail Durable range is probably a good idea long term too. Oh and the top tube bag from the custom Apidura pairing covers the power button/range display on the frame, so you’ll have to use the head unit as your ignition and information point.
To be completely honest, if I’d known that the Dusty was going to be an e-bike I probably would have been less keen to head out to Alicante. Up to this point the combination of extra motor and battery weight on skinny tires has always felt more like a mobility scooter option than a fun multiplier. However, Mondraker have done two very clever things with the Dusty. First, they’ve made the frame sleek enough that I couldn’t tell it had a battery from the suitably ‘dusty’ launch invite shots. Second, they’ve clearly worked extremely hard to somehow transfer their signature mischievous mountain bike character into a drop bar, 700 x 45mm tire format.
The result isn’t just a really well balanced, practical, fitness and distance boosting all-rounder for the growing number of people enjoying exploring the diverse world between road riding and full-on MTB. It’s also an absolute blast that’s totally changed my mind about the e-gravel bike segment and it’s potential to deliver serious fun to all sorts of situations. Just make sure you fit a tire insert if you know you can’t be trusted to behave sensibly.
- Trails: Mountain roads, gravel double track and steep technical singletrack near Alicante, Spain
- Surfaces: Tarmac, gravel, loose rock and clay
- Conditions: Dry, sunny, 2 to 15 degrees C
Tech specs: Mondraker Dusty XR
- Discipline: Gravel/bikepacking/commuting/all-surface anarchy
- Price: £8,799 / €9,999
- Head angle: 70 degrees
- Frame material: Mondraker carbon fibre
- Fork: RockShox Rudy 40mm travel
- Size: S, M (tested), L, XL
- Weight: 14.22kg (size large without pedals)
- Wheel size: 700c
- Gears and drivetrain: SRAM GX AXS 12-speed rear mech, SRAM Force AXS shifter and 40T chainset with Mahle Press Fit bottom bracket. SRAM GX 10-52T cassette and NX chain
- Brakes: SRAM Force hydraulic disc with 160mm front and rear rotors
- Tires: Maxxis Rambler 700 x 45mm
- Wheels: Mavic Allroad Pro Carbon SL rims, Mavic front hub and Mahle X20 rear hub
- Bar and stem: OnOff Gradient 440mm flared bar and 80mm stem
- Seatpost and saddle: RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR seat post and Fizik Terra Argo saddle.