The all new Mason Exposure Ekar is one of the best gravel/adventure bikes we’ve ridden in terms of comfort/liveliness balance. It’s based loosely on their alloy Bokeh and sits between the SLR all road/tourer and the InSearchOf expedition bike in the steel framed range of the southern UK based brand. It’s absolutely dripping in delicious details, including bikepacking mount overkill and a huge range of sizes. That’s all reflected in the high price for ‘off-the-peg’ steel, but compared to carbon or Ti bikes of far less illustrious pedigree, it’s a bargain.
Design and geometry
Dom Mason first started talking to Italian family owned frame building legends, Cicli Barco, when he started his brand back in 2014. He’s had to patiently wait until now for them to allow a small batch collaboration that matches their 65 years of building experience with Dom’s 24 years of bike design experience. It’s clearly a meeting of ultra fastidious minds. While some aspects like the seat stay curve above the dropouts are a Mason signature, the tube set is a custom developed blend of progressive butted Dedacciai Zero and Zero Uno tubing with subtle ovalisation and 'DForm' shaping in key areas. It also features a Reynolds 653, 44mm straight gauge head tube custom-machined by Bear in the UK, plus CNC machined dropouts and a T47 bottom bracket shell. The steel pipework is then immaculately TIG welded/silver brazed by Cicli Barco for a truly seamless finish before being phosphate treated to stop corrosion and then wet painted in Filter Yellow or Optic Green colors. The frame is available in eight different sizes, which is unprecedented for a small brand like Mason.
Design detailing is equally deep in depth too. The frame and fork have space for 650B x 58mm [2.35”] or 700c x 50mm tires even when running 62mm fenders. There are four bottle/accessory mount bolts on the top of the down tube plus three underneath, three on the seat seat tube and four on each fork leg. There’s a ‘Fuel tank’ bag mount on the top tube and twin-bolt mounts on both seat stays. Stainless steel eye bolts can be added for fenders, while bolted alloy ‘Multi Port’ inserts in raised steel sockets can be configured for any cabled, wired or wireless transmission.
The oversized T47 bottom bracket allows room for the cables to run underneath and be truly fully internal and there’s even a peg to hang your chain when you’ve got the rear wheel out. Mason have also developed their own full carbon ‘Range Finder AS’ fork for the Exposure complete with rack, fender and ‘everything cage’ mounts plus internal routing for dynamo and brake lines. The F-Stop axle system features pull out, 6mm head ‘SwitchLevers’ and the fork and frame terminals for the axles are replaceable for an indefinite lifespan too. In short, it’s an aesthetic and practical masterpiece if you like ferrous tubing and somewhere to bolt any accessory imaginable.
The geometry is equally considered but not obviously radical in any way with a 70.5-degree head angle, 73-degree seat angle and 56.1cm effective top tube on the 56cm I tested. Again, that puts it right between the more road shaped SLR and the longer reach, slacker angled ISO. The eight different sized bikes have different geometry too, keeping the feel consistent between the finely spaced fits.
Components and build
Mason sent me the 13-speed, carbon crank Campagnolo Ekar version of the Exposure but there’s an 11-speed Shimano GRX 800 version and a £2150 frameset option too.
The bike can also be supplied with various tire and wheel options. It came with 650x58mm (27.5 x 2.35in) Vittoria Mezcal XC MTB tires on Hunt Mason X Hunt 650B AdventureSport Disc wheels, which are the way to go for maximum grip and impact protection if your riding is borderline MTB.
I spent a lot of time running Hunt 40 Carbon Gravel Race wheels with either Schwalbe G-One RS or Pirelli Cinturato tires in 700 x 40mm size. I also swapped the original Deda Gera bars for a Ritchey Venture Max carbon, but kept the excellent Mason Contact logo-ed silicon gel tape which is held in place with Mason branded expanding bar plugs. The 27.2mm diameter seat post is Mason’s own carbon shafted piece with a squared off and chunky Fizik Terra Argo X5 saddle looking awkwardly out of place but keeping my butt sweet on longer rides.
Ride, handling and performance
Steel bikes have always had a reputation for a distinctly smooth, sprung ride that’s become a cliche that reviewers are still compelled to repeat today. The truth is that steel ride feel is actually hard to get right and many ferrous frames are tiringly heavy with a disappointingly dull or totally dead character. This is especially true since the introduction of all-material CEN safety standards that forced ferrous frames to use thicker tube walls rather than relying on inherent flex to Tai Chi their way through trauma. Keeping the ride feel alive becomes harder with every fixture mount, cable slot, oversized bottom bracket junction etc you interrupt the natural resonance and spring of the tubes with.
That makes the ride vibe of the Exposure even more remarkable but that wasn’t immediately obvious, especially as it shared test time with the heavier but much cheaper and ultra-smooth ride of On-One’s Rujo bike.
Part of the lumpiness came from the original broad 650B alloy rim and Vittoria Mezcal XC MTB tire spec. This gives a much bigger air volume for safely bouncing through rocky, rooty sections but counter-intuitively, due to pressure over area fluid dynamics, it actually feels significantly firmer for a given pressure than smaller volume tires. The new Deda Gera riser gravel bar which Dom had just received prior to sending the bike so hadn’t ride checked himself also proved to be a source of unwelcome harshness.
Bars swapped to some wriggly Ritchey’s I had previous experience of and the Ekar cassette and rotors switched to stiff but 700c sized Hunt 40 Carbon Gravel Race wheels and silky smooth Schwalbe G-One RS 40mm tires, and the true talent of the Mason was Exposed. Despite being studded with more bolts and clever cable management fixtures than the average ironmonger and with stays splayed wide and dimpled to give extra tire and crank/chainring clearance, the Exposure is light for a steel bike. Not necessarily something steel fans are bothered about as alloy, Ti and carbon are all normally lighter options, but it’s a significant multiplier to the keen power delivery and responsive handling feel of the Mason. Being well under the 10kg mark makes a physical and psychological difference so you won’t be wishing you had a purer road/gravel race bike when you’re riding unladen.
Unsurprisingly, that means it’s not the most limousine like, ground melting ‘double cream’ steel frame I’ve ridden, but there’s still a definite ‘single cream’ smoothness to the ride that elevates it above most other metals or matted synthetic options. At the risk of sounding cheesy given Hunt’s mission statement, the Exposure feels better and better the faster and further you go, and if I’d have had Campagnolo format free hubs for more forgiving wheels than the Hunts, I’m certain it would have felt even more floated and able to ‘plane’ over momentum sapping stutter bumps than it already did. Rather than being radical in any respect (remember you’ve got the ISO for ultra rugged exploring) the handling of the Exposure is judged superbly for the ride feel and potential versatility too. Engaging enough for pushing the pace on more entertaining roads and trails, but with a stability and surefootedness that makes slippery situations or loaded descents less stressful.
The Campagnolo Ekar brakes are fantastic too and while the shifting is plasticky compared to SRAM and Shimano the closely spaced 10-44 gear range, low weight and Italian heritage feels ‘right’ for many reasons. Mason also offer a range of tire and wheel specs by special order and if you want complete personalisation you can always opt for the frameset option and Expose yourself.
Masterpiece is a pretty big word to throw into a bike review, but I’m as comfortable and excited about using it here as I have been riding Mason’s Exposure for the last couple of months. It bridges the gap between conventional gravel and oversized adventure (which Mason already have covered) with a sublimely smooth yet light and lively steel ride that proves why the oldest (metal) frame material can still match any modern material when done right.
It doesn’t get any more ‘right’ than the beautifully Italian handbuilt and impeccable finished Mason/Cicli Barco frameset either which combines charismatic charm and responsive performance with all the practical fixtures you could want. That understandably comes at a significant cost, but you could buy a more expensive carbon or Ti bike that rode nowhere near as well and if you’re doing the miles, have the money or just appreciate pedalling a pinnacle of bike design art around, it’s well worth the investment.
Tech specs: Mason Exposure Ekar
- Discipline: Gravel/Adventure/Touring
- Price: Exposure Ekar build $5,500 / £4,250 / €4,815, frameset $2,600 / £2,150
- Head angle: 70.5 degrees
- Frame material: Custom Dedacciai Zero/Zero Uno and Bear/Reynolds steel mix
- Fork material: Carbon fiber monocoque
- Sizes: 48, 50, 52, 54, 56 (tested) 58, 60 and 62cm
- Weight: 9.51kg (size 56cm with Schwalbe G-One RS tires and Hunt 40 Carbon Gravel Race wheels.
- Wheel size: 700C or 650B
- Drivetrain and gears: Campagnolo Ekar 13-peed rear mech, shifter 38T carbon armed chainset with T47 bottom bracket and 10-44T cassette.
- Brakes: Campagnolo Ekar hydraulic dis with 160mm rotors
- Wheels: Tested with 650 x 50mm Vittoria Mezcal on Hunt Mason X Hunt 650B AdventureSport Disc wheels and 700 x 40mm Schwalbe G-One RS and Pirelli Cinturato tires on Hunt 40 Carbon Gravel Race wheels
- Bar and stem: Ritchey Venture Max carbon 440mm bar and Deda Superzero 90mm stem
- Seatpost and saddle: Mason Penta carbon post with Fizik Terra Argo X5 saddle.