UK brand Sonder got into the gravel game very early, and their affordable yet infectiously lively Camino has continued to be a cost-effective best gravel bike benchmark through V2 and V3 generations. The V4 launched earlier this year with slacker, longer geometry to really ramp up its off-road capability and confidence. Even with the hefty wheels, it’s still a joy to ride and while it’s a sorted all-rounder as supplied it’s well worth upgrading for more specific usages. We probably wouldn’t choose the Rival wired version though.
Design and geometry
The fourth generation bike is a nice piece of alloy pipework too. A smooth tapered head tube leads into the ovalized top tube and down tube. Mid-sized seat stays join opposite the top tube to create a traditional look rather than offsetting lower down like a lot of recent frames. The chainstays are then tapered towards the bottom bracket but the drive side tube is welded onto a flat alloy plate to give chainring clearance while still allowing space for a big 700 x 50mm (or 650B x 2.2in) tire.
The V4 frame gets semi-internal cable routing for the rear brake hose and gear cable with a spare insert point. There are triple water bottle ‘everything’ cage mounts on the top and underside of the down tube and a two bolt bottle mount on the seat tube. There are rear rack mounts, mudguard eyes front and rear and the full carbon fork also has triple bolt mounts on each leg. The V4 frame also gets an entry port for an internally routed dropper post if you want to fully release the rad riding potential of the Sonder.
There’s a lot more potential for pushing the limits than there was before too because the V4 has a 2-degree slacker, settling at a 69-degree head tube angle. The reach has also been increased proportionately across all sizes. The small and medium sizes grow 10mm, the large grows 20mm and the XL grows 30mm. That allows Sonder designer Neil Sutton to fit the same relatively short 70mm stem across all sizes.
The widely flared, shallow drop Sonder Bomber bars are the same across all drop bar Camino models (there’s also a flat bar version). The same applies to the seat post, saddle, and Sonder’s sturdy Nova i21 wheels. These are handbuilt at the Sonder HQ just outside the Peak District in the UK complete with plain gauge spokes, carefully sourced, well-sealed hubs too, and a steel-free hub barrel for maximum durability.
With the same finishing kit and wheels right through the main question is which spec to go for from the five SRAM (entry-level Apex flat bar at $1,349 / £1,099 to the $2,199 / £1,799 Rival AXS XPLR flagship) and four Shimano (Tiagra £1,399 / £1,149 to GRX600 in single or double ring $1,699 / £1,449) options. To Sonder’s credit, they’re very open about continuing component availability and publish expected delivery dates for each version. As all bikes are built to order that means a minimum of ten days to wait but they’re not even taking orders for the Rival XPLR eTap AXS bike until November with bikes arriving in May 2023.
The new geometry is also obvious in the ride straight away, which isn’t surprising when you consider that some XC hardtails still run a 69-degree head angle or steeper. The pronounced flare and shallow drop of the bars make the wider section more useable than most too. That gives you both extra steering stability when you’re trying to hold a line through a rough turn at speed or any other time roots or loose rocks are trying to bully you about. While the supplied 70mm stem felt spot on for broad spectrum use, you could even go to a 60 or 50mm stem for faster reactions if playing MTB on twisty singletrack or trail center trails is your seditious vibe.
The Goodyear Connector Ultimate tires are on the fast rather than grippy side though so we’d definitely consider putting something with more cornering bite if you’re likely to be silly on a regular basis. At 38mm at 30psi they’re also slightly undersized on the 21mm internal width rims. So again if you’re going to take the rough rather than the smooth as often as you can we’d suggest making maximum use of the generous tire clearance of the Camino to upsize to 47-50mm rubber.
It’s definitely not an imperative though as the Camino still retains a wonderfully enthusiastic and forgiving frame and fork feel. In fact, the alloy frame feels a lot more joyful and fun than many steel and carbon frames and even some titanium tubesets too.
While the Sonder Nova’s are heavy on the scales a lot of the wheel weight is centered in parts like the steel reinforced free hub and well-sealed hubs which reduces the dynamic/acceleration impact of that mass. We expected the deep rims to feel harsh too but even with the reinforced Goodyear tires at 30psi they don’t get in the way of the flowing overall feel of the bike. We did stick a set of lighter, wider carbon wheels during testing though and that turned it into a proper hot rod that startled several much more expensive ‘gravel race’ bikes on competitive rides. A more flexible carbon post would make life in the saddle even smoother too, although the current choice is a good one if you’re going to be strapping bikepacking bags onto it. When it comes to bikepacking and other high mileage use it’s great to see the investment in details like the well-sealed hubs and the steel freehub which you’ll be increasingly glad of as the miles rack up.
While the progressive handling might feel odd (particularly when climbing out of the saddle) at first if you’ve only ridden traditional road geometry, working with the MTB style geometry will soon become second nature. And if you’re mostly a mountain biker you’ll really appreciate the steady rather than hysterical head angle and its awesome ability to swoop through any sort of turn with serious commitment. That surefooted safety margin is also great for handling crosswind gusts, the swing and sway of high mounted bikepacking bag weight or no-handed jacket/snack wrapper work. Because the bar width is in the flare, not the tops you won’t feel like you’re a splayed-out target for every headwind either. And while I’m not going to pretend everyone will be a fan of the slack feel and caricature bar shape, there are far more bikes that keep things conventional than there are people like Neil and the team at Sonder doing ‘progressive' properly. Alternatively, look at their Colibri endurance road bike which has relatively relaxed angles and 36mm tire clearance.
On the subject of alternatives, we’d suggest something other than the Rival mechanical setup too. I mean it works fine, and has been done for eons but it doesn’t really add noticeable functionality (besides lever reach adjust) compared to the SRAM Apex version which delivers the same 11-speed function and is $200 / £150 cheaper with the same 10-day delivery wait. Alternatively, if you’re patient enough to wait until next May and use the time to save up an extra $250 / £200 you could have the awesome Rival eTAP AXS XPLR 12-speed group on your Camino.
While it’s not a performance aspect, you might want to know that as part of the Alpkit outdoor clothing and equipment family, Sonder channels 1 percent of sales and at least 10 percent of profit into their Charitable Foundation which supports all sorts of outdoor initiatives. They’ve also been as active as possible in increasing sustainability, reducing eco impact and genuinely keeping things as planet friendly as possible from way before cynical ‘Greenwashing’ was a thing.
The significantly more confident, stable geometry and provision for a dropper post mean Sonder’s latest Camino opens up a lot more off-road options right up to XC MTB if you’ve got the skills. It’s lost none of the joy and lively versatility that’s made it a brilliant, benchmark example of everything that Gravel bikes can be. While the default wheel, tire, and finishing kit spec have some nice longevity details there’s plenty of headroom to upgrade into a properly premium feeling all rounder at a really keen price. Sonder/Alpkit also have a reputation for looking after their customers as well as they look after the planet which all adds to the value.
I wouldn’t choose the Rival mechanical shift spec though as it’s bracketed by more cost-effective or significant next-level performance options.
Tech Spec: Sonder Camino Rival
- Discipline: Gravel
- Price: £1,599 / $,1949
- Head angle: 69 degrees
- Frame material: 6061 alloy
- Fork material: Carbon fibre monocoque
- Size: S, M (tested), L, XL
- Weight: 9.91kg
- Wheel size: 700c
- Drivetrain: SRAM Rival 11-speed rear mech, shifter, and 40T chainset with GXP bottom bracket. SunRace 11-42T cassette.
- Cranks: SRAM Rival 40T chainset
- Brakes: SRAM Rival hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm front and 140mm rear rotors.
- Cockpit: Sonder Bomber 440-560mm drop bar and Storck 70mm stem
- Wheelset: Sonder Nova mm rim wheels
- Tires: Goodyear Connector Ultimate 700 x 38mm tires
- Seatpost: Sonder seat post
- Saddle: Sonder Abode saddle