YT Szepter Core 4 first ride review – a gravel bike with the soul of an MTB

Gravity MTB brand YT launch into the gravel market with the Szepter. We get hands-on with the new bike in the California hills

The YT Szepter gravel bike
(Image: © YT)

Early Verdict

Super capable gravel bike that's seriously fun to ride on more testing gravel trails. The 'utility' looks won't please everyone though.

Pros

  • +

    Super capable ride

  • +

    40mm RockShox fork

  • +

    50mm Reverb dropper

  • +

    Clearance for 45mm tires

  • +

    Integrated fenders

Cons

  • -

    Looks definitely divide opinion

  • -

    Almost 10kg in weight

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The YT Szepter gravel bike

Rich testing the Szepter in searing Californian heat (Image credit: YT)

Well known in MTB circles for their excellent gravity-focused bikes such as the Capra, Jeffsy and Izzo, YT has applied their design expertise to the gravel bike and the result is the Szepter.

Two models of the Szepter are available, the Core 4 we're discussing here and the slightly lower-specced Core 3 which crucially comes without a dropper post.

The German brand has designed their gravel offerings to best fit the needs of existing YT owners looking for a bike that offers a different riding experience. YT has made no secret of their desire to make the Szepter as trail-capable and fun to ride as possible, but will this be enough for it to break into the hallowed echelons of the best gravel bikes?

The YT Izzo Core 3 MTB

A gladiatorial helmet was one of the design cues for the Szepter's angled head tube  (Image credit: YT)

Design and geometry

An emphasis on trail confidence over road performance is a key part of the Szepter's frame design. As such, the 587mm stack on our medium test model is bigger than many rival gravel bikes, in part to accommodate the RockShox Judy suspension fork, but also to give a more upright body position for increased comfort and improved trail vision. A trail-oriented 69.4-degree head angle also indicates the bike's intention as does a reach of 398mm (on the medium size) with a relatively short 70mm stem for better handling.

YT has factored in that trails do actually go up as well as down though and the Szepter's 74.3-degree seat tube angle is steeper than most, with the aim of improving pedaling efficiency and climbing performance. Our test Szepter's wheelbase of 1,076mm is longer than many other more trail-oriented gravel bikes with the aim of helping to keep things stable on steeper and rougher sections.

One of the most visually striking aspects of the frame design, which definitely divides opinion at Bike Perfect, is the cut-away seat tube. YT designed it in part to give more tire clearance without the need for longer stays, the Szepter's are 425mm, and partly to compliment the curve of the integrated rear fender.

The YT Szepter gravel bike

The fenders and cut-away seat tube are definitely a Marmite feature of the bike (Image credit: YT)

Components and build

While increasing numbers of more trail-orientated gravel bikes are now appearing with dropper posts, suspension forks or even full-suspension, such as the Specialized Diverge STR, nonetheless the two standout bits of kit on the Szepter Core 4 are the fork and the dropper.

SRAM provides both of these components with a 40mm RockShox Rudy Ultimate XPLR suspension fork and an electronically controlled RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR, with 50mm of saddle drop on sizes S to L and 75mm on XL to XXL.

Brakes, gears, and drivetrain are also courtesy of SRAM with Force eTAP AXS HRD shifters/brake levers, 180mm (front) and 160mm (rear) rotors, and a wireless 12-speed Force XPLR eTAP AXS gear system.

The cockpit comes from Zipp with a 440mm wide Service Course bar and 70mm stem on our medium test bike, larger sizes get wider bars. Everything rolls on WTB Proterra Lite i23 wheels shod with a pair of 42mm WTB Resolute tires.

Unusually for a gravel bike, the Szepter carbon frame is ASTM Class 3 certified, meaning it's rated suitable for hitting small jumps and rougher trails – if the rest of the bike components allow. The Core 4 model ticks all the boxes component-wise, though the Core 3 doesn't quite reach this standard.

The YT Szepter

The RockShox Rudy suspension fork is a massive plus on tougher gravel trails (Image credit: YT)

Ride and performance

I spent two days on the Szepter Core 4 in the midst of a Californian heatwave that hit 104 F (46 C) at times. While this Welshman may have struggled in the high temperatures, aside from its plastic bottle cages becoming slightly less rigid in the heat, the bike performed extremely well in the arid conditions.

On dusty, undulating singletrack the Szepter was a blast to ride. 40mm of suspension travel may not be much by MTB standards, but the RockShox fork made a huge difference when riding through sections peppered with small rocks and really helped to keep the front wheel where I wanted it rather than pinging off-line and causing me to lose vital momentum.

The dropper was extremely useful too, not just for giving extra clearance and enabling me to better shift my weight around on descents but when pedaling on rough roads too. Drop the saddle by around 10mm and the Reverb turns into a suspension seatpost – which really helped to take the sting out of the rough stuff when pedaling seated.

The Californian climbs were mostly short and sharp, but the 33T chainring/10-44T cassette had enough range to hammer or cruise up them. On longer and much hotter climbs, I definitely appreciated the Szepter's easy and efficient pedaling position as I span the cranks to the top.

The WTB Resolute tires provided totally reliable grip in the bone-dry conditions, though the flipside was feeling a touch draggy on the road. The SRAM Force disc brakes packed plenty of power and easy control, while the instantaneous response from the wireless gear system was faultless.

The YT Szepter gravel bike

The SRAM Force brakes provide plenty of easily controlled stopping power (Image credit: YT)

Verdict

Admittedly, my MTB riding experience is far wider than it is for gravel bikes, but I'm the exact kind of person YT is targeting with the Szepter. It is by far the most capable and fun to ride graveller I've ever swung a leg over and was properly impressed when using it as a steed in the dry, dusty test conditions. I'm keen to see how the bike performs in wetter weather and more challenging terrain, so watch this space for further testing.

The YT Szepter gravel bike

Sun-baked dirt roads are meat and drink to the Szepter (Image credit: YT)

Test conditions

  • Temperature: 95 to 104 degrees F / 35 to 46 degrees C
  • Conditions: Bone dry Californian dust and rock
  • Trails: Swooping singletrack, dirt road, road

Tech specs: YT Szepter Core 4

  • Frame: Ultra modulus carbon
  • Fork: 40mm RockShox Rudy Ultimate XPLR
  • Reach: 398mm (size medium)
  • Head angle: 69.4 degrees
  • Seat tube angle: 74.4 degrees
  • BB drop: 61mm
  • Drivetrain: SRAM Force Wide DUB, 33T chainring, 10-44 12-speed cassette, SRAM Force XPLR ETAP AXS derailleur 
  • Gears/brakes: SRAM Force ETAP AXS HRD, rotors 180mm/160mm
  • Wheelset: WTB Proterra Lite i23
  • Tires: WTB Resolute 42 x 700
  • Seatpost: RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR, 50mm drop sizes S-L, 75mm XL-XXL
  • Saddle: SDG BelAir V3
  • Bar and stem: Zipp Service Course, bar width 440mm (M-L), stem length 70mm
  • Sizes available: S-XXL
  • Price: $4,499 / £4,399 / €4,499
  • Weight: 9.9kg (size small, claimed)
Richard Owen
Editor, Bike Perfect

A seasoned journalist with over 20 years experience, Rich heads up the Bike Perfect team having previous been editor of What Mountain Bike magazine and written for MBUK, Bikeradar, Cycling Plus as well as many other magazines and websites. He’s been riding mountain bikes since the mid-nineties and mostly likes hitting flowy yet technical trails that point downhill. A jack of many trades, Rich has competed in cross-country, enduro and long distance events, not to mention also now adding gravel to his riding repertoire. Rich resides in North Devon and can mostly be found pedaling furiously around his local trails, or slightly further afield in the Quantocks, the Mendips or Exmoor. 


Rides: YT Jeffsy Uncaged 6, Canyon Spectral, Vitus Substance VR

Height: 175cm

Weight: 70kg