The adventure and gravel bike market has been the fastest growing bike category in the past year, and one that we’ve seen a lot of you express a keen interest in.
In years past cyclocross bikes would be bought not just for racing, but as sturdy and versatile bikes for riding through winter, with a change of tyres and fitting of mudguards, but we’re now seeing adventure and gravle bikes, designed to straddle both road and off-road requirements better, take over as the preferred choice. And there’s clear evidence off-road and mixed terrain riding is getting more popular with road cyclists, just look at all the new events springing up like the Dirty Reiver, Grinduro and more further afield.
We’ve tested more adventure bikes than ever before, while the number of cyclocross bikes has decreased, so once again, as last year, we’ve lumped both types of bikes into one category to let them fight it out. These bikes are proving very popular because the features that ensure they work well on gravel rides and races - wide tyres, disc brakes, relaxed geometry - sees them working really well on the UK's crap roads full of potholes and covered in debris.
To even stand a chance in these awards, we set the bar high - each bike had to score at least an 8/10 in a review published on road.cc in 2017 to be considered. Without further ado, let's crack on.
10. Bombtrack Hook EXT £2,200
The Bombtrack combines a well detailed frame with space for 650b tyres, a growing trend in the gravel and adventure bike market, the latest import from the mountain bike world. And if riding off-road is your bag, this is a good choice. At over 11kg in its SRAM Rival 1X 650B-fat-tyre guise, the Hook EXT is portly by road bike standards, and the 44T chainring as tested will spin out quickly – but let's not damn with faint praise here. Understand what you can do with the Hook EXT and your horizons widen. Literally.
The frame is Columbus double-butted chromoly steel, finished in a gorgeous grey with a clear topcoat. The relaxed 71-degree tapered head tube keeps things tracking nicely up front, and the well-proportioned, slightly overbuilt-looking (for steel) top and down tubes maintain the solid feel of the bike.
The Hook EXT frame is defined at the chainstay bridge. Here you'll find obscene amounts of tyre clearance – Bombtrack says it's designed to take 2.2in tyres, but there's another half an inch of clearance here, a tiny bit less at the slightly narrower seatstay bridge. Looking down at the box-girder construction at either end of the chainstays welded to the massive 86mm-wide PF30 BB shell, this is clearly a bike built from the ground up to go full fat.
It's on the rough stuff that this bike shines. With knobbly, wide, inner-tubed rubber underneath, any road riding will be a chore, but it makes the anticipation of hitting the trails ever-sweeter. I felt more confident on the Hook EXT than on my (admittedly ageing) full-suspension GT i-Drive, it's that good. And not even in the drops – the substantial SRAM Rival hoods provide ample grip for gloved hands, even on 20mph rocky descents, the one- or two-fingered hydraulic braking providing the reassurance that you can get out of trouble quickly.
Chopping between flinty, rutted, branch-strewn chalk downhills and overgrown bridleways, the Hook EXT performed flawlessly, even on the tubed tyres running considerably harder than I'd go on a tubeless setup in order to avoid pinch flats. The box-girder fork, 15mm thru-axle and tapered headset held everything together on warp-speed off-road descents, with the 160mm front rotor making scrubbing off speed a one-fingered affair, while the drop bar made dicing along narrow, foliage-lined tracks a blast, with far less swerving required compared with the usual 700mm-plus mountain bike flat bar.
I'd previously ridden up to 40mm tyres on gravel/cyclo-cross bikes and thought I was having 'fun'. The Bombtrack Hook EXT takes 'fun', adds ride-anything confidence and barrels you down bits of bridleway and rutted farm track at speeds that will see you leaving bemused and abashed mountain bikers in your wake.
Why it's here: If you aren't fussed about 11kg+, this is a great bike with all-round potential and the lifelong assurance of a steel frame
9. Reilly Gradient £2,399
South Coast-based Reilly Cycleworks has produced the Gradient as a do-everything adventure and gravel bike, with a lovingly finished titanium frame and smart specification in this £2,399 complete bike. It provides a ride that is as lovely as the bike is to look at, with space for wide tyres for heading off into the wilderness or adding dirt and gravel roads to your route, and a high level of refinement
The frame is made from 3Al/2.5V titanium with carefully profiled tubes to provide the right balance of stiffness and compliance. The downtube has a flattened top section and the top tube is tapered, to provide more lateral stiffness, in combination with an oversized 44mm head tube and chunky chainstays. The do-anything capabilities of the Gradient are served up by its ability to take tyres up to a 44mm wide, so you have a huge range of options from a fat slick tyre for road duties to one of the growing number of decent gravel tyres for tackling bridleways or a gravel event. There are also rack and mudguard eyelets on the frame and fork so you could transform it into a winter training or daily commuter workhorse, or slap on a rack and go touring for a week.
You can just buy the frame for £1,399, add the Selcof fork for £1,599, or get a complete bike like the one pictured for £2,399. That price includes a full Shimano 105 groupset, with mechanical gears and hydraulic disc brakes. It's hard to fault Shimano's 105 groupset with high quality shifting across the cassette and compact chainset. The Shimano BR-R505 levers don't win any style awards, but the hoods provide an exceptionally comfortable fit. Your hands fall naturally into their curves and the brake levers are easy to reach with a lovely feel when applying force.
The Gradient provides a lovely ride. It's composed and comfortable, the titanium frame providing a sublime balance of stiffness and comfort. The carbon fork and oversized head tube gives the handling a crispness and it changes direction quickly when you want it to. Switching from hard to loose surfaces shows the Gradient's handling to be well honed. It's fast and steady on the road, but plenty of fun if you throw it through corners at high speed. The Gradient is right at home negotiating narrow tree-lined singletrack with loose corners and steep climbs and would be a good choice if you're looking for a bike to tackle one of the growing number of gravel events like the Dirty Reiver.
It's a great all-rounder, as Reilly intended it to be. While I didn't test it laden with panniers or shod with mudguards, it's clear the performance ensures it offers the versatility to turn its hand to any type of riding you have in mind for it.
Why it's here: Fun and capable adventure road bike with great looks to match the great ride
8. Marin Gestalt 2 £1,000
Whether you need something to act as drop bar commuter, gravel adventurer or just a hugely versatile road machine, Marin's Gestalt 2 is likely to win you over with confident handling, even if the frame and fork can be a little unforgiving at times.
The Gestalt 2 is the middle bike in Marin's 'Beyond Road' range, hitting that all-important £1,000 Cycle To Work scheme price limit on the head, making it an attractive prospect as a standalone do-it-all machine or to supplement a mountain or road bike. Note, this is the 2017 model; it's relatively unchanged for 2018, though it is £150 more.
The bike comes with 700C wheels shod in 30mm rubber, though there's decent enough clearance to go a bit fatter if you want. The butted aluminium frame is disc brake only and the fork has carbon legs but a straight 1 1/8in aluminium steerer. If you want a tapered steerer and thru-axles, you'll have to spring for the more expensive Gestalt 3. There's a full complement of mounts for racks and guards though, while the smooth welds and satin paint finish make the bike look like a higher dollar machine than it really is.
Getting the gearing right for both on and off-road use is always going to be extremely tricky, but the ratios were about as good as you could expect. On the road it felt a touch gappy and I'd sometimes be hunting between ratios to get the right cadence. It's also fairly easy to spin out the 42T front ring once you start descending. Off-road, that's all much less of an issue, with the lowest ratio making some really rather steep climbs possible, provided you don't mind getting out of the saddle and stomping a knee-grinding cadence.
A highlight was the performance of the lightly dotted tread of the Schwalbe G-One tyres, rolling quickly on hardpack with a decent amount of grip in the dirt. At 30mm wide, they offered decent cushioning, though I'd suggest sizing up as much as possible if you intend to do a lot of off-road riding. I reckon you could squeeze a 35mm in there without any clearance issues, and maybe even bigger.
Viewed through the lens of a versatile do-anything machine rather than a hardcore gravel racer, the Gestalt 2 is a great bike at a good price, with handling that'll be instantly familiar to mountain bikers, and confidence-inspiring for road cyclists who want to get off the beaten track once in a while.
Why it's here: A versatile and confidence-inspiring do-anything machine that's decent value too
7. Boardman CXR9.4 £2,299
And so to to the first cyclo-cross bike in our top 10... Ready to race straight out of the box,' it says on Boardman's website and while I'd say it could do with a couple of minor tweaks the CXR 9.4 is one flickable, lightweight off-road rocket which is an absolute blast on the technical stuff. This is a cyclocross bike designed for racing.
When the terrain becomes technical in nature like tree roots and potholes the flickability of the CXR really comes into play. With a 72° head angle the CXR's handling feels very quick indeed and with a relatively short 140mm head tube and 550mm top tube you sit in a long and low position which allows you to keep your centre of gravity low and weight distributed. All this adds up to a bike that really responds to your input especially when the track is flowing and you are carrying plenty of speed over obstacles and through the bends.
The frame is made from C10 carbon fibre, Boardman's highest grade, as the Elite Endurance SLR and gives a very similar ride. The high levels of stiffness though are welcome when it comes to climbing especially those short, sharp crests likely to be found in the woods or under race conditions. Tyre clearance isn't massive. You might be able to swap the stock Vittoria Cross XM 31mm for 35mm wide rubber, maybe 38mm at a push, but you're not going to get those newfangled 45mm adventure bike tyres in there. That's not what this bike is about.
The SRAM Force CX1 groupset will set you back just under £900 online so it makes up a fair chunk of the CXR 9.4's budget but it's worth it. Adding to your control through the tricky stuff are SRAM's Force hydraulic calipers paired with 160mm rotors front and rear. The braking power is stunning and once I'd adapted to the way they feel, easy to modulate.
When it comes to value the CXR 9.4 doesn't really disappoint. I think £2,299 is a fair price for a quality frameset and a decent selection of kit. The frame has been around a while now so it doesn't have the tyre clearances to accept the move towards big tyres and still has slightly old-fashioned post mounts for the brakes, but these are not major hindrances or deal breakers against the opposition.
Why it's here: Quick handling off-road race machine that is an absolute blast in the technical sections
6. Ribble CGR £1,046.49
Cross, Gravel, Road, that's what the CGR initials stand for on Ribble's latest all-rounder. A disc brake-equipped, mudguard-shod 'do a bit of everything' machine that makes a lot of sense for the rider who doesn't always want to stick to the tarmac. Thankfully, this jack of all trades is no master of none.
The CGR is a very easy bike to ride thanks to some neutral and balanced handling. This might make it sound dull but it's far from it, especially when you go off-road. With a long wheelbase, mounts for mudguards and racks plus being designed for disc brakes, the Ribble is likely to see a lot of use in the wet and cold of winter where the road surface is often less than ideal. A bike that's dependable and trustworthy when it comes to the handling.
The Ribble likes to cruise, it's a great mile-muncher perfect for those winter base miles. Likewise, on climbing and acceleration – the Ribble doesn't excel but it delivers competent performance. I found the best way to ride it was to stay in the saddle and tap things out through the pedals. It is stiff, though, so when you do really need to get a shift on you aren't going to be disappointed about a lack of power transfer.
The CGR isn't as tight and nimble as a dedicated cyclo-cross bike, due to its slacker geometry and longer wheelbase, but there is no reason why you couldn't use it in anger if you wanted to dabble in the knobbly tyred world. There's plenty of clearance too, so if the conditions are particularly claggy you won't find yourself having to keep stopping to clear mud and grass out.
Thanks to Ribble's online Bikebuilder, you can pick and choose how you want to specify your machine. The cheapest available Shimano Sora model comes in at just £799. The model we've got here is specced with Shimano's excellent new Tiagra 4700, a groupset that is a near replica of its mid-range 105 group but without the extra gear; Tiagra is 10-speed rather than 11.
The Ribble is aimed primarily at the road, where it is very adept, and if you were never to show it a muddy trail you wouldn't be disappointed – it makes an excellent winter trainer. The added value comes from just how good it is off road. It hasn't just had a few tweaks to make it fit with current trends, the CGR really does work across the board. Unless you specifically want to race cyclo-cross at a high level, the Ribble is giving you practically three bikes in one, living up to its name well.
Why it's here: Versatile winter trainer or commuter bike that'll easily take on the rough stuff as well as the road
5. Open UP frameset £2,300
Here's a bike that helped to ignite the gravel and adventure bike market, and not just because of its bright orange paint finish, but because of its clever design. Open's distinctive, bright orange UP (which stands for Unbeaten Path) combines a light and stiff carbon fibre frame and fork designed explicitly to perform on dirt and gravel with huge tyre clearance, so you can fit just about any tyre you want including mountain bike options. It's packed with nicely executed design details, but it does command a high price.
The Open is a bike you can ride pretty much anywhere. The same can be said of a growing number of gravel and adventure bikes, of course, but where the Open scores highly is in that huge tyre clearance. Everything from 28mm slicks for road riding to 38-40mm gravel-specific tyres, 47mm-wide 650Bs and even 2.1in mountain bike knobbly tyres fit inside the cavernous clearance front and rear. The full carbon fibre frame and fork are beautifully finished, and not just because of the orange paint... Designed by ex-Cervelo founder Gerard Vroomen (also responsible for the more recent 3T Exploro), the 55cm frame here weighs 1,150g, which isn't bad for a bike designed for rugged off-road riding.
Make your tyre choice and take the Open off-road onto gravel roads or narrow bridleways and the bike instantly feels at home. The geometry gives the bike a measured stance, with the slowish steering ensuring it never feels nervous or twitchy when the tyres are scrabbling for grip or you're screaming down a loose and fast descent. While the stability makes it an easy bike to travel fast across rough terrain, there's a lively edge to the Open's handling when you ask for it, and it nips and tucks through corners and carves beautiful turns with solid ease.
It's not only in off-road situations that the Open shines. Swap the knobbles for slick tyres – I went for a 28mm – and its road riding manners prove to be more than adequate for long rides. It's not a full-fledged road bike, but the carbon frame and fork, along with the oversized bottom bracket and large profile chainstays and down tube, give the Open a high level of stiffness. This makes it responsive when you inject some pace into proceedings, and it fairly belts along the road. It's quick enough that you can keep up with your buddies on road bikes most of the time, though some deep-section wheels would certainly add some extra oomph.
The frame is packed with interesting features and nice details and really does stand out from the crowd (and not just because it's bright orange...). By far the most intriguing is the dropped drive side chainstay. It's shaped this way to provide the necessary tyre and chainset clearance while keeping the Q-factor narrow and the chainstays short. It's something we've seen on mountain bikes, and a few other road bike brands are starting to adopt a similar approach. There's a lot of versatility baked into the Open UP, but the one detail it's arguably missing is the addition of mudguard mounts that would ensure it meets the needs of the all-weather British cyclist.
Yes, it's jolly expensive, but if you look at the Open UP as two bikes in one with just a change of tyres or wheels, the premium price tag is a little easier to justify. Putting the price to one side, the UP is a beautifully made and finished product, packed with smart design features and offering a level of performance for off-road and mixed terrain riding that ensures it's one of the best options in the gravel/adventure category.
Why it's here: Superb multi-terrain adventure and exploration bike – if you can afford it
4. Specialized Diverge S-Works £8,500
A redesigned frame with space for 42mm tyres, disc brakes, 1x11 Shimano Di2 gearing, Future Shock suspension and a dropper seatpost signal a lot of changes for Specialized's Diverge, but they add up to create one of the best adventure bikes I've ridden. It's a sophisticated ride with buckets of capability for going fast and tackling big journeys over varied and challenging terrain.
The original Diverge was launched back in 2014 at a time when the hype for the gravel and adventure category was still in its infancy. Specialized was one of the first mainstream brands to take aim at this growing trend and really nailed it.
Specialized has packed a lot of new technology into the Diverge. The key change is a move from the elastomer Zertz inserts to the Future Shock borrowed from its Roubaix endurance bike, along with the dropped rear stays, wider tyre clearance and, on this range-topping S-Works model, a height adjustable seatpost. All these changes have combined to create a highly capable bike that is right at home on the road – fast and comfortable – and adept on loose surfaces and technical trails. The handling leans towards surefooted stability, a bonus when travelling along gravel tracks at speed, yet with enough agility to ensure it's still engaging on road rides.
Specialized has also refined the Diverge's geometry, and it's this that ensures the new model is so highly capable. Specialized calls it Open Road Geometry, and what it amounts to is a lower bottom bracket, slacker head tube angle and shorter wheelbase than the old bike. The stack is higher and the reach is now shorter. The higher front end won't be to everyone's taste, and it's exaggerated by the Hover handlebar, but it does make the drops much more accessible which serves to increase control in the technical sections.
The lower bottom bracket ensures you sit lower on the bike in relation to the handlebar and this contributes to its great road bike manners because it feels akin to an endurance bike. Cyclo-cross-inspired adventure bikes can leave you feeling a bit high and precarious and don't inspire the same relaxed manners as a road-biased setup.
Tyre clearance is another big upgrade on the new Diverge. There's now space for up to 42mm rubber, with the 38mm Specialized Trigger Pro tyres sitting comfortably in the frame and fork with plenty of daylight around them. You could fit even wider tyres if you swapped the wheels for 650B units. The Trigger Pros (you can read a review here) provide a nice blend of road speed and off-road grip. They favour drier trail conditions than mud and gloop, but it's surprising what you can persuade them to crawl up with a bit of careful weight distribution and gentle application of power.
The result of all those changes makes for a bike that is comfortable, long-distance cruising bike on the road, with fantastic poise and cornering ability. Off the smooth stuff and the combination of the big tyres and Future Shock let you attack any rough paths, gravel tracks and technical descents with relish. It's a very accomplished bike and more than most manages to be master of all terrain.
There's a lot of tech packed into this S-Works model but it all comes together to form a very cohesive package. I'd say it's the most forward-thinking and progressive adventure bike currently available and shifts the category a step further away from the cyclo-cross roots of early generation adventure bikes.
The adventure bike category is awash with choice and the bikes are evolving in a really exciting way. If you're into riding mixed terrain, the evolution of these bikes makes them even more appealing than a few years ago.
What this S-Works model presents is a money-no-object showcase of the best tech and equipment. Fortunately, the underlying technology is available on the more affordable Diverge bikes. If your budget doesn't extend to this S-Works model, the Diverge Sport costs £2,000 with a carbon frame and Future Shock, while the aluminium Diverge Comp E5 also features the Future Shock in a £1,500 package.
Why it's here: A phenomenally capable, tech-laden adventure bike – but it's mightily expensive
3. Orro Terra C 105 Hydro £2,099
Things are hotting up now as we reach the podium, and in third place is a new entrant from British company Orro. The new Orro Terra C 105 Hydro is a stable carbon bike that's quick on the road, with the strength and confident handling required for heading on to gravel and other hard-packed trails with the appropriate tyres. Mudguard and rack mounts make this a versatile option that can cope with everything from commuting to adventure biking.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of the Orro Terra C 5800 Hydro is its stability, and that's apparent whether you're tackling uneven roads or negotiating busy traffic. I've been riding it a lot in both environments – for blasts out in the sticks and for commuting to the office – and it has a settled, confident feel with enough agility to handle more technical situations. Speaking of control, Shimano's RS505 hydraulic disc brakes provide loads whatever the conditions. Acting on 160mm rotors, they're powerful and offer plenty of modulation well before the point that you lock up.
If you want to fit mudguards, you get neatly positioned eyelets for the job front and rear, the top one at the rear positioned on the underside of the brake bridge (if we're still calling it that, what with the brakes positioned miles away), and you also get rack mounts at the back which will come in handy if you want to use a pannier for carrying your work stuff or fancy a night away somewhere. You have enough clearance for 37mm-wide tyres with mudguards fitted or 42mm without. Unlike some bikes of this type, the Terra C isn't designed for 650B sized wheels and fatter tyres, Orro feeling that 700C is better suited to the brand's roadie background and the idea that this is a bike to push on with.
The fact that the Terra C can handle both town and country is one of its biggest strengths. Okay, there's no such thing as a bike that can do absolutely everything, but this is a bike that can do a lot of things well. If you like to mix it up – a bit of riding on the open road, a bit of track/trail, a bit of urban riding/commuting, maybe heading off for the weekend – this is a real contender. Some bikes that try to be versatile just end up being a bit of a compromise, but the Orro is adaptable, strong and stable, genuinely impressive across a range of different types of riding.
The Terra C is available in four different flavours, the other three being the snappily titled Terra C 105 with TRP Cable Disc Brakes (£1,799.99), which has a Shimano 105 groupset and TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes, the Terra C Ultegra (£2,499.99), with a Shimano Ultegra groupset, and the Terra C Adventure (£2,099.99) with a Shimano 105 groupset and, it won't surprise you to learn, adventure-focused features such as an FSA Omega Adventure chainset (with 48-tooth and 32-tooth chainrings), an FSA Adventure compact bar, Fulcrum R700 DB wheels and semi-slick 38mm-wide Hutchinson Overide tyres
The Terra C 105 Hydro that we have here is the same price as the Adventure model (£2,099.99) and it, too, is built up with a Shimano 105 groupset and Fulcrum R700 DB wheels. This time, though, you get a compact chainset (with 50-tooth and 34-tooth chainrings) and an 11-28t cassette (rather than 11-32), a Deda Zero 1 handlebar with a round drop, and smooth Continental Grand Sport Race tyres in a 32mm width.
Why it's here: Versatile bike that provides stable, confident handling on both tarmac and tracks
2. Canyon Inflite CF SLX 8.0 Pro Race £2,499
And in second place is... the Canyon Inflite CF SLX 8.0 Pro Race. This bike earnt its place this high up the awards because it's a fast and fun cyclo-cross race bike with excellent handling, impressive comfort, commanding mud-plugging capability and a decent specification and weight for the money. If you're shopping for a new cyclo-cross race bike, this is a really good option.
The company's DNA is pure racing, and this bike is a clear statement of intent: a bike fit for the toughest and most demanding cyclo-cross racers and budding amateurs alike. It's light – 940g for a frame – disc brake-only and 1x and 2x compatible, and features the most distinctive top tube we've ever seen.
The top tube design might look awkward but it genuinely does offer easy shouldering and bike pickup over hurdles and other cyclo-cross race obstacles, while the extended seatpost offers impressive deflection for taking the edge off rough ground.
That distinctive – and opinion-dividing – top tube is all about racing, pure and simple. Obstacles are, and should be, an essential ingredient of any cyclo-cross race, whether hurdles, steps, sandpits, ditches, bogs or car tyres. The raised top tube makes it easier to shoulder because there's much more space in the front triangle to get your arm through. The kink also serves as a useful handle for when you only need to lift the bike over an obstacle quickly – your hand easily falls to the kink and the bike is well-balanced front to rear when carrying it in this position.
Canyon has expertise when it comes to carbon fibre frame design, and that shows in the Inflite CF SLX, not only in some of the smart, and distinctive, details but in how the bike performs. It's exceedingly responsive with a high level of stiffness detectable when you stamp on the pedals, as you do often in a cross race, accelerating from near standstill.
Geometry has been an important area of development in the new bike. Canyon reckons that cyclo-cross race speeds are increasing, and as a result it needed to look more closely at the geometry rather than replicate tried-and-tested numbers – and it's looked to the world of mountain bikes for inspiration. It has increased the wheelbase length and reach to increase high-speed stability, while a shorter stem and wider bar provide the necessary agility, and a longer fork rake and the 72.5-degree head angle is intended to provide fast and responsive handling.
The bike is built around UCI-legal 33mm tyres, but there's plenty of space if you wanted to fit a wider tyre for more adventurous riding. The new Inflite CF SLX comes in three builds, each using the same carbon frame and fork. The CF SLX 8.0 Pro Race tested here costs £2,499, is the cheapest model, and is very well specced for the money. A SRAM Rival 1 groupset with hydraulic disc brakes and an 11-36t cassette combined with a 40t single chainring, which provides a really good range of gear ratios for cyclo-cross racing as well as longer distance gravel rides.
Why it's here: Fast, fun and highly capable carbon cyclo-cross bike at a great price – there's a lot to like, if you can get past the kink...
1. Kinesis Tripster AT frameset £699.99
And so to our winner, the British designed Kinesis Tripster AT, an aluminium version of the company's much-loved titanium Tripster ATR, but much more affordable. We tested the bike as a frameset but you can buy the complete bike for £1,699 with a SRAM Rival 1 build kit. Building your own bike gives you all the freedom to spec the bike to suit your requirements, and the test bike offers one such example of a cracking build suitable for road and off-road riding.
With the adventure bike market gaining much popularity in recent years, with cyclists keen to expand their horizons away from congested roads and even size up a little cycle touring trip to landscapes new, the brand new Kinesis Tripster AT is bags of fun backed up by extensive capability and versatility. And shouldn't have you asking for a pay rise to afford it.
AT stands for All Terrain and that sums up the ambition and capability of the Tripster AT perfectly. I've ridden it everywhere and over everything in the few months I've had it, and apart from very rough mountain bike trails where any adventure bike would be out of its depth, there's really not much that fazes it. You can bimble along the road quite happily and keep up with road riding friends at sociable speeds, yet turn off the road and explore trails and paths to your heart's content.
Much of its appeal comes down to the large tyre clearance, plus the added bonus of compatibility with 650B wheels, allowing you to spec any tyre that delivers the performance and capability you want. Fit a general purpose tyre like the supplied VeeTire Rail or Panaracer GravelKing SK and you have a bike that lets you easily ride roads at a decent pace and have enough grip to tackle dirt tracks and gravel roads. The tyre you pick comes down to what you want from the bike and the level of capability you need, but I found a 40mm gravel tyre provided the best all-round balance of low rolling resistance on the road, and traction and ruggedness for off-road exploits. It's a tyre size that delivers a good balance of low weight and road speed yet plenty of capacity for off-road excursions – depending on the tread pattern of course.
The tried-and-tested geometry, borrowed directly from the Tripster ATR, works well. It's not the most aggressive setup, it definitely leans towards comfort and off-road stability, thanks to the long wheelbase, tall head tube and relaxed head angle. To put some numbers on it, the 55.5cm bike I tested – one of seven sizes – features a 384.7mm reach, 591.2mm stack, 70mm bottom bracket drop, 172.5mm head tube, 1,043.8mm wheelbase, 440mm chainstays, 70.5-degree head angle and 73-degree seat angle.
Kinesis hasn't simply made an aluminium version of the titanium Tripster ATR. The only similarities are really the geometry, with the company wisely keeping the same numbers, measurements and angles with the new Tripster AT. The frame is made from the Kinesis' own Kinesium tubeset and all the tubes, their shapes and profiles, have been selected to provide a frame that delivers a high level of stiffness. It's reassuringly oversized in all the key places. The down tube is taken from a mountain bike – indeed the frame passes the mountain bike CEN safety testing standard, such is the level of stiffness in the frame.
It's a disc brake-only frameset with 12mm thru-axles at both ends and flat mount disc brakes (though the supplied demo bike was built with post mount brakes using adapters). The frame was designed with input from the late Mike Hall, the legendary British ultracyclist who was killed while taking part in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race earlier this year, and as such there are some nice bikepacking details, extending to the graphics being designed to conceal bag straps, a very smart detail. There are three bottle cage mounts, with a third on the bottom of the down tube, while the down tube cage has two possible positions, standard and lower to free up space for a frame pack. There are also mudguard eyelets.
There's adequate stiffness from the frame, and it's noticeably more rigid than the titanium Tripster ATR V2 that I rode back in December. It doesn't feel as fluid or composed on chattery tracks or potholed roads, but I'm being really picky and once you're off-road on soft ground with wide tyres inflated to just 35psi, that difference fades to the back of your mind. And when you factor in the price – the titanium Tripster is £1,850 – any marginal difference is easy to forgive.
Steer the bike onto a gravel road or woodland trail and its off-road credentials come to the fore. That is ultimately what you want from an adventure bike – a design that is able to handle the expected and the unexpected, and ensures you're smiling through it all. The geometry provides really good stability at a wide range of speeds. It's docile at high speed and the steering relaxed enough to make handling steep descents or tricky corners enjoyable rather than frightening.
Kinesis has designed a really nice bike in the Tripster AT. It's taken the best bits from the more expensive Tripster ATR and reimagined it in aluminium, and added some useful features along the way. It's a frameset that offers a multitude of build options from a fast road commuter to a large-tyred bikepacking setup for bigger adventures. Add in the great value and it's easy to see why the Kinesis walked off with the award this year.
Why it's here: An excellent and affordable do-it-all adventure, road and commuting bike with bags of versatility
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.