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The Sonder Camino AL frame and fork option is an excellent base on which to build a commuting, gravel or bikepacking bike. Loaded with features and at an excellent price, it compares well with far more expensive framesets.
Sonder is the in-house brand of UK outdoors retailer Alpkit, a B Corp-certified brand with arguably some of the best environmental and ethical standards in the business. (You can judge for yourself by checking out Alpkit's sustainability report here.)
A few years back, offroad.cc reviewed the previous version of the Sonder Camino. Benedict wrote of the Camino back then that it was 'a great value bike capable of much more both on and off road than the price might suggest'. Those same words exactly describe the new Camino frameset.
I purchased the previous model Camino frameset two years ago and rode it over thousands of tarmacked, gravelly, and bikepacky miles. You can see it featured in most of my recent road.cc reviews, and the striking green colour even led readers to recognise the bike out on Perthshire trails.
This latest iteration of the Camino frameset brings two major developments: a full-carbon fork with triple luggage mounts, and internal routing through the down tube. Previous models used a fork with an alloy steerer and no mounts, and external cable routing down the underside of the down tube.
There's also a change in geometry, most notably the head tube angle is slacker at 69 degrees, and the wheelbases all lengthen too. Longer reach means shorter stems, again as with the mountain bike world, aiding stability and control.
My review frame was delivered in between the changes due to manufacturing delays, so I had the new cabling and fork, but built with the old geometry I've known for years. Therefore, in any of my comments regarding handling, assume a frame you buy now will be slacker and longer, for an even more confident ride over rough, loose surfaces.
I maxed out the tyre clearance recently with the 700x55mm Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge tyres. Sonder says the 700C limit is 50mm, the 650B limit 2.2in/55mm. Those numbers are about right, as the 52mm-as-measured 650B Rene Herse Umtanum Ridge tyre has around 4mm to spare on the non-drive side.
Whopping tyre clearance really is the Camino's headline claim to fame. Big tyres mean comfort, grip and confidence on rough descents, all signature traits of a bike designed for adventure.
That clearance comes courtesy of chainstays designed to make room for a fat tyre, which in turn means it's either a 1x crankset or a very small 2x crankset, like the forthcoming Shimano GRX build with 46/30 rings. Snuck into the chainstay bridge is a cable stop so you can fit a downward-pull front mech. This will be directly in the path of any muck coming off the rear wheel, so you'll want to run full guards or protect it in some way.
The drive side chainstay starts out as a solid plate, from the bottom bracket to just rearward of the chainring, where it's welded to a normal curved chainstay. Alpkit's 1x Camino builds feature 40-tooth chainrings, and that's what I ran too. I reckon you could go to a 48T if you wanted to, certainly 46T. Maybe an option for people who live in very flat places.
The bottom bracket spacing puts a chain running over the GRX chainset straight on the fifth sprocket of an 11-speed cassette. The BB is BSA English threaded, which will please pretty much all of humanity.
The frame stats speak to a confident ride over rough, loose surfaces, but with chainstays and a BB drop that makes twisting through trees on windy trails fun. A relatively long head tube gives a more comfortable upright ride, and makes matching with a wide gravel-friendly bar such as Ritchey's Comp Venturemax XL easy to do.
With its long wheelbase, I found the Camino ridiculously stable at high speed on gravel – even loaded with bikepacking kit.
Starting with the first major evolution, as I said earlier the new fork is now full carbon. This no doubt saves some weight at the expense of needing to pay more attention to torque and expander plug length and placement to cover the whole of your stem's length.
The major functional improvement is the three standard luggage mounts set into the fork, to hold luggage cages for water or other camping gear. Being small threads set into carbon, these won't want any more than 1-2Nm of torque – and be sure to use a light threadlocker. These mounts are to prevent vertical slipping of a load, not to retain its weight – hence you'll want to use a Voile strap or similar right around the fork to hold a load in place.
At the dropout there's a threaded boss for mudguard mounting, and at the rear of the fork crown there's another to hold the top of the mudguard. It doesn't go through to the front of the crown, so use for holding a light is limited. The 12mm thru-axle takes a 6mm hex to fit or remove.
The second evolution is the internal cable routing on the down tube. This will either delight or disappoint Camino aficionados, who for years have touted the full external cable routing as a selling point for maintenance and simplicity. Certainly it improves the looks.
The nature of the routing is simple: there are welded guides with internal slopes to guide the cable outer through at the right angle. The right-hand side takes the one cable, the left side two.
There's no internal guiding down to the single triple exit port just above the bottom bracket, so threading cables through is a bit of a faff. I can highly recommend purchasing a pair of 'Alligator Forceps' to make the job of fishing out cables easier.
There's a plate that fits over the exit port with a 2mm countersunk screw to hold it in place, that the cables need to thread through. Again, it's machined to feed the cables out at the correct angle, but the edges are sharp so you may shave plastic off the outsides if you're sawing the cable back and forth to get it set just right.
As it's external routing along the chainstays, the gear cable feeds under the right and brake hose under the left. The third cable is for an internally routed dropper, which loops under the bottom bracket and then back into the seat tube.
The process of juggling three cables through the plate and getting them all properly seated was a bit of a faff, and with a tiny 2mm hex screw to hold it in place, the risk of over-torquing and stripping the screw is high.
Running through the other features, you get two more three-bolt luggage cage mounts on the top and underneath of the down tube, plus a standard two-bolt bottle cage mount on the seat tube.
On the seatstays there are rack bosses at the top, a bridge with threaded boss underneath, and two more bosses near the bottom of the stays on the inside.
There's a single boss on the dropout for a mudguard or rack.
The 12mm threaded dropouts are removable, and replacements cost just £13. You also get a bag of 3mm hex cap screws to fill up all those mounting points.
The seat tube is a modern 31.6mm. Again, given the snug fit of the cables through the frame ports, you'll want to get the dropper cable length sorted and installed before fixing the triple-cable plate on the down tube.
The headset required is a tapered IS42/28.6 | IS52/40 (for the 1 1/8in to 1 1/2in tapered fork steerer) – you'll need a full headset including crown race and carbon-friendly compression plug/top cap. These can be had from about £30, and replacement bearings are available from any good bearing supplier.
The disc mounts are the now standard flat mount design, and unlike many bikes I didn't need to face them to get a square-on disc fit. And 160mm rotors are the order of the day, callipers fitting without adapters.
The paint job on the Camino is gorgeous and it comes in three colours – a dark 'Pacific' blue, traditional black, and this gorgeous 'Sage'. The branding is, to my mind, nicely balanced, and the welds – while obvious – are tidy enough not to detract. The bosses for the external cable routing tie-down points are rather chunky, but hey, this frameset costs less than most wheelsets. And when it's in its natural state plastered with mud you won't notice. It's a bike you could put a £900 carbon wheelset on and it wouldn't look out of place.
The closest competitor to the Camino would be the Kinesis G2, at £650. The Kinesis not only costs £200 more, but can only take up to a 45mm tyre. And it lacks the three-bolt mounts on the down tube.
The £699 Ribble Gravel AL frameset has more mounts – although two-bolt instead of three – and takes a slightly larger 47mm tyre in 650B than the Kinesis. But it costs a whopping £250 more than the Camino, which still wins on tyres and mounts.
At £449 the Camino frameset represents cracking value for money. It's a bike you could build as a commuter or a round-the-world tourer, or a bridleway escape machine. Or all three, changing wheels, bar and luggage as needed. At about 2.7kg for frame and fork it's not winning any weight contests, but that's not what this sort of bike is about. Alpkit's full-build Caminos are great value for money, but if you have the bits kicking around, building an adventure-capable bike up using the Camino frameset won't disappoint.
Highly-capable adventure bike frameset with modern features at a stunning price
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Sonder Camino V3 Frameset
Size tested: XL
Tell us what the frameset is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
The Sonder Camino is an adventure drop-bar bike, for 'multi-day expeditions'.
Sonder says: "Camino Al is built for those moments when the road turns into trail and the bridleway drops off into single track. Spritely and comfortable on the tarmac with enough in reserve to explore off-road trails, it transforms your riding experience and turns dead ends into possibilities.
Capable, tough and quick aluminium adventure bike for exploring the world.
AT A GLANCE
Capable, durable, and quick aluminium adventure gravel bike
Hydraulic disc brakes compatible
650c and 700c wheel options available
Rack/guard mounts on the fork and rear
Infused with DNA from cyclocross, gravel, and adventure race bikes, the Camino's relaxed geometry was designed for long day comfort, with a longer wheelbase and lengthened headtube for a more natural riding position.
A low bottom bracket and short chainstays make it agile through the corners whilst the slackened head angle inspires confidence when descending. The aluminium frame is tough enough to take a knock or two, so you can lose yourself in the journey and push the technical envelope of your travel or even your commute.
Effortlessly adaptable, the Camino is as proficient on your local trail as it is on the open road, with tyre clearance up to 700c x 50mm or 650b x 2.1" for that added traction and comfort on bumpier terrain. Responsive and exhilarating even when loaded up with luggage; rack, bottle cage and mud guard mounts give you the option to pack up and pedal off on a self-supported ride whenever the feeling takes you. Triple cage mount on the top of the downtube allows for 2 different mounting positions for the bottle cage for extra bag clearance or to fit a Lug-Kage."
State the frame and fork material and method of construction
The frame is 6061 welded aluminium, the fork is monocoque single piece full-carbon.
Lightweight, durable and strong aluminium frame.
Weight: S: 1.9kg; M: 2.0kg; L: 2.0kg; XL: 2.1kg
One piece carbon monocoque fork
Seatpost diameter: 31.6mm
Seat tube OD 34.9mm
Headset: IS42/28.6 | IS52/40
Disk brake only
Mud guard and pannier rack mounts 700 x 50mm or 650b x 2.2' tyre clearance 12mm bolt through axles at both ends
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Overall it looks very good. The welds could be a bit tidier around the bottom bracket, but hey, it's £450. The fork looks very smooth.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
With a 69-degree head angle, low bottom bracket and long wheelbase, it's a frame for going fast over rough surfaces without nasty surprises.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The numbers say it's a rangey frame designed for a short stem, to aid stability.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
With tyres of the width the clearance provides, comfort is a given. A dropper post is (hopefully) going to have zero flex in it, so it's on the tyres to make the ride nice.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It felt just right.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yep. But this bike isn't about all-out sprinting.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
Nope, none evident, as you'd expect with such a slack head angle.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Neutral – sharp enough to wind between trees, but no surprises on loose surfaces.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Overall it inspires confidence on rough and steep terrain.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The price is outstanding for the performance and options delivered.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
I can only mark the Camino down on the slight faff around cabling it, and some of the chunkier welds. Price-wise, for the functionality and quality it's almost in a class of its own.
About the tester
I usually ride: Sonder Camino Gravelaxe My best bike is: Nah bro that's it
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, general fitness riding, mtb, G-R-A-V-E-L