After selling off my Catrike (it just didn’t work for me in my area) I knew I needed a new bike. I jumped in doing research & decided what I really needed was a gravel bike.
The world of road cycling has became ridiculously niche, but the gravel bike is in a tight category that fit my needs perfectly. It has the room in the frame and fork of an xc mountain bike (up to 42cm tires fit mine), the low bottom bracket of a road bike (this means you sit “in” the bike, and can have a more upright seating position) and the drop bars of a traditional road bike (or, in some cases, cross bars or other odd variants). Occasionally, even so called Gravel Bikes are sometimes called “Adventure Bikes” or “Super Road” bikes, but generally speaking, those are different animals.
After looking at the market, I took a big chance and ordered a Motobecane off of a website called “Bike Direct”. Sight unseen. Crazy? Maybe. Thing is, the important parts of a bicycle are really the components. Things like frames, unless you’re REALLY into cycling, have been figured out. Geometry, welds, etc, we’ve gotten to the point where $200 bikes are plenty strong and ride well. Sure, suspension components can be important, but for me that wasn’t even a consideration.
I wanted, at minimum, a Shimano 105 groupo bike. 105 is Shimano’s “pro-sumer” line. Not quite Ultegra or Dura-Ace, but also 1/2 the cost and almost all the function. Why the huge price difference? Well, honestly, weight. That’s about it. Some might argue that 105 actually lasts longer, but I won’t delve into that. All I know is that 105 components work damn well, are reliable, serviceable and feel good. I also wanted to make sure I could fit large tires, and wanted good quality disc brakes. At minimum I wanted BB7s, but other models were acceptable.
The Sprint CF Comp comes with a Shimano 105 drivetrain minus the front crank, where they use the excellent FSA double crank instead. 15mm thru axles on the wheels, which are stopped by TRP HY/RD (cable actuated hydraulic brakes). All of the cockpit pieces are built by Ritchey, a trusted industry brand. The kicker, and also the wildcard, is the frame, which is made of carbon fiber.
Now usually a carbon fiber road bike with 105 groupo & discs will cost well north of $2000. In some cases WELL north. Adding up the parts costs on the pieces that make up this bike, you actually get very close to $1500 without including the frame. Cost of the bike out the door (and delivered to my door)? $1500. So, at worst, I would be buying the components and could later purchase a different, name brand frame to hang them from. As it turns out, that won’t be needed.
The Sprint CF rides like a dream. Anyone who has ridden a CF bike knows that beautiful, soft, smooth and responsive feeling. You pedal and it GOES. You turn and it carves. Stiff but light, CF is a super material, but usually costs an arm and a leg. So how the hell do we get this bike so cheap? Volume, and super low overhead.
The purchasing at bikes direct is a little scary. Essentially you never get to see the bike until it gets to your door. And returns are… troublesome. You pay for return shipping… if they allow the return. Returns for reasons other than quality issues are only accepted if they are low on stock. A little scary. But again, for the price, the gamble is worth it. The components themselves are worth the price of the bike. And the frame is not just good, it is excellent! I’m 225lbs and it flexes not even a bit under me. Yet it is compliant and comfortable over bumps and rough road.
So, perfect? Well, mostly.
The one drawback, and it is honestly not a big deal, is that the bike comes only partially assembled, and not “tuned” at all. You have to mount the front rotor, connect the brake, align the fork to the stem, put on the front wheel, and then do the adjustments to the drivetrain that allow it to shift sweetly. Out of the box the bike did not shift into all the gears. With my bike shop background I’m able to do the adjustments needed, but I would honestly suggest anyone buying one to just bring the box to your local bike shop (LBS) and ask for them to assemble and tune it. Most places will do that for $50-$100, which is a bargain compared to buying the same bike anywhere else. And you get to bring business to your LBS. Granted, some places might not like that you bought your bike online, but keep in mind that for them, service is almost 100% profit. Selling bikes, they are making just a few points on them, hoping you’ll come back for tune-ups, tubes, etc. Any LBS that poo-poos your online bike purchase isn’t thinking clearly… and isn’t worth your business. Plenty of smart bike shops around.
(In the Sacramento area I HIGHLY recommend Edible Pedal in West Sacramento. Brian knows everything about bikes. Seriously, he’s like the 6’4″ yoda of cycling. Um, in a good way big guy. In a good way.)
Other than the tuning, the bike was pristine. Everything mounted cleanly, all the parts were there and well labeled. I was able to throw things together and immediately go for a quick ride down the block (albeit without access to my big gear, adjustments needed and all that). The bike is well finished, the equal of anything twice its price down at the big name bike store. If you do your research on the components and read the sizing guides carefully, you too can have an amazing bike at 1/2 the cost. Bikes direct also has titanium cross/gravel bikes as well as steel, aluminum and of course, carbon. Happy riding!