Has Bombtrack Bikes created another bike category – the ‘hyper-gravel’ bike? I’ve been out to a beautiful forested area just outside of Cologne in the rain to try the new Hook ADV model, which comes with 650b wheels and an MRP suspension fork offering a mere 35mm of travel.
It's a bike which is sure to draw comments on its similarity to the those famous Yeti and Raleigh bikes that Johnny T rode back in the day with Manitou forks that offered almost 1 inch of travel. Roll forward nearly 30 years and Bombtrack have created a gravel bike with the ability to go almost anywhere.
This is no US-style race gravel bike with superlight frame and max tyre clearance of 47c this is a big hairy arsed ‘hyper gravel ‘ bike with a 2.25” front tyre and some radical component choices. It’s a brave move from a small company with only 3 full-time staff and who have been producing mostly steel bikes from their base in Cologne for just 6 years. Still when you small it seems you can think outside the box more easily.
The Hood ADV is one of the first production gravel bikes to feature a telescopic front fork and is therefore much more similar to the old school mountain bikes from the early 90’s in its appearance. It also features a modern internally routed KS dropper post and a remote lever on the handlebars and large tyres. Looked at from the side profile it looks remarkably like one of those old drop handlebar XC bikes with their short travel forks.
The frame is made of Columbus Cromor double butted tubing and features a tapered headtube and enough braze-ons to keep everybody happy for water bottles, top tube bags and racks should you need to use them. There are even somewhere you didn't expect to find them; take a closer look at the three mounts on the rear seat stays, they'll take an 'anything cage' which is possibly the first time anyone has put them there.
Another surprise and is that it also features a T47 bottom bracket with an ISCG mount, both of which are unusual on a bike like this, but according to Manuel from Bombtrack, they've put the ISCG mount on just in case a rider might want to use and as it's hidden behind the crank, why not?
As for the T47 bottom bracket, this is a standard designed by Chris King of hub and headset fame and has all the benefits of being oversize but is actually threaded into the frame to prevent the unwanted creaking. It’s an unusual option on a steel production frame and one that shows Bombtrack have been listening to feedback on PF30’s systems.
The ADV rolls on 650b wheels and mismatched tyres with a 2.25" on the front and a 2.0" on the rear. This larger volume front tyre idea was all the rage back on Kona mountain bikes back in the 80’s. Another throwback to old-school mountain bikes then, but one that works surprisingly well on the ADV coupled with the MRP Baxter Fork. True, the fork only has 35mm of travel which is not a lot to anybody coming from a mountain bike designed since the early 90’s, but it's not trying to do the same thing.
The ADV’s Baxter fork is there to give comfort and control over smaller rocks and roots and relief to the hands when riding corrugations on the trail. It’s not designed for you to go crazy through rock gardens or start practising jumps at the local jump spot.
Does it work? Yes, it does. I only had the bike for an afternoon and 23 short but hilly miles but the extra control supplied by the fork was impressive when hitting off-camber roots on blind corners and twisting descents. I had no real rocks of any size to bounce them off but they smothered the gravel roads with ease and made light work of the forest trails around Cologne.
You can shut the fork right down just as you can a full-size MRP Stage fork but with so little travel I never felt the need to on the climbs on or off the road. Overall I’d say the fork works well with the ADV frame and provides a level of control that a ‘normal 47c front tyre on a gravel adventure bike cannot compete with. The only downside is that of the weight. It’s a heavy option for those 35mm, about 1.6kgs, and coupled to the steel frame of the ADV helps to create a decidedly hefty overall package on the scales – 13.3kgs in a medium according to the catalogue in case you’re wondering. We will have to wait till we get one in to confirm that but it never really felt that heavy when I was riding it.
A good part of the ride ‘feel’ at the hands can be attributed to the excellent Ritchey WCS Venturemax bar which I found to be excellent in every situation for this quick test. It’s a flared bar, which I I like, and it’s shallow and tight drop help to make transitioning between the tops and drops simple and fuss-free. The bar matched with a short WCS Trail stem, by gravel bikes standards, works well to provide a front end that has just the right feel in the woods but also on those long uphill struggles.
What’s not quite so resolved is the location of the dropper post remote. On some bikes, it was on the right of the stem and some the left. Both to my mind were in the wrong place and it would be possible with some ingenuity to mount the lever under the left-hand shift lever. Yes it would be a bit of a bodge and the cable would stick out the front like bar end shifters on touring bikes but you would be able to use it when you needed it.
As it was on these almost finished production bikes you have to take your hand off the bar where the brakes are and move to the stem where you have no control and back again in time to not crash. The KS dropper post works fine and didn’t wobble perceptibly on the ride but it does need to have the remote location refined as, as it was I used It sparingly preferring to either get right over the back of the saddle in the old school way or stop at the top of something I knew I could ride on an MTB
As gravel/adventure bikes continue to push up to and start to overlap the traditional XC mountain bike you have to start to think what bike would actually be better for the type of riding you are doing. Is it about how fast you can cover the ground off road or is it about the comfort provided by the drop bars many hand positions and the ability to see a lot more as you go a bit slower. Both are fine of course it’s just a personal preference.
I’m really happy with a drop-bar off-road and was always a big John Tomac fan at the time which the Hook ADV cannot help but draw references to, so I’m am really looking forward to getting one for a longer test later in the year to just go and get lost somewhere on and have as much fun as possible whilst doing it.
As for 'hyper gravel' - we'll get back to you on that...
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