The prize for the off-road.cc Best Buy gravel bike goes to the Sonder Camino Al Apex 1. A bike that is not only good value but is much more capable than its price suggests. The thoughtful build and performacne on the trails makes it the clear winner of our Best buy award. This is the final gravel and adventure bike in the off-road.cc awards lineup alongside Benchmark Bike and Bargain Buy which were revealed earlier in the week.
It was a close run race, read on to find out all about the winner and the runner-up in this category. For all the information on our judging criteria and upcoming awards, you can click here.
Best Buy - Sonder Camino Al Apex 1
The Sonder Camino Al is an adventure bike from outdoor specialists Alpkit. Sonder is their bike brand and, as with the rest of their products, aims to provide great value for money. The Camino proves to be a versatile ride for a variety of conditions whilst being great value.
For your £1050, you get an alloy frame and carbon fork which has clearance for 700c x 40mm or 650b x 47mm tyres, more on that later. The drivetrain comes courtesy of SRAM with an Apex 1x11spd set up with a 40T chain ring up front. This is coupled with SRAM Apex hydraulic brakes with 160mm rotors from and rear. Wheels and cockpit components are all 'Love Mud' branded kit, that's Alpkit's in-house brand, with said wheels shod with WTB Riddler 37c tyres. Lastly, the Camino gets a threaded bottom bracket and all the rack, mudguard and bottle mounts you'd expect on a bike of this type.
There are no two ways about it – having spent some time on it, I really like this bike. It’s not just good value for money; it’s a genuinely fun and nice riding bike. For the money, this is an amazing piece of kit and any compromises aside will definitely put a smile on your face. Neil Sutton, product manager for Sonder describes this bike as “a jack of all trades” which I wouldn’t disagree with but also doesn’t completely do justice to this bike’s aspirations.
We were also pleasantly surprised by how well this bike climbs. There seems to be a general trend to ultra-short chainstays in the bike industry which can sometimes lead to the front wheel having an annoying tendency to lift. With the 435 mm chainstays here, the bike feels well-balanced with good weight distribution fore and aft. It’s easy to keep the front planted and maintain control through the most technical sections. This is likely helped by the steep 74-degree seat angle.
The bike also handles well with luggage with the overall neutral handling lending itself well to carrying bikepacking bags. If anything I noticed a little more tendency for the bike to understeer, possibly due to some increased flex at the front end from the increased weight.
if you’ll be spending a lot of time on gravel paths then this bike is comfortable enough to travel long distances. Fit some slightly larger tyres and double-wrap the bar tape and you’ll be golden. In the name of testing (and fun) I’ve been spending time on rougher and more irregular terrain where the relative harshness of this bike in comparison with a more refined (but also expensive) bike is highlighted. It has to be reiterated that this can’t really be a criticism at this price – just a statement of fact.
This bike is astounding value for money. It’s inevitable that the low price comes with some compromise – to my mind mainly comfort. However, it is genuinely hard to find many if any faults, there are simply compromises which are a consequence of the low price. You'll be hard-pressed to find a bike with such a good spec that also rides so well, the design and components have clearly been carefully considered and add up to a brilliant package.
This is a bike that enjoys going off-road but would also be quite happy taking you longer distances on tarmac too. The bias - and the way the bike is specced certainly corroborates this – is towards off-road adventuring. The comfortable position is perfect for gravel excursions or riding long distances loaded with luggage, but for my preferences is just a little too upright for longer (proper) road rides. It’s a do anything bike with a definite off-road flavour, but above all, it’s a bike to have fun with at a price that belies its capabilities.
Runner up - Marin Gestalt X11
This Marain was also the runner up in our Benchmark Bike award, it gets second spot here too, not only do we think this is a benchmark bike in terms of performance it's also a good way to spend your hard earned money.
the Marin Gestalt X11 is a solid gravel bike that doesn’t shy away from challenging and technical terrain but is right at home on the daily commute and long adventure ride. A gravel bike for mountain bikers, the handling and stability is a highlight and the dropper post, activated by the redundant SRAM left-hand shifter, is a bonus on steep terrain.
Most gravel and adventure bikes are thinly disguised road bikes. The new Gestalt X11 owes a lot to its mountain bike cousins. A wide bar and short stem, sloping top tube, dropper post, wide tyres and relaxed geometry meant that when you swap the smooth for the rough, bumpy and technical the Gestalt X11 is right at home, unfazed by challenging terrain that can sometimes have other gravel bikes all in a twist.
£2000 is a competitive price point, and the Gestalt X11 does a good job of holding its head high at this money. The SRAM Rival groupset works well with smooth gear changes and the 42t FSA Gossamer Pro crankset combines nicely with the 10-42t cassette to provide a useful spread of ratios for everything from road cruising to tackling the steepest gravel tracks. I might prefer a 40t for more off-road bias as a few of my local gravel climbs are steep enough to make that 42-42 quite a handful, especially with loose rocks making traction tricky.
It’s the geometry that really makes the Gestalt X11. Marin calls it ‘beyond road’ which in other words means it’s slacker and longer than most road bikes - 71.5-degree head angle and 1,036mm wheelbase. Combined with a stubby stem and wide handlebar it combines to give the Gestalt something of a mountain bike character when you’re riding off-road trails. Critically, your weight is less pitched over the front wheel when careening down steep escarpments, a fact helped by the 105mm dropper post and wide handlebars to ensure you’re in control, not out of control during such situations.
It all combines to create a bike that is huge fun to ride. It really encourages you to find the most adventurous route between A and B, to seek out that overgrown path in case it reveals itself to be a ribbon of singletrack ebbing and flowing between the trees with which the Gestalt can really shine. It puts a smile on your face. And when you get to some steep and technical descents you’ll still be smiling, as it’s impressively surefooted and capable.
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