[Updated 31st August 2022]
The L’Efner Du Nord from 1816 is a high-ticket gravel bike draped in top-end bling, and certainly looks the business thanks to the grey paint job nabbed from Audi’s RS range, finished off with cool, yet subtle graphics. The geometry is pure gravel race bike and it certainly has the lightness to exploit the measurements on your favourite gravel sections, although the ride quality can leave it feeling a bit Jekyll and Hyde in its personality.
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1816 L'Enfer Du Nord | Ride Quality
It’s a story I’ve heard many times before, a group of riders can’t find the exact bike that they want to buy on the market, so they design their own. That’s exactly what has happened here with 1816, a new UK bike brand, and one of their creations, the L’Enfer Du Nord gravel machine.
After riding the 1816 for a good six weeks on my local trails and tracks I can definitely agree that it isn’t really like anything else currently on the market, and if I’m honest I reckon it’s a bike who’s ride quality is definitely going to divide opinion.
The first thing that is incredibly noticeable is how compliant the rear end is. It’s soft, very soft. That’s 1816’s intention though and they themselves have admitted that some riders will find it too compliant. I don’t though, I rather like it. It almost feels like there are small elastomers somewhere in the framework.
The L’Enfer Du Nord hasn’t lost any of the feedback you need from the frame to let you know what the rear wheel is up to, and the compliance is only there in the direction of reducing vibration and taking the sting out of rough surfaces.
Get out of the saddle and stamp on the pedals and you‘ll find nothing but stiffness from the bottom bracket junction and the oversized chainstays.
One minute you can be cruising along enjoying the adventure in comfort, and the next the 1816 transforms into a lively race machine. Don’t get me wrong, many bikes achieve this, but the rear end of L’Enfer Du Nord changes its personality just like that, and by a big margin.
The geometry makes the 1816 an easy bike to live with. There are no surprises in the numbers or how the bike behaves. The steering is quick enough to be fun and copes well with surfaces that tend to move beneath your tyres without ever feeling twitchy.
I rode the L’Enfer Du Nord in various weathers and conditions which was a good test of the handling, especially with tyres as lightly treaded as the fitted Panaracers. For the majority of the time the handling is great, controllable, well behaved, and no real surprises.
When you really need things to be precise though, or you need quick reactions I found it to be lacking. A lot of this I’d say is to do with the carbon fibre layup around either the head tube or the fork, or even the pre-production handlebar and stem on this particular bike. With so much going on at the rear end the front can feel muted, vague even, especially at high speeds when descending.
I’m a massive fan of going downhill, the more technical the better, and I found that at times the L’Enfer Du Nord robbed me of that pleasure. It just lacks the feedback and involvement I want, and get from other high quality bikes like the Pearson On and On that I was reviewing at the same time.
It’s only a small amount of ride time in total that I found the 1816 to be lacking a bit, but it’s that point where you want the bike to be at its best, you don’t want vagueness, but unfortunately, that’s what you get.
If descending fast isn’t your thing, or you aren’t going to be blasting along singletrack trails through the woods then to be fair, all of that handling stuff isn’t going to bother you much.
At 8.57kg the L’Enfer Du Nord feels reasonably nippy so it’s no slouch under hard acceleration or when climbing. That lowish weight also helps offset any added grams when loading the bike up with bags and kit.
I did a couple of trips loaded up with 6kg of camping kit spread over the bike and it behaved very well, in fact at the lower speeds the handling worked a treat.
Due to the rear end comfort, the 1816 is great for long rides too and on my usual three-hour gravel test loop I did find that I finished feeling fresher than I did on some bikes.
1816 says that the L’Enfer Du Nord isn’t an out-and-out-racer, and I get that, but if you are going to deck out a gravel bike with hundreds of pounds worth of lightweight, deep-section carbon fibre wheels and single-piece aero handlebar/stem setups it needs to perform when the speed increases.
From an overall ride point of view, I’d say I found the 1816 just lacking engagement from a handling point of view.
1816 L'Enfer Du Nord | Cockpit - Stu's update
When I originally reviewed the 1816 L’Enfer du Nord it came with a pre-production integrated handlebar and stem which I thought could possibly be to blame for the vagueness felt in the steering at speed or when riding technical sections where you really want some precision.
The ride position was high, taller than I’d normally ride and the further you move away from the action, the less involved you are. Since then, 1816 has sent in another bike of the same size (in blue this time which is actually a really nice colour) fitted with the final production version of their stem/handlebar and it does change the way the L’Enfer du Nord behaves.
The handlebar can now sit a lot lower which does give you a bit more engagement with the front end of the bike and the handling feels quicker, plus the ride position is noticeably improved.
Being able to change the height of the front end only affects the ride and handling so much though, quite a small amount in fact which is why I still stand by my original findings of the 1816 in that the front end doesn’t have the same level of feedback or involvement as the rear of the frame.
For 95% of the time the 1816 is a fun bike to ride, and while this new handlebar brings some improvement to the rider/bike relationship there is still something missing from the conversation.“
1816 L'Enfer Du Nord | Frame and Fork
The frame of the L’Enfer Du Nord is an open-mold offering, which before you start to gasp and mutter under your breath, isn’t a bad thing. It still offers a certain level of customisation as the frames are often built in a range of sections so you can pick and choose stiffness and compliance levels. Also, it means you don’t need to spend a fortune on specific tooling and molds for a large range of sizes.
The 1816 frame is manufactured from a mixture of Toray T700 and T800 carbon fibre composite grades which looks and feels to be of good quality. It's finished off nicely with the grey paintjob, it’s also available in blue. The paint is finished off with a hydrophobic coating too, which should help keep it clean when riding in the wet or mud.
One thing that really helps the looks is that the L’Enfer Du Nord is the full internal cable and hose routing, well hose routing on this model as the Sram groupset is completely wireless. The hoses enter the pre-production handlebar from the levers and only reappear when they arrive at the calipers.
The two build options of the 1816 are both 1x, but it will accept a front mech making it 2x compatible. I would like a cover or something over the mounting position to continue the smooth look of the frame as some brands do.
1816 hasn’t gone crazy with the number of attachment points offering just the standard two places for fixing bottle cages. There are a lot of bikepacking bags though that attach to the frame, seat post or handlebar using their own straps so it’s not a huge omission.
You won’t find any mudguard or rack mounts either, which does limit the L’Enfer Du Nord should you want to press it into commuting or touring duties. Again, for the style of bike, this is not a huge issue.
When it comes to tyre clearance, it’s currently wearing a set of 43mm Panaracers which take up much of the available room, although I’d say you’d probably get away with 45mm maximum.
The fork is full carbon fibre with a tapered steerer as is pretty much the norm these days. Considering the slenderness of the legs stiffness is impressive, especially under heavy loads from braking or steering. Even when hauling on the brakes on steep, technical downhills there is no flex-induced chattering at all.
The L’Enfer Du Nord is available in just three sizes, small, medium, and large which equates to effective top tube lengths of 531mm, 547mm and 570mm respectively. That should suit people from 5’ 5” to 6’ 4” according to 1816.
This medium model also has a 155mm head tube and a 500mm seat tube length. The stack figure is 377.8mm and the reach is 571.2mm. The chainstay length is 413.6mm which gives it an overall wheelbase of just over 1,050mm. Angle wise we’re talking a 73° seat tube, and a 71.5° head angle.
1816 L'Enfer du Nord | Finishing kit
This version of the L’Enfer Du Nord is affectionately known as the Mullet due to its gearing setup as it uses road components at the front and MTB at the rear. For this sort of price, you’d be expecting some high-end kit, and that is what you are getting.
Sram’s Red eTap AXS shifters take care of getting the chain to skip up and down the cassette, and the same range’s calipers take care of the braking mated to 160mm rotors. The chainset is also Sram Red which comes with a 1x 40-tooth chainset and carbon fibre crank arms.
The cassette is a 12-speed offering from Sram’s Eagle line-up with a spread of gears ranging from 50 tooth down to 10 tooth. Sram Eagle also provide the AXS rear mech. As I mentioned earlier eTap is a completely wireless setup with the shifters and mech connecting to each other via wi-fi.
The shifting is fast and precise, and I’m a big fan of the way that they work with the right-hand shifter dropping the chain down the cassette, and the left-hand one bringing the chain back up the cassette.
The large spread of gears worked for me on all types of terrain, and I could tackle most climbs in the saddle. The gaps between the cogs at the top of the cassette are a little wide if you are the kind of rider who has a narrow cadence range. I love the oil slick look of the cassette and chain as well.
As for braking power, it can’t be faulted, the Red set up give loads of power and plenty of modulation, handy on loose surfaces.
The integrated (pre-production) handlebar and stem are made from Toray T700 and T800 carbon fibre the same as the frame and fork. It has an aero top section which is comfortable for steady riding and there is a decent flare to the drops which gives more secure handling off-road at speed. The stack height is quite high which minimises the number of spacers you need to use, but does limit how low you can actually go.
It’s more carbon fibre for the seatpost and the saddle is provided by Fizik. I found the setup to be reasonably comfortable over a range of rides.
Finishing off the build is a set of Zipp 303 S carbon fibre tubeless wheels which retail for just over a grand and have a claimed weight of 1,525g. They are sort of all-rounders being described by Zipp as being capable on the road while also coping well with rougher stuff, and they are compatible with tyre widths between 28mm and 50mm thanks to a 23mm internal rim width.
The rim is 45mm deep, so you get a little bit of ‘aeroness’ chucked in for good measure, and for durability, they have 24 spokes front and rear laced up in 2x pattern. On the whole, they are a decent set of wheels that help the 1816 to spin up quickly and cope with the climbs.
I had no issues with them at all in terms of reliability, both from a trueness point of view and water ingress to the hubs.
1816 L'Enfer du Nord | Value
This build costs £6,800 which definitely puts it in the upper tiers of gravel bike pricing. The Pearson I mentioned at the top of the review was equipped with Shimano GRX Di2 and deep-section carbon wheels. The ride quality and handling were superb too, it’s yours for £5,500.
Specialized’s Diverge Expert Carbon is currently £6,100 so a fair chunk cheaper, but then when you look at the spec list it’s not quite as good value as you’d expect compared to the 1816. The Spesh comes with an electronic Sram eTap groupset but it’s the entry level offering, Rival. You do get carbon fibre wheels though, but the cockpit isn’t anything flash which considering the small-scale production of the L’Enfer du Nord is reasonably priced in comparison.
1816 L'Enfer du Nord | Conclusion
If the L’Enfer du Nord is the result of the bike that the guys at 1816 want to ride it’s no wonder they couldn’t find anything like it on the market, it has a very unique ride quality and behaviour. For me personally, it just misses the mark mostly down to that pre-production front end, the experience is just lacking in engagement and feels so different to the rear, which makes the L’Enfer du Nord feel like it has split personalities.
Interesting. I'm not clear what makes the back end so flexible though. At a certain point you cant beat basic physics and the best ways to soften off the back is via some kind or flex like a Soft-tail or a fat low pressure tubeless tyre.