Forme's Monsal 1 is an absolute belter! That’s how I’d sum up the brand's top of the range aluminium alloy gravel bike. There is just something about this bike that makes it feel ‘nailed' on whatever kind of ride you are heading out for. It’s fun and engaging on the fast stuff, while comfortable enough for those longer days in the saddle. It’s a lot of bike for the money too.
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Back in 2019 I reviewed Forme’s Monyash 1 for our sister site, road.cc and we bonded. It wasn’t the fastest/best handling/most comfortable bikes I’ve ever ridden, but it had character. Everything just felt right, it was a bike that had your back rather than just a collection of alloy sticks and some components. When I was riding, I was part of the bike, not just on it.
The Monsal is exactly the same but with much bigger tyre clearance and a geometry that suits those jaunts away from the asphalt.
It’s also one of those bikes where you just have to ignore the spec sheet and put the scales back in the cupboard. At 10.87kg the Monsal sounds on the weighty side, and I was expecting sluggish performance, but it feels nothing like that. It feels lively, responsive even and I found great pleasure when getting out of the saddle for a short sharp climb or when the need for a quick sprint arrived.
The geometry has a racy edge to it which also helps, with a shortish 150mm head tube on this medium size and the 1,061mm wheelbase giving a nimble feel, especially on technical sections of trail or gravel tracks. The steep 74° seat angle puts you in an aggressive position too which helps you really get the power down.
Add to that a 71° head angle and you have a bike with quick handling on the rough stuff without ever feeling twitchy or out of its depth on all but the most technical sections of trail or high-speed descents where something a little more ‘grave race’ inspired would feel just that little bit sharper.
Forme hasn't made the front too slack though which means that the Monsal is still a fun bike to ride on the road.
All in all, the Monsal is one of those bikes that just gives you confidence as a rider to push on just a little bit harder or faster. In fact, that bit of extra weight makes it feel very composed and whether you are a seasoned rider or coming across to gravel/adventure riding you’ll never feel out of your depth on the Monsal, it’s a very flattering bike to ride.
It isn’t all about speed either. The Monsal’s geometry lends itself well to long rides and I found the position achievable to be a great balance between being low enough at the front for tackling a headwind or descent but not so extreme that I couldn’t sit with my hands on the hoods for many, many miles at a time.
For epic jaunts comfort is key though and this is where the Monsal really excels. The tubing that Forme has gone for delivers what I can only describe as a steel frame like feel, and a quality steel frame at that.
It has a smoothness to it and while Forme have managed to keep plenty of feedback coming through the frame to the rider the Monsal just manages to take the edge off of any buzz and rattling on the road or gravel. The brand has removed the chatter if you like without subduing the messages coming through the bike allowing you to know exactly what the tyres beneath you are doing.
Stiffness hasn’t been sacrificed either to provide that comfort. The Monsal is tight around the bottom bracket area helped by the oversized down tube and beefy chainstays.
Up front things are also taut thanks to the tapered head tube and the stiffness of the carbon fibre fork that copes great with heavy braking loads and those from the steering. This is one of the nicest aluminium alloy frames I’ve ridden in a long time.
Frame and Fork
The Monsal’s frame is made from 6061 aluminium alloy and is available in just three sizes, although Forme reckons that covers everyone from 5’ 2” to 6’ 1” whilst the fork is a full carbon fibre job.
First up, I absolutely love this paint colour and it’s hardwearing too. For a lot of my rides, I was carrying various frame bags which left no marks whatsoever and even with various size rocks and stones pinging off of the frame and fork during testing the paint looks to have just shrugged everything off.
Beneath the paint the welding isn’t the smoothest I’ve ever seen, it’s a touch agricultural but I’m certainly not going to complain about that at this price point. It kind of looks reassuringly tough anyway.
The internal cable/hose routing runs through the down tube which gives a clean front triangle and removes any clash between cable/hose and frame bags which makes for easier loading without affecting shifting performance.
It’s also set up to accept an internally routed dropper post too should you feel the need.
The Monsal doesn’t come with quite as many mounting points as some gravel bikes do, but a couple of water bottle cages are accounted for as are mudguard mounts and mountings for a rack on the rear. This should help if you fancy using the Forme as a commuter, something it would be very capable at especially if your route skips between the road and by-ways.
As you’d also expect the frame and fork are equipped with flat mounts for the brake calipers and it’s 12mm thru-axles front and rear.
The only thing that is a bit of a niggle for me is the threaded insert in the fork leg is left loose so when you remove the thru-axle it can fall out. Not a major pain as long as you remember it. I get why it’s done, should you cross thread the thru-axle at least you haven’t knackered the fork, but on a bike with a similar fork design, I removed the front wheel to put the bike in the car and chucked the thru-axle in the boot before driving off leaving the insert on the ground. It’s habit now for me to replace the thru-axle into the empty fork before leaving just to be on the safe side.
Gravel tyre options are constantly increasing in width and so are the bike frames to accommodate them. The Monsal hasn’t been left behind with plenty of clearance for the 45mm tyres that come as standard.
For those of you are worried about creaks after riding in the wet or dust, feel relaxed to know that Forme have specced a threaded bottom bracket.
The Monsal 1 uses a Sram Apex 1x groupset which is based around a 40T single chainring and an 11 speed 11-42T cassette.
It's a good spread of gears for most off-road gravel and adventure duties and rarely did I find myself wishing for anything lower while on the climbs. If you spend a fair bit of the time on the road though you might find the top end a little spinny, but that is always the sacrifice of a 1x system.
The shifting is crisp and clean across the cassette and while there isn’t a huge amount of feel at the lever like you get with say Shimano’s GRX line up I didn’t get any missed shifts and you can feel that the KMC chain has dropped or risen onto the next sprocket.
I am a fan of Sram hydraulic shifter levers for gravel use as I found the tall hoods to give you plenty of purchase at speed on rough terrain.
The Apex hydraulic calipers offer great performance when the pads are clamped against the 160mm rotors. They have loads of modulation allowing you to control the amount of stopping power required depending on the surface and what traction you have. The rotors were a little noisy at first, but they soon bedded in.
Wheels wise the Monsal is using WTB’s ST i25 rims mated to alloy hubs with sealed bearings. I’ve used these WTBs on plenty of test bikes and found them to be robust and reliable overall. Their weight isn’t too bad, and they certainly didn’t dampen performance here.
The one thing I have found with WTBs tyres is that when you set them up tubeless for the first time the sidewalls can weep like a jilted bride, other than that though I think they make some good tyres.
Rolling resistance on firm terrain is pretty good and off-road they give a lot of confidence, the small knobbly tread giving a decent amount of bite with the larger knobs on the shoulder giving extra grip in the corners without affecting rolling resistance when you are riding straight ahead.
The Riddlers used here are ideal for dry or hard compacted surfaces with their minimal tread so work well on routes where you might be switching from the road to gravel and back again. The Riddlers are also robust, and I had no issues with punctures throughout the test period.
The rest of the components are from Forme, or Forme branded like the Selle Royal saddle. The saddle itself is a bit longer than I’d normally use, I’m more of a fan of the ‘shorty’ style but it offers plenty of comfort without going over the top on the padding.
The seatpost use a 30.9mm diameter and basically does exactly what you’d expect a seatpost to do while being easy enough to adjust.
Forme’s Compact Alloy handlebar has a 25° sweep which I found great for high-speed descending allowing for a slightly wider stance for stability over a standard road bar when in the drops.
This is where I think the Monsal 1 does really well, especially against a backdrop of ever-increasing prices.
At £1,680 I think it shows great value for money, especially when compared to something like the Salsa Journeyer which I recently tested and features an alloy frame and carbon fork plus a Shimano GRX 600 groupset for £2,350. It’s a similar weight to the Forme too.
There are others that are competitively priced too like Dolan’s GXA, the aluminium version of the titanium GXT which I also recently tested for road.cc is available with a 1x GRX 600 groupset and Mavic Allroad wheels for £1,700.
Ribble’s Gravel AL Sport comes with an Apex 1x groupset the same as the Forme with prices starting at £1,600. I haven’t yet ridden one of these yet though to be able to compare ride quality.
Others may come close on price, but I still stand by what I said earlier in the review, that the Monsal has one of the best frames in the market when it comes to balancing ride quality, comfort and stiffness. Also, the geometry works great on all kinds of surfaces.