The Argon Dark Matter could be dubbed as a bit of a do-it-all gravel bike with a generous number of cargo mounts, yet it's also a bit of a race machine, too. Throughout my time with this bike, I felt it had a bit of an identity crisis and failed to really impress me in most riding scenarios, despite tackling everything that came its way adequately. The Dark Matter does, however, offer adjustable geometry which is valuable on smaller frame sizes.
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Argon 18 Dark Matter gravel bike - Technical details
The Dark Matter is Canadian brand Argon 18's versatile gravel bike, designed to thrive in rough and rugged gravel conditions. Boasting plenty of mounts and generous tyre clearance, it's targeted at both the racing and bikepacking spheres.
The Dark Matter has been in the brand's line-up since 2018 and, this year, it got an update which added more cargo-carrying capacity to the frame. It now features bosses on the fork, top tube and, of course, in the traditional front triangle. For those that might prefer traditional bikepacking kit, the Dark Matter also has full pannier mounts.
In terms of geometry, the fork offers a little more rake than the norm. The bike comes in three build options: SRAM Force AXS Wide for £6,300, SRAM Rival AXS Wide equipped model (£4,500) and a Shimano GRX 2x or SRAM Rival 1 priced at £3,400. I tested the top model with SRAM Force AXS in size XS.
My test bike came with a 2x SRAM Force AXS setup, with a 43/30T chainset paired with a 10-36T cassette. Despite the 2x setup, the bike can be easily converted to a 1x setup because of the removable front derailleur mount.
Wheelstock came in the form of Hunt 42 LIMITLESS gravel rims, which boast a generous internal rim width of 25mm and measure 42mm deep. The wheelset weighs 1,548g and came wrapped in Vittoria Terreno Dry 700 x 40c tyres. Speaking of tyres, the Dark Matter can accommodate rubber sizes of up to 45c in either 700c or 650b configurations – and, if you bung on mudguards, there is still space for 40c tyres.
In terms of colour options, there are two glossy paint jobs to choose from: Wild Olive (greenish) and Inferno Red. It features little colour accents and a mathematical equation that I didn't manage to solve... The Dark Matter is very stealthy in appearance – if somewhat army-inspired – with a neat 3D System integrated seamlessly into the headset.
The 3D System in question, is an integrated solution that allows customisation of the headtube, offering three headtube positions for each frame size and the possibility to increase the stiffness by up to 11 per cent at 25mm. This system allows for a wider range of fit adjustments, offering 60mm of stack adjustment and enabling precise handlebar height customisation to cater to the preferences and requirements the individual.
Looking at the fit, the size range of the Dark Matter spans XXS to XL, catering for a wide range of riders. In terms of geometry, the Dark Matter utilises a traditional gravel bike geometry which means slacker head- and seat tube angles – there is nothing dramatic here. The bike has very similar head and seat tube angles, and stack and reach figures as most of its major rivals. Argon 18 has drawn its gravel geo from the endurance geometry sector, saying that it's centred around handling, responsiveness and race-ready positioning. This means a longer wheelbase (1,030mm for size M), a higher bottom bracket (68mm across the range) adjusted headtube angle (72-degrees for M) and a raked fork to avoid toe overlap even with large tyres.
My test bike's finishing kit included an FSA A-Wing 40cm handlebar with flat tops, paired with an 80mm FSA stem. The saddle was Repente Quasar. The frame includes some integrated frame protection in the form of a chain guard and rock plate.
On my scales, the size XS Dark Matter weighed 8.2kg without pedals.
Argon 18 Dark Matter gravel bike - Performance
My testing ground for the Argon Dark Matter was Finland, over the summery months when the endless dirt roads of the country were perfectly primed for some gravel cycling. Although I did not get a chance to race on the bike, I took it on several adventures and rides around the nature reserves in my vicinity, testing its capabilities on everything ranging from buttery-smooth gravel (aka 'sportsgrus') to rooty mountain bike trails.
The Dark Matter is dubbed as a bit of a do-it-all gravel bike with a generous number of mounts but does have a racy side to it, too. From my first rides, I felt like the bike had a bit of an identity crisis and lacked the 'wow' factor of some of its rivals.
The frame is well built and, at 8.2kg, it's also fairly lightweight considering the chunky wheels and 2x groupset build. The weight made the bike easy to propel up hills but what I felt lacking was some responsiveness from the frame itself. While it was easy to keep it moving – once up to speed – if I wanted to sprint, I felt it lacked the response of racier options such as the Specialized Crux.
The lack of responsiveness does, however, make the Dark Matter a very stable bike and, when I took it out on some rougher trails, this was a very welcomed trait. While it navigates chunky descents with confidence it's not as dynamic through corners – but this is merely nitpicking as it's a competent machine on the whole. The wide Hunt wheels really add to the stability and the Vittoria Terreno Dry 700 x 40c tyres were great in a variety of conditions and undoubtedly boost the bike's overall performance.
Argon 18 Dark Matter gravel bike - Geometry
Looking at the Dark Matter's geometry, it's very traditional. My XS test bike has a 513mm top tube, a stack of 54.9cm and a reach of 36.7cm. These are not too far off from other gravel bikes I've ridden in similar size, but they could be altered quite a bit with Argon 18's 3D System that allows for a larger 'fit window'.
Being a smaller rider, it is sometimes hard to find a bike that feels comfortable, and Argon 18 has done a good job in designing the Dark Matter to actually suit smaller riders, and even offers an XXS size for those smaller than my 5'4" height. One of the great things about the geo is the fork rake which is effective at keeping the front tyre away from the toes – a pet peeve of any small rider.
The geometry and the overall build of the Dark Matter made it an excellent bike for longer excursions. I didn't mount fork cages or excessive bags but I very much enjoyed the riding position and stable ride feel on longer miles that are more about comfort than pure speed.
Argon 18 Dark Matter gravel bike - Spec
The 3D system also makes the bike look very pleasing, with neat cable integration around the headtube (you're still able to swap the stem and handlebars easily). The same goes for the round seatpost, which makes swapping easy. I found the finishing kit well suited to its purpose and very much enjoyed the flat-top FSA A-Wing handlebars, which didn't feel overly wide either despite the 40cm width.
Overall, the spec of my test bike left me also wanting a little more – considering the £6,300 price tag. There is no power meter on the bike and I think having the 2x setup is more suited for all-road riding than gravel, especially if you want to race. That said, the 2x SRAM Force AXS setup does offer a very wide gear ratio that is good for steep climbs and is intuitive in use – my sister (who has never ridden a drop-bar bike before) got to grips with it in minutes at FNLD GRVL.
Argon 18 Dark Matter gravel bike - Verdict
While the Argon 18 Dark Matter is a very nice bike, it lacks the panache of its rivals. Compared to the Ribble Gravel SL Pro I tested last year, the Argon was less responsive and I feel it is a little behind in terms of value for money.
The Dark Matter has excellent adjustable geometry (especially for smaller riders). It's a great bike for steady, long gravel escapades but lacks the oomph of a racy gravel bike. Compared to the Ridley Grifn, the Dark Matter seems rather similar and comparable in value, but the Grifn is perhaps a little more all-roady. Compared to Vitus Venon EVO-GR Rival AXS, which Stu recently reviewed, the Dark Matter seems a little overpriced as the Vitus offers many of the same attributes at a significantly lower price.
If you are looking for a good-looking, stable gravel bike that is at home on bikepacking adventures, then the Argon 18 Dark Matter is a great option. It offers a lot of cargo-carrying capacity and a confidence-inspiring ride feel.