With a solid spec that wouldn’t look amiss on a bike the next price bracket or two up, the Dark Peak is a super value for money gravel-cross-adventure-do-it-all bike that is also reliable and fun to ride. Specced with branded components throughout and built around a double-butted 6061 aluminium frame with carbon forks, if you are looking at dipping your toes into the gravel bike market on a budget, then this is a great place to start.
The Dark Peak from Calibre is a bike that on paper doesn’t look possible with a price versus spec comparison that makes you double take. There is not a single own brand component or piece of finishing kit to be seen - it's all branded and from the likes of Shimano, Ritchey and Selle Royal. Whilst it may not be the high-end, it all consists of well made, reliable parts with good reputations.
It's a struggle to see how Calibre has delivered a bike spec at this keen price point. You’d expect to see some corners cut, but the only slightly off element is the bottom bracket which is a square taper with internal bearings as opposed to a more update external cup style - and in all honesty this is still going to last pretty well, it just feels a little more flexible than other cranks and bottom brackets.
Elsewhere are good tyres for its intended gravel/adventure use - the WTB Nanos are fast, tough and offer a surprising amount of off-road ability. The wheelset features Shimano hubs with WTB ChrisCross 19mm rims, which are tubeless compatible. One thing that marks it a little bit as entry level, is the additional bar top brake levers, which make the handlebars feel cluttered - but for riding in busy traffic, some riders may feel more comfortable with them.
Whilst the Shimano Tiagra gears worked smoothly across the 20-speed gearing, with a fairly wide range on the 36/46 front cogs and 11-28T 10spd block meant there was plenty for steep hills and still speed for the flats. I found the Tektro Lyra brakes to lack bite and real power at times - and if the bike was loaded up, this would be more so. They work, just not with the performance of more upmarket brakes, and an upgrade to something better would be a good step.
The fork is full carbon, with no details of what type, and at this price, it’ll be nothing incredible - it did feel a little vague under off-road conditions at times. On the road and tracks, it felt comfortable and as positive as you could expect - not a huge amount of brake juddering or fork movement under heavy braking, it's still quite impressive to see on a bike this price.
The ride of the bike is pretty predictable, and more road biased with the head angles and wheelbase. It's not especially slack, but its stable enough when riding and the handling is didn’t bring any surprises - just a neutral and easy to adapt to feel, and as Calibre refers to it being suited for ‘comfort and stability’ the actual riding reinforces that. The sizing seems spot on, perhaps a little short on the top tube, but that's more my arms than an unusually short tube set. There is little toe overlap, and I had no big surprises with my heels clipping the frame or wheel. The geometry is such that it offers stable and predictable handling, whilst also feeling a little nippy and not too sluggish if you want to get playful.
I took it out on a real mix of terrain, including some single track, which the handling at times felt a little scary, and the fork wasn’t exactly tracking the path I intended. It's a straight 1 1/8th steerer, and in all fairness, the Dark Peak isn't a full-on off-road machine but is quite happy for short sections of smooth off-road. Out and about on gravel and forest tracks, I found myself quite happily spinning about with the bike getting on with the job. It will let you travel from tarmac to trails, and back again, and you can load it up for a weekends adventure, or ride light and go faster. It's got mounts on the frame for carrying gear and eyelets for mudguards on front and rear so could be set up for a commuter for all weathers. Tyre clearance is pretty good - even with the 40c WTB Nanos that come supplied.
The frame finish didn’t throw up any big surprises, its a well made with nice welds and overall detail is solid. It hints at its adaptable riding with the three water bottle mounts, good tyre clearance and rack mounts. I think its main selling point is that its a bike that looks better than the price point it sits at. The wheels are both quick release, with none of the current trends for bolt through - again, not a surprise at this price point, and it makes for easy wheel removal when required. It's actually pretty refreshing for something so economical to have so little to criticise. I always felt the Dark Peak was a hoot to ride, mainly because of the feeling that it was so much bike for its price tag, but also because all the parts fully functional and shouldn't wear out or let you down as they aren’t at all compromised even at the price point.
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