Originally designed as a cyclo-cross machine, the Cinelli Zydeco moniker has moved with the times and now fills the ever-evolving gravel bike space. Its road-bike-like geometry and acceptable tyre clearance mean it can triple up for use as a commuter, all-road and gravel bike, while it’s perfectly adept at gravel racing and bikepacking, too. While it goes against the contemporary gravel mould, it’s an intriguing option nonetheless – and a worthy consideration among the prominent brands comprising the best gravel bike segment.
We tested the Cinelli Zydeco Mud over a seven-month period where it served as a long-term test mule. During that time it surprised us on many fronts, most notable of which was the manner in which it dismissed everything thrown its way. Read on for all the details and the final verdict.
Cinelli Zydeco Mud Apex gravel bike - Technical details
The contemporary gravel bike recipe is constantly in a state of flux – while some brands are pushing slacker head angles and longer reach values, others are trying to balance things for a more versatile riding experience. Cinelli, on the other hand, has stayed true to the original Zydeco and merely tweaked its geometry to keep it relevant and capable.
In terms of the numbers, the Zydeco could be considered racy or perhaps even outdated – it depends on how you see it. In a size medium, the head angle measures 71.5-degrees while the chainstays and wheelbase are rated at 440mm and 1,025mm, respectively – these figures are pretty aggressive in reality, as is the seat tube angle of 74-degrees. All this makes for a bike that feels more like a road bike than a modern off-road machine. The bike is available in five sizes starting at XS with S, M, L and XL models also options.
Cinelli has countered these values by crediting the Zydeco with tyre clearance of up to 40mm, which many would consider somewhat outdated. Clearance is reduced to 35mm if you elect to mount mudguards. Speaking of mounts, the Zydeco has been appointed with several eyelets to improve carrying capacity, be it extra bottles, luggage or a rear bike rack. While it eschews carbon-fibre in favour of Columbus Zonal triple-butted aluminium, it does get a carbon fork (450g). Our medium frameset is claimed to weigh 1,760g. The full build tipped our scales at 9.98kg.
Despite the internal cable routing through the main triangle, there’s still a fair amount of hoses and cables evident at the front, something many of its rivals have managed to neaten up and tuck away. The visual treatment of the paintwork is typical of Cinelli. Instead of using flat or metallic colours, the Zydeco Mud takes on a more ornate treatment that is almost harlequin-like in look and finish. A dark turquoise dominates the seat tube and flows into the balance of the frame, which is underscored by off-white and swathes of magenta, yellow, cyan, green, red and burgundy. I think it looks superb and the graphical Cinelli wordmark logo on the downtube and almost pixelated Zydeco motif on the seat tube add to the overall visual dynamism. It’s very retro, very bold.
Cinelli Zydeco Mud Apex gravel bike - Components and build
To digest what this bike is all about requires you to look at it within the context of the budget end of the scale. As such, the build here is not very lavish but rather functional with the big focus being that of reliability. As the name suggests the Cinelli Zydeco Mud Apex is built around a SRAM Apex 1 mechanical groupset – but the previous-generation 1 x 11 configuration and not the updated 12-speed SRAM Apex Eagle version. There’s nothing particularly negative to report as SRAM Apex 1 is exceptional for an entry-level offering but that’s only telling half the story though. The components on offer are more mixed and matched than meets the eye; a move that has undoubtedly been employed to create a more palatable price.
While this is nothing to be alarmed by it is something to consider. For starters, the crankset is an FSA Omega-branded unit complete with a 40T ring which drives an 11-speed Sunshine cassette (the bike should have been fitted with a Shimano SLX 11-42T cassette according to the spec sheet). The braking is taken care of by Tektro MD-C510 Mechanical calipers (with 160/140mm rotors) leaving the shifters and rear derailleur as the only SRAM Apex-branded parts.
The wheels are Vision Team 30 Disc which are wrapped in Schwalbe CX Comp K-Guard 700 x 38c tyres. The saddle is a Selle Italia Model X while the bar, stem and seatpost are all Tifosi-branded alloy items.
Cinelli Zydeco Mud Apex gravel bike - Performance
In terms of performance, the Zydeco rides as its geometry numbers suggest – it’s very cyclo-cross/road-bike-like in the way it rides. This, however, does have a number of upshots including its speed and reactiveness out on the open road or trail. At 9.98kg, it comes in under the psychological 10kg threshold and, as a result, doesn't feel like a heffer on the climbs. It overcomes gravity with relative ease and allows the rider to work up a decent head of steam in order to carry momentum on undulating terrain. It’s agile, too, and the Columbus aluminium frame encourages pedal inputs – you don't feel much flex through the bottom bracket and triangle, if anything the frame compliance on offer helps thwart trail chatter and corrugations; to a certain extent. This is where a bigger volume tyre would come into the equation and further smooth things out.
Unfortunately, the Zydeco only has clearance for 40mm tyres which is fairly narrow by today’s standards. While the Vision Team 30 disc wheels are tubeless-ready, I chose to ride the majority of the test period using regular inner tubes, which did impact the ride quality and handling. I did swap the wheels out for Parcours Alta gravel wheels with 38mm Specialized Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready tyres, which upped comfort levels quite considerably. Using this rubber configuration, the bike improved significantly in the handling stakes. No doubt the wider rim architecture helped with this but the tyres in question are excellent, too.
The mechanical Tektro brakes were actually very good, despite lacking the precise and quick-acting performance of hydraulic stoppers. While there's no real modulation to speak of, the lever feel and stopping power are adequate enough to scrub off speed when needed – you'll just need to be mindful of applying more lever force than usual, especially on negative gradients with sharp switchbacks. Once you've mastered this, the Zydeco will stop pretty effectively.
If anything, this particular bike would benefit from a 2x setup. While the 1x configuration is great and has helped shave off some weight, a double chainset would unlock a little more versatility here, not to mention give users more gearing options for differing - read more challenging - terrain types.
Cinelli Zydeco Mud Apex gravel bike - Value and verdict
Cinelli’s Zydeco Mud Apex gravel bike might not possess the attributes of a modern gravel bike but that doesn’t make it any less capable or fun to ride. The build is decent and robust, featuring components designed to go the distance and perform reliably in all conditions, and its diverse skillset makes it an ideal bike to use all year round – whether that’s commuting, gravel riding or even the odd cyclo-cross race. If anything, it’s somewhat let down by the lack of tyre clearance but it's not a deal breaker.
At £2,000 all-in, the Zydeco Mud Apex is a high-value proposition. It goes up against some decent competition including the £2,600 Vaast A/1 Allroad. The spec sheet is fairly similar but the Vaast's frame is made from magnesium, not aluminium and comes in marginally lighter at 9.47kg. There's nothing really between these two models. As far as comparisons against more established marques go, the £2,249 Canyon Grail AL 7 eTap gravel bike that Suvi tested represents unreal value for money – an extra £250 pounds gets you 12-speed electronic shifting and tyre clearance for 42mm tyres, granted at this end of the market £250 is a lot of money.
All in all, the Cinelli Zydeco Mud Apex gravel bike is a solid option for those looking for affordable, trouble-free miles. A bike such as this will safely get you through winter as a reliable commuter and double up on weekends as a mile muncher regardless of the terrain.