If you want a gravel bike that doesn’t shy away from challenging and technical terrain but is right at home on the daily commute and long adventure ride, the new Gestalt X11 is a really solid choice. A gravel bike for mountain bikers, the handling and stability is a highlight and the dropper post, activated by the redundant SRAM left-hand shifter, is a bonus on steep terrain.
The Gestalt has been a presence in Marin’s range for a few years, representing the US company’s foray into the growing adventure and gravel bike scene. It has received many good reviews, including over on road.cc. But for 2019 the Gestalt has been supercharged with an extra dose of mountain bike influence making it even more capable on the rough than possibly any other gravel bike currently available.
Most gravel and adventure bikes are thinly disguised road bikes. The new Gestalt X11 owes a lot to its mountain bike cousins. A wide bar and short stem, sloping top tube, dropper post, wide tyres and relaxed geometry meant that when you swap the smooth for the rough, bumpy and technical the Gestalt X11 is right at home, unfazed by challenging terrain that can sometimes have other gravel bikes all in a twist.
To increase the capability of the new bike, the Gestalt X11 has been modified in key areas compared to the regular Gestalt (which continues in the range), with more than a subtle nod to mountain bikes. Tyre clearance has been increased to 42mm when using 700c wheels or 47mm if going down the 650b route, as many people are interested in doing at the moment. The top tube is massively sloping for better standover clearance and there’s internal cable routing for the dropper post that is standard equipment on this bike. Other changes include a new carbon fibre fork and a curved seat tube to allow Marin to bring the rear wheel closer to the bottom bracket to keep the wheelbase reasonably short with the move to increased tyre width capability.
SRAM’s Rival 1x groupset, with its wide-range cassette and hydraulic disc brakes, is a common sight on gravel bikes and for good reason; it works well, is reliable and the gear range is suitable for all manner of terrain, from steep and chunky climbs to rollercoaster trails. The Gestalt X11 has a neat trick up its sleeve, the left-hand shifter has been hooked up to the dropper post. It’s a hack I’ve used before on other bikes - the Vielo V+1 road plus bike - and it’s a smart idea because you’re likely to be in the drops when you need to lower the saddle, though SRAM doesn't warranty the mod.
The 6061 aluminium frame is well appointed. The aforementioned internal dropper cable routing, as well as internal gear cable and brake hose routing, are nice features as are the mudguard and rack mounts for commuting/touring/Audax potential. The Gestalt X11 is as versatile as any of the best gravel and adventure bikes - you could use it for the daily commute, it’s nippy and comfortable on long road rides, but any towpath or bridleway shortcut is game on!
It’s the geometry that really makes the Gestalt X11. Marin calls it ‘beyond road’ which in other words means it’s slacker and longer than most road bikes - 71.5-degree head angle and 1,036mm wheelbase. Combined with a stubby stem and wide handlebar it combines to give the Gestalt something of a mountain bike character when you’re riding off-road trails. Critically, your weight is less pitched over the front wheel when careening down steep escarpments, a fact helped by the 105mm dropper post and wide handlebars to ensure you’re in control, not out of control during such situations.
It all combines to create a bike that is huge fun to ride. It really encourages you to find the most adventurous route between A and B, to seek out that overgrown path in case it reveals itself to be a ribbon of singletrack ebbing and flowing between the trees with which the Gestalt can really shine. It puts a smile on your face. And when you get to some steep and technical descents you’ll still be smiling, as it’s impressively surefooted and capable.
The only downside really is that this extra capability can push you into situations where you simply come up against the limits of how hard you can push a rigid bike over a tangled web of roots or down a rock garden, and on just a few occasions I wished I was on a mountain bike with some cushiony suspension. But as soon as I was back on the road, oddly enough I was glad to be on a road bike.
Gravel bikes get a lot of stick from some corners of the cycling world, but for me they appeal because I can ride from my front door onto quiet country roads where they behave like a docile road bike and head towards the nearest woods where I can indulge my inner mountain biker and get fast and loose on dirt paths and singletrack and generally behave like a hooligan, and link it all together with long-forgotten bridleways and potter back home on the road for coffee and cake and Instagram.
The Gestalt X11 fulfils this brief really well. It’s not the fastest on the road but it’s no slouch. The wide tyres give reasonable rolling speed and the ride is fairly smooth, and the position is comfortable, more comfortable for extended road rides than a mountain bike would be. And off-road, as I’ve already said, it’s as at home as you can expect a rigid drop bar bike to be. In some ways, it might be a compromise, but it never really felt like it.
Personally, I’m undecided on the value of a dropper post. There’s no doubting its usefulness on really steep terrain when slamming the saddle gives you more room to manoeuvre and really make use of the relaxed geo and wide bars/short stem combo to command tricky trails rather than handing on for dear life. But on bumpier steep tracks the lack of suspension was more a limiting factor on progress rather than the height of the saddle. The dropper post also robs the Gestalt of a bit of comfort on flatter trails and road surfaces, where at least you can expect a bit of flex from a regular seatpost to remove some of the harshnesses.
£2000 is a competitive price point, and the Gestalt X11 does a good job of holding its head high at this money. The SRAM Rival groupset works well with smooth gear changes and the 42t FSA Gossamer Pro crankset combines nicely with the 10-42t cassette to provide a useful spread of ratios for everything from road cruising to tackling the steepest gravel tracks. I might prefer a 40t for more off-road bias as a few of my local gravel climbs are steep enough to make that 42-42 quite a handful, especially with loose rocks making traction tricky.
Tyres go such a long way to defining how a gravel bike rides, and the WTB Riddler 37mm tyres proved a good choice. It’s a good all-around tyre, not too draggy on the harder stuff but grippy in the loose. I’d be tempted to employ more of the generous tyre clearance and fit a wide tyre, but really it’s a shame Marin didn’t make that same decision when speccing the bike.
Those tyres, which are tubeless-ready, are mounted to Marin’s own aluminium tubeless rims with a 21mm internal width and laced with 32 double butted spokes to forged aluminium hubs with quad cartridge sealed bearings. It’s a solid if unspectacular wheelset and a price place to shed some weight if you were looking at future upgrades.
There are three components that really ensure the Gestalt X11 stands out, and give it the off-road capability so lacking in many other gravel bikes. Firstly there’s the Tranz-X dropper post providing 105mm of drop. That’s possibly more than you need for most encounters with steep descents, but you can drop the saddle as much or little as you want. Secondly and thirdly, there’s the whopping 460mm wide handlebar at the flared drops, attached to the bike via a short stem.
Through a couple of weeks of intensive testing, the bike and all the equipment has stood up to the demands of off-road and road riding very well. No complaints from the own-branded wheels and spokes have remained evenly tensioned. The dropper post continues to work reliably and the chain is snicking across the cassette with the precision it displayed when it first arrived.
On the scales, all this equipment produces in our size 56cm test bike a 10kg weight. That’s not an unreasonable weight but it’s not exactly svelte, but for the frame material and the spec it’s about right. Some posher wheels would probably save some weight, but weight really shouldn’t be the deciding factor in considering this bike, as out on the road and the woods the weight was rarely a concern.
The Gestalt X11 blurs the line between road and mountain bikes more than most (short of the new Bombtrack Hook ADV anyway or fitting drop bars to a mountain bike) and in doing so creates a bike that is highly capable on and off-road, super fun and backed up with plenty of versatility to cover all sorts of riding requirements.
And the last thing I have to talk about is the paint job. I mean, just look at it! For mountain bikers of a certain age who remember when Marin was a brand at the cutting-edge of the sport it’s great to see such boldness with the spray can. It’s, without doubt, one of the best-looking gravel bikes to pass through the off-road.cc bike shed in a good while. And thankfully the ride is good enough to back up its great looks.
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