A great value bike capable of much more both on and off road than the price might suggest
Jan 19 2018
Amazing value for money!
Great handling and off-road capabilities
Thoughtful component choices and hydraulic brakes
Comfort suffers with lack of refinement at this price
Some steering vagueness
Limited tyre clearances at the fork
You want incredibly good value for money, and a bike that just does the job
The Sonder Camino Al is an adventure bike from outdoor specialists Alpkit. Sonder is their bike brand and, as with the rest of their products, aims to provide great value for money. The Camino proves to be a versatile ride for a variety of conditions whilst being great value.
I wasn’t completely sure what to expect when I received this bike and opened the box. On paper the spec is brilliant value for money. It’s not often that you get hydraulic brakes and a modern SRAM Apex 1 drivetrain at this price point. Pair that with one of my favourite tyres - WTB Riddlers - well thought out components and finishing kit and on paper you’ve got something that is amazing value for money.
Of course, at this price point, things have to suffer somewhere. It’s inevitable that refinement will suffer to some extent. I have to admit I was initially sceptical about whether this bike could live up to expectations and was looking to find faults. However, it’s important not to judge a book by its cover. For your £1050, you get an alloy frame and carbon fork which has clearance for 700c x 40mm or 650b x 47mm tyres, more on that later. The drivetrain comes courtesy of SRAM with an Apex 1x11spd set up with a 40T chain ring up front. This is coupled with SRAM Apex hydraulic brakes with 160mm rotors from and rear. Wheels and cockpit components are all 'Love Mud' branded kit, that's Alpkit's in-house brand, with said wheels shod with WTB Riddler 37c tyres. Lastly, the Camino gets a threaded bottom bracket and all the rack, mudguard and bottle mounts you'd expect on a bike of this type.
There are no two ways about it – having spent some time on it, I really like this bike. It’s not just good value for money; it’s a genuinely fun and nice riding bike. For the money, this is an amazing piece of kit and any compromises aside will definitely put a smile on your face. Neil Sutton, product manager for Sonder describes this bike as “a jack of all trades” which I wouldn’t disagree with but also doesn’t completely do justice to this bike’s aspirations.
I’ve been really surprised by how far it’s possible to push things off-road with the bike giving confidence inspiring handling on steep slopes and difficult terrain. The upright position helped by the tall stack (587mm on our medium frame) puts you in a good position for off-road jaunts. I also got on really well with the widely flared dirt-drop handlebars (560mm) which give you a variety of positions to choose from and are one of the few bars where I actually like riding off-road in the drops.
In fact, if you have had a hankering to try out some super-flared bars (or any other components) it may be worth checking out Alpkit’s Love Mud component range. Whilst some of the names are a bit naff, it gives you the opportunity to try out things like bars without a huge investment and see if they work for you.
One thing that I have found a little peculiar is my perception of some steering vagueness when riding the bike, which given the 71-degree head angle seems more pronounced than I would expect. I wonder whether the narrowness of the downtube where it meets the head tube allows more flex in the frame and hence steering vagueness. It could also be a factor of the quick release front and rear allowing a little more “give”.
I would like to see thru-axles used on the bike. I take Neil’s point that quick-releases are ubiquitous around the world and for a bike that may be used to “ride across a country”, having easy availability of parts is a must, though I have to say that in my whole riding career, I’ve broken neither a QR nor a thru-axle.
On some occasions, when steering hard, the fork has flexed enough to cause some brake rub, which may support the idea of some steering vagueness being part of the system here. Personally, I think this could be remedied with a thru-axle. That said, on the whole, this hasn’t really been an issue and the fork still tracks well through chopped up terrain. Any steering vagueness is something that you quickly get used to, and may even add a little compliance and comfort on rough ground.
The low bottom bracket (drop of 73mm) definitely adds to the feeling of stability, but I have had a few issues with pedal strike on rougher terrain. For riding on smoother terrain it’s hardly going to be an issue but on more technical ground you may need to pay a bit more attention. I have also found that the wide (and early) flare of the chainstays, leads to me clipping my heels every now and again, which could be more of a problem if you have larger feet (I’m size 43). I wonder whether the stays could be shaped to flare out a little bit later to provide that extra bit of clearance.
WTB Riddlers are some of my favourite gravel tyres and whilst they have been a little overwhelmed in thick mud, snow and ice that’s not exactly surprising. They can still be pushed pretty far in conditions they definitely weren’t designed for. The ones fitted here have a wire bead, not unexpected at the price, but this does mean that they can’t be used for a tubeless setup.
In any case, the Love Mud Orbit wheelset doesn’t come tubeless ready so you’ll have to invest in tape, valves and tyres if this is an option you want to pursue. The wheels are not the sprightliest but have held up fine to use and abuse so far. The 19mm internal width is also on the narrow side nowadays.
My only real concern is that based on a cursory “ping” test, the spoke tensions do not sound completely even – the wheels could require truing after some time using them. Having disassembled the hubs to have a look inside, the sealing seems to be good and they should be easy to service when required, with everything removable without tools.
Stated clearances on the bike are 700c x 40mm or 650b x 47mm tyres. I would really like to be able to fit larger tyres than this, though as Neil confirmed, the size restriction is due to the clearance on the fork rather than the frame which will fit up to 650b x 2.1”. He is considering a redesign of the fork in the future to increase the space available.
I have also been pleasantly surprised by how well this bike climbs. There seems to be a general trend to ultra-short chainstays in the bike industry which can sometimes lead to the front wheel having an annoying tendency to lift. With the 435 mm chainstays here, the bike feels well-balanced with good weight distribution fore and aft. It’s easy to keep the front planted and maintain control through the most technical sections. This is likely helped by the steep 74-degree seat angle.
The bike also handles well with luggage with the overall neutral handling lending itself well to carrying bikepacking bags. If anything I noticed a little more tendency for the bike to understeer, possibly due to some increased flex at the front end from the increased weight.
Not much needs to be said about the drive train – SRAM Apex 1 is well proven, reliable and well suited to a bike like this. If you are planning to ride this bike loaded up it may be worth fitting a smaller chainring. Coming from riding a non-clutch derailleur equipped bike recently it was nice to experience the bliss of silence, though the wheelset has a relatively loud freehub when coasting.
Where this bike really suffers is comfort, the inevitable lack of refinement at this price point is noticeable. Whilst the bike provides a very comfortable seated riding position, the house-brand components transmit a lot of vibration which can get tiring over long distances. Whilst the main tubes are double-butted, there is no major forming of the tubes and welds are pretty bulky. Quite simply, there’s just a limited amount that can be done with aluminium at this price point.
This has to be looked at in context though – if you’ll be spending a lot of time on gravel paths then this bike is comfortable enough to travel long distances. Fit some slightly larger tyres and double-wrap the bar tape and you’ll be golden. In the name of testing (and fun) I’ve been spending time on rougher and more irregular terrain where the relative harshness of this bike in comparison with a more refined (but also expensive) bike is highlighted. It has to be reiterated that this can’t really be a criticism at this price – just a statement of fact.
This bike is astounding value for money. It’s inevitable that the low price comes with some compromise – to my mind mainly comfort. However, it is genuinely hard to find many if any faults, there are simply compromises which are a consequence of the low price. You'll be hard-pressed to find a bike with such a good spec that also rides so well, the design and components have clearly been carefully considered and add up to a brilliant package.
This is a bike that enjoys going off-road but would also be quite happy taking you longer distances on tarmac too. The bias - and the way the bike is specced certainly corroborates this – is towards off-road adventuring. The comfortable position is perfect for gravel excursions or riding long distances loaded with luggage, but for my preferences is just a little too upright for longer (proper) road rides. It’s a do anything bike with a definite off-road flavour, but above all, it’s a bike to have fun with at a price that belies its capabilities.
Test report Sonder Camino Al Apex 1 Hydraulic V2 £950.00
About the bike
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own :
A versatile gravel bike with a definite off-road bias. Widely flared bars and upright position make this a confident descender, but it could equally be turned to riding long distances loaded with luggage.
State the frame material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.:
6061 Aluminium alloy frame with SRAM Apex 1 gearing, hydraulic brakes, and Love Mud components and finishing kit.
Frame & Fork
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.:
Unfortunately the low price makes itself noticeable with a lack of refinement in terms of comfort. Relatively harsh frame and components are cushioned to some extent by the large tyres, but still impacts the ride quality.
How was the bike in terms of sizing and angles? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size and intent?:
A relatively standard gravel bike geometry, though with more of an off-road bias. Larger stack and lower bottom bracket contribute to a comfortable upright position. Longer chainstays provide more stability.
Overall rating for frame
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?:
Slight steering vagueness, presumably due to quick release axles and narrow joint of down tube and head tube. Flex in the fork meant it was possible to get some brake rub if steering hard. However this didn't really impact the overall handling significantly.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame:
The low price point is noticeable here. Welds are not finished particularly nicely and limited shaping has been done on the tubing.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?:
Great handling bike both uphill and downhill. Provided confidence inspiring handling when going got rough, with the only real complaint being some steering vagueness.
Rate the bike for sprinting:
Rate the bike for high speed descending
Rate the bike for technical descending:
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
Rate the bike for technical climbing:
Rate the bike for climbing efficiency:
Rate the bike for agility:
Rate the drivetrain for performance:
Rate the drivetrain for value:
Wheels & tyres
Rate the wheels for performance:
Rate the wheels for weight:
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so, wha:
A cursory "twang" test seemed to indicate uneven spoke tensions which could potentially lead to problems with the wheels staying true long term.
Rate the tyres for performance:
Rate the tyres for durability:
Rate the controls for performance:
Any comments on controls performance?:
Especially liked the widely flared drop bars
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Did you enjoy riding the bike?:
A great ride that far exceeds what I expected for the money.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike\'s performance? would you recommend any changes?:
Fantastic to see hydraulic brakes on a bike at this price. The SRAM drive train is as reliable as expected and I got on particularly well with the shape of the widely flared drop bars.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend?:
Definitely for someone looking for a cheap but capable steed.