Gravel bikes with AXS builds

I find myself seriously jonesing for a gravel bike. I live in an area with a lot of scenic road riding, but smooth roads are busy ones. I have endless miles of dirt and mixed terrain roads that I love, but my road bike, which can only handle 28s, quickly flats on. (I can probably set it up so it won’t, but for various reasons, I’ll never be able to bomb those roads on that bike).

I rented various bikes this winter to explore, and I’m pretty firmly set that I’m looking for an AXS mullet build. That said, the moment you enter that world it gets expensive. I’ve never bought a new bike. I’m primarily a triathlete, and I race a 2006 P3C, my road bike is a 2015 Raleigh militis I built frame up. I lean hard towards race geometry, speed over comfort, I will not be bikepacking on this, 100 miles would be an extreme outlier.

That’s all an unnecessary windup to my question. I see the 3T Exploro, Pinarello Grevil, Cervelo Aspero, Canyon Grail, maybe the Cannondale supersix. Am I missing something I should be looking at? I’m gravitating towards the Exploro and pinarello, everything I read notes how expensive they are. That expense seems like the cost of doing business to get into the electronic world, but maybe not?

Anyway, advice, knowledge, or experience appreciated.

Just to be sure you’re looking at the right bike, cannodale’s gavel bike is the topstone, not the supersix.

You’re right, I meant the SuperX. I suppose I am open to the topstone as well, but my second-hand understanding is it tends toward the endurance side. Geometry-wise I see how that would be the case, but I’ve never ridden one.

new specialized diverge looks really nice

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Trek Checkpoint SL 7.

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I’d add the Trek Domane to your list. The new version can handle 38 mm and some 40 mm. tires. It looks like it would make a sweet gravel race bike.

If you are looking for more economical options going with an 11 speed group would save some money. A 10-42 or 11-42 cassette will give you a lot of range with whatever chainring you want to run up front. I don’t see much reason to run an Eagle cassette unless you are riding MTB trails frequently or need a 50T chainring for some reason. If you’re not opposed to Di2 all the GRX, Ultegra and XT/XTR components are interchangeable, so you can run road shifters with a MTB or gravel read derailleur.

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I was deciding in between an Open UP, 3T Exploro, and Cervelo Aspero. I ended up on the Open. Mostly went that direction as I got a good deal on the frame, but I liked that it was also the lightest of the three. It’s been a fantastic. I’ve got 32mm GP5000 on there which are comfortable and it handles well. I’ve beaten several of the long climb Strava segments that I had previously set on my 2015 Cervelo R3.

I was tempted to go the 1x AXS route but just wasn’t a fan of the rear cassette options. A 10-33 cassette meant I’d either be wishing for something easier on the 14-15% grades that I sometimes see, or that on downhills and tailwinds I would be spinning out with no really big gear. The other option would be a 10-50 cassette but I didn’t like the idea of having jumps that big

Thanks for the response. This will see some pretty steep grades, some mountain bike trails too but not primarily, I just feel like the eagle cassette gives the most flexibility. I am pretty set on the sram build but it’s for entirely subjective reasons, I have no doubt the grx could fit my needs.

I just got a Trek Checkpoint SL7. It’s really well equipped and comes with Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3V carbon wheelset with 25 mm inner diameter and has a SRAM Force crankset and then an Eagle AXS rear derailleur with the wide range 10-50t Eagle cassette. I did opt to swap out the bars for a set of Enve Gravel Bars as I wanted the flared drops, but this is a matter of preference.

I’ve just had it out for a couple of rides and so far on nothing that rough, but the bike really comes to life on the gravel. The wheelbase is adjustable at the rear end and I have it set up for the shortest setting which makes the bike feel light and lively when riding some curves on the trail. I’m used to the 1x setup from my XC mountain bikes and the shifting with the SRAM Force set up is dead simple.

One other nice benefit of the SRAM Force crank was that I only needed to get the Quarq spider for it, which is a fair bit cheaper than having to get a complete new power meter and crank set up. The Trek shop installed it for me before I picked up the bike.

With the bike being so versatile, I’m going to add a second wheelset with a set of Enve G23’s. I will equip these with bigger rubber for days I’m riding trails and rougher gravel, and then put some smaller, more road friendly, rubber on the stock wheels for days when more pavement and smooth gravel is involved.

I just built up an Open Up. Moved my Force AXS 2x over from another bike. Running 46/33 and 10-33. Finding 1/1 gearing isn’t quite enough on some steep dirt climbs. Thought about doing a mullet build with XX1 rear derailleur but the cost turned me off.

Found this the other day:

https://www.garbaruk.com/sram-12-speed-axs-rd-cage.html?category=15

It’s a modified rear derailleur cage and pulleys that allows you to run a wide range cassette with the Force rear derailleur which usually is capped at 33t. $155 vs. $700 for the XX1.

Gonna give it a shot with a 42 up front and a Rotor 11-46. I’ll report back on how it works out.

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Another vote for the checkpoint! Thanks. I’ll check it out.

One thing to note with the SuperX is that the rear wheel requires a proprietary dish. That means any wheels you want to ride on that bike will have to re-dished and will no longer work on other bikes. If you don’t plan to swap wheels at any point, it’s probably fine. Otherwise, it’s annoying.

I had no idea! Thanks, off the list.

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Interesting, I look forward to hearing how it goes.

I ended up building an Open UP with an AXS mullet setup. It will meet your geo needs and is a good do-it-all bike. I am very happy with Open and the bike.

Any AXS mullet build is pricy as the parts are rare to see on the used market yet. Sorry, you will have to just pay out.

I started off loving my Checkpoint, but after a year or so, I wasn’t a huge fan. I will say, it rides awesome on the gravel. It does ‘ok’ on the road. As the geo would suggest, its a little sluggish to accelerate in group ride situations.

My issue with it after a year or so was the amount of moving parts. Mainly the sliding dropouts. I never messed with them until I owned the bike for a year or so, and found most of the hardware to be corroded, or seized in some way that I couldn’t use it- and had to buy new. The bike underwent normal cleaning and maintenance, but maybe from the factory, it wasn’t greased appropriately. I was disappointed to say the least. The other small gripe I had with it was that you had to use Shimano lockings on the rotors up front (ie. no DT lock rings) or it would scrape the fork and gouge the paint.

Then again, little stuff like that drives me nuts.

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Most people (including myself) will recommend the bike they have experienced with. I can share with you a way to test drive a bike and return it if you don’t like it.

Canyon has an amazing 30 days return policy. I actually bought the cheaper Grail, rode it for 3 weeks, and ended up returning it. No question asked and they refunded the total cost (including shipping) to my credit card as soon as they receive the bike.

Anyway, I’ve been riding the ultegra mechanic version of the Grail since last year, and loving it.

Trek has a similar policy. Last year a friend of mine bought a Domane, rode it for 2 - 3 weeks, and decided it felt “sluggish” to him. He returned it to the Trek Store where he bought it no questions asked. He ended up going down the road and bought a Tarmac and seems to be super happy with it. The 30 day return policy applies to most Bontrager parts too.

https://www.trekbikesflorida.com/articles/return-policy-pg192.htm

3t has a good blog post about AXS gravel options. I always thought the 10-50 looked like overkill, but they say the Rotor 11-46 12-spd cassette works great with the eagle rear derailleur.

https://blog.3t.bike/2019/09/12028/gravel-tech-hacking-sram-axs-drivetrains/

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I ride sram apex in my gravel bike with an e13 9-46. Works like a dream. I’ve got some super steep single track I have to climb on my way back to my house. The steps a kinda big but I have a very long back ground as a mtb racer, road & track. And am happy with wide cadence ranges. If you want a wide range on a 1x step up on the cheap something to consider.