Out In The World (remember that?)
I had been spending a bit of time recently on our own test Open WI.DE. which is outfitted with 650b x 2.2 Schwalbe G-One Bites, so this is a great time to bring another mixed use bike home as a comparator. This is also my first experience of Shimano’s GRX gravel groupset using 48x31 gearing on the front and 11-34 on the back.
I am ¾ sold on the 22 before I even push the bike out of the Cyclefit door. I love titanium, I love bikes that are made by small teams barricaded in a workshop, somewhere in the mountains. And I am that target cohort who will wring every moment of joy possible from something that flies under the ‘gravel genre’ flag. The stock 56cm Drifter geometry is almost perfect for me – I would probably think about a size 54cm rather than 56cm if this was my own bike, or I could spend a few hundred dollars and design my own frame from the hubs up. I do realise that I have been spoilt!
My typical ride is 1-2 hours, and I shoot for a 75/25% trail/road split, but if I am honest it normally ends up being 50/50% as I hear my phone buzzing in my pocket and naturally assume that it is Mrs Cavell recalling me to The Mothership, to take a rat out of the water-tank, or similar. At that point I generally make a dive for tarmac, and point both wheels homeward. The gravel genre was invented just for me. I like a few miles on the road followed by twenty minutes in splendid isolation on a remote track through a forest. The Chilterns is full of these kinds of possibilities and my favourite routes normally involve traversing the Hambleden Valley, trying to avoid the valley road from the river heading North. Oh yes, the Drifter? Sorry. We bond after fifty yards and are lifelong-friends after five miles, and a quick ride up through Marlow Common to Rockwell End on top of the ridge. This bike will probably probably clock up 100,000 kilometres in its adventurous life, and the prevailing purpose of using this level of quality of titanium, is that kilometre one and kilometre one hundred thousand and one, feel exactly the same. Titanium does not corrode or fatigue or change its properties in any way like other materials. Herein is where the magic resides. Well I can tell you on kilometre ten I feel like I have been riding the Drifter my whole life, diving through single-track down through Quarry Wood leaning hard into turns, relying on 35mm Gravelking’s, to sort out my chaos, I am immensely calm and smiling. The Hope discs are phenomenally strong and re-assuring - possibly more than Shimano and SRAM in terms of sheer power? The ride quality itself on the trail is joyous and hits a perfect harmony of feedback, drive and metallic recoil. Sure, it doesn’t have the binary hit of the Open WIDE’s top-grade carbon, but neither should it. It is generally never a good idea to make one material impersonate another one. There is nothing remotely fragile or vulnerable about the 22 - and it is that sense of incredible competence that is never far under the radar.