REVIEW: Is the Avalanche Dust the Perfect Budget Gravel Bike?

The Avalanche Dust may be the best budget gravel bike on the market. Here’s why…


WORDS AND PICTURES BY MIKE FINCH |

The problem with many budget bikes is that they look., well, budget! From monotone colour schemes to poorly executed paint jobs, the lower end of the price bracket is often stacked with less-than-attractive model paint jobs and livery.

Enter the Avalanche Dust, the 30-year-old South African brand’s foray into the gritty world of gravel racing. At R14 990, the Dust is most definitely in the ‘budget’ category; but it punches far above its price bracket in many ways, including looks.

“From a distance you’d be forgiven for checking out the Dust and being convinced you were looking at a far more premium product.”

From a distance you’d be forgiven for checking out the Dust and being convinced you were looking at a far more premium product. The colour is officially called ‘Desert’, and the frame’s gold and black livery is decorated with stylish topographical details that hint at the adventures a gravel bike can deliver.

Gravel riding is the fastest growing segment in the South African cycling scene, and every manufacturer has come forward with their own version of the best bike to do it with. There are the top-end models from Trek, Specialized, Giant and Cannondale; racey ‘all-road’ models, like Titan Racing’s Switch; and many other bespoke brands are also plying their trade in this popular genre.

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A few years back it was Momsen – another South African brand – that was the first to deliver a budget-friendly gravel bike, when they released the GP300, complete with a sturdy aluminium frame and mechanical disc brakes. It was a great bike (and I should know: I bought one, and still ride it regularly).

But Victor Momsen has since emigrated to Australia and the Momsen brand in South Africa has turned its attention back to mountain bikes, so there’s a gap in the market for more budget-friendly gravel machines. The Rook Scout has attempted to fill that void – it’s a steel-framed gravel/commuter/road bike, priced at R16 100 – but the cheaper and lighter Avalanche Dust outdoes it on (almost) every front.

The frame of the Avalanche Dust gravel bike

Frame

At this price point, no one expects a super-light carbon frame. But what you get – the Dust’s sturdy aluminium number – gives the impression that it’s unbreakable. It’s labelled a ‘performance’ frame, which suggests slightly more aggressive geometry, but in reality, it sits handily in that zone between cyclocross aggressive and monster-bike sloppy. You’re a little more upright in the saddle, which is perfect for longer rides.

There are only two sizes – medium and large – but the sloping top tube is forgiving, and it’s easy to adjust fit for taller or shorter riders by lowering or raising the seat post and using a longer or shorter stem.

The L-Twoo groupset on the Avalanche Dust

Groupset

It’s easy to dismiss China’s L-Twoo range as cheap and nasty compared to their more illustrious Shimano and SRAM rivals. And the groupset on the Dust is L-Twoo’s second-tier gravel system, the GR9 – a step down from its top-tier GRT system. 

I didn’t have high hopes. And of course, you can’t compare a system like this to Shimano GRX or SRAM XPLR; but it’s a surprisingly impressive groupset, and it shifts solidly and accurately. 

The Campagnolo-style downshift button on the inside of the brake hood is a nice touch and makes changing super-easy, while the rear derailleur shifts smoothly and cleanly. For a groupset that keeps the price this low, it’s more than adequate, and worked well throughout our test period.

The wide-range 11–50 cassette, paired with a 42-tooth single chainring up front, translates to impressive range that will enable you to conquer most climbs, while still giving you enough gears to crank it out on the flats.

The brake hoods of the Avalanche Dust gravel bike

The brake hoods are solid, and big enough to inspire a confident grip; and the brakes, although cable-actuated, also performed admirably, even with my 98kg frame aboard. No worries there.

Tyres

In keeping with modern trends, the bike comes with a set of fat 45mm tan-wall Chaoyang tyres, which did well climbing rooty trails and negotiating rocky sections of the Kirstenbosch Corridor in Cape Town. 

They’re good tyres, and they’re tubeless-ready; but the rims aren’t… The guys at Avalanche have experimented with a tubeless conversion using rim tape and sealant on the stock wheels, with mixed success. It might be worth trying yourself – either at home or at your local bike shop – or save up and buy a set of proper tubeless wheels, which will serve you much better in the long run. 

Handling

With its solid frame and reasonably racy geometry, the Dust responds well to pedalling input, and rolls nicely when you’re up to speed. The stock handlebar is 420mm wide – we would have preferred wider, 440 or even 460mm, but that’s a personal preference. Narrow bars are perfect for long gravel roads and they’re a joy on the blacktop, but riding technical terrain with skinny bars required a more skilled pilot than this tester.

In short

The Avalanche Dust looks great, the frame has modern geometry, and although the components aren’t big-brand Shimano or SRAM, they perform very well. In short, it’s the perfect bike if you want to get into the world of gravel riding and don’t want to remortgage your house.


SPECS AVALANCHE DUST

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Price: R14 990

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Frame and fork: Aluminium
Brakes: L-Twoo mechanical disc
Shifters and derailleur: T-Twoo GR9 1×11
Cassette: 11–50T
Crankset: 170mm cranks, 42t chain ring
Tyres: Chaoyang 45mm tubeless-ready
Handlebar: Alloy, 31.8mm clamp, 420mm wide
Seat post: Alloy, 27.2mm

 

 

 

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