REVIEWED: 4 Gravel Bikes for the Adventure-Seekers


We review four gravel bikes designed for long-haul missions to faraway places.


The Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 gravel bike

The CHECKPOINT is a fantastically versatile gravel bike, especially this base model with an alloy frame.

Everything about the ALR 5 says ‘no-nonsense’. The frame is beautifully made, with sleek lines and smooth welds; the wheels and tyres are good; and the mechanical 2×11-speed Shimano GRX drivetrain is one of the most dependable around. The brakes are Shimano GRX hydraulic, and they work brilliantly.

Although it’s modern in geometry and spec, the Checkpoint is also surprisingly uncomplicated: the bottom bracket is threaded for creak-free performance in all weather, the seat post is a standard 27.2mm diameter, and there’s no proprietary integrated handlebar/stem combo. It’s a bike mechanic’s dream.  It’s also light, coming in at less than 10kg with stock parts.

The ALR 5 comes standard with alloy Bontrager Paradigm SL wheels and 40mm Bontrager GR1 tyres. They’re a nice all-road option, but you can squeeze 45s into the frame if you’re planning on riding gnarlier routes.

Why is this bike in the ‘Adventure’ section, you may ask, and not the ‘All-road’ section? That’s a good question; we could easily have put it there instead. And ‘All-road’ is probably where we’d put this Checkpoint’s carbon cousins, with their IsoSpeed decoupler seat posts and engineered frame compliance.

The aluminium bike is different, though. It’s robust and utilitarian, and begs you to do something more than a race or a coffee ride. There are mounting points everywhere – on both sides of the down tube, on the top tube and on the fork legs – for bags and bottles and whatever else you might need on your Cross Cape odyssey.

We were huge fans of Trek’s now-discontinued 920 touring bike, which came with racks and had clearance for 29-inch mountain-bike tyres; but the Checkpoint ALR 5 is a worthy successor. It’s definitely lighter and faster when it’s unloaded, which you’ll appreciate 90% of the time; but it also has the capability to carry lots of gear, and take you far on lonely roads.

At the price, it’s a steal.



The ACME CAM adventure gravel bike

ACME WAS founded BY TWO globe-trotting South Africans, Raoul de Jongh and Charl Dettmer, and the brand is currently operatingout of Girona, Spain, where Raoul lives with his family. Still, the SA roots are strong – especially in the CAM, which is their big-wheeled bike for wild adventures.

In the same genre as the Curve Big Kev and Sling Tagati, the Cam blurs the line between hardtail mountain bike and gravel bike, with clearance for 29×2.35” tyres and frame geometry that’s just right on rough and rugged roads.

You can go anywhere and do anything on the CAM. It has bosses galore, for bottle cages or bags, and it even has rack mounts in case you want to load up with panniers and ride to Timbuktu. But we also found the ride to be very engaging when the bike was unloaded; it felt light and stiff and fast, and challenged us to take weird detours (and even the occasional singletrack).

We have three titanium bikes in this section for a reason: titanium is expensive and it’s hard to work with, but it’s also virtually indestructible.  Components and wheels might come and go; but your CAM frame is for life, and it will still be going strong when your kids decide one day that they also want to try riding across the country.



The Sling Tagati Gravel Bike

As a company, Sling is better known for making aeroplanes… They’re based out of Joburg, and they’ve supplied more than 750 planes across the world. The Tagati is their first foray into making bikes, and it’s fabricated from the one material they really know how to use: titanium.

We’ve been riding a Tagati for more than a year, and we’re sold.

We’ve been riding a Tagati for more than a year, and we’re sold. It slots firmly into the adventure bike genre, accommodating fatter tyres than a normal gravel bike (29×2.3” mountain-bike tyres fit fine); and the geometry is designed for poise on rough roads, as well as for all-day comfort.

Of course, South Africa doesn’t have super-smooth gravel roads like they do in Switzerland and Tuscany; we have rocks, ruts and corrugations. And yet, even with the big tyres, the Tagati doesn’t feel sluggish. Our test-bike build weighed 10.3kg with alloy wheels, pedals, bottle cages and sealant – surprisingly light for a bike this tough.

There are so many details that scream, “Ride me somewhere stupid!” There are mounts for three bottle cages on the frame, and the carbon fork can take a kilogram on each side without worrying the warranty. That’s enough water to get you to a lot of stupid places…

There are also mounts for racks, bags and more, and a never-creak threaded bottom bracket. There’s very little you would want to change to make this the ultimate exploration bike – and one that will last for life.



The Curve Big Kev Gravel Bike

This is the bike that Kevin Benkenstein rides. There – end of review.

What? You don’t know who Benky is? Okay, fine; we’ll elaborate. He’s South Africa’s most decorated ultra-endurance cyclist, who’s won everything from the Munga to the Rhino Run (a self-supported, 2 700km race from Plett to Windhoek). He’s ridden the Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco, and he’s competed in gruelling gravel races in the US. So, when Benky has a hand in designing the ultimate long-distance landscape-eater – the bike that he uses himself – you know it means business.

It’s not the biggest, baddest bike in the Curve line-up. That would be the GMX+, which has clearance for 29×3” tyres and is popular with bikepackers who take on extreme trails fully loaded. No, the Big Kev is an evolution of the original Kev, which was meant to be an all-rounder: fast on the flats, and more than capable in the rough.

The geometry is optimised for 29×2.1” tyres, which strike the right balance between rolling resistance and comfort. But you can squeeze slightly wider tyres into the frame, or you can downsize if you don’t need all the extra squish. A custom yoke with asymmetrical chain stays and dropouts (pictured below) allows for the wide tyre clearance while retaining a road Q-factor – the width of your pedal stance, in other words. This also adds to the speedy feel of the bike.


How do you choose between the ACME, the Sling and the Curve? It comes down to tiny details. Educate yourself about geometry and study the numbers in your chosen size. But also listen to your heart; because buying a ‘life bike’ like this is an emotional decision, and it should make you feel something every time you see it parked in the garage.

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