As one of cycling's newest disciplines, gravel riding is constantly evolving. This presents manufacturers with the challenge of setting up gravel bikes with the right combination of groupset, bar, wheels and tyres.
Do we fit a 1x or 2x drivetrain? Should straight or flaired or straight bars be the norm? What's the optimum wheel depth and internal rim width? What's the best saddle shape and padding level?
Handsling customers are in the great position of being able to custom spec their bikes however they wish. But we still put forward our ideas on ideal set up.
When putting together a package to grind some gravel, we factored in that we're not blessed with the seemingly endless trails of some countries. Gravelling on these shores often features gravel sections linked by roads, with short sharp climbs and the occasional sketchy descent.
Our top choice is a Handsling CEXevo Shimano 105 Di2 12-speed, which comes in at £4,299.99.
Below is the full spec and our reasoning behind each choice.
Frame: CEXevo full carbon frame
Why? Manufactured using Toray T800 carbon, the CEXevo frame is lightweight and durable. It's stiff for flat out race efforts, yet climbs with ease. On the scales, it weighs in at 820g for a 52cm frame and 350g for the front fork. A long wheelbase and flexible seat stays provides a stable and comfortable ride for serious distances off the beaten track. Frame clearance for up to 45mm tyres (in some brands) allows plenty of room for grime-caked chunky rubber. Learn more about the frame here.
Groupset: Shimano 105 Di2 12-speed
Why? We thought long and hard about recommending a 1x or 2x drivetrain. We choose 2x for the fact that UK gravel riding is such a mix of trails and road that the top end gear ratios of 2x won over. It also provides some extra grunt when gravel racing at speed. The ever-reliable 105 Di2 features 50/34t chainrings and an 11-34t cassette. The availability of a 1:1 gear ratio is ideal for those steep sections on loose terrain. Throw in Shimano's tried and tested hydraulic disc brakes and electronic shifting and you have a high-end package at great value. For a component upgrade, we offer the Ultegra Di2-equipped CEXevo for £5,099.99.
Wheels: Handsling TLR Alloy G
Why? A good gravel wheel must be durable, easy to maintain, stiff and optimised around a wide gravel tyres. Our brand new tubeless-ready gravel wheels tick all the boxes. They are 32mm deep and have a spacious 25mm internal rim width. The 24 Sapim CX-Ray spokes are built around a Bitex BX106 hub, which is incredibly easy to access and maintain. They are cheaper than carbon wheels, helping to limit the overall build price, yet are still responsive, stable and lightweight.
Bar and stem: Deda Zero 2
These no nonsense alloy bars are tough and provide a comfortable grip. While we've opted for straight bars due to their suitability for road and trail, Handsling customers have the option of fitting gravel-specific flaired bars.
Saddle: Selle Italia Novus Boost Evo X-Cross TM Superflow
We're big fans of short nose saddles (24.5mm length) that put you in the right position and keep you there. The extra padding on this seat helps to soak up vibrations and the cut out reduces pressure on the perineum. Inserts on the edges make this one of the most durable saddles on the market.
So there we have it - our gravel-grinding speed machine for epic days on the trails. The UK is blessed with awesome sections of gravel, plus events like Dirty Reiver and the UK National Gravel Championships provide riders with an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess. The CEXevo Shimano 105 Di2 is a great option for taking on a mixture of hard and loose surfaces with race-proven pedigree when you're pinning on a number. It will take you to the end of the beaten track, and beyond.
Watch a video of the bike here