Gravel is growing. From Unbound to the BWR series to Rasputitsa and everything in between, participation is up. That includes with Slowtwitchers – some of our most popular threads of the past six months are dedicated to riding the roads decidedly less paved.
And, well, as we all know, as participation goes so do the bike manufacturers. Nearly every brand has some type of gravel or all-road bike in its line-up at this point. None have gone deeper than American Bicycle Group, the company that owns the brands Quintana Roo, Obed, and Litespeed. Whereas Quintana Roo is focused on all things triathlon, and Litespeed is known for its industry leading titanium bikes, Obed is gravel and MTB made out of carbon.
Obeds latest model is the GVR. Launched over the winter, it’s the second full-on gravel bike in this brand's line-up, adding to the Boundary, the all-road Baseline, and the mountain bike Seclud. The GVR focuses on the racier side of gravel – it is lighter, more aerodynamic, and quicker handling compared to the Boundary. Prices start at $3,800 for a complete bike and range up to roughly $5,000 before wheel upgrades.
In the interest of testing the race-ability of the bike, as well as seeing how it held up as a “traditional” gravel bike, I’ve had a GVR for the last 2.5 months. I raced a New England classic gravel race in Rasputitsa, visited gravel group rides, and ridden various surfaces to put together a final few thoughts on the bike.
Choosing Your GVR
The first, and untrivial, aspect of GVR ownership is figuring out which one to get. Obed is fully direct-to-consumer, and their online configuration tool is quite good. The main criticism I have of the configurator is that you must choose which component spec you desire before launching the tool (they are considered different models). In order to do comparisons, you’re going to have multiple browser tabs open.
Due to availability during my configuration window in mid-March, I selected the Campagnolo Ekar 1 x 13 build in size large. The only major option I made during configuration was the tire I wanted to run, specifically for Rasputitsa – Maxxis Rambler 700 x 43c. Everything else was stock, from the Spinergy GX wheelset to the FSA A-Wing handlebar. You are given the option to select your own component sizes, or run with the default configurator; it’s easy to plug and play for, say, a different handlebar width or crank-length. Retail for this build runs $4,945 for the bike, and then it’s a question of whether you get the bike delivered in a box or via Kitzuma’s white-glove service.
For my own purchasing purposes, I probably would opt to have the bike delivered in a box. Having built up bikes from ABG’s brands that come “ride ready,” when you receive a bike from them it is literally a 10 minute exercise to go from bike in a box to ready to ride. If you have less mechanical skills or time on your hands, though, Kitzuma can just hand you a bike. You hike your leg over the top tube and go. As of this writing, Kitzuma is scheduled to pick up the GVR and bring it back to ABG HQ in a few days time. Pretty painless for review purposes.
My size large GVR, as mentioned, was completely stock, minus a swap down a size on bar width (although I have relatively wide shoulders, I am far more comfortable on a narrower handlebar than one might consider “normal”). That meant 175mm crank arms, a 40 tooth chainring with a 10-42 cassette, and hydraulic brakes. I’m the odd-ball of the Slowtwitch family when it comes to pedal choice, opting for Crank Brothers Candy 7s.
I also fit it with two plastic water bottle cages, my traditional flat kit of a single tube, two levers, and a CO2 cartridge. Total dry weight came in at 19.5 pounds, which feels right on point given the quoted weight of 17.95 pounds for an Ekar equipped size medium with the same wheelset.
One of the primary claims in advertising for the GVR is aerodynamics. Let’s get this out of the way: there’s no white paper. I’m also decidedly not a person qualified to put aero claims to the test, nor do I live in an area where Chung testing is particularly feasible. When talking with Brad Devaney, the lead designer of the GVR, though, it is clear that giving customers an aero options was top of mind. All the aero clues are there: hidden internal cable routing, shrouding water bottles, frame tube shapes, the ability to add aerobars when necessary, and component spec choices. The difference is obvious when you compare these shapes and choices against, say, the Obed Boundary – a bike that is built for a longer and potentially more rugged adventure.
Geometrically, the bike doesn't fit tall or short, it plays it right down the middle, nearly mimicking the fit from the Boundary. The biggest change comes in seat-tube angles, which are as much as a degree steeper, and in BB drop (3 to 4mm higher). Overall wheelbase is also slightly shorter. The end result, in theory, is a bike that is faster handling than the Boundary without verging into the nervous, twitchy energy that can come from “racier” bikes taken to non-pristine paved surfaces.
Living with the GVR
I received my GVR about two weeks before Rasputitsa, giving me some time to get to know the bike before the race and then living with it for a variety of miles since. On my initial few rides, two key impressions were left in my mind. One, I love Campagnolo brifters, and two I hate this rear brake, but that latter one, as it turned out, was temporary pain. The front-end of the bike simply fits me like a glove. From the FSA A-Wing bar shape featuring plenty of flare, to the intuitive Campagnolo shifting mechanism, it’s a set-up that I will try and mimic on any drop-bar bike I own. As for the rear brake, as it turns out, it was a two-fold issue: the rear rotor was out of true, and Ekar’s tolerances are very tight. After a few hours of cursing at home followed by a trip to my local bike shop (shout out to West Hill Shop in Putney, VT), we got it figured out and it has over a thousand trouble-free miles on it.
This was the single mechanical malady of the GVR’s three month stay at Slowtwitch’s Tundra Division. I’d otherwise clean the frame up after some of the nastier weather I threw its way, add some of my preferred drivetrain cleaner / lubrication (Rock n Roll Gold, the lazy man’s cure) and get more miles under my belt. The bike had the full New England experience: from snow and frozen mud to pouring rain and water over the road to 95 plus degree heat and everything in between. There were no squeaks, rattles, or even disc brake squeals. The GVR performed flawlessly.
It’s a bike that’s also quite adept at almost anything. It’s a more than capable climber – the primary limiter was the guy riding the bike, as opposed to the bike itself. But even with the steepest climbs I could find, the GVR remained responsive and eager to move forward without flexing under load. It also always had more than enough gear. I was skeptical that a 1x set-up would work here. I was wrong. The 40 x 42 gear ratio turned over with ease on climbs approaching 20% grade and I almost always felt like I could have knocked it down one easier if I had to.
When the road turns back downhill, the GVR is a confident descending partner. The overall geometry of the bike does, in fact, give a ride that is nimble without being overly quick. Even at speeds approaching 55 miles per hour on gravel roads, the GVR sailed downhill with ease, never wavering off the line I’d chosen for it. It’s a bike that inspires you to push downhill, even with corners, and it’s a bike that does not ever feel like it was at its limit.
Part of that also goes to the wheel and tire combination. Although some would argue that anything above 40c should then require a move to the 650B standard, I felt like the 700x43c Maxxis Ramblers were a great all-conditions gravel tire. It handled mud, frozen ruts, loose sand, pavement, and more. Because our publisher asked, I checked -- this bike can accept tires up to 53mm wide in a 650b wheelsize, which is what Dan Empfield rides on his bikes (an OPEN WI.DE for standard gravel and an Obed Boundary for bikepacking).
The big thing was choosing the right tire pressure for the conditions at hand. Some days I ran in the mid-50s, and others to the upper 20s, all depending on what I could expect for surfaces. I did not have to test whether the sealant worked, but I never had an issue with the tire pressure ranges. Those tire pressures, combined with the overall bike system, led to a bike that was comfortable for hours on end and could tackle any challenge I threw its way.
It’s a compelling bike. I came very close to buying this particular bike at the end of the review period, with the only thing holding back the purchase being that it would be the only Campagnolo bike in the household. If I were willing to have bikes on different standards, I’d own this bike today. But as it stands, I’m pretty sure I’ll wind up with a GVR with either SRAM or Shimano 1x, with an outstanding chance that due to its versatility it’ll replace multiple bikes.