Australian consumer-direct brand Grove has built a gravel rocket that knows how to party
Words and Images: James Raison
Grove Bike Co is a Sydney-based consumer direct bike brand riding three concurrent industry trends: the explosion in gravel biking, the resurgence of aluminium and its maturation as a frame material, and consumer-direct sales. Add in designer/owner Dave Musgrove’s long experience in bike design, strong commitment to “fun-first” principles, and something special emerges. I’ve been putting the entry-level Grove R.A.D (Road and Dirt) Apex through its paces and have only stopped smiling when I had to get off it.
ABOUT GROVE AND GETTING R.A.D
Grove is the brainchild of former Cell Bikes designer Dave Musgrove. Many will be familiar with Dave’s work via the Cell Brunswick, a CX bike that was a gateway into the drop-bar dirt discipline. It was absurdly good value overall, and look closely and you’ll spot the early DNA of the Grove R.A.D in it.
Nowadays Grove offers one frame with numerous build options split into groupset builds: SRAM Force and SRAM Apex. That frame is a high quality 6069-T6 aluminium construction mated to a full carbon fork. For the alloy fans, 6069-T6 is the same aluminium used for the Cannondale CAAD12 and 13. It’s loaded with internal cabling, a tapered head tube, Pressfit BB86, 142x12mm thru axle and 140/160mm flat mount disc dropouts. Grove snuck a third bottle mount under the down tube. It cuts an anomalous figure in the 2019 gravel market with almost square geometry, tall seat stays, long stem, and a short head tube.
Buyers first choose their build; the entry level R.A.D Apex or the top-tiered R.A.D Force Force LTD. For the R.A.D Apex, the next choice is your wheel and tyre combo:
Road: 700c with Panaracer Gravelking 32mm
Gravel: 700c with Panaracer Gravelking SK 35mm
Cyclocross: 700c with Panaracer Gravelking Mud 33mm - the CX build departs from the rest with an 11-36t cassette rather than 11-42 for the rest
Road Plus: 650B with Panaracer Gravelking 48mm
Gravel PlusL 650B with Panaracer Gravelking SK 48mm
I went with the full-banger gravel build:
SRAM Apex drivetrain with 40t chainring and Sunrace RX8 11-42t cassette
AlexRims Boondocks 3 wheels
Handlebars: Ritchey ErgoMax Comp, Drop: 128mm, Reach: 73mm, Flare: 12°, Sweep: 4°
Stem: Ritchey Comp 4-Axis 84D - 110mm with Large frame
Seatpost: Ritchey Comp Alloy 2-Bolt 27.2mm, Length: 350mm, Offset: 25mm
Saddle: Fabric Scoop Elite Shallow, Cro-Mo Rail, 142mm
Thru axles: SRAM Maxle Stealth
BUILD IT YOURSELF
Consumer-direct means you’re busting out the hex keys yourself or spending a bit of extra cash for a shop to do it for you. Grove has made construction easy with plenty of pre-building before the bike goes into the bbox. Whip the bike out of the cardboard, and you’ll find the rear wheel is already in, the rear derailleur comes indexed, and all that’s really left is to drop in the post and front wheel then attach the handlebars. There’s a supplied 5Nm torque wrench and set of hex key heads to drop into it. There’s assembly paste for the seatpost, so all I used from my own toolkit was some grease on each bolt before I torqued them up. Otherwise, everything you need is in the box, the manual is very thorough, and you don’t need much bicycle literacy to put it all together.
Grove deserve extra kudos for conscientious packaging. The bike is packed with re-usable velcro and foam padding, quite minimal cardboard, and little else. It’s genuinely impressive how little ended up in the garbage.
I would still recommend buyers get an early service from a bike shop once their build is finished. I dropped this one in after its first ride for a quick once-over to check how complete the bike is when shipped. The answer is very. A small tweak to the derailleur hanger, a minor straightening of the front wheel, and a general tightening was done to make sure it would all run smoothly. I can’t say for sure whether the derailleur and wheel arrived needing a tweak because my first ride was quite vigorous so I’m willing to take responsibility for that.
GEOMETRY AND PHILOSOPHY
The Grove R.A.D stands as a counter-balance to the tall and slack breed of gravel and adventure frames. The R.A.D is at the aggressive end of gravel bike design, and its numbers make plenty of endurance road bikes look slack and upright. There’s a longer reach and lower stack than just about every equivalent gravel bike I found. It has a short tail with tight 420 mm chainstays and a short-ish wheelbase overall.
All the numbers add up to a razor-sharp gravel bike that’s CX-race capable. Line the geometry chart against a Cannondale SuperX (which I always love doing on www.geometrygeeks.bike) and you’ll see just how close it is to a full CX-race design with some adjustments to make it more of an all-round road and gravel rig.
A consumer direct model has let Grove squeeze some gems into the spec sheet. It’s one of the “deeper” specs I’ve seen with meticulous attention to detail.
I particularly enjoyed the contact points. Ritchey’s ErgoMax comp handlebars are a pleasure to ride with. Their curved and raised tops, shallow drop, and wide flare are both comfortable and confidence-inspiring because of how much control they give. Fabric’s Scoop saddle is an excellent all-rounder that stayed comfortable, even across long days in the saddle and bumpy terrain.
The Ritchey Comp Alloy is a small weak point of the build. It’s appropriate for the price band of the bike, but I’d likely swap it out for a carbon post. The tall standover height of the frame limits how much post is exposed, thus limits how much the post can flex. A carbon post would allow for more flex and dampen the vibration a bit more.
I spent most of my time on AlexRims Boondocks 3 Tubeless and Panaracer Gravelking SK 35 mm, but switched to some Hunt Gravel Carbon V2s with 650b 48mm Gravelking SKs. I’ll focus more on the AlexRims because the Hunts are only available on the Force build as the Carbon Gravel Plus option. The clever chainstay design allows the Grove to handle tyres up to 700x43 or 27.5x2.1”.
THe AlexRims, they do plenty of things buyers need from gravel hoops. They have a good depth at 30 mm, nice width at 21 mm internal, sealed bearings, 24 double-butted and cross-laced stainless steel J-bend spokes, and an acceptable 1700 g manufacturer claimed weight. Freehub engagement isn’t very quick with the plenty of clanging into the pawls but that’s common in lower end wheelsets. There’s nothing sexy or impressive about them, just a pricepoint appropriate wheelset.
What I appreciated about the wheels was how easy they were to setup tubeless. Grove pre-tapes the rims and includes quality square-based valves. I mounted the tyres without levers, seated them first time with my Bontrager Flash Charger, and they have held air consistently through the months I’ve been testing them.
I’ll talk more about the Panaracer Gravelking SKs below in the Ride section but I’ll laud their choice here. They’re a true all-rounder gravel tyre with good enough speed on tarmac, good grip on most terrain, and enough sidewall flex to run at low pressure. They have you covered for most surfaces up to sloppy mud that quickly overwhelms the tread pattern, and when banging over thick gravel at speed when the condensed treat can’t find purchase. I’ve ridden faster and grippier gravel tyres but the Gravelking SKs manage to be enough of each for most people and most purposes.
700c & 650B
I plan to write a full article on how wheel and tyre size affects the ride so I’ll be brief here.
Choosing between 650b and 700c is a simple matter of deciding how gnarly you’re planning to get. The 700c mated to 35 mm tyres is a damn solid grave grinding layout. It’ll trundle happily across the vast majority of gravel roads with enough grip and comfort. That said, I’d personally choose the 650b option. I’m a proponent of buying bikes with wide operational margins. You may only need 700x35mm tyres today, but having the bigger tyres and volume gives you more options and could encourage you to push the bike to places you’d otherwise avoid.
On the 650b wheels I felt more comfortable ploughing through mud, sand, and chucking the bike around single track. The 700x35s were simply less comfortable in equivalent situations with less grip and less air volume to dampen bumps. A 650b with 48s will be heavier than the equivalent 700x35 because the tyre weight out-strips the savings in the smaller rim, but I think it’s worth it. There’s likely some rolling resistance penalties on smooth tarmac but I feel that worrying about that is philosophically contrary to gravel biking in the first place.
The 1x SRAM drivetrain gives you a wide range of gears, reliable shifting, and hydraulic braking power. It’s a workhorse that’s become common among gravel and CX bikes. I like the braking power, ergonomics, and the simplicity of single-paddle shifting. Its clutch system kept the chain from bouncing, and prevented drops.
I found the brakes temperamental, developing a true symphony of noises and occasional pulsing, even after a mechanic confirmed the rotors were straight. The calipers are prone to getting loaded with gunk at the first hint of moisture too which lead to some horrible noises on damp days.
The Sunrace cassette shifted quickly and cleanly most of the time but there were occasions when it tardily lingered between cogs. It wasn’t a big deal but I occasionally wondered if SRAM cassette would be getting the job done faster. It is a smart spec choice though, shaving the weight down over the SRAM equivalent (by a full 120g) while only being slightly more expensive and fitting standard freehub bodies. Extra kudos for how good the thing looks. Multiple people commented on the striking black cogs and red spacers.
Grove has named this frame ambitiously; Road and Dirt making promises of all-terrain capability. It delivers too.
The bike unsurprisingly shines along gravel roads where it has the liveliness of a road bike but with the added grip of gravel tyres. It feels poised but always ready for a quick direction change or hop over ruts and potholes. I always felt in control with the raised top bars perfect for long, and relaxed stretches of compacted gravel riding. The drops are shallow easily reached with the flare giving a wide grip and boatloads of control.
There’s no shortage of speed on tarmac either. That’s largely thanks to the Panaracer Gravelking SKs that roll impressively fast. I’d rank them below the blisteringly quick Schwalbe G-Ones but not by much. It’s also an exciting handler on sealed roads, and a proper hoot throwing it around on a descent. Having that dynamic ability makes mixed terrain riding fun. Also, commuting on a gravel bike with 650b wheels and 48mm tyres is hilarious. Every obstacle becomes a challenge and every roundabout is an excuse to send it.
It was a capable trail riding rig, for an aggressive drop-bar bike, and I regularly flogged it through the local Cleland Trail network. I did find the outer limits of the bike and spec on some trails. The 650bx48 spec lures you into speed and confidence with that large tyre volume and contact patch. The Gravelkings do have their grip limits though and I nearly took a few trips into the undergrowth as I wrestled the bike under control with a foot unclipped and dangling. There’s a point where there’s too much gravel for the tyres to grip at speed and you end up skating over the top. In these moments you’re reminded to respect the sharp steering and short rear-end of the bike as it’s easy to get unintentional slides going. These aren’t criticisms as such, just a reminder of where the comfortable edge of the usable range are.
Ride comfort was a pleasant surprise. On paper it might look like a rough frame with its large aluminium tubes but I found to be comfortable up until a few hours of saddle. One particular ride with 10 hours of saddle time, taking in every terrain from tarmac to single track, found me fatigued but didn’t leave me a shattered mess.
The 6069-T6 aluminium’s inherent stiffness allows the tube walls to be made thinner. Grove has designed the tube profiles to target stiffness and compliance too; the top tube for examples flattens towards the seatpost allowing it to sway slightly under pedal load. It’s the same feeling as a compliant road bike. There are limits to the comfort. It’s comfortable aluminium but there’s certainly more comfortable steel, titanium, and carbon fibre rigs out there. Don’t count it out though because of its aluminium heart.
Handling is the killer feature of the Grove R.A.D. It’s sharp, agile, and responsive on all terrains. There’s only a few millimeters separating the Grove R.A.D and the full-bore CX race rocket Cannondale CAADX for example. The Grove is a little more relaxed in a few key geometry areas, but it’s close between the two.
I like the Grove a lot but It’s my job to find problems, so here we go.
I want fork cage mounts on all of my off-road bikes. That opens them up to be more suitable bikepacking and adventure rigs. The Grove doesn’t have them and that’s a small bummer. I’d also like to see a 2x drivetrain option. I know that 1x has become gravel à la mode, but I expect to see a pushback with more double drivetrain options because of Shimano GRX. Even Shimano R7020 is getting uptake on gravel rigs.
The ride quality is good, but most of the damping will still be done by the tyres. The fork is stiff and the bars and stem don’t have much budge in them. It’s the same at the back, with the sideways sway unable to save you’re backside from all bumps and vertical movement. One of the reasons I preferred the 650bx48mm setup was because of how much comfort it added. A carbon post and bars will improve comfort but those are pricey acoutrements for a bike of this price.
Overall value is good for the sum total of the Grove, but not amazing for a consumer direct model. The Grove R.A.D Gravel build comes in at $2,899. By comparison with big-brand aluminium bikes a Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 costs $2,699, and a Cannondale Topstone 105 is $2,999. Buyers need to be willing to build their Grove rather than grabbing one pre-built from a shop floor for similar money. Dave Musgrove has done remarkably well to get so much quality kit onto this frame for the price, but it’s still impossible to match the likes of Canyon without a similar production and sales scale.
Grove’s entry level RAD is fantastic realisation of its purpose. It’s a riot to ride on everything from sealed roads, to gravel, and along the trails. The spec is also one of the most complete I’ve seen. Every part is well-chosen.
You have to walk past plenty of big-brand alternatives with the aluminium gravel bike market segment getting ever-fuller. With Grove you’re getting a talented designer’s vision of what a rowdy road and gravel capable bike should be. It’s imperfections are easily forgetting when you’re riding the R.A.D. It paints a dopey grin on your face and keeps it there.
Buy: head on over to the Grove website to learn more or buy a R.A.D
Disclosure statement: This bike was sent for review by Grove.