After what’s soon to be two years of no racing, I’ve found my riding habits have changed a lot. Right before COVID-19 hit, I was in Rwanda for a bikepacking race. For that ride, and for the remainder of the pandemic, I chose a Moots Routt 45. The Moots was a great choice for my trip. It handled the worst that the baggage handlers could throw at it on an unscheduled overnight stay in Schipol while I anxiously waited for it in Kigali, and it then stood up to over 1,000km of Rwandan dirt roads, rain, mud, and my chronic overpacking with ease. But, after two years, Moots wanted the bike back, and I was ready for a change.
I’m 6’3”, and it’s surprisingly hard to find gravel bikes that work with my preference for a relatively stretched-out position. Lots of brands make gravel bikes up to 58 or 60cm, and then stop. Often, their largest bikes don’t really have any more reach than the next size down either, which leaves me running a 140 stem and longer-reach bars to feel comfortable. This is especially true with GRX Di2, which is amazing in terms of shifting and braking but has a very short reach.
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The Way I Ride
Having reviewed lots of gravel bikes in the past few years, I knew what I didn’t want. I don’t really feel the need to have suspension on a gravel bike. If things are rowdy enough for me to need a suspension fork, I reach for my Cannondale F-Si, it’s lighter and far more capable off-road than any drop-bar gravel bike I have ridden. I also didn’t want anything with super-slack geometry. Again, riding trails is super fun but making gravel bikes into heavy short-travel trail bikes really isn’t for me. I find very slack gravel bikes to be hilariously sloppy when I try to make them fit in a comfortable position.
I want to be able to hop on a gravel bike on Saturday morning, not have a plan, and link together singletrack, pavement, dirt roads, and a bakery for a few hours.
Let's just say that James rides his bike a lot.
San Diego doesn’t have much truly great mountain biking, at least not that you can ride to from the city. We do have a lot of singletrack, but much of it is far more fun on 40mm tires and drop bars. I also really hate driving to ride, it’s expensive, and bad for the planet and it adds stress to a thing that I do primarily to relax. I ride gravel specifically to avoid bad drivers who make road riding worse every year. So, I wanted a bike that I could cover the 30-45 minutes of road riding at either end of my rides on quickly.
Also, I like to disappear into the mountains for overnight trips. It was important to me to get a bike that didn’t have wacky tube shapes that make attaching bags hard, or proprietary parts that won’t accept my seatpost and handlebar bags. I’m also not a “hidden seatpost wedge” person. Sure, they give you more post to flex, but they are also prone to slipping and hard to replace. When I’m bikepacking, I like to have a spare seat collar, and you can’t do that with a wedge.
I also didn’t want another boring black bike.
After spending too long on geometrygeeks.com, I found the Cervelo Aspero. It has the right stack and reach, geometry that suits the way I ride, and no proprietary parts. The sweet paint job didn’t hurt either.
A close friend of James's had a business that made this bar tape. Sadly, his friend passed away, but his widow gave James the last remaining rolls of bar tape, and he says he'll keep rewrapping it on its bars until it can't be rewrapped any longer.
Cervelo Aspero geometry
I’m intrigued by the adjustable geometry, but if I am honest, I haven’t messed with it much yet. What I really needed was a bike with enough reach. On the road, I can get away with a 58cm frame and a 140 stem. But many gravel bikes don’t offer enough reach for even that to work. Cannondale’s new Super Six SE, for instance, appealed to me until I looked at the geo chart and realized they didn’t make one in my size. With the Aspero in 61cm, I can get enough reach for my long limbs, and get away with a 120 or 130mm stem. The Aspero also has a more road focused geometry, which helps to liven up the steering when using a long stem.
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Bikepacking with the Cervelo Aspero
While Cervelo is pretty clear that the Aspero is not designed as a bikepacking bike, it does the job just fine. The top tube bag mount allows me to run a snack bag without using straps that tend to rub my knees. The 61cm frame has plenty of internal space for a frame bag, and three bolts on the down tube that I can use for an Anything Cage, a custom frame bag, or a water bottle cage with added storage for tools. Sure, there aren’t rivnuts on the side of the fork for more water storage, but I’ve ripped the rivnuts out of enough forks when carrying water through the deserts of California and Baja California to not really trust those in the first place.
James opted to replace the cable-actuated Shimano GRX components with GRX Di2. The DIY chain stay wrap is to protect the frame from his tendency to rub his heels while pedaling (as you can see above on the crank arm).
What I changed
The only disappointment so far is that the down tube bash guard is glued on, making it removable would make running internal cables much easier. Out of the box, I swapped the mechanical GRX group for a Di2 one I had, and threw on Pro Discover bars and a longer stem. I also found a carbon Zipp post in the shed, and my preferred Geobiomized saddle to go on top of it. I’ll probably switch in my HUNT gravel wheels soon and I have already ordered tires that are not heavy, slow, and slippery, the 33mm Panaracer Gravel Kings that the bike came with might be the worst of all possible worlds.
Once I rebuilt the bike, I took it to the local shop to have the Di2 updated. Everyone said my bike looked cool, and the barista who served me a tiny coffee on my first ride commented favorably on the paint job. Until I get a chance to get out into the mountains for a bikepacking trip, that’s all I can ask for from a bike!