FYI: This is a completely unbiased review, Fustle Bikes did not pay for this but they were kind enough to let me ride this bike for over a week and paid the postage to get it delivered to me.
Back in the winter of 2020 just before the world fell over due to Covid 19 I did a brief interview Alistair Beckett from Fustle bikes about the launch of his new bike BIKE LAUNCH and i was very excited when it was suggested I could borrow one of the bikes for review. Fast forward 5 months and due to viruses, lockdowns and new normal work life it has taken until now to throw a leg over this bike.
The bike has been sent to a few bike journalists and as such the paint isn’t in show room condition but this is better for me because I didn’t have to be precious about it and could treat it like I would my own bike.
THE FRAME & FORK
The heart of every bike is it’s frame. The bits you attach to it, the saddle, bars, gears and wheels etc are important but really are consumables in the long run. The frame usually sees lots of component upgrades or changes over it’s life but the way it handles and to a certain point looks is the most important part.
Coming from an MTB back round I love the aesthetics of a sloping top tube frame and from the first time Giant introduced their compact geometry road bikes I always wanted a compact frame over a traditional more horizontal top tube one. The GR1 frame is very compact, you could easily mistake it for a Cross Country MTB. The shape of the frame also gives a very small rear triangle. Looking at it and knowing that this is made from aluminium you would expect the ride to be very harsh and direct. However this must have been thought of during the design process because over washboard trails and brick strewn tracks I didn’t feel like I was getting battered. this doesn’t mean it has a rear end like a wet noodle though, dance on the pedals and you get the impression all your effort is moving the bike forward while maintaining traction.
One of the comments I’ve had via the UKgravelCO social media channels are that the compact frame doesn’t give a big enough space to run a frame bag and bottles for mini adventures, bike packing or touring but as you can see a medium full length bag and two bottle fit easily.
The head tube is tapered, there is internal cabling throughout for gears and brakes and also includes stealth routing for a dropper post (more on this later). The bottom bracket is press fit and despite the bad press these get I found now noise or play with it throughout the test which took it through dusty trails and up to the bottom bracket puddles. The paint seems hard wearing despite the best efforts of careless industry journos and though I’m not usually a fan of blue I could certainly live with the colour and the graphics. There are rack mounts, three sets of bottle cage mounts, a boss for a removable rear stay bridge to fit full mudguards and bosses to fit “bento box” style top tube bag. the frame has a 142mm x 12mm bolt through axle and is flat mount disc brake compatible.
The fork is full carbon with 3 mounts per side for mounting guards, “anything” cages or more bottles. It has a 100mm x 12 bolt through axle.
the frame and fork will take 700×50 or 650×2.2 tyres if you are not running mudguards.
The bike can be specified with various levels of Shimano’s GRX components and there are plenty of reviews of this groupset already so I won’t go into details but suffice to say I think this is currently the best cable operated gear and hydraulic brake groupset for gravel riding on the market today. the bike came with a 1 x set up of 42T chainring and 11-42 cassette. you can spec a 2 x groupset on the build page of the Fustle website and the frame is full compatible with two chain rings at the front. The wheel set was a DT GR1600 and they look fab and were light! The bar and stem are from the Pro Discover range on this bike but you can choose from lots of different bars when you order so it’d be unfair to go into too much detail here. they were comfy with a decent amount of flare at the drops. The saddle was a WTB volt, which despite me having trouble with saddles apart from a Charge “Spoon” i found comfortable even after riding 100k on it. It was quite grippy though and moving about on it off road resulted in me adjusting my baggies as the saddle gripped them enough to start pulling my shorts down! at least of a wet muddy ride you’ll not lose contact with the saddle.
DROPPER POST ON A GRAVEL BIKE?
Short answer? _ yes please! long answer- I’ve used a dropper post on MTBs from the early days when you could only get a “gravity dropper” and now wouldn’t be without one for technical riding but I’ve never had one fitted to my gravel bike, on occasion though I’ve wished for one to magically appear between my legs! The post is operated very neatly by using the redundant left hand lever (run 2 x and you’ll need a bar mounted dropper lever) and a slight push inwards releases the post to allow you to push it down with your back side, then another flick of the lever to raise it back up automatically. I found i only needed to move with around 50mm downward, even though it has 120mm of travel to gain a mass of confidence, a lower centre of gravity and a control level up there with an MTB. the only draw back I found was accidentally pushing the lever in when braking down hill and raising the post! It didn’t take long to remember not to do this though and wasn’t a problem after the first few descents.
The biggest benefit was on long washed out rutted bridleway down hills where with the saddle out of the way I could throw the bike around in and out of the ruts and over the loose stones using the old fashioned “suspension legs” without fear of my shorts hooking up with the saddle. The sloping top tube and the added crotch clearance also helps.
on the road – another comment I got from the UKgravelCO facebook page was “i bet with that head angle it’s boring on the road” so I was interested to see how it did handle, after all it does have a 69 degree head angle and a long top tube (geometry here), which is more MTB numbers than road lets be honest. on a 100k ride of which 70% was on tarmac and the rest off road i found that the combination of long top tube and short stem (for a road bike) combined with the head angle surprisingly kept the steering lively without being skittish. Not at all the ponderous slow turning ride I feared. It isn’t lightening fast but it isn’t boring and if you want a crit bike then this isn’t the bike for you, if you want something that’ll eat up the miles but let you carve some hairpins on this may well be it. The bonus of the GR1 for me was that it is so much lighter than my steel framed bike. Over a long distance the heavier bike takes it’s toll pedaling up hills and although the GR1 is undoubtedly stiffer than a steel bike the fact that i wasn’t hauling that weight around more than made up for it.
The riding around UKgravelCO HQ isn’t the lake district or particularly hilly, it’s rolling and most bridleways and tracks are only accessible using tarmac roads, what you’d say a gravel bike was made for but there is also a network of natural trails that we also ride gravel bikes on, not enduro MTB level but fun for us mere mortals and we chuck ourselves down these with giggles and seat of the pants (for a rigid forked, non dropper bike) riding. The GR1 laps up this type of riding.
this is one of the trails I took this bike on and many more like it during the test period. Slipping off the road, across the dusty surfaced car park, through the trees into “hidden trail” now over grown and living up to it’s name the entrance is a nettle and bramble barrier. Once through and into the trees the forest carpet of old pine needles and leaf litter crackles under the tyres. Duck down under the low hanging bow and plunge into “Bono” so named because it’s “close to the edge” (of the road). Follow the winding descent over large exposed roots, attempt a scandi-flick to get around the tight left hander. quick check for traffic and then shoot across the road and down the series of uneven poorly spaced wooden steps on the other side and then let the brakes off gathering speed quickly downhill into “the Tankslapper”. safe at this time of year but in anything but summer it ends in an unavoidable patch of mud that you need to engage all your skills to stay upright in as you reach maximum velocity. if you survive that the rest of the bridleway is a fast, loose stone, rutted test of nerve as you seek to carry speed and choose the best line possible. finally the track ends at a steep tarmac road which is taken in full aero tuck because at the bottom is the farm cafe and last one there buys the cake!
I’ve never felt as confident on a gravel bike, the dropper post came into it’s own on this type of trail. The GR1 felt sure footed and never out of of it’s depth, the combination of long dropped top tube, short stem and a wider bar than I’m used to made riding on the drops an engaging experience.
the GR1 is fully capable of riding fully loaded the length of the country, it could do this with ease. you could bolt a rack on the back and commute to work on it, it’s manners in traffic would be impeccable. Hopping kerbs to avoid those close passes would be a breeze. long distance off road, sedate or fast off road or even just tarmac this bike would bring a smile to your face. But dip it’s front tyre into something challenging and it comes alive, carving turns, descents and technical trails. this bike would be a hoot at blue MTB trail centres and even some reds. Anything you can do on a XC mountain bike this bike would have a go at.
WHO IS THIS BIKE FOR?
If you come from an MTB back round this bike will feel instantly familiar to you. It won’t feel totally alien like riding a road bike straight after a riser bar bike would. you can throw it around and it’ll come back for more.
If you have only ever ridden a road bike so far you’ll love the way the GR1 has get up and go on tarmac but will look after you as you begin your off road bike journey, it’ll help you build confidence quickly.
it’s the perfect MTBers road bike and the perfect road riders off road bike
If there is any such thing as an all rounder the Fustle Causeway GR1 will happily sit at the top of the pile. Fun in the woods, engaging on the road. it’ll go as fast as you dare or it’ll be happy to just ponder along…… but like a young puppy it’ll keep looking at you waiting for you to throw the ball and let the fun begin.
for more details and pricing see the Fustle bikes website ridefustle.com
big thanks also to Sandy at the Trailhead