2020 saw the introduction of a carbon frame gravel bike called Gravelride at Rock Machine. There are two models in the lineup – the CBR 700 and 900 – both continuing the brand’s tradition of stretching the limits of bike riding. These gravel bikes are a bit different from conventional gravel bikes in the sense that they offer more extreme frame geometry, designed to be ridden on more challenging terrain than the norm these days, while remaining within the genre of gravel bikes. We were fortunate to be able to ride the preproduction version of the CBR 900 last summer, and as the new lineup has been unveiled, we can finally give you an account of our experience!
Rock Machine has always taken the unbeaten path when it comes to bike design. The brand always prioritized ride experience over pure performance, something the RM takes upon itself and often communicates in its marketing. But there is nothing to beat about the bush: one has only to look at the wide RM lineup to see a myriad of models aiming to maximize the “fun factor”. We see bikes with extreme wide rubber, slack frame angles and all kinds of wired colors that make Rock Machine bikes more personal and enjoyable to ride. So it was little surprise to see that the brand has foisted some RM-feeling into the new CRB gravel range. Apart from the vivid looks, their new gravel bikes are meant to be ridden where most would struggle, giving the cyclist more choice when it comes to choosing routes.
Our loyal readers may remember the review of the Rock Machine Gravelride 700 model back in 2018. The title of the article read: “The Ultimate Gravel Grinder”. It was the 650b wheel size model variant equipped with a dropper seat post and crazy-wide gravel handlebars, which simply screamed at the owner to be taken on a gnarly singletrack. In fact that very same aluminum frame is still available in the RM lineup, and it has a similar geometry to our present carbon test bike. Hence the CRB range is the logical perpetuation of the Gravelride series!
Is there any difference between the old Rock Machine Gravelride bikes and this new 2020 model apart from the frame material? For one, they are a world apart aesthetically. The older bike resembled a mountain bike, the CRB – if looked at from a distance – could be mistaken for an endurance road bike. There are three details that immediately caught my eye:
- the intersection of the top and seat tubes where the seat stays join is completely up-to-date design-wise, the seat stay are more the continuation of the top tube with no distinct coupling point,
- the fork is visually integrated into the down and head tube, making the CBR appear to be designed with aerodynamics in mind, definitely a pleasing sight, though cleaning this part of the frame may not be easiest of tasks,
- viewed from the front, the head tube shows a now stylish hourglass shape, the middle section being somewhat narrower, again more resembling aero road bike than a gravel steed.
While the design of the CRB 900 is generally road-like, it’s true character is unmistakably hard core gravel. Moreover it has been equipped with a myriad of attachment points for useful accessories, like racks and fenders. In fact it has plenty of tire clearance, so the fenders can be mounted over knobby ones, if the user chooses to. The frame geometry is laid back and handling is steady, composed. The frame is completely up-to-date: it has internally routed cables for both shifting and braking and thru-axles for both wheels. This frame should be future-proof, so it may be upgraded at a later point of time with an electronic group set, set up for a different ride function than what the present specs aim for. The test bike has 1×11 gearing, but there is a 2x option thanks to the front derailleur mount used also as a chain guide. The rider may even swop wheel size to a 650b as there is plenty of clearance for wide rubber.
I had a chance to test ride the Gravelride CRB 900 back in the summer of 2019, which means the equipment on the bike in this review is not the same as the production model now available in shops. As the pictures show, I rode it with SRAM Rival but it comes with Shimano’s new the gravel group set, the GRX. One can make an argument that the review is distorted by this substitution. I would argue that the difference in the two setups is not all that great and the character of the Rock Machine CRB 900 comes through loud and clear no matter what parts we “throw” on it. The ride experience doesn’t change all that much with the more modern Shimano offering, the Rival is plenty refined and the brakes provide a more than acceptable performance. I’d choose the GRX anytime over this setup, however I personally know plenty of riders who with Rock Machine stayed with the original concept.
As I went out riding aboard the Gravelride CRB 900, the first thing I noticed was the unusually wide handlebars, followed by the handling character. It’s nowhere as agile cyclocross bike, much more laid back, aimed first and foremost at providing outmost stability. This gravel bike would make an ideal trail touring bike for bike packing adventures, as it’s quite easy to maneuver on dirt roads fully loaded. The handlebar setup is an extension of this concept: the flared lower section make handling even more controlled on challenging terrain.
The Gravelride CRB 900 is a very comfortable bike to ride. The frame attenuates trail chatter and the wide WTB tires also offer some assistance in this regard. The test bike had the WTB Resolute tire in 42 mm width, but the 2020 production models come with the even wider Riddler model. I think the latter is a better choice regarding the true character of the bike, and the extra comfort and traction the 3 mm extra width provides will come in handy on rough terrain and when the bike has to carry touring gear. Moreover the Riddler has a smoother tread for added speed.
Stability is the key word when it comes to handling, however the Gravelride CRB 900 pairs this character with a sporty riding position. If you are used to riding a road bike, hopping on the Gravelride CRB won’t make you feel like you’re on an MTB trail bike. This, I believe, is one of the main selling points of this bike. A trail-worthy nature combined with road-like contact points is something you wouldn’t find in too many bikes presently on the market.
This conveniently leads us to the recommendation section of the review. Who is the Rock Machine Gravelride CRB 900 aimed at? First and foremost it’s a gravel bike that can cope with challenging terrain. You can take on trails ridden primarily by mountain bikers. The factory setup nicely complements this type of riding. It can also serve as an ideal bike packing rig, a style that’s becoming more and more popular these days. If the owner swaps handlebars and tires for some narrower variety, it’s a decent road training bike. The Gravelride CRB 900 is a complete all-rounder gravel offering seasoned with out-and-out Rock Machine feeling!
Recommended consumer price: HUF 999,000
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