While we’ve been dabbling in a bit of gravel riding for a while here at Flow, the Slate is the first gravel bike we’ve had a chance to review. It’s new ground for us, so why not get things started with a bike that’s breaking some new ground of its own?
What is it?
The Slate is truly unique in this category. Built around a gorgeous alloy frame, it eschews the usual 700c wheel size, running 650b rims instead, but with massively fat 42mm slick tyres which give roughly the same diameter as a 700c wheel with road treads. The big volume tyres are designed to be run at pretty low pressures (anywhere between 30-65psi, depending on the where you’re heading).
And, of course, it has a Lefty. The new Lefty Oliver (all-over…. geddit?) has just 30mm travel, but is for all intents and purposes very similar to the strut you’d find on many Cannondales. It might weight more than a rigid fork, yet the overall bike is still only 8.9kg plus pedals. The air-sprung Oliver has a lockout too, so you can stiffen it up for pure road work.
While the Slate does come in versions with a double ring, our CX1 version uses a 44-tooth single ring with the same 10-42 X1 cassette that mountain bikers will be familiar with. If you’re from a roadie background you might feel that the jumps between gears are pretty massive, but for mountain bikers it’s nothing new.
SRAM’s Force Hydro discs pull it all up, and with the fat rubber you’ve got the ability to slow down a lot faster than on a roadie with 25c tyres on the tarmac. Having said that, the limited tyre choice is a concern for us at the moment. In the few rides we’ve had on the Slate so far, we’ve certainly pushed it beyond the capabilities of the slick tyres, but finding semi-slick rubber in a 650b x 42mm size is tough.
Where to ride it?
While plenty of people are going to scoff at this thing, we certainly won’t be. A confused little beast, maybe, but it’s a great tool for exploring the wide blue yonder. We’ve racked up a fair few miles on this bike already, so expect a full write-up soon.