What’s a Grove?
R.A.D stands for Road and Dirt, which should just about give you the gist as to this bike’s intentions. There’s a hefty swell of new gravel and all-road options on the market, so what makes the Grove standout to us? Passion is a big one, along with the surprisingly hard-charging ride quality, plus the unique options to customise your bike through a variety of wheelset options.
Grove Bike Co represents the dream of one local Sydney rider, Dave Musgrove, a thirty-something family man who has spent the best part of two decades in the bike industry. He’s been involved in just about all aspects of this game, from wrenching kids’ bikes through to working with Taiwanese carbon factories, and Grove is the culmination of that experience. He’s a well-known figure in the Sydney scene too, having been active in everything from cycling advocacy, to running club CX races, to building some of the best dirt jumps around. As we said, there’s a lot of passion here for cycling.
Where have you taken it?
This bike had its claims of versatility greatly tested. We’ve ridden it a lot: everything from 100km pure road rides, long gravel rides, over-nighter bike packing epics, to razzing the smoother singletracks in our local area. Undoubtedly the highlight so far was loading it up for the Graveleur Thunderbolts Adventure ride, a 250km two-dayer in the Barrington Tops.
Why haven’t I seen these before?
Impressively, Grove Bike Co has skipped the embryonic step of producing one-off frames and jumped straight to mid-scale production with a pretty sophisticated sales and shipping model too. The bikes aren’t available in any stores, they’re shipped straight to the consumer with very neat and minimalist packaging to cut down on waste – pushing back against the bike industry’s love affair with foam rubber, and plastic packaging is another area of passion for the brand’s owner.
While the industry tends to conflate ‘performance’ and carbon, there’s a lot to be said for high-end alloy construction. Indeed, high-end alloy bikes often get a bit of cult status; look at Commencal for instance, the legendary Cannondale CAAD road bikes or Specialized’s Allez.
That figure becomes more impressive once you know that the frame is tested to mountain bike standards, not just road bike standards.
The Grove RAD fits that bill too, bringing a level of sophistication that we don’t see in alloy all that often. It’s built from 6069 T6 alloy, which has much-improved strength to weight ratios and fatigue life the commonly used 6061 you’ll find in most frames. It costs a lot more, but these characteristics allow the RADs tubes to be triple butted throughout the main triangle, shaving grams. We didn’t strip our bike to weigh the frame, but the claim is just over 1.5kg in a size medium. That figure becomes more impressive once you know that the frame is tested to mountain bike standards, not only road bike standards.
Either way, we were surprised by the low overall weight of our bike – even with whopping 48mm rubber, it was just on 8.6kg. The build quality is obvious, from the smooth finish of the head tube welds to the complex curves of the stays which have proper heel clearance, through to the clever machine work of the chainstay yoke.
Options, options, options.
What makes the purchasing process unique is that Grove offers you a choice of wheelsets and tyre packages to suit how you intend to ride your bike. The whole point here is that the Grove is all about versatility. There is plenty of option here, so bear with us!
Firstly, there are two models of Grove RAD, both of which share the same frame; the RAD Apex has SRAM Apex running gear and alloy Ritchey components ($2599), or spend an extra grand for a SRAM Force equipped bike with carbon Ritchey WCS kit.
Grove certainly aren’t the only bike brand building gravel bikes that are designed to take either wheel size, but there are precious few that let you customise to this extent at the point of sale.
Then your next choice is picking from either 700c wheels or 650B wheels, both of which come with a bunch of Panaracer tyre options too. In the 700c arena, you can choose 32c slicks for road use, 33c mud tyres for cyclocross use (or light gravel) or 35c rubber for more serious gravel use. Opt for 650b wheels, and you can go for the Road Plus option of 48mm slicks, or 48mm Panaracer Gravel King tyres for the most serious gravel setup.
In addition to wheel size and tyre option, the Force equipped bike is available with an optional carbon wheel upgrade. An extra $1000 will get you a set of Hunt carbon hoops. We wanted our test bike primarily for tackling rougher gravel, and so we opted for the Force LTD model, with 650B Hunt carbon wheels, equipped with 48mm Gravel King tyres.
Grove certainly isn’t the only bike brand building gravel bikes that are designed to take either wheel size, but there are precious few that let you customise to this extent at the point of sale. As an extra bonus, Grove give you the option of purchasing a second set of wheels for at a reduced rate (20% off – including tyres, cassette and rotors), which is ideal if you want to use the same bike for gravel and road/commuting as you can just swap the wheels across.
Packing in the big rubber.
Fitting in 48mm tyres without blowing out the chainstay length is a challenge that many gravel bikes face. Some resort to a dropped chainstay design (like the Norco Search XR we tested), others use non-standard wheel dishing (like the Cannondale SuperX SE, tested here) in order to create room. The Grove RAD addresses the issue with a slim CNC machined chainstay yoke which maintains clearance for up to a 46-tooth chainring with plenty of room for mud around the tyres. The compromise, if you can call it that, is the absence of front derailleur compatibility – this bike is single-ring only, but for mountain bikers, that’s nothing new.
The details are nice.
Three water bottle mounts, top tube mounts for a bag, plus fender and rack mounts, tick the must-have gravel boxes. There’s semi-internal cable routing, which is neatly done to keep the cables well away from the frame, and replaceable dropouts just in case we have (yet) another shift in axle standards.
On the aesthetics side, we love the decals inside the fork legs and the overall clean feel of the paint and graphics. The ‘snow gum’ green colour isn’t one we’ve seen from other brands either, which is a smart and bold choice.
So what’s the ride like?
This isn’t one of those slow and steady kind of gravel bikes; the geometry has more of a performance edge to it, which is what lends this bike to be able to do dual duty as a road and CX bike too. That’s not to say it won’t happily plod through big rides with a heavy load, just that if you want to razz it, the RAD will oblige.
Whether that’s clipping the apex of loose gravel corner, or remaining dead on track when bombing a rough and rutted fireroad, it just charges.
The chainstays are super short at just 420mm long, which translates directly into it being an easy bike to hop, flick about or quickly change direction on, as well as helping keep weight on the rear wheel when climbing on loose surfaces.
But the overarching feeling we got from this bike, is that it goes precisely where you want it to, and it holds a line better than any gravel bike we’ve previously ridden. Whether that’s clipping the apex of loose gravel corner, or remaining dead on track when bombing a rough and rutted fire road, it just charges.
This trait is a combination of several things. Firstly up, the fork is laterally very stiff, as evidenced by the confidence-inspiring chunkiness of the crown. With the 650b wheels, the bottom bracket sits quite low, which also adds to the calm feeling in the rough. The cockpit helps too, with the moderate flare of the drops putting your hands in a stable and strong position.
Then, of course, you’ve got the big 48mm tyres which can be run in the low 30psi range, boosting grip, comfort and braking traction through the roof. Other characteristics, like the complete absence of cable noise and very little chain slap, bolster your confidence too.
It’s very responsive when you get on the gas; the wide bottom bracket shell provides a solid core to the whole bike that resists twist when you give it some fury, which was particularly noticeable when we used this bike on road rides.
What about those wheels and tyres?
This is only the second time we’ve ridden a gravel bike with 650b wheels and big rubber, and we’re converts. There are so many positives to this wheel format and precious few downsides. Sure it’s marginally slower on really smooth gravel roads, but as soon as things get vaguely loose, then the grip and control offered by the wider tyre shine.
Comfort is the other huge factor; with the Hunt wheels 24mm internal rim width we could drop the pressures very low and on long gravel rides the reduced vibration and fatigue is a significant benefit. We’re starting to see more brands introducing complicated flex stay or ‘micro suspension’ into their gravel bikes, but does all the complexity do a better job than high-volume tyres?
We’re not letting this bike go, we’ve got too many adventures planned for it in the coming months.
Any limitations with 1 x 11 drivetrain?
Obviously, there are compromises here in terms of overall gear range, but there are many upsides too, which is why mountain bikes largely shunned the front mech years ago. The Grove RAD comes with a 42-tooth chainring, paired to an 11-42 tooth Sunrace cassette which has proven to be a good setup for most scenarios.
For the 4500 vertical metres of climbing in the Thunderbolts Adventure ride, we did downsize the chainring to a 38-tooth to help out of the old knees! But the flipside of 1x drivetrain is great chain security, simplicity of operation, quiet running and of course room for big tyres with no front mech to get in the way.
We’ve clocked over 1000km on the Grove RAD so far, which is way more than we’d typically log on a test bike. Why so much riding on this fella? Simply because it fits the bill for so many purposes for us; grab our lycra and knock out a quick morning road ride, stick on a frame bag and disappear all day, throw a leg over it for short after work blast around the neighbourhood to blow off steam. We’re not letting this bike go; we’ve got too many adventures planned for it in the coming months. This is an incredibly good first offering for a new brand on the scene!