Tech team dream builds: James Bracey's gravel bike

Going behind the details of Senior Tech Writer James' awesome gravel build

It’s not often you get to live out your dreams and build the perfect bike, so  when the opportunity arose, it was an experience I relished. After spending the past few years riding many different gravel and off-road ‘adventure’ bikes I finally had the chance to put together a machine perfectly tailored to my personal requirements and tastes; a dream build that should be the basis for many of my future challenges and plans.

The component that took the longest to choose was of course the frame. For this I had a few features that were imperative to meet my needs.

Most important was the frame material; it had to be titanium. This wonder metal is almost unbeatable in terms of its ride quality as well as its durability, only the best steel tubing comes close to a high quality titanium frame. For a bike that will be used and abused in off-road adventures, titanium’s ability to shrug off scrapes and resist the typical corrosion that can plague all other metal frames gives it the edge. Get a scuff and you can buff it out with a scouring pad and some lemon juice.

There is nothing more beautiful than a titanium frame.

After a couple of horror experiences of causing irreparable damage to carbon frames whilst using bike-packing bags on multi-day trips, titanium’s ability to resist wear for way longer gives it a huge level of peace of mind. Obviously you can argue that a steel or aluminium frame would give the same reassurances but good titanium is just beautiful and after all this was to be my dream build!

I chose a Kinesis Tripster ATR_V3 frame primarily for its reputation as a solid and reliable partner for all types of on and off-road riding, after all this is going to be bike to accompany me on whatever trips I can conjure up. Made from 3AL/2.5V titanium, it has exquisitely neat welds and a raft of features that will make it ideal for this type of build. It also has an exceptionally refined ride quality and extra comfort built in, making it as much fun to ride unladen on short blasts as it is armchair like for long days in the saddle.

The best gravel and adventure bikes for 2020: a buyers guide

Components were easy to choose, I wanted the bike to have a British theme and also to feature a little throwback nostalgia to my upbringing in nineties mountain biking. With both prerequisites in mind there was no doubting the sorts of brands I would turn to.

I opted for Lancashire's finest metal machinists Hope Tech to provide the RX chainset, bottom bracket, RX4 brake callipers, XC90 stem and 160mm rotors. Hope make the majority of it's components in-house and produce some of the most beautifully machined lumps of metal. The parts I chose also follow the retro theme thanks to the awesome purple anodised finish. Anyone familiar with mountain bike history will know that purple was the colour that undoubtedly defined the period.

USE's carbon Alien seatpost is strong enough to carry a large seat pack without being too heavy.

West Sussex's Ultimate Sports Engineering (USE) supplied the Alien Carbon seatpost. Like Hope, USE manufactures all components at it's headquarters and has a long history in the off-road and road world. Somerset's finest Fabric has come up with the goods with an exclusive, very limited Scoop saddle resplendent with the Welsh flag so I can proudly display my heritage (when I'm not sat on the saddle of course).

I chose the same Stayer All-Road wheels I had previously used in our 700c V 650b comparison video and article as I had been very impressed with the performance, build quality and weight of the whole package. Stayer build all its wheels in London and all are built to order based around an individuals requirements.

The tyres are Donnelly Strada USH rubber in a 40mm width, however I will be chopping and changing them based on conditions.

Shimano's GRX is reliable and easy to maintain.

The drivetrain had to be Shimano's latest GRX gravel specific components with its super tactile and ergonomic levers combined with a rear derailleur capable of coping with a proper wide range cassette. I opted for a mechanical drivetrain for the sakes of reliability and ease of maintenance when out in the wilds. A single chainring might not be to everyone's taste but when combined with a wide-range cassette shouldn't prove to be a hindrance on loaded adventures.

The handlebars are pretty special gravel-specific bars from specialists Lauf. Hailing from Iceland, it doesn't fit within the British theme but the Lauf Smoothie should offer an exceptional level of comfort thanks to flex zones made of glass fibre. It has a classic flared profile adding some much needed off-road control when in the drops.

James' Dream Gravel Build Spec

Frame: Kinesis Tripster ATR_V3, 3AL/2.5V titanium, 58cm

Fork: Kinesis Range, full carbon fibre

Shifters: Shimano GRX, hydraulic, mechanical

Chainset: Hope RX, 172.5mm

Chainring: Hope direct mount, 42t

Rear derailleur: Shimano GRX

Cassette: Shimano 105, 11-34t

Brakes: Hope RX4 flatmount

Rotors: Hope floating, 160mm f+r

Wheels: Stayer All-Road carbon rims, DT Swiss 350 hubs, 24h f+r

Tyres: Donnelly Strada UH4, 700x40c

Handlebar: Lauf Smoothie, 44cm (51cm at drops)

Stem: Hope XC90

Headset: Kinesis

Handlebar tape: Kinesis Grip Tape

Bar ends: Ritchey Barkeeper

Seatpost: USE Ultimate Alien Carbon, 31.6x400mm

Saddle: Fabric Scoop

Pedals: Ritchey WCS

Size: 58cm

Rider height: 183cm (saddle height - 795mm)

Weight: 9.19kg (20.26lb)

I'm looking forward to using this dream build to participate in several UK gravel events this year as well as some long-distance, solo adventures when the weather gets better. It will also serve as the test bed for a lot of the upcoming gravel based testing and reviewing that you can read about in Cycling Weekly.

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James Bracey

James Bracey's career has seen him move from geography teacher, to MBR writer, to Cycling Weekly's senior tech writer and video presenter. He possesses an in-depth knowledge of bicycle mechanics, as well as bike fit and coaching qualifications. Bracey enjoys all manner of cycling, from road to gravel and mountain biking.