A gravel bike to shred trails with: a review of the new Argonaut Cycles GR3

No eyelets, no suspension, pure speed. This capable featherweight race machine impressed

The Argonaut G3 gravel racer
(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)
Cycling Weekly Verdict

With room for 50c tires and a very slack front end, paired with responsive short rear triangle, the word ‘capable’ in case of the GR3 means being able to go anywhere, and do so while stomping on the pedals and going fast. Up a hill or zig-zagging through trees, this bike has the personality of a young border collie: energetic, fast and playful.

Reasons to buy
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    Great combination of capability and responsiveness

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    Climbs and handles well

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    Good value for a fully custom carbon bike

Reasons to avoid
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    No fender mounts!

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The mythical Argonauts were a band of heroes who accompanied their leader, Jason, on his seemingly impossible quest to find and capture the golden-woolled ram and return its Golden Fleece to the city of Lolcus so Jason could reclaim his rightful throne.

Together with his crew of Argonauts, Jason slayed monsters and giants, outsmarted sirens, and persevered through storms and many battles. The tale of Jason and the Argonauts was an unusual one for its time in that it celebrates the hero as much as the help he received along the way. Jason could not accomplish his great feat without his Argonauts and likewise, us cyclists cannot perform without our trusty and capable steeds. 

At Argonaut Cycles in Bend, Oregon, Ben Farver and his team of craftspeople are on a quest as well. Not in search of the Golden Fleece, but in search of the edge of what is possible in custom bike design. Their tale is one of slaying industry standards and breaking free of the moulds of what’s been done as they seek to produce the world’s best custom carbon bicycles. 

Carbon Done Differently

Tour of the Argonaut Cycles HQ in Bend, Oregon

Argonaut founder Ben Farver explains the 

(Image credit: Argonaut Cycles)

Farver started building custom bikes for people back in 2007. And he, like so many of his contemporaries, turned to steel and its superior ride quality.

However, frustrated by the similarities of all those handbuild steel bikes that flooded the market, Farver looked to carbon to push not only his boundaries as a builder but also to push beyond the limitation of steel. Carbon offered nearly limitless potential for customization while also being lighter and stiffer than steel. 

Feeling stymied by having to relinquish the machining, time frame and other parts of the process to third party manufacturing companies, he decided that in order to create the best possible product, he had to bring everything in house.

“I wanted everything in house for control of process and repeatability. Nobody builds our bikes better than we do,” Farver said. 

These days, the designing, manufacturing, assembling and painting of every bike, one at a time, now happens —mostly by hand— under two roofs, in Bend, Oregon. 

Custom all the way

Custom deets

(Image credit: Argonaut Cycles)

Argonaut builds around 200 frames per year, and only one frame at a time.

Geometry and paint are just part of it, Farver says. Just like his steel frames in the early days, it’s the ride feel that is at the center of Argonaut’s work. The bikes, therefore, are customizable down to the individual carbon fibers.

“We tailor the carbon layup, the stiffness, of each part of our bikes to the individual customer,” Farver says. 

It starts with the customer’s height, weight and even power numbers if available. 

“I look at functional threshold power and one minute and three minute power, so I can understand how much torsional flex and how much force is going through the frame,” Farver explains. “ Then I look at their biking history, where they ride, what kind of roads, if it’s hilly or flat, and what other bikes they’ve ridden in the past and really enjoyed.”

Over the years, Farver created four rider case studies and concocted special stiffness recipes around them. These recipes serve as a starting point for many frame designs. Using the customer’s data, he can then tweak the stiffness numbers to ensure the frame flexes appropriately for the individual rider.

An overbuilt bike will feel dead and lifeless, Farver explains. Likewise, a frame that flexes too much is inefficient and will feel noodle-y. 

Once designed, it’s off to manufacturing, which is very much Argonaut’s own. 

Argonaut’s patented High Pressure Silicone Molding manufacturing process

Tour of the Argonaut Cycles HQ in Bend, Oregon

Argonaut founder Ben Farver explains their patented High Pressure Silicone Molding manufacturing process

(Image credit: Argonaut Cycles)

Beyond the carbon layup experimentations, Farver spent quite a few years testing the various manufacturing processes.

In general terms, carbon fiber frames and components are made using carbon fiber cloth and resin. Small, unique shapes are cut out of the carbon fiber cloths and, oftentimes, impregnated with resin, which acts as an adhesive, before being painstakingly placed in a mold. The pieces are then pressed together, most commonly with an inflatable latex bladder, and then cured in an oven. 

While commonplace in the industry, the bladder approach can cause problems.  As the bladder expands, there can be movement in the carbon pieces, causing fiber distortion or gaps in between the laminates. This means wrinkles, gaps that need to be filled and a potential inconsistency in how and where the frame flexes. 

Argonaut’s patented process instead uses silicone wrapped alloy mandrels, which are machined in house and unique to every customer’s geometry. Carbon fibers are laid up by hand around the mandrels and then placed inside the mold. In the oven, these mandrels increase the pressure inside the mold, which is controlled by the amount of silicone wrapped around the mandrel’s skeleton. 

O-rings surround the part being cured and seal the mold, keeping resin trapped into the system and internal pressures high. Once the mandrels are broken up and removed, the resulting frame is consistently smooth and, Argonaut argues, free of flaws.

“Our scrap and reject rate is 1-2 percent, which is super low,” Farver said.

Straight out of the mold, the surface finish is so clean that many of the Argonaut frames sport a full or partial clear coat so the neatness of the fibers can be seen. 

Introducing the GR3