If you want a gravel machine that's truly go-anywhere rather than for simply linking up tarmac with the odd hardpack stretch, this could be the bike for you. With 47mm tyres on 650b wheels, and a long, low frame, it's highly capable off-road without feeling like a compromise on it. It'll also take (and can indeed be ordered with) 700c wheels if you prefer. The groupset works a treat despite being a lower-rung option, and if bikepacking is your thing, this bike has all the bases covered. A lack of rear rack bosses does seem like an omission though.
Highly capable off-road
Bike packing mounts aplenty
Not the lightest
There are faster bikes for mainly tarmac
No rear rack eyelets
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Like many bike brands, Ribble has been expanding its gravel and adventure riding offerings as it becomes clear that this new discipline is here to stay. While it already offered cyclo-cross and 'CGR' machines, Ribble has gone no holds barred with this new Gravel range, which features carbon, titanium, electric and the bike on test here, the aluminium AL.
Like its gravel stablemates, the Gravel AL comes with many of the features boasted by the best gravel bikes, including flared handlebar bars and myriad mounting points for bikepacking bags. Being a Ribble, it comes in a variety of builds too, with this 'Sport', with its 2x10 Shimano GRX group kicking off the range.
Ribble Gravel AL Sport: frame and finishing kit
The frameset looks, first and foremost, like a Ribble frameset. Those telltale dropped rear chainstays have been appearing on the British company's bikes for a few years now, which in theory increases both comfort and lateral stiffness. It can be a bit marmite on the eye, but somehow it suits the Gravel AL, with its smaller wheels and chunky tyres. Dialling up the comfort/stiffness equation is also going to be great for off-road use, where the need for those two things can be amplified.
The frame looks long and low, and with a 1,052mm wheelbase in this medium size, with 435mm chainstays, that's hardly surprising. The slackness in the 71.5deg head angle is easy to see too – although it's not as extreme as the most avant-garde of today's gravel builds, which rake things out as far as 70deg
The seat tube is a more conventional, though, at 73.5deg. A longish reach at 397mm and compact 90mm stem further add to the bike's gravelly credentials.
Perhaps more obviously, the frame is festooned with mounting points; there are three carryall eyes on each fork blade, mounts for a cockpit bag on the top tube, and three sets of bottle bosses – two in the usual place, one on the underside of the downtube. There are also mudguard eyes at the rear dropouts, though no standard rack mounts on the tops of the seatstays.
The frame is crafted in 6061 aluminium alloy (the fork is all-carbon) and finished rather nicely. With its (mostly) seamless construction, it could pass for carbon were it not for the welds down at the bottom bracket shell. The colour – 'Satin Metallic Green' on Ribble's own chart – is also rather fetching, offering a nod to the surroundings it might find itself in on rides. If you're unsure about it though, for an extra £299 you can specify any colour you like.
Contact points continue the gravel theme, with flared bars that also feature a 20mm rise up front. They're provided by Level, as is the seatpost, while the saddle itself is a relatively chunky Sella Italia X3 Boost item.
Ribble Gravel AL Sport: components
The 10-speed GRX 400 groupset is Shimano's bottom-rung gravel offering – roughly equivalent to Tiagra. More unwieldy than a 1X set-up but it does boast the advantage of having 20 gears on offer and thus a higher chance of finding the perfect ratio. This Sport incarnation is the only bike in the Gravel AL range to come with 2x10 as standard (though they can all be fully customised), which may mean it appeals more to those struggling to escape their roadgoing roots – but there is of course a weight penalty to be paid over 1X, so it's swings and roundabouts.
The brakes also come from the GRX stable and are hydraulic, using 160mm centre-lock rotors front and rear.
If you look this bike up on Ribble's website, you'll find it shod with chunky 47mm WTB Sendero tyres. However the supplied bike came with Halo GXC Gravel (also 47mm), which are less aggressive and tread a path between on-road and off. They should make the bike more versatile, though perhaps aren't the perfect winter choice. In any case, they are now the standard tyres for the bike, according to Ribble's website. They're tanwall and tubeless ready, and come mounted on Mavic's trusty Allroad alloy wheels, with thru-axles front and rear.
Ribble Gravel AL Sport: the ride
At a claimed 10.87kg, the Gravel AL is far from the lightest in class. But with less rotating weight thanks to the smaller wheel size, it feels sprightly and quick enough off the mark despite its voluminous tyres. On Surrey's pockmarked back lane tarmac the bike made some of the most effortless and enjoyable progress I've ever experienced, smoothing out the constant creases, cracks and potholes almost as if they weren't there.
Venturing onto hardpack tracks and bridleway hardly moved the scale in terms of comfort, such is the capability of those tyres. They coped well with rougher tracks too, and it was only when things got muddy that my confidence in them began to wane. Even so, they proved grippier than I imagined they could be, and I began to enjoy the sensation of the bike squirming underneath me in muddy bends, knowing that it would, ultimately, cling on. Only over roots did I remain resolutely cautious.
If you're doing much of that kind of riding, a separate set of winter tyres with a more aggressive tread might be advisable in order to get the most out of owning the Gravel AL.
As with all gravel bikes, there's going to be a speed penalty to pay back on smooth tarmac, but the Halo GXCs' best-of-both-worlds tread pattern keeps this fairly minimal.
The GRX 400 performs brilliantly, with light, accurate shifts and a nice, low 30x34t gear. That said, if I was spending my own money I'd choose a single ring set-up for its simplicity and weight saving. Ribble does in fact have a SRAM Apex 1x11 option available for the same price.
Braking was powerful and competent, with good modulation and a nice light feel at the lever, though I did experience a small amount of judder at times.
Whisper it quietly, but Ribble says its Gravel AL 'blends gravel performance with the heart and soul of a mountain bike'. This hints at the fact that it was designed to excel off-road, but if your 'gravel' riding is more tarmac than track, all isn't lost. The Ribble will accept 700c wheels with tyres of up to 45mm, which means a pretty impressive range of bases are covered. In fact you can even order this bike with 700c wheels and tyres at no extra cost.
One thing I'd certainly use Ribble's customise function for if I was buying this bike was with contact point set-up. For me personally, partly due to my creaky back, I'd need a shorter stem. The long frame is great for riding gravel, but the 57cm horizontal top tube measurement is a long one for a 5'10" rider, despite the 90mm stem. I'd be speccing a zero-layback seatpost too for the same reason.
The Selle Italia saddle looked comfy, but wasn't. Not for me in any case. Saddles are of course a very personal choice, so this may well suit others.
Ribble Gravel AL Sport: value
Ribble has long been known as competitive on price, and the Gravel AL is a good example of that, at $1,674.85 / £1,699.00. It's easy to feel as though you should be spending several grand in order to become a 'serious' bike rider on a 'serious' bike these days, but this bike proves you don't have to.
When you have a bottom tier groupset that's this good, and a frame this capable, the only reason you would pay more is to lose some weight. In the US, that price is among the cheapest, but on the other hand in the UK you could get a GRX 400 equipped bike for even less, with the Vitus Substance VR-2 Gravel available for $1,799.99 or £1,049 (down from £1,399 RRP), and the Cannondale Topstone 2 can be had for $2,000 or £1,359 (down from £1,700 RRP).
Ribble Gravel AL Sport: conclusion
The Ribble Gravel AL Sport is a full-fat gravel machine that will chew up and spit out hardpack and torn up back lanes all day long. It's also a willing enough interloper on rough and muddy trails, though the stock tyres begin to find their limit. The laidback geometry inspires confidence, and there are gears for most eventualities too. On tarmac it isn't road bike-fast, but those tyres iron out so many of the imperfections found on typical British back lanes that progress feels smooth and easy.
Yes, there are lighter gravel bikes and faster gravel bikes, but you'll pay more and they won't necessarily be as capable off-road. What the Gravel AL is is serious fun, and at a seriously competitive price.
Ribble Gravel AL Sport: specs
- Frame: Gravel AL, heat-treated 6061 T6 aluminium
- Fork: Gravel AL, full-carbon tapered
- Handlebars: Level Gravel riser flared (42/51mm)
- Saddle: Selle Italia X3 Boost
- Shifters: Shimano GRX 400
- Cassette: GRX HG500 11-34t
- Derailleur: Shimano GRX 400 2x10
- Crankset: Shimano GRX RX600 46/30t
- Wheelset: Mavic Allroad disc alloy
- Tires: Halo GXC Gravel 47mm
- Weight: 10.87kg
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