Sonder Camino AL Rival1 Gravel Bike review
The perfect balance of price and world travelling capability, according to Will Thompson
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If you’ve made it this far, it’s clear that I’ve very much enjoyed my time on the Camino AL. So much so, that I’m seriously considering adding one to my stable, that's how good this bike is. Sure, it’s not as light as some of the other (more expensive) options out there, maybe the flared bars aren’t to everyone taste but this can be altered if you drop Sonder an e-mail. The lack of triple cage mounts on the forks might sway potential buyers. However, when you take the top down approach and look at this bike considering value, performance and quality, in my opinion it balances all of these factors perfectly; a bike with the potential to ride across the world, ride to the office, ride on the Sunday club run, ride your favourite trails and put a smile on your face: it does it all.
Built for anything you can throw at it
Extreme flared bars not to everyone's taste
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The Sonder Camino AL Rival1 was selected for an Editor's Choice award (opens in new tab) in 2020. This year's list contains 78 items which scored a 9 or 10/10 with our tech team - this gear is the best of the best, and has received the Cycling Weekly stamp of approval.
Since its humble beginnings in 2004, Alpkit has been passionate about everything outdoors, whilst putting a focus on sustainability and protecting the countryside. Sonder Bikes - Alpkit's range of road and off-road machines - continues to embody that ethos.
>>>> Best gravel bikes (opens in new tab)
>>> Best budget gravel bikes (opens in new tab)
The Camino has taken the essence of a fun, playful gravel bike, merged it with the road manors and practicality of a world traveller, and decorated it with components that bring it to a price point that’s hard to ignore.
I've tested this bike on short trips to the shops, road rides, bike packing trips and technical trails I'd usually attempt on a mountain bike - and it hasn't disappointed.
Sonder Camino AL Rival1 frame
The AL model is constructed from 6061 alloy, allowing it to stay lightweight at a modest 2kg for the Medium as tested (a tasty Ti version is also available). Although alloy doesn’t always lend itself to comfort or compliance compared to steel or carbon, the combination of a slack head angle, long wheelbase, and tall headtube promote a slightly more upright riding position as well as flex in all the right places to take out any harshness from the surface under you. Even with the plush 42c WTB tyres up to maximum pressure for a ride to the shops, the bike was comfortable, predictable and easy to ride.
>>> Geometry explained (opens in new tab)
Sonder has also made sure the BB height is low and the chainstays short so it’s well mannered on all types of loose unpaved surfaces. I did a couple of rides out on some routes that I’d normally take the MTB and the Camino was just as fun and felt like I was railing corners and taking liberties on drops and jumps with so much confidence. The bike never felt out of its depth.
I've loaded the Camino up with bags for a bikepacking trip (opens in new tab) and taken it on many road only club runs, and in every case it has put a smile on my face - putting a large check in the box for its all-around credentials.
One thing I originally noticed when the bike arrived was the lack of triple cage mounts on the front forks. This seems a shame. However, the frame itself has plenty of mounting options for rear racks, mud guards, and triple cage mounts on the downtube to relocate a bottle cage if you’re running a frame bag. It also has the classic mounts on the underside of the downtube for extra carrying capacity of water or cooker fuel. There's also a bolt location half way up the forks for mounting a rack which I did test with a Specialized Pizza rack I had from another rig, and it worked really well. If you’re really concerned about the missing front fork mounts, you'll find them on the carbon fork of Sonder’s Ti version.
Other standout details are the replaceable rear bolt thru drop outs. Not only is the drive side derailleur hanger side replaceable but so is the non-drive side. I can’t say I’ve even had an issue that would mean I’d need to replace it, but it’s certainly nice to know I could.
The frame also features externally routed cables, and on top of that, they run fully housed all the way from shifter to derailleur to keep muck and dirt out of the cables for longer smoother running during a long backpacking trip through to winter commuting through the dirty and salty UK roads.
It's also possible to run this bike with either 650b or 700c wheels. With its clever narrow chainstays that maintain a narrow BB width, the Camino can eat up a 700c wheel with a 50c tyre or 650B with 2.1 inch tyre - that's ample clearance.
>>> Best gravel bike tyres (opens in new tab)
Lastly, we should address the colour. I was unsure when I first saw pictures online of the seemingly loud blue/teal colour this model features, however, in the flesh it’s a little more muted and I’ve grown to really love it, so much so that I’d choose this colour over other Camino colour ways.
The model tested features the tried and true SRAM Rival 1x groupset. This is a solid and reliable groupset (opens in new tab) offering more than enough range. The Camino AL is available in 5 options including a flatbar version, starting at £899 all the way up to £1299 for the Rival equipped model as tested, so plenty of options for differing requirements and pockets.
All the models are adorned with Sonder branded finishing kits, which feel solid and well made for the price.
The Sonder Bomber flared bars are a real treat, though they may divide opinions. I’ve not always been a convert to the flared bars. Coming from racing cyclocross (opens in new tab) at an international level, I’ve always been able to handle a bike with narrow compact drop bars and not felt the need for wider flared options. But these are really excellent and are among the best handlebars for gravel bikes. Aesthetically they do stand out, but they are so comfortable that I really don’t care!
The flared bars tip the shifters inwards and take a lot of unnecessary pressure off the wrists and give so many options for moving your hands around on long rides. The extreme flare means holding the drops provides a confidence inspiring position on descents or rough terrain and works perfectly in conjunction with the comfort dialled geometry of the frame and fork combo.
Also, if you want to add a bar bag for bike packing, the width and flare gives you plenty of space for that so you won't need to squish it all in.
The wheels are the branded Sonder Love Mud Novas. They're nothing to write home about, but they do the job and are more than enough for all the testing I put this bike through. At this price point, you typically expect the wheels to be robust but unexciting. I was more impressed with the choice of tyres these wheels are wrapped in.
The WTB Resolute in a 42c width is a tyre I’ve run before on other bikes and it really is fantastic; offering so much grip off-road and low rolling resistance on road, with longevity to keep you going for miles and miles!
Price is where this bike really comes into its own. I know this area of the market (£900-£1300) is really crowded with options and it can be difficult as a consumer to know what to choose. But the Sonder Camino AL not only offers great value for the components, but is also an extreemly capable bike. It’s comfortable, well mannered, and most of all really fun to ride. Sonder has clearly spent a lot of time making sure the geometry is dialled, allowing it to shine on whatever kind of riding you want to do, this is what makes it such great value for me - you're basically getting a bike that does the job of three or more in one.
>>> Best budget gravel bikes (opens in new tab)
It’s also worth mentioning that Alpkit, the parent company of Sonder, is a grassroots UK brand that has been certified B-Corp, meaning it meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance and accountability - a big selling point in my book.
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