As regular GP readers know, gravel biking has been exploding in stateside popularity over the past few years. But not just gravel biking; gravel racing is also in the midst of a boom. Shifting over from road cycling and sometimes mountain biking, thousands of riders now participate in epic organized events from California to Kansas to Vermont.
At the same time, bike brands are producing more gravel-ready apparel and gear than ever, and just about every big bike maker now offers at least one respectable gravel bike. Pinarello is no exception.
The Treviso, Italy-based brand has been manufacturing top-notch road and track bikes for nearly 70 years, often by hand, establishing a reputation that is truly second-to-none. According to Cycling News, Pinarello riders have won a record 16 Tours de France; no other bike brand can lay claim to more than 10.
I’ve long been curious how that sort of pedigree might carry over to the off-road space. So when the brand offered me the opportunity to test out its competition-class gravel bike, the $6,500 Grevil F Ekar, for a couple weeks and then race it at Steamboat, Colorado’s SBT GRVL, I was quick to say “Si Signore.” Here are my impressions after several weeks in the saddle.
What’s Great About the Pinarello Grevil F Ekar
The Grevil’s Design Is One of a Kind
Considering that seven of the last 11 Tours de France have been won by someone riding a Pinarello Dogma, you can’t exactly blame the brand for using that model as the basis for its racing gravel bike. The result is essentially an aero bike festooned with touches intended to maximize efficiency — and clearance for 650b or 700cc wheels.
From the fork flap just above the front axle to the drag-reducing flat-back profile to the fully integrated cables, this bike signals its intent with every streamlined feature. But unlike the Dogma, the Grevil’s geometry is optimized for gravel. To improve handling and comfort, it has a shorter reach and higher stack than a traditional road bike, as well as a modified fork angle and rake and 422-425mm chain stays.
Perhaps most notable here, though, is that funky-shaped frame made of Toray T700 carbon fiber, a blend of high-strength and high-flex fibers aimed at balancing speed-friendly rigidity and body-friendly shock absorption. It is also the primary reason the 53cm version of this bike weighs in at just under 19 pounds.
The Grevil Is an Excellent Climber
As I have learned testing a number of gravel bikes over the past couple years, every pound counts, especially when you are going uphill. That makes the low weight a huge plus for the Grevil. On a training ride in upstate New York, I climbed 3,000 feet over the course of about 30 miles, tackling grades as high as 11 percent. Feeling light provided not only a physical boost but a mental one, easing every pedal stroke.
My efforts were also aided by the Campagnolo Ekar 1×13 drivetrain. That probably seems like a heck of a lot of gears to carry in the rear — and it is, in the best possible way. Because no matter how steep things got, I always had enough gears to do what I needed to do — just keep pedaling till I reached the top.
The race itself was actually easier. Over 60 miles on the SBT GRVL red course, I faced nearly 4,000 feet of climbing, with grades as high as 10 percent. I’m not gonna say they were a breeze, but I never had any doubt I’d be fine, thanks to a bike that was way more qualified for that kind of challenge than I was.
The Grevil’s Top-End Velocity Is Positively Pazzo
That’s Italian for “crazy,” and it feels fitting here because as impressed as I was by the design and climbing ability, this bike really shines on flat and downhill stretches that really let you open things up. The obsessively engineered aerodynamics play a huge role, but another feature worth noting is pretty unique.
Rather than have all the shifting activated by levers integrated into the brakes, as most gravel bikes do, the Grevil has a finger lever on the right side for hitting easier gears, but also a curved, thumb-activated lever for switching to harder ones. It’s positioned inside the right handlebar in such a way that it can be triggered whether you are up on the hoods or down in the drops, enabling you to get into the fastest possible set-up even in a deeply crouched aero position.
The thumb lever takes some getting used to — especially if you mountain bike a lot, because it sits in a similar place to the lever used to reach hit easier gears on most mountain bikes — and how much it actually aids performance is up for debate. All I can say is that in the actual race, the total package proved to be a banger.
While the course is not as technical as some others — the surface is sometimes referred to as Gucci gravel — there is a relatively gnarly descent toward the end called Cow Creek. I was in the mood to move, so I kept my fingers light on the brakes and just kinda let it rip. I’m sure I wasn’t breaking any land speed records, but holy crap I felt like I was flying over, around and through all the rocks and dirt and sand the trail could throw at me. What a thrill.
Such moments are what inspired the title of this review. SBT GRVL was my first gravel race, and I was so apprehensive that I chose one of the shorter distances. If I had known how fast and fun the Grevil could be, I definitely would have picked a longer, more challenging course, such as the century. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back next year for the possibly pazzo 142-miler.
What’s Not So Great About the Pinarello Grevil F Ekar
Like Any Precision Race Machine, the Grevil Is a Bit High Maintenance
As spectacular as this bike was to race, it wasn’t exactly easy getting it to that point. During my training ride upstate, I found the derailleur to be bit clunky on a few gears and the rear brake to be a bit soft. Considering this bike had been tested by at least one other reviewer before it got to me, that’s not too surprising, so I had a local shop work bring it back up to speed, so to speak.
However, after flying with the bike to Colorado (shoutout to Thule for sending me the excellent RoundTrip case), I went on a warm-up ride the day before the race, and the rear brake again felt soft. I took it to a Steamboat shop, where the mechanic on duty said he was a Campy specialist who would scramble to take on the job that day. A few hours later, he had bled both brakes, and the levers felt super-responsive, safe and ready to race.
Those two treatments together cost about $172, and while Pinarello graciously agreed to cover those expenses, the experience did make the bike feel about as temperamental as an Italian sports car.
The Grevil Is Not Exactly a Daily Driver
Among the qualities that makes the Grevil an extraordinary race bike is its uncompromising nature. Its coiled-spring geometry cries out for speed, which puts a demand on the rider that is richly rewarded by damn-near mind-blowing off-road capability and velocity.
But that go-go dynamic — combined with the paranoia I’d feel locking up a $6,500 bike outside — makes it less than ideal for knocking around town. Not that I know from experience, but I’d liken it to picking up groceries in a Lamborghini.
The Verdict on the Pinarello Grevil F Ekar
At the expo in downtown Steamboat the day before the race, I got a chance to demo a Canyon Grizl 6, the German DTC brand’s sub-$2,000 gravel bike. It instantly felt more comfortable and familiar than the Grevil, but also heavier and slower. Contrasting that brief little jaunt with 60 miles of rowdy racing the following day is all I needed to begin formulating my verdict.
The bottom line is, if you enjoy riding gravel but aren’t particularly ambitious about it, look elsewhere. But if your intent is go as fast as humanly possible over rocks and dirt — in other words, to claim whatever the off-road equivalent of a maillot jaune is — you need this horse in your stable.