And so we arrive at nearly our last bike review from the CyclingTips Field Test, Steamboat edition: the Ridley Kanzo A, the Belgian bike company’s answer to a versatile aluminium gravel bike at a more affordable price point.
As with most bike tests, we often find ourselves asking some big questions. In the case of this Ridley, we found ourselves pondering what features do we feel are critical to a good time on gravel?
And so, while in the high mountains of Colorado, we sought to find such answers in a bike from the flat lands of Belgium.
- What: Ridley’s most affordable gravel bike.
- Key features: Triple-butted and hydroformed aluminium frame, clearance for 700 x 42 or 650 x 55 mm tyres, English threaded bottom bracket, tapered head tube, 27.2 mm seatpost.
- Weight: 11.00 kg / 24.25 lb (size XS, without pedals)
- Price: US$2,500 / €1,800
- Highs: Feature-packed aluminium frame, common component fitments, feels like a road bike with big tyres, Shimano shifting and braking bits, obviously robust and ready for use through harsh winters.
- Lows: Weighs more than a bag of soil, unforgiving ride quality, not tubeless-ready, fit is likely too aggressive for many, not great value.
The Belgian bike company has been busily expanding its range of gravel bikes in recent years. In its carbon fibre range, there’s the aero gravel racer Kanzo Fast, the all-road-ish Kanzo Speed, and the newly released Kanzo Adventure, which is more off-road-centric than the rest.
Then we come to the Kanzo A, a gravel bike based around a hydroformed triple-butted aluminium frame that somewhat confusingly isn’t all that closely matched to the similarly named and carbon-framed Kanzo Adventure. A large part of that confusion stems from the age gap, with the Kanzo A frameset first hitting the market in 2019, while the Kanzo Adventure is a fresh 2022 release.
As a result of this age gap, the Kanzo A sits somewhere between the older Kanzo Speed and the shiny new Kanzo Adventure in its design approach and, consequently, its intended purpose.
The Kanzo A may be painted like a bike ready to be raced by the Belgian cyclocross champion (red and silver paint schemes are also available) but Ridley does indeed intend for it to be used for gravel. There’s clearance for 700 x 42 mm or 650 x 55 mm tyres, while the ability to mount fenders, racks or all sorts of accessories also proves this isn’t designed with sub-one-hour racing in mind. Rather Ridley suggests it’s ready for commuting, adventure, or whatever you please.
Returning to the frame, it’s clear that Ridley has put some thought into the finer details. The top tube has a distinctive bow-like flow, which meets the seatstays that feature a somewhat unusual bridge made with a small plate of aluminium. Down at chainstays the tyre clearance is created with a machined yoke that is welded to impressively shapely chainstays at one end and an English threaded bottom bracket shell at the other.
The threaded bottom bracket is just one of many standard component fitments that are pleasing to see. At the front of the bike sits a common size 1 ⅛-1 1/2″ tapered head tube with easy-to-source headset bearings. The cables are external of the handlebar, stem and headset, and rather enter the frame at the down tube. The seatpost is a regular round 27.2 mm item held with an external clamp. And there’s nothing unusual about the flat-mount brake mounts or 12 mm thru-axles. Good stuff.
The frame has a quality aesthetic to it and like many of the bikes we tested at Field Test, it looks more expensive than it is. The Belgian national team colour-inspired paint isn’t exactly my cup of Duvel, but our head of tech, James Huang, absolutely loved it.
Ridley has a limited range of Kanzo A bikes, the cheapest being the US$2,500 / €1,800 model tested. This features a Shimano GRX 2×10 400-series groupset with matching hydraulic disc brakes. The wheels are the fairly entry-level RS171 model from Shimano while the rest of the components feature Ridley’s house brand, Forza.
For approximately €350 more, you can upgrade to Shimano GRX 2×11 600-series gearing and a GRX 2×11 800-series gearing option for a further €200.
It’s no flyweight
So far, it’s all sounding pretty good, but a few things left us rather underwhelmed with this bike, and one of those is the figure on the scales. At 11 kg (size small and without pedals) the Kanzo A is the second heaviest bike we had at our Steamboat Field Test, and the only bike heavier than it is the Marin Nicasio 2. The Marin happens to weigh just 20 grams more, has a steel frame, and is $700 cheaper. Yeah, there’s just no hiding the facts there.
Now bike weight isn’t everything, but in this case, it’s a pretty good indicator of the things you can’t see or may ignore. For example, the carbon front fork hides an aluminium steerer tube and so weighs almost half a kilo (480 g claimed). The frame itself is quoted at a not-too-bad 1,507 g (small size), but the lush paint of our sample likely raises this figure. The frame and fork are built robustly, and the alloy steerer does bring more care-free ownership.
Ridley has then skipped a corner on the wheel package. We were surprised to find that the supplied 38 mm-wide (39 mm measured) Vittoria Terreno Dry tyres are the cheapest wire-bead version that can’t be used tubeless. Meanwhile, those Shimano RS171 wheels weigh 2,000 g for the pair, and the 19 mm-wide rim offers an internal profile that is not officially recommended for tubeless use. No doubt installing a tubeless tape will let you use tubeless tyres on these rims, but safe usage and easy inflation will arguably only be achieved with a rubber strip-based tubeless conversion kit from the likes of Stan’s.
We’ve never been shy of our opinions on tubeless tyres and gravel, and the whole team at this year’s Field Test agreed that tubeless (or at least tubeless readiness) is a must-have feature when venturing off-road. Of the 10 bikes we had on test, the Ridley was just one of two that couldn’t easily or cheaply be converted to tubeless. It’s hugely disappointing to see a gravel bike lacking this feature.
For those in Europe, Ridley does offer the Kanzo A through its configurator service where you’re able to swap out the wheels for its own Forza Norte DB alloy model at a €75 upcharge. You can also use the configurator to get a unique paint scheme.
However, while swapping out the wheels and tyres will go a long way to cutting the excessive weight and introducing the benefits of tubeless, we’re also talking about a bike with a baseline price of US$2,500. That’s not pocket change and has the Kanzo A looking like rather poor value amongst a sea of equal or better-equipped gravel bikes that cost less.
A rigid ride
While not necessarily bad, the Kanzo A rides like a road bike or even a cyclocross bike with wider tyres. And when pro cyclocross racer (on sabbatical) Ellen Noble returns from a ride and says “this feels like an old cyclocross bike,” it’s hard to argue with that.
In this sense the Kanzo A feels like a gravel bike from a number of years ago when brands were merely slapping new names onto pre-existing platforms. “Nothing unique or special about it,” Ellen said. “It feels like my early days on a CX bike, so I feel comfortable on it.”
A big part of that CX feel is in how this bike fits. Neither the reach nor stack figures are too extreme, but both are more stretched out and lower than you’d expect of a performance road bike versus where most gravel bikes sit.
Across the bikes on Field Test we set the handlebars at equal heights to the front wheel axle (using the headset spacers) to baseline one major fit and handling metric. And that height was set based on the highest available stem height of the Ridley (tallest position available without flipping the stem) – the other bikes were then adjusted to be lower from their respective base positions to match. Given this, we suspect a number of newer riders will be left wanting the handlebar height slightly higher.
The not-so-short-reach figure, the long seat tube, and a somewhat horizontal top tube all combine to make the bike feel bigger than the marked size may suggest. It also gives more space for frame bags, or shouldering the bike in your best Sven Nys impersonation. However, proof of the sizing running large is how comfortable I felt on the XS size, when most other brands have my 172 cm height more comfortable on a size or two up. Watch the sizing, particularly if you’re at the shorter end of things as the two smallest sizes both feature fairly lengthy reach figures above 370 mm – in fact, just skip this bike if you’re under 5’4” (163 cm).
The CX and/or road bike vibe continues with the regular road handlebar. Now I’m not at all bothered by the lack of flare at the drops, but it’s just another sign that Ridley perhaps got slightly confused over who the ideal customer for this bike is and decided to make it feel a little more road-going than adventure-conquering.
The fit may be CX-y, but the frame angles are quite gravel-ish and more in line with what the carbon-framed Kanzo Adventure offers. In particular, the slacker 70.5° head tube combined with a fairly long 50 mm fork rake produces a not ultra-quick 72 mm trail figure (with the stock 38 mm tyres) that’s easy to get along with and well aligned to where a number of other gravel bikes now sit.
Meanwhile, the 430 mm-long chainstays help to slow down and stabilize the handling. Overall this bike offers a very middle-of-the-road and common handling characteristic that’s just as happy reacting through fast rocky sections as it is grinding away on a flat dirt road. Ellen described the handling character as stable in the air when jumped and more playful than many of the other bikes tested.
However, take a sharp slow corner and you’ll once again get those CX vibes as your shoe contacts the front tyre. Toe overlap remains somewhat common on many sportier-feeling gravel bikes in smaller sizes, so it’s not surprising that our tester suffered this. And Ridley isn’t helping the issue by equipping too-long 172.5 mm cranks on our XS sample. Whether you’re considering this gravel bike or one of the hundred others, toe overlap is something to watch for if you’re planning on doing any technical off-road riding.
Overall I think that the fit and handling shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as negatives but rather a sign that this bike won’t be for all. It’s best suited to someone with a road cycling background; in this scenario, the bike will fit and feel like home. Meanwhile, the more aggressive fit isn’t one I’d recommend to someone coming into gravel from mountain bikes or as a first bike choice.
The surprisingly stiff ride quality only backs the opinion that this is a gravel bike for roadies and also feels like it wants to be put into a CX race. “The ride quality is curiously rough”, said James. “It’s a straightforward aluminium frame, so why is it so uncomfortable?”
Well, to answer to James’ rhetorical question, there are a few factors at play here. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the frame just feels stiff from one end to the other. Those chainstays aren’t flexing, and nor are those reinforced seatstays. And then the front triangle tubes are fairly oversized, too. Add in that thick-gauge aluminium seatpost, and worry-free oversized aluminium steerer and you start to understand why all four testers complained about the lack of forgiveness in this ride.
The lack of forgiveness also extends to the rolling stock. Those hefty Shimano hoops feature 28 straight-gauge spokes, producing a wheelset that isn’t so different from Shimano’s entry-level mountain bike wheels. Add in Shimano’s cup-and-cone bearing hubs and you have a wheelset that’ll last a very long time with occasional hub servicing. Still, the bigger question is whether you’ll want such durability given the weight and that they’re not ideal for tubeless use.
And then we also have the thick-casing, stiff-riding, and dull-feeling wire bead tyres that will quickly have you replacing a tube if you decide to drop the pressures in search of more ride comfort. Certainly the harsh ride quality is a sum of many comfort-lacking pieces.
That stiff ride, slow tyres, and hefty total weight also all contribute to a bike that feels sluggish to get moving. The performance fit and stiff frame do well to encourage you to ride the Kanzo A fast, but at the same time the bike can feel like it’s working against you on steep climbs or short bursts of speed.
Thankfully, that’s where our negatives end, and unlike a few other bikes we had on test, the gears and brakes worked wonderfully.
The Shimano GRX 400-series group sits as a gravel-going equivalent to Tiagra. And while it doesn’t represent incredible value on this specific bike, it at least does what you want it to. The 2×10 gearing setup with 46/30T chainrings and 11-34T cassette provides plenty of range for all terrain without enormous jumps in your cadence when on the road. The rear derailleur features a clutch for some level of chain security (although the chain slap against the frame is still rather loud!), and the shift quality is consistently consistent.
Meanwhile, the hydraulic disc brakes actually work like you’d expect a disc brake to. No complaints here.
James and I both got on just fine with the somewhat-bulky GRX shifters, but Ellen noted that her smaller hands were no match for grasping around the hoods. This is something Shimano’s top-tier GRX Di2 (electronic) shifters address, but not any of the more affordable mechanical options.
Is OK enough?
“This just isn’t a terribly inspiring bike to ride,” concluded James. “It’s harsh and unforgiving, it feels slower than it should, and yet the fit and handling are pretty aggressive. It’s like a sports car with a trunk full of lead shot.”
Unlike some other bikes we had at Field Test, the Kanzo A doesn’t offer any troubling themes, there are no dangerous brakes, or silly gimmicks. It’s not a bad bike. In fact, there are elements of it that I quite like, namely the road bike feel with the ability to go wherever a 38-42 mm tyre allows.
Unfortunately, we’re also talking about a US$2,500 gravel bike that lacks tubeless readiness and weighs as much as a full suspension cross-country mountain bike. And that makes it a tough one to get excited about.
If there’s one key lesson from our Steamboat Field Test, it’s that you can’t assume that all affordably priced bikes are great. Even in 2022 there are indeed great, good, fine, and even the occasional bad bike being marketed. And in the case of Ridley’s budget gravel bike, the Kanzo A, it’s very much just fine. And fine doesn’t feel like enough when this price point is saturated with truly great riding options such as (but not limited to) the Salsa Journeyer, Trek Checkpoint ALR, Giant Revolt, and Canyon Grail AL.
CyclingTips Field Test group bike tests are never paid for by the participants, but they’re still only possible with some outside assistance. CyclingTips would like to thank the generous support of Assos for this year’s Field Test.