Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Priority review of Apollo Gravel: a bike for roads and mud

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Every few years, the world of cycling is coming out with a new trend that I mostly ignore. A dozen years ago, everyone was going crazy about cyclo-cross or cross-country. Then it’s the big tires, touring bikes, and e-bikes (OK, I entered these).

Some time ago, the gravel bike became the novelty. I was skeptical. Back, cyclists were telling everyone to spend thousands on a bike that’s Between a road bike and a mountain bike. But that skepticism eroded as soon as I started riding them.

It turns out that gravel hikes are versatile. These are great commuter bikes, and you won’t feel like crazy if you venture out on simple weekend trails with your friends. Apollo Gravel from Priority is one such example. It’s reasonably priced considering the breadth of its features, like an internal gear hub and carbon drive belt that’s easy to flush out when you’re unlucky.

I hiked it during an incredibly wet Pacific Northwest winter, both on socially remote weekend gravel walks and as a daily commuter to my neighborhood. I love this. It feels specially designed for my dirty lifestyle. This is a bike that I would buy myself.

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Photography: Adrienne So
Photography: Adrienne So

Cycling is a tribal sport, from spandex-clad road cyclists to claw-clawed mountain bikers and death-defying hipsters crossing traffic on old fixies. Priority Bicycles, based in New York, makes bikes for people like me. we as bikes but hate clip-on shoes. In general, his bikes are accessible – attractive, fun to ride, but not overly technical.

The Apollo is his first gravel bike. Gravel bikes look like road bikes on steroids, with drop bar handlebars and a long frame that slants forward to ride long miles. But they usually have features that make them less finicky than a road bike, like bigger tires and disc brakes.

The Priority tester sent me was a little one in a mossy Ground Control Green. I’m 5’2 ” and it looks pretty good on me, but ended up asking the company to replace the handlebar stem with a slightly shorter stem. My reach was not enough long enough. (You can also choose from Medium, Large, and Extra Large sizes.)

The Apollo Gravel has an aluminum frame with a shock absorbing carbon fiber fork and seat post. It weighs 24 pounds, which is surprisingly light. It’s as light as my steel commuter bike, even with the heavy internal gear hub.

An internal gear hub is a neatly contained drivetrain system unlike the chain and derailleur that most of us are familiar with, where a bike chain shifts from one gear to the next as you shift gears. The internal system is heavier, which is why you’re more likely to see them on e-bikes or commuter bikes where weight is less of an issue, and it also lets you shift gears when stationary.

If you’ve never done it before, it can be intimidating to change out a rear wheel that has an internal hub with a belt drive. Priority Bicycles spokesperson Casey Raymer said changing a rear tire with a belt drive and internal gear hub is a lot less complicated than dealing with a greasy chain and derailleur, but I’ve looked at several YouTube videos and I’m not exactly reassured about my ability to do so. At least the Apollo’s tires are tubeless compatible, which means you can convert them to being much less likely to get a puncture.

However, on a commuter bike, I say, “Heck yeah!” to an internal gear hub. You don’t constantly worry about chain tension, trying to figure out why your bike chain keeps falling off. Before the Apollo, I had never ridden a bike with an internal gear hub on a trail. It turns out that being able to change gears while stationary is just as enjoyable on steep, muddy hills as it is in the middle of traffic.

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