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by James Huang
October 30, 2019
Photography by James Huang
If you care more about function than flash — and are maybe a little carbon-averse — the Mason Bokeh is a great option for a do-it-all gravel machine that won’t totally break the bank. The triple-butted aluminum frame is reasonably light, rides well enough, handles brilliantly, and incorporates all the mounts most of us will ever need. Despite its premium pricing, the Bokeh has earned a bit of a cult following, and after several months of riding one on- and off-road, I can see why.
On the surface, the Mason Bokeh comes across as a fairly straightforward aluminum gravel frame; it’s only when looking closer that you notice how much thought has actually gone into it.
Unlike carbon fiber, whose mechanical properties can be dramatically altered independently of shape by changing the underlying fiber lay-up, aluminum is an isotropic material, meaning it essentially behaves the same in every direction. A square card of carbon fiber can be very hard to bend in one direction, for example, but very flexible in another, while a similar card made of aluminum will bend the same way no matter which way you hold it.
As a result, tuning the ride quality of an aluminum frame is primarily the result of tube shape.
The top tube is highly ovalized to help mitigate head tube twist under load. Should you be so inclined, it also makes for a flatter and more comfortable surface if you want to use the Bokeh as a cyclocross bike, too.
Each Bokeh frame is made of triple-butted Dedacciai aluminum tubing that is custom-shaped to Mason’s specifications. The oversized down tube has a U-shaped profile that allows for more weld surface contact with the bottom bracket shell, for example, while the top tube is ovalized horizontally to help increase front-triangle torsional stiffness.
The seatstays bow outward up top for tire clearance, before taking a downward arc toward the custom forged 142x12mm thru-axle dropouts to provide more space for the chainstay-mounted flat-mount disc-brake caliper. The deftly curved chainstays are works of art: almost round in profile and widely spaced at the standard 68mm-wide threaded bottom bracket shell, radically pinched-down just past that for tire and drivetrain clearance, vertically ovalized through the mid-section, and then almost round again where they meet the dropouts. They’re also dropped slightly to prevent chain slap.
Both the seatstays and chainstays are made of fairly large-diameter tubing for rear-end stiffness — there’s not a whole lot of need for built-in frame compliance given the large-volume tire sizes typically used here — and the bridgeless chainstays leave few places for mud to build up.
The definition of “bokeh” is clear. The pronunciation of the word is slightly more contentious.
Up front is a tapered 1 1/8-to-1 1/2in head tube with fully integrated bearing seats for a clean look, and even the English-threaded bottom bracket isn’t left alone, bulging in diameter in the middle to leave more room for the internally routed lines. The only visually mundane member of the frame is the seat tube: it’s basically a straight and round (but still butted) pipe that terminates in a 27.2mm-diameter seatpost up top to provide some welcome flex. The one exception is the largest 62cm size, which uses a 31.6mm seatpost.
All of that is joined with tidy TIG welds that aren’t quite sanded perfectly smooth, but are still visually tidy, especially when covered in one of the Bokeh’s three available paint hues. Claimed frame weights range from about 1,560g for the smallest 48cm size, up to 1,860g for the largest 62cm size.
Paired with that well-thought-out frame is Mason’s Parallax full-carbon fork, complete with 100x12mm thru-axle dropouts, a flat-mount caliper interface, and internal routing for the hydraulic hose. The same 50mm rake is used across the complete size range.
The Parallax fork has since been replaced by the Parallax 2 fork, but the changes are very minor.
Mason hails from the UK, and so it’s no surprise to see that fender mounts are present and accounted for at both ends, while the rear is equipped with proper rack mounts as well. There are also three standard bottle mounts on the frame, with two inside the main triangle and the third on the underside of the down tube.
There’s even a dedicated mounting point on the front of the fork crown for a dynamo-powered light, and the seatstay bridge is elegantly curved so as to closely follow the arc of a fender if you decide to use one.
Geometry-wise, the Bokeh is well in keeping with current trends in the gravel world, albeit with a slight bent toward the more sporting end of the spectrum. In fact, Mason doesn’t actually refer to the Bokeh as a “gravel bike”, but rather calls it an “AdventureSport” machine designed to cover ground quickly — a subtle distinction, perhaps, but one worth noting nonetheless.
Trail figures range from 62 to 75mm, depending on size (with smaller sizes being more stable, and larger sizes being more agile). Bottom bracket drops range from 75mm on the smallest size, up to 70mm for the largest option, and the same 435mm chainstay length is used throughout. Stack and reach figures are fairly middle-of-the-road, too, with somewhat higher and shorter dimensions across the board relative to full-blown road racers — just as you’d expect for the category.
In terms of wheel and tire compatibility, Mason is hedging its bets, leaving room for both 650x50mm and 700x45mm tires so you’re free to run just about anything you wish.
Visually, Mason seems to be going for a classy and elegant aesthetic here. The silhouette is fairly traditional despite the slightly sloping top tube and curved stays, and while two of the three color choices are quite bold, it’s still a monochromatic scheme across the board, with minimal branding. Prefer the look of a NASCAR race car? Look elsewhere.
The Mason Bokeh is a prime example of how good a modern aluminum frame can be: reasonably lightweight, with good ride quality and stiffness, and highly versatile, all with a far more approachable price than a good carbon model.
One thing to note: Mason updated this frameset during the review period, but changes are minor. The bulge in the threaded bottom bracket shell has gotten larger so the internally routed cables can more easily clear 30mm-diameter spindles, some of the cable routing ports have been moved for better compatibility with frame bags, and the new Parallax 2 carbon fork now has so-called “anything” mounts on each leg and internal routing for the optional dynamo wire.
Small changes, but positive ones.
Mason provides lots of choices when it comes to outfitting a Bokeh, from bare framesets to rolling chassis to complete builds, including a wide selection of groupsets and drivetrain configurations from Shimano and SRAM, your choice of 650b or 700c wheel-and-tire packages (featuring wheelsets from UK compatriot Hunt), and Dedacciai finishing kit.
Prices for the bare framesets start at £1,250 (including headset, thru-axles), while the current flagship build (with Shimano GRX Di2) tops out at £3,995. VAT is included in the quoted UK prices, but international buyers aren’t subject to the same surcharge and effectively get up to a 20% discount, depending on local taxes and fees. Mason doesn’t set fixed retail prices outside of the UK, leaving them to fluctuate with standard exchange rates.
The branding is pleasantly minimal on the Bokeh, and even what’s there is tastefully executed.
I went the DIY route on this one, outfitting my 52cm test frameset with a SRAM Red eTap AXS 2×12 wireless electronic groupset (including a Quarq power meter), Zipp 303 Firecrest carbon clinchers (in both 650b and 700c variants), and a mix of Zipp, WTB, and Fizik. Total weight in 700c trim with 35mm-wide Schwalbe G-One Allround tubeless tires was 8.53kg (18.80lb) without pedals.
In photography, the term “bokeh” refers to how the background of an image is pleasantly blurry so as to highlight the subject — and after riding the Mason Bokeh, I find it to be a somewhat curious moniker for a bike that is so clearly adept at a wide range of uses, not one that is keenly focused on a singular task.
Much of that versatility is due to the way it readily accepts multiple wheel and tire sizes.
You can easily fit a finger in between this 700x35mm Schwalbe G-One and the chainstay.
On tarmac, the chassis offers up an efficient feel under power and a superb riding position that I never found to be either overly upright or too aggressive; with the stem slammed atop the included Dedacciai headset cover, I felt right at home. And if you go through the trouble of fitting more purpose-built tires — 28mm Schwalbe Pro One tubeless clinchers, as I ran here for a while — the Bokeh is more than happy ticking off scores of fast road miles.
It’s obviously not quite as sharp, light, or aerodynamically efficient as a full-blown racer — nor does the aluminum frame provide as cushy a ride as a good carbon frame — but riders that predominantly do their road riding solo won’t find much to complain about.
But then again, you don’t buy a bike like the Bokeh to only ride on tarmac.
Note how the chainstays are welded very far out on the bottom bracket shell, as well as a bit lower down where there’s more surface area for the weld. Later Bokeh models have a more pronounced bulge in the bottom bracket shell for better clearance between the internally routed lines and oversized crankset spindles.
With a good mixed-surface tires like the 35mm-wide Schwalbe G-One fitted, the Bokeh is still plenty capable on tarmac, but it really comes alive once you get to the “good stuff” — which, in my case, is the bountiful expanses of dirt and gravel available here in Colorado. There, the semi-aggressive position and efficient feel still encourage you to push hard, but the larger-volume tires add in a ride comfort element that’s occasionally missing when the Bokeh is wearing narrower rubber.
That toned-down geometry seems ideally suited in that scenario, too, with just enough wiggle room to shift your body weight around and keep things entertaining as you start drifting through loose corners, and enough maneuverability to easily flick the front end around obstacles that suddenly appear in your way at the exit of a corner. Whereas some dedicated gravel bikes seem almost overly composed and stable, the Bokeh seems to retain more of its cyclocross DNA — more play than plow.
For more demanding endeavors, I swapped to the 650b set of Zipp 303 Firecrest carbon wheels, wrapped with 47mm-wide Specialized Pathfinder Pro tubeless clinchers. As expected in that configuration, the Bokeh ate up rougher rocks and roots with aplomb, equally happy crawling over technical sections at low speed or blowing through sections of sharp-edged scree. Sections of trail that I normally deem soporifically tame for a proper mountain bike suddenly became new and entertaining again on the 650b-equipped Bokeh, almost as if I were re-discovering old stomping ground all over again.
Fully integrated bearings in the tapered head tube make for a very neat appearance.
The Bokeh underwent yet another transformation as winter approached here in Colorado, going back to the 700c Schwalbe G-Ones and gaining full-coverage fenders for use in less-than-ideal weather conditions. And once again, the Bokeh took it all in its stride.
But as always, there are compromises associated with being so capable across such a wide range of usage scenarios, and doing so at a fairly reasonable cost.
Bike companies often like to tout some of their newer drop-bar bikes as being equally adept at everything from tarmac to singletrack. However, the reality is that every bike still usually excels at a fairly well-defined usage range; it’s just that the performance of ones that are especially versatile don’t fall off as much once you stray outside of those boundaries.
Hiding down here is a third bottle mount, plus a port for the internally routed cables. And note the threaded bottom bracket shell.
In the case of the Bokeh, it’s fantastic as a mixed-conditions machine — up to Grade 3, perhaps — where you might occasionally do a ride exclusively on tarmac, but are primarily on the road mostly as a means to get to local dirt and gravel. And with narrower tires fitted, it’s a surprisingly good rig for fast group rides and the like.
But at the other end of the spectrum, the Bokeh starts to feel a little more out of its element, even with a wider 650b setup. It can certainly handle it, but it doesn’t seem as much at home there.
With higher-volume 700c tires, the Bokeh is appropriately stable and forgiving, happy to let the wheels slide underneath you without fear that the ends will unexpectedly trade places on you. But while a wider 650b setup gets you the air volume and footprint you want on looser ground, the smaller overall diameter also comes with quicker handling and a slightly lower bottom bracket. That change plays well when using a narrower 700c setup on the road, when you want that additional agility, but it’s less ideal with a high-volume 650b configuration when you’d presumably want more stability.
The seatstay bridge isn’t necessarily curved for style; it also makes for a neater appearance when you install fenders.
Adjustable fork rakes are slowly becoming more commonplace, from brands such as Rondo, Enve, Cervelo, and GT (and Canyon even toyed with it for a while on its first-generation Aeroad). It adds weight and complexity, yes, but it also allows riders to explicitly correct for the geometry changes that come with 700c/650b wheel swaps, and it’d be nice to see Mason follow this path moving forward.
There’s that saying that invariably comes up whenever some sort of do-everything drop-bar bike is discussed: “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” And while that applies to the Bokeh in some sense, the full version of that saying is far more appropriate: “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”
I don’t need to point out that I’ve ridden dedicated road bikes that are faster than the Bokeh on tarmac, nor that I’ve ridden fat-tired adventure bikes that offer a more forgiving ride or more appropriate handling. The thing with the Bokeh is that while it’s capable of operating at those extremes, it’s clearly happiest, and arguably has the most to offer, in the middle.
And as it turns out, that’s likely where most of us are spending our time these days, anyway.
As an “N+1” gravel bike for those with deep pockets, yes, you can do better. But when looking at the Bokeh through the lens of a single machine that you can call on to do just about anything (within reason), the case becomes much clearer — tack-sharp in the center of the frame, with maybe a little vignetting out at the edges.
When all is said and done, it may not be perfect, but it’s still a beautiful image overall.
Farewell, little bike. I’ll be sorry to see you go.
Although the tubes have a lot of shaping, the Bokeh still strikes a refreshingly understated profile.
The majority of the tube shaping happens out back.
There are an awful lot of bends on those seatstays, but every one has a reason for being.
The chainstays are highly complex in shape, offering lots of chainring and tire clearance while still keeping the overall length reasonably tight.
Is grey not your thing? Mason offers the Bokeh in bright green and orange finishes, too. All three look fantastic.
The ovalized top tube is wider than the seat tube, but they blend in nicely with the seatstays.
The minimal dropouts are compact and tidy.
The triple-butted aluminum tubeset is made in Italy by Dedacciai.
The dropouts have the appearance of being fully hollow from the outside, but a look inside shows that they’re just relieved. Still, there’s an impressive level of attention paid here to their design.
Mason has since moved this port to the underside of the top tube to reduce interference with frame bags.
Mason has wisely incorporated the threads for the replaceable hanger into the hanger itself, which means there’s less chance the frame will be damaged in the event of a crash.
Since there’s no chainstay bridge, Mason incorporates the forwardmost mount for the rear fender on the back of the seat tube. It’s quite high up, though, which makes fender fitment a little tricky.
A standard seatpost collar, yay!
The clamp-on front derailleur mount perhaps doesn’t look as clean as a braze-on mount, but it yields a cleaner appearance if you decide to run a single chainring, as well as more positioning flexibility if you want to run unusual chainring sizes.
Can you have too many mounts? Not when they’re visually out of the way.
Tire clearance is similarly generous up front.