Allied Echo review: The two-in-one solution, fully realized
Slick adjustable geometry is impressively quick and easy to operate, with tangible benefits in each mode.
Slick adjustable geometry is impressively quick and easy to operate, with tangible benefits in each mode.
The concept of a single bike that could ably replace multiple ones is hardly new — cyclocross riders have been using their weekend race bikes to train on the road for ages, after all — but it’s only more recently that brands have been making more concerted efforts to develop the idea beyond just swapping wheelsets.
One of the latest models to hit the market is the Echo from Allied Cycle Works, which features both adjustable rear dropouts and fork tips that transform the bike from a full-blown road racer in one mode, to a highly capable gravel machine in the other.
It sounded very promising when I introduced it in early June (you can read all the nitty gritty tech details here), but how’s it been in reality after riding it for five weeks?
Allied sent a 52 cm test sample my way, complete with a SRAM Force eTap AXS wireless electronic group (46/33T chainrings and 10-33T cassette), Black Inc carbon fiber finishing kit, an Ergon saddle, and two sets of Industry Nine carbon wheels: a pair of i9.35 semi-aero road wheels shod with 28 mm-wide Vittoria Corsa Controls, and the UL 250 Carbon CX wrapped with 40 mm-wide WTB Byway semi-slicks. Actual weight in road mode is 7.65 kg (16.87 lb), and 7.80 kg (17.20 lb) in the gravel setup, both without pedals or accessories, but set up tubeless.
Allied’s director of product and engineering, Sam Pickman, was pretty clear when I spoke to him initially about the Echo that he didn’t expect owners to reconfigure the frame geometry on a weekly basis. While the changeover is impressively easy (more on that in a bit), it’s still a little more involved than just swapping wheels.
Naturally, I ignored all of that.
Instead, I committed early on to switching up my test Echo before every ride. That usually entailed doing the full swap — front and rear flip chips, wheelsets, and pedals — but sometimes just included the wheels. Either way, the idea was to get a more thorough picture of what it might be like to live with this on a day-to-day basis as my only drop-bar bike, with all the mixing and matching that entails.
TL;DR version: Although switching stuff around all the time was occasionally a hassle, it was worth it. I’ve ridden a number of “quiver killer” drop-bar bikes at this point, and the Echo is the most thorough I’ve encountered, and by a wide margin.
That neat adjustable geometry is the key to the Echo’s convincing dual personality. Whereas other bikes that have attempted the feat have focused on either the front end (like the Cervelo Aspero, Chapter2 Ao, and Rondo Ruut CF1), the rear end (like the Otso Waheela C), or neither (like the 3T Exploro RaceMax), the Echo features adjustments at both the rear dropouts and fork tips.
In road mode, the wheels get pulled in and up into the frameset for the sort of tight and compact layout you’d expect to see in any high-end race bike. It’s more than just looks, too. The made-in-Arkansas carbon fiber chassis is wonderfully stiff and responsive front and rear, it’s competitively light, and the handling is as quick and agile as any Tarmac, Madone, or TCR. It’s sufficiently stable on super-fast descents, with just enough nervousness to easily flick through tight switchbacks.
On steep paved climbs, the Echo is a wispy-feeling ascender, eagerly squirting forward as you rhythmically keep the pedals turning over. When sprinting, there’s not the slightest hint of squishiness in the frame to sap your power, and while the ride quality is relatively firm, it’s by no means punishing. Allied says the Echo is “13% more compliant” vertically than its Allroad model, but it’s basically a wash as far as your butt is concerned. It’s even appropriately long and low in terms of positioning, too.
Racers might lament the lack of any aero tube shaping on the frame or fork, but I’d argue that Allied doesn’t primarily aim the Echo at dedicated road racers, anyway. The 77.5 mm of bottom bracket drop in road mode is lower than any hardcore crit racer would dare pedal through a corner, and strong riders might find the proprietary CNC-machined aluminum stem to feel a hint softer than some of the oversized one-piece carbon cockpits that have recently grown increasingly common. In just every other aspect, though, I never found myself thinking the Echo gave anything up to purpose-built machines on tarmac.
All of that makes the fact the Echo can also easily accept 700×40 mm tires all the more remarkable.
With the flip chips flipped and the other wheels installed, the Echo is highly capable off-road. With 425 mm-long chainstays instead of 415 mm ones, 2.5 mm more bottom bracket height, a 0.5°-slacker head tube angle, a little extra stack height, and a bit more front-center, there’s more stability and calmness to the Echo’s handling. And when combined with the larger tires, there’s also less concern about pedal strikes when making your way through technical bits of trail.
That same chassis stiffness that makes the bike so snappy on-road translates into plenty of speed off-road, too, and while the frame could perhaps do with a bit more cushiness in that application, it’s still acceptable. The frame’s nearly-level top tube doesn’t leave as much seatpost exposed as something with more slope, though, so exercise caution when choosing your size.
Allied did itself no favors by fitting WTB’s Byway semi-slicks on my test bike, however. Though a perfectly reasonable tread design for packed dirt — and an impressively fast roller on paved surfaces — the wide slick center and sparse shoulder knobs are quickly outmatched once you leave the asphalt. Allied also offers the more aggressive 40 mm-wide WTB Vulpine, which I’d strongly recommend unless you’re only planning on tackling tamer terrain.
Either way, Allied is being somewhat conservative with that official maximum allowable tire size, as there’s nearly 55 mm of space between the chainstays and fork legs (and 60 mm between the seatstays). I managed to squeeze in some slightly wider (and more aggressive) rubber for much of my testing, but pushing the boundaries also comes with a word of caution.
“40 mm is maximum,” Pickman stressed. “[Allied-sponsored athlete] Colin [Strickland] fit 42 mm [Specialized] Pathfinders on it for Unbound but it really wasn’t an acceptable amount of clearance. The 42 mm clears easily in the back but it is too close at the crown of the fork.”
If you prefer 650b off-road, a 50 mm-wide tire will officially fit, though it’s not one of the stock offerings, and Pickman personally feels it doesn’t suit the Echo’s light-and-fast nature.
Whatever your wheel and tire preference, the Echo’s geometry is unlikely to satisfy anyone looking for something on the cutting edge. The Echo gets the job done, but it most certainly falls closer to the road bike end of the spectrum, as opposed to something much more progressive like a Devinci Hatchet, BMS URS, or Evil Chamois Hagar. The front center and wheelbase are quite short — some degree of toe overlap is likely for many users — and the trail dimension falls on the quicker side of things. As a result, I found the Echo to be better suited to various grades of unpaved roads than more challenging trails or singletrack.
Then again, none of those more progressive bikes are as quick and entertaining as the Echo on roads, so keep that in mind. If your idea of the perfect gravel bike is something akin to a rally car — i.e. something that rides and handles like a road bike, but can fit bigger tires — the Echo is right up your alley. To that end, I suspect many Echo buyers will be more than happy with a single fast-and-light wheelset running supple 30 mm or 32 mm tires.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that I committed to switching up the Echo’s configuration every time I rolled out of the garage. I was initially concerned with what I had signed myself up for, but in reality, switching modes is impressively quick and painless.
While many bikes with adjustable geometry require you to readjust the brake caliper every time you switch setups (the Chapter2 Ao and Otso Waheela C being two notable exceptions), the Echo integrates the brake mount into the dropout insert at both ends so you never have to mess with your brake caliper alignment after the initial setup (assuming you either have multiple wheelsets with identical hubs, or at least have taken the time to shim your rotors so they’re all positioned the same). It’s also helpful to have the same cassette size pre-installed on both rear wheels, although a slight amount of variation might still be OK depending on how the chain is sized.
Allied includes a pair of tools to perform the operation, though it’s all standard stuff that you likely already have at home, anyway.
The first couple of times I switched setups (geometry, wheels, and pedals), the entire operation took only eight minutes. By the time I finished testing, I got it down to just over six. That’s still longer than just grabbing a second bike off the wall that’s already ready to go, of course, but all things considered, that’s pretty good, especially if you’re not switching configurations as often as I was.
I should mention that it’s not necessary to switch the geometry all the time, either. If your unpaved surfaces are more tame, the road configuration will officially handle 30 mm-wide tires (or 32s if you’re willing to push it a little, depending on the exact setup). And needless to say, the Echo in gravel mode has no issues swallowing tires considerably smaller than the 40 mm maximum. I did plenty of rides on the road wheelset with the Echo in gravel mode, and it’s basically just an endurance road bike. In fact, there were some days when I was quite content to just gobble up long stretches of tarmac with the lazier handling so I could let my mind wander. One could argue that the bike doesn’t look as tidy with all of that unused extra space around the tires, but so be it; I can’t say I was ever bothered by it.
I do have some long-term concerns if you’re interested in an Echo and do plan on switching things up a lot, though. Allied wisely supplies a four-way multi-tool from Abbey Bike Tools, which is equipped with high-quality Wera Hex Plus bits that are less likely to round out bolt heads than conventional bits. Even so, regularly changing geometry configurations on the Echo will involve a lot of bolt loosening and tightening, which could potentially lead to long-term wear.
Even if that doesn’t end up being a factor, Allied still made one error here. Allied specified 3, 4, 5, and 8 mm hex bits on that tool, all of which are usually very useful. However, the sliding front brake mount requires a 2.5 mm bit, so you still need to reach into your toolbox. Some of the stem hardware requires a 3 mm bit, but you don’t need to mess with those when changing geometry. Oops.
More concerning are the very shallow wrench flats on the aluminum dropout inserts. The supplied tool fits well, but is still prone to slipping if you’re not careful. Echo owners who plan to change geometry regularly might want to consider keeping some spares on hand.
Finally, there’s the issue of rider fit. Changing the frameset configuration alters the head tube angle by 0.5°, but that also means the seat tube angle changes by nearly the same amount. If you’re sensitive to saddle placement — specifically setback — you might find yourself regularly moving the saddle back and forth on the rails when changing between road and gravel mode. I was happy leaving it in one position on the seatpost, but YMMV. Regardless, riders with short femurs (like yours truly) should inspect the geometry chart carefully. Seat tube angles are about 0.5-1° slacker than what I’m used to seeing in other high-end frames.
Regular readers (and listeners) of CyclingTips are well aware of my ho-hum attitude toward fully hidden cable routing. Sure, it looks cleaner and is measurably more aerodynamic, but are those small improvements really worth the hassle? Thankfully, the Echo’s front end cabling may be fully internal, but Allied’s system isn’t as much of a headache as some others — and, as it turns out, you aren’t locked into using it, either.
With the hidden setup, lines run internally through the handlebar, exiting through a port on the back in the middle and then traveling through the stem body before taking a downward turn into the top of the round, tapered steerer tube. From there, the front brake hose runs all the way through the hollow steerer, crown, and non-driveside fork leg, while the rear brake exits the backside of the steerer tube through a dedicated (and reinforced) hole. Any electronic wires would follow the same path as the rear brake hose — and no, the Echo isn’t compatible with mechanical drivetrains.
Replacing the upper headset will still require a rather comprehensive teardown (as is often the case with many internally routed bikes these days), but Allied as least makes it easy to change a stem if you need to tweak the fit.
The aluminum stem body is CNC-machined in-house, and there’s a separate shell that bolts on top and wraps around the handlebar, serving as both the handlebar clamp and cosmetic cover for the cabling. The handlebar clamp is particularly sleek as a result, and the steerer clamp slot is wide enough for brake hoses to slip through so there’s no major surgery required just to go from a 110 mm stem to a 100 mm one (as I needed to). And provided you aren’t making dramatic changes in stem extension, you don’t need to trim brake hose lengths. The two-piece design allows for a wider selection of handlebars than one-piece setups, too.
Because of how Allied has routed the lines, I don’t anticipate that steerer wear from rubbing brake hoses or derailleur lines will be an issue, either (a topic we’ll discuss in more detail at a later date).
Allied’s system isn’t without its quirks, though.
For one, headset adjustment is quite different from the usual process. Since the control lines feed into the top of the steerer, Allied couldn’t use a conventional compression plug. Instead, you simply push the stem down as best you can during installation, and then you use a 32 mm wrench (the same as what many of us used back in the threaded headset days) to wind down a threaded collar attached to the underside of the stem. It’s a bit awkward, but despite my initial fears, it never came loose during testing (which is good since you’re unlikely to be carrying a 32 mm wrench with you on a ride).
The design of the stem cap also means you can’t lower the stem without cutting down the steerer. Allied will provide a special cut-down cap if you need to experiment by moving some headset spacers up top, but it’s not something you’d want to run long-term. And since the lines run inside the steerer, there’s a special cutting guide developed for Allied by Abbey Bike Tools. This allows users to trim the steerer without removing the fork, and also includes a feature to prevent you from accidentally nicking the wires and hoses.
It’s a hassle, yes, but Allied has at least given some thought to the mechanics who have to work on the thing, which is better than the norm.
That all said, you don’t have to use this system if you don’t want to.
The original version of this review lamented being forced into using the design. It may be aesthetically superior, but it’s vastly inferior from a serviceability and part flexibility point of view. However, Pickman contacted me after the review went live to tell me that the Echo will actually also be available with a more conventional, and partially external, routing setup. The company just wanted to limit build configurations at launch to make it a bit easier to ramp up production.
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of a fully internal front end, Allied will supply a fork with a hole in the crown for the front brake hose. The rear brake hose (and drivetrain wire, if applicable) will then feed into a different version of the company’s eagle plate on top of the down tube. In that configuration, you’re free to run whatever standard bar and stem you want, along with a conventional compression plug and headset adjustment. You’d also have far more bar and stem options, including the Allied-made CNC-machined aluminum stem with the integrated headset preload collar should you choose. Pickman points out that the external routing setup would even save a bit of money if you wanted to run a less expensive cockpit, too.
“The idea from the gun was to allow people to run a regular bar stem if they wished,” Pickman told me. “We have not widely publicized this yet to keep things easier on ourselves at launch, but regular stem options will go on the web site shortly and we have already shipped a few in this configuration. In theory, you could run 1x mechanical, too, but we have no means for a front derailleur stop.”
One could argue that fully hidden cabling is practically a requirement for modern high-end road bikes, but Allied clearly isn’t concerned about aerodynamic performance given the Echo’s rectangular tube profiles so it’s really just about the look. Personally, I would rather have had more conventional routing for easier servicing and the freedom to run the exact bar and stem of my choosing, but I concede that I’m likely falling into the minority these days.
I’ve always had a soft spot for things that serve multiple purposes. To me, they just seem more efficient, and recent market data for the outdoor industry in general suggests that a growing number of people are now looking for their gear to do more things, too.
To that end, Allied’s new Echo squarely hits the mark if you’re looking for a single drop-bar machine that can serve as both a full-blown road bike and a highly capable gravel bike for exploring the path less traveled. Switching between the two modes is quick and easy, and there’s a tangible difference in handling, not just a change in tire clearance. It’s light and stiff, it’s reasonably comfortable, it looks good, and I don’t totally hate the internal routing setup.
I’d like to see a steeper seat tube angle in smaller sizes, and despite Allied insisting its customers don’t want them, I’d love to see some nicely hidden fender mounts, too. I mean seriously, how amazing would this be as a four-seasons road bike? A proper road racer in the summer, and then bigger tires and full-coverage fenders during the rainy months? Opportunity lost, I say.
And no, the Echo isn’t cheap. But it’s also built-to-order in the company’s factory in Arkansas, you’ve got a choice of 15 stock frame colors and seven decal colors (with modest upcharges for the fancier hues), there’s a wealth of component model and size options, and there’s the undeniable cachet of riding something that isn’t another cookie-cutter machine from one of the major labels.
Overall, the long list of positives overwhelmingly outweigh the short list of mild negatives I’ve come up with after a month of riding. If I were in the market for a premium two-in-one road bike myself, I’d certainly take a hard look at this thing.
More information can be found at www.alliedcycleworks.com.