YT Szepter first-ride review: a gravity MTB brand goes gravel
The consumer-direct gravity mountain bike brand enters the dropbar world.
The consumer-direct gravity mountain bike brand enters the dropbar world.
If you consider yourself a roadie (I certainly do), you may not be too familiar with YT Industries. However, you’re probably at least aware of the bicycle company if you’re a fan of the following: Christopher Walken, anime, British football hardman Vinnie Jones, shock-horror filmography, and of course, mountain biking.
YT is a German direct-to-consumer mountain bike brand that started in 2008 when founder Markus Flossmann saw a gap in the market for a tough-as-nails, steel dirt jump bike. From those initial 150 steel bikes, the company has expanded. It now has 200-plus employees and a plethora of award- and race-winning mountain bikes in its lineup – the brand has come a long way in only 14 years.
Now, YT claims it has spotted another gap in the market; that being a playful, gravity-orientated gravel bike. The Szepter is the fruit of three years of development.
So why has a brand that made itself a significant player in the mountain bike scene decided to enter what is now a hotly contested and rapidly growing gravel scene? How could a brand more experienced in winning UCI Downhill World Cups and Red Bull Rampage trophies know what gravel is all about?
Well, after two days blasting about on the trails and roads of the Surrey Hills in the south of the UK, I’m convinced they are bringing quite a lot to the scene with the Szepter.
So what has YT brought to the gravel party? The Szepter is unreservedly a bike with a healthy dose of mountain bike DNA, or as YT likes to put it, a bike that is “gravel orientated.” And such a claim is certainly backed up when looking at the fairly progressive geometry and a few equipment choices.
In the two days I spent with the company, there was little mention of this being an elusive all-around gravel bike or a do-it-all machine. Instead, YT has taken aim at the playful side of the scene.
YT’s first foray into the gravel world has delivered a carbon bike that, the brand claims, has been built primarily around the RockShox Rudy XPLR gravel fork. And the result is a bike with some interesting on-paper design choices. Let’s start with geometry. Something that, in some places, seems pretty progressive.
The head angle sits at a rather slack 69.4° – slacker than a BMC URS, but nowhere near as raked out as what competing mountain bike brand Evil offers. This head angle is based on the longer length of the suspension fork. YT currently offers no rigid fork alternative. This is matched to a slightly steeper-than-standard 74.4° seat tube. These angles run the same for the five available sizes, from small to double-extra-large. Similarly, the 51 mm offset fork is the same across all sizes, meaning a consistent 80 mm trail figure (700 x 42 mm tyre) regardless of how tall you stand.
Stack and reach are other areas that are a step away from the common offerings in the gravel space. Stack, for the most part, is high compared to what we’ve already seen on many of the popular gravel bikes – YT has done so to ensure those coming from the gravity mountain bike world feel comfortable. A medium measures 668 mm. Meanwhile, the reach is on the longer side but nothing too extreme. For instance, a medium has a reach of 398 mm; a somewhat middle-of-the-road length that’s intended to be matched with a stem approximately 20 mm shorter than you may be used to.
The bottom bracket sits fairly tall with a drop of 61 mm on the small and medium, and 62 mm on the three larger sizes. Meanwhile, the chainstays are kept fairly short at 425 mm.
The head tube is a pretty beefy affair, and YT has not tried to aero it up in any way at all. Instead, it’s a big chunk of handsome-looking carbon that’s said to have a shape inspired by Gladiator helmets – I can’t make this stuff up. Hidden inside are reinforcing struts to add stiffness and strength to the oversized head tube that holds the tapered steerer of the Rudy XPLR fork.
The dropped stays are on trend and flow into what at first looks like an aero-inspired seat tube, but aero it isn’t. Instead, YT has curved the seat tube so it flows into a funky mini fender, all designed to keep the filth from your back end. It works surprisingly well. There is also a fender up front on the forks. Not a Rudy-propriety one, but rather a YT-designed option.
Being a mountain bike brand, you may expect tire clearance to fit the meatiest of rubber, but the Szepter is rather conventional, with clearance up to 45 mm. The bike is designed around a 700c wheel, and when I asked about compatibility for those who may want to venture down the 650b route, I received a rather straight answer: “why would you want to do that?” Though they considered it an option early on, they felt it didn’t offer any benefits with what they wanted to design. Both models of Szepter (more on these below) come with 42 mm WTB Resolute tubeless tires.
The 30.9 mm seat tube uses a skinnier 27.2 mm seatpost with a shim. There’s a fancy RockShox Reverb XPLR dropper on the Core 4 model, and a rigid Zipp SC on the even more affordable Core 3. The 30.9 mm seat tube opens options for just about any dropper post if you are so inclined. The maximum insertion depth of 275 mm on the larger frame sizes ensures compatibility with a dropper post up to 150 mm in length.
Both models feature wireless shifting, either SRAM Rival AXS or Force AXS, leaving only hydraulic hoses to route. Thankfully these haven’t been given the aero or hidden treatment. They are internally routed (via the top of the down tube) but not via the bars or headset, so it should make your local mechanic happier. There are additional routing options if you run a mechanical groupset or dropper. However, it’s worth noting that this frame has no provisions for a front derailleur. It also has no threads in the bottom bracket, instead using a Shimano-style PF86.
If you want to carry bags and luggage galore, you are limited to two bottle cage mounts and four mounts under the top tube; there are no mounts on the rear. For some, it may be a little lacking, but it is nice to see that YT has stuck to its initial design criteria of producing, first and foremost, a playful bike for having a blast on your local trails. They’ve not tried to bastardise it or appease those that may want to saddle it with racks and bags. However, it’ll handle any bags you wish to strap to it.
One last little interesting choice in spec from the team at YT is to equip the bike with a 180 mm front disc rotor and a smaller 160 mm at back. It’s a detail we first saw with the BMC URS and one that has obvious MTB inspiration.
The bike comes in two builds, the Core 4 and the Core 3. Both come with the same frame; there’s no down- or upgrading of carbon between the two.
For the Core 3, you get a full SRAM Rival AXS XPLR groupset, with the 10-44T cassette matched to a 38T chainring. Forks are kept in the SRAM family, with the RockShox Rudy XPLR. The wheels are WTB Speedterra i23 (23 mm internal width) with an alloy rim. There’s no dropper post on the Core 3; instead, you get a Zipp Service Course alloy post to match the stem and Zipp XPLR handlebars.
Keeping things comfortable for your derriere is an SDG Bel Air V3, something of a nod to YT’s mountain bike heritage. The retail price for the Core 3 is an impressively low US$3,300 / €3,300 / £3,200, which is in line with why YT has become such a big name in the highly competitive mountain bike world.
The Core 4 upgrades the groupset to SRAM Force AXS XPLR. You also get an upgraded fork in the form of the RockShox Rudy Ultimate XPLR plus you get the matching Reverb XPLR AXS wireless dropper seatpost. Wheels get a bump in spec, too, with the WTB Proterra Light i23, a lighter alloy version of what the Core 3 offers. For the Core 4, you’ll have to lay down just over an extra grand with prices at US$4,500 / €4,500 / £4,400. This is impressively low given the equipped SRAM/RockShox components.
If you’ve watched the first ride impressions video at the top of this article, you’ll know that the bike throws two words to mind: fun and confidence-inspiring. OK, you could argue that’s three, but you get my gist. The bike is a lot of smile-inducing fun when out on the trails; something that the YT staff on hand had promised us.
Some bikes take you an age to get to grips with, where finding that right position and learning the handling characteristics can take a few rides. I was happy to find that the Szepter, for me at least, didn’t fall anywhere near that camp. Chucking a leg over, I felt the bike didn’t throw up any unpleasantries or unexpected handling characteristics.
If I’m brutally honest, going into the launch, I didn’t know what to expect from “a mountain bike brand”. I was only familiar with YT due to some exceptional marketing campaigns for a few of its models over the years. I initially thought it was another brand jumping on the bandwagon, trying to take a slice of the rapidly growing market. And on first seeing the bike, I still had this thought bubbling away in the back of my mind. It didn’t look anything too out of the ordinary – a bit progressive in its geometry, but nothing too outlandishly wild in its design.
But out on the trails, it had me smiling for two days of testing. It’s fast, nippy, and precise. This handling and the stiff front end, matched with the Rudy Ultimate fork, had me reconsidering my opinions about suspension forks on gravel bikes. The slightly upright yet steep seated position reminded me of a few endurance/gran fondo-type bikes I’ve used.
On the open roads, it’s not the nippiest gravel bike. At 9.9 kg for a size small, it’s not lightweight and the weight holds it back a smidge. But even with that extra weight penalty courtesy of the fork and seatpost, it never felt like YT had neglected road performance. With the fork locked out, you may feel higher seated upfront than most gravel bikes, but it still feels nippy and low enough not to feel like a mountain bike. It’s all well-balanced.
The fork and dropper inevitably add to the Szepter’s weight, but once off-road that feels like a welcome trade-off.
There’s going to be a certain group of people out there who’ll point out that the bike only officially takes up to 45 mm tires, which isn’t all that extreme in today’s gravel scene. However, it’s the exact reason I’d agree that this is what a gravel bike is all about. This bike, with its suspension fork, can take on a whole lot. I feel that if you want to do more extreme gravel riding, that’s when you should be using a hardtail mountain bike. I get the feeling that the YT design team feels the same way.
I must admit, I welcome YT to the gravel world, especially if they’re planning to deliver fun bikes like this. They’ve stuck to their guns with their initial ideas of what a gravel bike is to them. They don’t seem to have watered down their approach to enter other areas of the gravel market.
This bike is quite simply just a big bag of fun. A bike perfect for those that may be time-strapped but want a few hours out on the trails and roads and come back with a grin from ear to ear. If, on the odd occasion, you fancy a longer adventure on this thing, you won’t be held back. It’s a bike for using the tarmac to get from one good gravel zone to the next without feeling hindered.
It turns out YT brought the boombox to the gravel party.