Ridley Grifn first ride review: Blurred lines
Ridley's new Grifn falls into the do-it-all camp, but is it really an N+1 killer?
Ridley's new Grifn falls into the do-it-all camp, but is it really an N+1 killer?
It wasn’t long ago that drop bar bike categories were pretty clearly defined – road race, endurance, audax/touring, cyclocross – but it feels to this curmudgeon that the market is getting awfully muddied as of late, with bikes becoming hyper-specialized or just plain confusing in what they can offer. Even “gravel” is getting split up in sub-classes.
Fast forward to the current day, and Belgian brand Ridley has now introduced the Grifn, a bike whose originally planned name – the Kanzo All – was maybe more descriptive of its role as a sort of N+1 killer. It sits somewhere between Ridley’s road and gravel offerings, and is intended to be a modern take on what “all-road” means in 2022. It is aimed squarely at not one subsection of the cycling industry, but instead a whole swathe.
According to Ridley, it’s a bike that should suit just about everyone: the weekend cafe racer or gravel grinder, the rugged urbanist, the gravel-curious, those that refuse or can’t afford a fleet of bikes, those that want to tackle a gran fondo or two. Basically, it’s for those that want speed and handling that are closer to a road bike, but with enough gravel DNA to regularly hit some dirt roads. In short, it’s supposedly a bike for everyone and anyone who isn’t super specific at either end of the road race to gravel adventure sliding scale.
Ridley even threw out the idea that the Grifn would have been an ideal bike for this year’s inaugural UCI gravel world championships in Vicenza. But is it?
The Grifn’s frame geometry gives a good look at how it tries to shoot the gap between road and gravel. The 72° head tube angle (71.5° on the smallest size) sits between the 73.5° dimension of the Fenix SLiC and the 71.5° of the Kanzo Fast. The bottom bracket drop sits in between at 73 mm, but the Grifn’s 420 mm chainstays are shorter than those of the Kanzo Speed (which this bike seems to be replacing) at 420mm, and the seat tube angle is steeper than on the Kanzo Speed, too. The stack is somewhat high at 587 mm for a medium, but the reach isn’t far from what you’d expect on a road at 391 mm for a medium.
The Grifn comes as one standard frame; the carbon type isn’t specified, but only the one carbon layup option is used across all the build and price options. It will be available in five T-shirt sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL), and an unpainted medium frame is claimed to weight 990 g with an uncut fork adding another 445 g.
As for tire clearance, this differs depending on what setup you want to run. If you’re using a 1x groupset, it’ll have enough room for 700×40 mm tires. For 2x, it’s 38 mm. And if you’re planning on throwing fenders on it, that brings down the tire clearance down to 32 mm.
Being a bike for tinkering on the gravel, the need to mount bags is something that Ridley hasn’t bypassed. They’ve not gone down the route of riddling the frame with bosses galore but offered enough that should keep most more than happy. You have three bosses on both the down and seat tube, giving you two bottle cage positions on each. There are also three bosses under the down tube, and for the all-important top tube bag, they’ve carried over the tidily hidden mount from their Kanzo Adventure. There are front and rear fender mounts, and if you want to get super sleek, Ridley has partnered with fellow Belgian brand Curana to produce fenders specifically for the Grifn.
If dynamo lights are something you use, you even get the the internal routing and mounts for them that are found on the Kanzo Adventure.
The top two build options get a new Forza carbon one-piece cockpit with a non-round steerer tube and fully internal routing to keep the frame sleek and clean looking. The shape takes the flat upper profile from Ridley’s road one-piece bar and matches it to a 16° flare with 120 mm of drop and 70 mm of reach. Just four size combinations are available right now: 90/380, 100/400, 110/400 and 120/42 mm.
One little touch that put a small smile on my face was the simple clamp-on front derailleur mount. It’s not as techy as bolt-on ones, but it is a tried-and-trusted mounting option if you do want to run two chainrings – simple choices are the best sometimes. The rear end gets SRAM’s Universal Derailleur Hanger, something that’s bled over from the mountain bike world. The bottom bracket is BB86 (you can’t have it all, folks), but at least the seatpost is a standard 27.2 mm, so there is no worry about being stuck with a proprietary setup.
There are two road-oriented builds, one with a mechanical Shimano 105 groupset and Shimano RS171 DB alloy wheels, 32 mm-wide Vittoria Zaffino Pro tires, a Forza alloy bar, stem and carbon seatpost, and a Selle Italia Model X saddle. The retail price is €3,200 / £2,910. The more expensive road option comes with the new 105 Di2 wiredless electronic groupset, Forza Norte carbon gravel wheels shod with 32 mm-wide Vittoria Corsa Next tires, the one-piece bar and stem, and a Selle Italia XLR saddle. The retail price is £4,280 / €4,700 (pricing for other regions is to be confirmed).
The two gravel options are also Shimano equipped. £2,910 / €3,200 gets you a GRX600 2x mechanical groupset, but otherwise the same build as the 105 mechanical build. The only thing that changes is the tires, switching to Vittoria Terreno Dry gravel treads. Moving up to the Shimano GRX800 2x groupset bumps the price up to £3,820 / €4,200. Similarly, this option comes with the same finishing kit as the 105 Di2 road version, but again switches to Vittoria Terreno Dry TNT gravel tires.
If these builds aren’t to your liking, or you want to jazz the bike up or down, there’s also the option to use Ridley’s comprehensive online configurator. Pretty much everything can be changed from groupset to wheels, and to make it truly personal, there’s even a custom paint program. Be warned! You can spend many hours playing about on there as it’s an endless rabbit hole of customization.
I’ll first say that I loved my time on the Grifn. It’s a well-rounded bike, but it leaves me wondering two things: firstly, if the “all road” label should be laid to rest, and secondly, if there can be such a thing as a true N+1 killer. Because although the Grifn is great on both the road and gravel, isn’t quite entirely at home on either. But it’s understandable why; it’s a bike that has to compromise. The “new all-road” isn’t what “old all-road” was, and it’s clearly a tough nut to crack when building a bike that can take it all on. That doesn’t mean Ridley hasn’t succeeded; in many ways, they have.
Handling obviously sits somewhere between the two categories the Grifn is trying to straddle. On gravel, it’s a fun bike, playful and positive. Unlike the recently launched Ridley Kanzo Adventure – a bike that ticked many boxes for its intended use – this bike is more of a plaything for the gravel rather than an all-day long-distance adventurer. It’s perfectly at home on more “cruisy” routes, but once you venture on to trickier and twitchier surfaces or deep gravel, the slightly steep head angle (for a gravel bike) demands your concentration, so much so that I wouldn’t choose the Grifn as my all-day gravel bike. You have to be “on it” to avoid overcooking corners or burying the front end in deep, rough surfaces. But that roadie-ish geometry, with its shorter wheelbase and lower stack, makes it feel snappy under power on harder-packed gravel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. To that end, the Grifn also seems to ask you to race up more gradual inclines.
For a bike aimed at everyone who wants a bike that can handle a plethora of situations, the inclusion of a one-piece bar and stem seems an odd choice. I like the bar’s overall shape and drop, but I feel it’s more style over substance here. Although you can spec a conventional two-piece bar and stem option in the online configurator, I would sooner see that as the stock fitment with the one-piece cockpit being an optional upgrade. Apart from that allowing a price drop, it would also allow you to fit your bike into the discipline you prefer more easily, especially given how the fully internal routing will complicate any cockpit fit changes apart from bar height. The bar isn’t overly stiff, but it’s also not as compliant as one I’d choose to have for an endurance/gravel bike. That said, if the stock dimensions work for you, the overall shape and flare of the bar feel good in your hands.
As for its road performance credentials, well, again, it has them in spades. It’s a bike that isn’t a full-on road racing machine, nor is it meant to be; instead, it falls into that sporty-endurance camp. It doesn’t shy away from allowing you to have a good time out on the tarmac. Sprinting on it is less direct and snappy than I expected, but I put some of that down in part to the tire choice, more of which I’ll come to in a moment. Descending on it is confident and direct, carving corners with ease, if not quite pinpoint racing accuracy.
Nevertheless, the Grifn handles road duty without worry, and for all-day rides, it should be more than comfortable and nippy enough for most.
As for the weight, well, there’s no way around it; the Grifn is a bit heavy, especially if you intend to use it more as an endurance road or gran fondo machine. Ridley says a medium Grifn with the Shimano 105 Di2 build comes in at 8.5 kg (18.74 lb), which isn’t terrible, but certainly not particularly light. Unfortunately, if you want a mid-priced bike with electronic shifting, weight is something you’ll have to either shed elsewhere else or just learn to live with.
I promised I’d touch on those tires, so here we go. The house-brand Forza Levanto G carbon wheels I rode look the business and do the job well. But I’d quickly change the 32 mm-wide Vittoria Corsa NEXT tires for road duty. These tubeless-ready tires may get good reviews from many, but I felt the 32 mm-wide versions we used dulled the road characteristics of the Grifn. This isn’t something unique to this bike or tire; every time I’ve used a 32 mm tire on any bike, I’ve wished for narrower. You can feel the bike wanting to be racier, but the 32 mm treads seem to hold it back. Again I can understand why they’ve specified these tires, but personally (and with my road racing background), I don’t think 32 mm slicks are fast enough on the road, nor are they tough enough for gravel. I’d love to get a more extended test with the bike, but instead with 28 mm tires as I’m sure the road characteristics of the bike would come alive even more.
Reading this back, I feel I’ve come over a bit harshly so far, but the Grifn really is a nice bike: great fun on the gravel for shorter rides, and should be at home on the road with narrower tires. It’s finished well, and in that department, Ridley does an good job. It offers enough for its intended market without trying to be more than it should be, and it should please a large subset of the cycling world. It’s confident both on and off-road. But like anything that is trying to be something to everyone, it has to compromise.
For those with no room for a fleet of bikes in the garage or want a do-it-all machine, it’s worth taking a closer look as the Grifn will hit the sweet spot for some. Personally, though, I’ve yet to come across a bike that would be my N+1 killer, but I certainly doff my cap to Ridley as they’ve aimed high with the Grifn.