Raptor: the Ultimate Aero Gravel Rig
article & images by Nick Salazar
Mar 8, 2020
I've always been enthralled with the idea of an all-in-one bike. The idea of a combination road/tri/trail bike is alluring in principle. Who wouldn't love having a single rig that represents the best of all worlds? Unfortunately, the reality is that any bike capable of multiple disciplines is never going to be optimized at any of them. It's always going to suffer some flaws at one or all of the intended riding paradigms. Nevertheless, I've always been interested in trying my hand at building such a bike, and at minimizing the potential flaws it would suffer. So that's what this bike is. I call it the Raptor. It's a predator, gobbling up all of the inferior competitors that dare call themselves multi-discipline bikes. And like a falcon, it's beautiful, sleek, and undeniably fast.
When I set out to start this build early last year, I originally had my eye on the Exploro from 3T Cycling. The geometry could actually hit my tri bike fit numbers when paired with the Alpha One bars! And at that time, there wasn't a lot of competition in the 'aero gravel' space, which 3T basically created. Since then, several other great options have popped up, like the Cervelo Áspero, Canyon Grail, and more. But there's nothing out there - NOTHING - that anticipates putting on a full aero cockpit. But that's exactly what I planned to do. That's what I wanted to build up. Essentially I wanted a tri bike, but with nice big trail-ready tires. Not merely a gravel bike with clip-on extensions. I wanted a full, integrated triathlon cockpit that I could ride on the dirt trails.
So that gives me the class of bike I'm looking at. But before going further, we need to head back to basics. The first question to ask, when building this bike or any other, is what are the geometry requirements? And if I wanted this to be a sort of universal ride, am I looking for geometry that can change depending on the discipline? Or just a single position that will work for different types of riding? My answer leaned towards the latter. My plan was to essentially ride a tri position, just rotated slightly backwards relative to the bottom bracket. That would replicate the biomechanics of my tri position, but keep things just a little further upright for improved visibility, and comfort when not in aero. So it'll ride like a gravel bike when I'm on the pursuits, and ride like a (not super aggressive) tri bike when I'm in the aerobars. So I didn't need to replicate a tri position. Instead, I'd be creating (from scratch) a new position, but using the same biomechanical principles that work for me in my tri position.
After surveying all the available options, I settled on my frame and got to work. Hit the jump to see what this beast is, and how it got built.