I’ve very recently parted company with the Camino Ti, having sent it back to Alpkit, who very generously had offered to loan a SRAM Force specified model for us to test. I’m not going to keep you in suspense though, because never before have I been so sad to see a test bike being returned to a company. To say it is easily one of the best bikes I’ve ever ridden may sound a bit over the top to you, but not since testing a Kestrel 500c some 20 years ago have I been so utterly impressed with a bike. It really was that good.
For this test, I rode the Camino for approximately 150km in total, with 95% or more of that on gravel with a few hills thrown in, but mostly fairly flat. It was a hot weekend and I was carrying the usual overnight kit including food and water that I’d need.
I stopped at Stan’s Bike Shack in Sussex for a break on the first day and sat enjoying the sun while I had a coffee and some food (bacon roll, well-cooked bacon, if you must know!). About 15 minutes later, a group of local club riders arrived too, and as they parked up some of them took a fairly keen interest in the Camino. I’m not certain whether it was the smaller 650b wheels with gum-walled WTB Horizon 47c tyres, the flared drop bars or maybe even just the overall looks, but it certainly turned heads, and given the kinds of bikes they were riding (think local Dr’s and Dentists, with an appropriate budget!) this is quite an achievement. (I would have asked them their opinion properly, but one younger guy with them was the most incredibly obnoxious person based on his dominating conversation, and so I decided I could do without on that occasion!).
Ok, back to the subject… The first indication that this bike was something a bit special came when sat at Stan’s and I realised I’d shaved off some 30 minutes off of the time it would normally take to get there. And this, despite actually feeling like I’d been putting in a lot less effort than usual. I can only put this down to the titanium frame soaking up the usual tiring vibrations whilst at the same time directing my output to the drive train without absorbing any watts through flexion of the bottom bracket area. It feels sedate to ride, while actually putting down the gas really effectively. You just don’t realise… The carbon fork is spot on, giving you so much feedback on the terrain you’re riding over without being tiring through vibration. The hydraulic line slots perfectly into a tailor made groove along it’s length, making for clean lines and a snag-free ride through sections of overgrown paths. The bike we had was an early example, but the current production version has a lot more capability for fitting a rack and mudguards too.
The SRAM Force 1x drivetrain was simply magnificent as always. Attached to the titanium frame, each gear change was accompanied with a resolutely sounding thunk that inspired confidence that everything was working as one entity on the bike. The rear cassette gave a perfect range for the terrain I rode on, but a larger cassette might be an option to consider if you’re packing a lot of kit and going on a hilly route. The SRAM hydraulic brakes worked flawlessly in so far as they stop you when you need them to, but they did squeal a fair bit when using them to just shave off some speed. We’ll forgive them though, because the hoods are so comfortable for hand placement, being a fair bit larger than any Shimano option.
The finishing kit was all from the Love Mud range, also by Alpkit. The short stem very seriously provided accurate input to the steering as well as a perfect reach for my own dimensions. The flared drop bars had some issues for me sadly, with the length of the bar ends being a bit short for my huge paws. This was such a shame for me, because overall I really really liked the flared bars for the riding positions they gave, along with the positioning of the SRAM shifters. Riding off road on the drops though (during some long romanesque straights on our route) did not inspire confidence, and actually, for me, were a potential accident waiting to happen (see below). The saddle also disappointed me a little too. The design of it looks absolutely perfect for the bike, but it was less so for my butt sadly. A personal thing of course, I’m certain it will fit as many people perfectly as those it doesn’t.
The wheels were totally solid. I felt confident on these across all terrains and even riding down a set of (wooden) stairs in the forest didn’t seem to phase them either. Quite a noisy freehub for our tastes, although it did help to avoid the usual screeching of walkers as it alerted them to our approach and denied us our usual ninja-like ability to make them jump 😉 The WTB Horizon tyres ended up being a bit 50/50 for me though. Again, there’s more below about them overall, but in muddy sections they really liked to squirrel about a lot and despite running them at increasingly low pressure they seemed overly bouncy to me. Something I can only put down to the gum-walled sides. That said, at ‘normal’ pressure again, they rode on tarmac like a dream – a really silent dream in fact. So, 50/50 then..
At the moment, this bike is at a very likely 10/10 for me. Only the finishing kit let it down slightly, and as that is mostly a personal issue I won’t allow it to reflect in my opinion too much. But…
I’ve written about the short-ended flared drop bars and I’ve written about the bouncy gum-walled tyres too. Now try to imagine what that combination could be like on different surfaces… Well, I found that on the road, generally typical tarmac for the UK, any bump over about 1.5″ resulted in pushing the bars similarly upwards but with the added ‘launch’ factor too. Before I got used to it, I very nearly had my hands thrown off of the bars a few times and I don’t want to think about the potential outcome of that too much! As a result I found, on day 2 of the ride at least, that my hands ached like never before! I’d clearly been gripping the bars quite firmly to avoid the issue on day 1 and even as I write this I can still feel it if I press down on my palms! Also, with the added issue (for me) of the dropped end of the bars being so short for my large hands, on one occasion offroad, on the drops, I only just managed to hold on with my left index and middle finger when a bump in the path knocked my hands off the bars again. Thankfully I recovered my position before I lost it completely. My conclusion? The combination of these bars and the gum-walled tyres wasn’t the best for me generally. Of course, these are all parts of the bike that can be easily modified to fix the issue. And given the Camino’s ability to take either 650b or 700c wheel sets (subject to overall tyre width’s etc), it shouldn’t be too hard to find a combination to suit.
I’m not going to regurgitate all of the stats and dimensions of the bike here; I would very much urge you to head over to Alpkit’s site to check out the full range of Sonder bikes and other kit that they make too – you really won’t be disappointed.
- Very low weight
- Subtle and classy metal finish
- High quality SRAM groupset
- Frame mounts where you need them
- The ride
- The fun!
- The flared drop bars (complicated, because actually I loved them except for the shortness of the drops)
- The gum-walled WTB Horizon 47c tyres
- The Love Mud saddle
Conclusion: I don’t want it to sound like the problems I experienced with the bars and tyres marred the overall experience of the bike, because they most certainly did not. I loved this bike and regretted not having more time with it in fact. It turned heads without being flashy, rode brilliantly across all of the terrains I subjected it to (tyre and bar performance notwithstanding!) and led me to explore side paths off of my main route simply for the fun of it. And that is the overall sense I’m left with – this is the most refined fun I’ve had on a bike in a very very long time. Our recommendation is, if you’re looking for a new gravel or travel bike that is highly specified, built brilliantly and rides like an armchair when you need it to and a racer when you don’t, then do yourself a favour and buy a Sonder Camino Ti. You can even rent one for a weekend before buying it, if you need to. Personally, I’d get in while they have stock in all sizes… 9/10
Frame & fork (stock): £999
Frame & fork (custom): £1149
Camino Ti with SRAM Rival 1x: £1499
Camino Ti with SRAM Force 1x: £1999
Aluminum version coming soon I think…
Call to arrange a demo ride at their Nottingham Factory Store, or rent for a full weekend for £39 a day + £30 delivery & collection.