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Sonder Camino Ti Rival 1 long

Dec 13, 2023

Robyn and the Camino return from Slovenia's mountains to British winter mud

This competition is now closed

By Robyn Furtado

Published: March 14, 2023 at 11:30 am

The Sonder Camino gravel bike range from Alpkit has a reputation that precedes it among bikepackers and gravel riders as one of the best all-round gravel bikes.

Sonder claims the Camino is for "bikepackers, thrill-seekers and challenges big and small", and it certainly looks the part. With its wide tyre clearance, mountain-bike inspired geometry, heaps of mounts and internal routing for a dropper post, the Camino seems set for adventure.

Before getting the Camino, I had been on the lookout for a bikepacking bike for a while. My prerequisites were the bike had to have enough mounts to attach lots of bikepacking bags, capable off-road abilities and hardy enough components to weather a UK winter.

The Camino range has the option of aluminium or titanium frames. The titanium-framed Sonder Camino I have chosen is near the top of the range, boasting a carbon fork, SRAM Rival 1 gearing and hydraulic disc brakes, but still costs a reasonable £2,449.

The new version has even more space for large tyres and enough mounts to keep the kitchen-sink lovers happy. I’ll be putting it to the test over the next 12 months.

Since my previous update, where I rode the Sonder Camino across Slovenia, I’ve been firmly back on UK soil.

I’ve spent the winter taking the Camino out on local routes near my home in the south west of England, sampling mud from every postcode in a 20-mile radius.

Last time I wrote about the Camino, I detailed the new, wider Continental Terra tyres I was using. I can report these tyres have handled the winter well, and I really like them for both on- and off-road use.

Though they’re a little slippery on mud, they have fared well in icy conditions, and shed mud with ease.

Saying that, I have found the limit of the tyre clearance. I ended up getting so much mud stuck in between the forks before Christmas that I had to resort to carrying the bike across the rest of a field and poking the dirt out with a stick – very demoralising.

There is another British winter problem I’ve encountered recently; farmers cutting their hedges and scattering the bridleways, paths and roads with thorns. After a couple of pesky punctures, I decided to set up the Continental Terras tubeless.

This was a pretty painless procedure, especially using Muc-Off tubeless valves and tape, which have so far held their own against the south west's most rugged gravel paths.

I have run into a few mechanical problems with the Sonder over this winter. One issue I have is with the Bomber handlebar. Though I’m enjoying the shape of the bars, the extreme angle of the hoods is putting pressure on the SRAM hoods and levers.

The levers are not designed to be installed at such a flare, and so when you press on the levers to change gear, you put a lot of pressure on the one screw that holds the hoods firm. At this angle, the screw is at its weakest, which is causing it to loosen – meaning the hoods have started to bend and not bear weight.

I have been re-tightening these bolts every month or so, which solves the situation temporarily, but you have to remember to do this, which isn't ideal.

I have also had to replace the bottom bracket. A mixture of a very sloppy winter, and my own over-enthusiastic cleaning with the garden hose led to the internal bearings seizing.

Though this isn't hugely difficult to replace, it's a shame the SRAM GXP bottom bracket isn't serviceable; so, if it breaks, you have to get a new one.

It hasn't had the longest life, but I will probably blame myself here – the hose I was using was obviously powerful enough to get into the bottom bracket and cause the bearings to seize. You live and learn!

A few small changes since my last update have included the adding of a beautiful blue alloy bottle cage. Because the bike is such a monochrome colour, I think it looks lovely and brings a nice little pop of colour. I will hopefully add some matching bolts to enhance the look.

In my last update, I said I was planning on adding a gravel fork. I’m still hoping to do this, but the search for the perfect fork is ongoing. Now I’ve imagined the Sonder as a quasi-hardtail, I can't imagine it as anything else…

Since I took delivery of the Sonder Camino, I have been thoroughly testing its claims of long-distance ability.

The best thing I have done so far is take the Camino for a tour across Slovenia. This was around 200 miles of mixed-terrain riding, from Ljubljana over the Julian Alps to the border of Italy and Austria.

To get the Camino ready for luggage-carrying duties, I added a rack (I used a Tortec Velocity Hybrid Rear Rack, which has seen many miles on the back of my old touring bike), along with Ortlieb's 8-litre Fork Packs and Apidura's front burrito bag.

As a place to cycle, Slovenia comes highly recommended – it's very accessible and has probably the best gravel climb I’ve ever done. If you like cottage cheese, they put it in and on every dish, so you never have to worry about getting enough calories in.

The Sonder Camino was the perfect bike for the trip. I was totally blown away by how nicely it handles with luggage on; the steering is always calm and stable, and off-road it feels planted and steady.

The geometry – with its shorter reach and lower bottom bracket – makes you feel as if you’re riding in rather than on the bike. When you’re carrying a lot of weight on the bike, this is not a bad thing because it feels very stable.

The position you sit in is very comfortable on long days out, too, with the Bomber handlebars enabling lots of hand positions.

With almost an Everest of climbing over the week, including one 20km climb with many stages of 22 per cent incline, I would have loved a lower gear; perhaps a 52t 12-speed cassette. However, I did manage to ride up everything, so it wasn't an impossible task.

The Nova wheels and Goodyear Connector tyres impressed me with their mixed-terrain capabilities, jumping from smooth tarmac mountain roads to rocky river paths and fire roads with no complaints.

Overall, the Sonder Camino impressed throughout the trip. I loved how it felt with bags on, and how comfortable it was, whether grinding up mountains, riding on fire roads or coasting on bike paths. I’ve said it before, but to me, this is a perfect bike for touring.

On a slightly different note, I also used the Camino to ride the Calder Divide, a 100-mile bikepacking event in the Peak District.

I dithered about which bike to take for this, because it's officially a mountain bike route, but in the end I decided on the Camino since it's been so dry this summer.

To get it ready for the event, I swapped out the tyres for the 50mm Continental Terra Hardpack. These are large enough to dampen some of the trail chatter.

I also borrowed Tom Marvin's Redshift Shockstop suspension stem. The stem is an interesting piece of tech; the polymers inside it work to give around 20mm of effective travel. This helps take some of the sting out of riding on rough surfaces all day, reducing strain on your hands.

The Calder Divide was a beautiful and hard day out, circling the Calder river basin and climbing up and down the Peaks and the Yorkshire Dales a few times.

The Sonder Camino felt quite under-biked on the route, and I had to do a fair amount of walking up AND down. I missed having a suspension fork and a dropper post, so perhaps a mountain bike would have been a better choice.

However, I was very impressed by how much difference changing the tyres and stem made to the bike; they both helped to smooth out some of the rougher trails.

The Sonder also did a good job on the smoother sections of gravel – it rips on towpaths and fire roads.

With winter now set in, I’m planning to switch to a pair of Teravail Rutland gravel tyres with larger knobbles for the mud, along with some sort of mudguards.

Reflecting on how much I missed having a hardtail on the Calder Divide, I also have been thinking about gravel suspension forks, especially since Rob has been enjoying his XPLR fork so much on his long-term review Rå Valravn gravel bike.

So watch this space, my Sonder Camino might be a very different bike in a month or so!

The Sonder Camino's frame is built with aeronautical-grade titanium, and it looks very smart with clean welds and internal routing.

Alpkit suggests titanium is an excellent choice for a gravel bike; it's lighter than steel, but has a pleasingly twangy ride that helps absorb some of the trail chatter.

The frame is paired with a carbon monocoque fork with a stealthy-looking matt black finish.

As you might expect from a self-styled bikepacking bike, the Camino comes with a range of mounts to attach luggage.

There are mudguard mounts, rear and front rack mounts, cargo cage fork mounts, top tube mounts and the down tube has triple mounts on the top and bottom for expedition-style bottle cages.

There is ample room for wide tyres – up to 700c x 50mm or 650b x 2.2in, which is well into mountain bike territory.

There is also routing for a dropper post, should you want to head down the mountain bike route, although dropper posts on gravel bikes are becoming more and more common. The Camino gets a BSA threaded bottom bracket, which Sonder says is for durability and ease of mechanics.

It's fitted with SRAM's Rival 1 1×11 groupset, with a SRAM Rival 1 GPX chainset. The 11-42t cassette should be low enough to spin up most hills, without losing too much speed at the other end.

Also fitted are SRAM's Rival 1 hydraulic brakes, paired with large 160mm CenterLine rotors for off-road stopping power.

The Sonder Camino comes with aluminium Sonder Alpha 700c wheels, shod in Schwalbe CX Comp tyres. My bike, however, came with different wheels and tyres due to parts shortages.

I had lower-spec Sonder Nova 700c wheels and Goodyear Connector tyres in 700x40mm. These are tubeless-ready, but they come with tubes in the box.

The finishing kit is almost universally own-brand, with a Sonder seatpost and Sonder Abode saddle, and the wonderfully flared Sonder Bomber handlebars.

The full build, without pedals, weighs in at 9.6kg for a medium.

The Sonder Camino draws on trends in mountain bike geometry, with a longer, slacker shape.

It has a noticeably long wheelbase at 1,073cm for a size medium. When it's paired with the head angle, which is reasonably slack at 69 degrees, the steering should feel confident and stable off-road, especially when descending.

The stack and reach figures – 582cm and 395cm respectively – give quite an upright, central seating position, making for a comfortable and confident ride.

Sonder says the bike is made for agile handling. There are four sizes, from small to extra large, but they all have relatively short stems of 50mm or 80mm. This will keep the handling feeling responsive and direct.

I have done a lot of gravel riding in the last few years, and over that time I’ve found myself becoming more interested in doing rides that are longer, slower and more silly.

I was therefore on the lookout for a bike that could handle lots of terrain types, from tarmac to trail, be loaded with bags, and wasn't built with overly complicated tech.

I noticed how many people were riding Caminos during a gravel group ride. I was interested in the extreme flared bars that come with the bike, and how differently all the iterations of the Camino were built up; some had styled their Camino as rigid mountain bikes with butterfly bars, while others were paired down with thin tyres and racks into a do-it-all commuter bike.

I was also, I admit, swayed by the Camino owners’ enthusiastic praise for their bikes.

The Sonder Camino already has a well-established reputation as a great bikepacking rig. This year's version comes with even more mounts and wider tyre clearance, so I was keen to get my hands on one and start riding.

I liked the flared handlebars too, which are aesthetically very interesting and certainly start conversations.

The Sonder Camino was easy to set up out of the box, and is provided with some Sonder-branded tools to help you put it together – a nice touch.

All that was required was to turn the bars, put on some pedals, fiddle with the exact height of the seatpost and pump up the tyres – all straightforward to do. Then I was free to jump on and pedal it home that very evening.

My next move was to attach a water bottle cage and some fork mounts for an upcoming bikepacking trip. This was a slightly less fun experience.

I found the bolts very short – far too short to go through the bottle cage mounts and secure into the frame, so I had to dig out some bog-standard black steel bolts to use instead.

This isn't a huge problem, but if you want your bolts to match your frame, you’ll have to get additional longer titanium bolts to fit.

I adjusted the brake levers’ reach so I could comfortably use them, which when they were set further from the bar posed problems for using the drops.

The bike's effective top tube is quite long, and I ended up fitting a shorter 50mm stem to bring the bars closer to me when seated.

The Camino represents a number of firsts for me. It's my first titanium bike, my first time using SRAM on a drop-bar bike, and my first time using those very flared handlebars.

The bike arrived right at the start of a week's holiday, so for its first ride, I took the Camino 250km across Wales.

It was a good test; there were plenty of hills, a mix of terrain and extra weight on the bike. The trip got off to a bit of a false start when I decided – half an hour before we needed to leave for the train – to fiddle with the headset, only to drop all the parts inside the head tube.

It took half an hour to fish everything out and rebuild, so I wouldn't recommend doing this in a hurry.

Once we’d started, the bike rode with genuine confidence. The titanium frame has so far been impressive – lightweight, responsive and pleasingly shiny.

For someone as accident-prone as me, I’m delighted by how shiny and clean it looks, even after the wear of bike bags, being carried through a patch of brambles and having a small crash into a bog.

Thankfully, I have so far resisted talking obsessively about how great titanium is, avoiding becoming one of those titanium bike owners you get stuck with on a group bike ride. There are still many months left, though…

The Camino's ride is very comfortable, with an upright position given by the wide, short handlebars and built-up stem. This makes it genuinely comfortable on long days out.

That said, I found the wide bars and upright position make this a bike more suited to slower days, especially if you’re going into a head wind.

The Camino handles beautifully with bike bags on, the steering made confident by the low bottom bracket and slack head angle. It sails across bumps in a stately way, feeling planted and sure of itself.

The Sonder Bomber handlebars definitely took a bit of time to get used to. They are very short and have a quite extreme flare to them, which Sonder says is for off-road comfort and control.

I was excited to use them – I rarely use my drops, and I was hoping the Bombers would offer more hand placements with as much control as the hoods.

They’re comfortable to ride off-road, with the angle of the flares taking off some pressure in the wrists. They offer heaps of control and allow for multiple hand placements.

I did find myself missing straighter bars on longer road sections though – I’ll have to see how they feel over the next few months. The Bomber handlebars are also great for carrying extra load, because they’re wide enough to allow for large and long front bags.

I really liked the SRAM Rival 1 gearing that comes with the Camino. The single-lever shifting was initially slightly confusing for me after years of using Shimano, but I quickly got used to it, and was pretty happy with the clean shifting performance, even under load.

Though the Sonder Nova wheels rolled smoothly, I was less impressed by the Goodyear Connector tyres. During the four-day trip, I got a puncture every single day, which wasn't amazing considering how dry it was. They aren't set up tubeless yet, and this will be one of my first upgrades.

While they might not be the most puncture-proof, I found they rolled fast on the road and had a reliable grip on dry gravel.

The Camino did a great job on the trip, handling off-road sections and luggage-carrying with confidence and comfort. This is in no way the last trip of the season, so you’ll have to come back and see how it fares with different wheels and tyres in a month or so.

There are a number of changes I made to the bike straight off. Firstly, I changed the saddle. I prefer a saddle with a central cut-out, so I opted to fit a Prologo gravel AGX. I also put on some Ortlieb fork cages for front panniers, but eventually I’d like a front rack instead.

I changed the stem straight-off too. This is because I found the effective top tube too long to reach the brakes comfortably, even after fiddling with the reach adjustment on the brakes.

I am at the very lower end of the medium size, and like many women, have a shorter reach than what is standard on unisex bikes. I swapped out the stock stem for a 50mm Giant one, which gave a better position for reaching the brakes comfortably.

The main change I’d like to make in the next month or so is to switch the wheels and tyres to something a bit wider. A 700cx50mm tyre sounds perfect.

These will definitely be tubeless too, because like everyone else I don't love getting punctures.

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Senior videographer

Robyn Furtado is one of the videographers for BikeRadar's Youtube channel. Robyn is mostly found riding gravel bikes or mountain bikes, while seeking out Bristol's muddiest trails. She has been riding bikes all her life but really fell in love with cycling after riding the Pacific Coast Trail, from Vancouver to Mexico, back in 2016. Since then, Robyn has been bikepacking and cycle touring on numerous long-distance trips, across Europe, New Zealand and the UK. Her main cycling philosophy is: if somewhere exists, you can probably cycle to it (given enough time and determination, anyway). Robyn has previously worked as a photographer and videographer for Evans Cycles. As well as being a videographer, she is also a contributor to and can be found in front of the camera as one of our video presenters.

❚ Sizes (*tested): Weight: Frame: Fork: Shifters: Derailleurs: Wheelset: Tyres: Brakes: Bar: Stem: Seatpost: Saddle: