Face Off: Two Gravel Bikes (For Triathletes) Go Head to Head

Gravel cycling has never been more trendy and the rise of gravel tri means there's plenty for us multisporters to learn. We put two tri-friendly gravel machines to the test.

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Triathletes tend to have a penchant for the latest trends—and gravel riding certainly ticks that box. With more and more multisporters heading off road and onto gravel (and with USAT announcing its Gravel Tri Series), we decided it was time to put two top gravel bikes to the test and give you the lowdown (from the tri POV, of course). We chose the Specialized S-Works Crux and the Obed GVR GRX: both great gravel bikes, but very different price tags and very different machines. We rode both on a mix of terrain (and road) to thoroughly put them to the test for durations ranging from 60-minute social spins to three-hour training rides.

RELATED: How to Train for Gravel Triathlon

Specialized S-Works Crux and Obed GVR GRX: The facts and similarities

Both bikes are performance-oriented carbon gravel bikes with hydraulic disc groupsets, carbon wheels, excellent tire clearance, and racer geometries. But that’s about where the similarities start and end, especially when it comes to respective costs. At $12,250 for the complete bike, the Crux is unapologetically expensive—and more than three times the price of the GVR ($3,800). While this might not necessarily make this the most fair of head-to-head tests, we’ve kept this front of mind when comparing both bikes:

Specialized S-Works Crux Obed GVR GRX
Components SRAM Red eTap AXS Shimano GRX 810
Wheels Roval Terra CLX Disc Sun Charger Comp
Sizes available 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61 XS, S, M, L, XL
Weight 16 lbs 19 lbs
Price $12,250 $3,800

Obed GVR GRX review

(Photo: Courtesy Obed Bikes)

The first word that came to mind mid-way through our first ride aboard the Obed was “bombproof.” And, in fact, after many more miles on the GVR, it became increasingly obvious that this is a bike you can pretty much ride over anything and it’ll respond with an “OK, let’s do this!”

Given that many triathletes are new to riding gravel, handling and stability are important—and the Obed really shines here. It’s nimble and responsive while also feeling solid and stable. Perhaps this is something that’ll make experienced off-road riders laugh, but for triathletes taking to gravel for the first time (or the first few times), when you hit a corner just a little too hard and everything beneath you moves (“Whoah! I’m not on the road any more, what is happening!”) then you definitely want to be on a bike that not only responds to your movements, but feels “safe” enough to keep you upright. The Obed does this—and plenty more. You soon learn how to corner better (or maybe you just learn the hard way), and there is no front-end twitchiness or loss of control. It responds well when you get out of the saddle to climb or punch up short inclines. It also descends smoothly, whether you’re rolling over washboard gravel or looser stuff. It is a heavier bike than the Specialized and, of course, you do feel that. It does have that bombproof feel to it and the downside to that is it is hefty and, for those used to riding only tri bikes and/or road bikes, this bike is going to feel more sluggish. That said, in terms of gravel bikes, it is more aero in design than most with hidden internal cabling.

(Photo: Courtesy Obed Bikes)

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the Obed is that you can customize it to your taste and budget. While we were riding a mechanical test bike with a lower-end spec, the purchasing process allows you to pick exactly what you want (and despite COVID, there’s a relatively short wait time) so it’s entirely viable to upgrade many of the components, as well as choose your paint and decals (which is a super fun rabbit hole to go down. You can build your own bike here).

(Photo: Courtesy Obed Bikes)

The Obed GVR is a bike that anyone can jump on—whether you’re looking for a social spin with friends or want to enter your first gravel race (or gravel tri)—it scores highly in versatility and durability—and is a great choice for the multisport athlete looking to get off road and have fun while doing it.

(Photo: Courtesy Obed Bikes)

Specialized S-Works Crux review

If you’re someone who loves beautiful bikes, the S-Works Crux is going to have you at hello. Unless you have a very beautiful bank balance, though, that might be where the conversation starts and ends. Specialized isn’t shy about the Crux, labeling it the “lightest gravel bike in the world.” And you will most definitely be surprised when you first pick it up and realize there’s only 16lbs of it. It feels—and rides—like a super high-end road bike, yet can roll over just about any kind of gravel you choose to throw it over. It’s all the things you’d expect a bike of this stature to be: nimble, light, extremely responsive, and has excellent power transfer and acceleration. In short, it’s a pure joy to ride, whether you’re on road or off it. It corners and descends well, although really delivers its best ride when you’re riding faster, smoother gravel.

(Photo: Courtesy Specialized)

Unlike the Obed, though, it doesn’t have that same bombproof feel to it, which, as a triathlete on gravel, I quite enjoyed feeling. It’s less bombproof, more ballerina. Sure, it’ll dance and flirt over rocks and washboard terrain, but it doesn’t feel quite as sturdy. And for those who might be stepping into off-road riding for the first time, that sense of stability and durability is one that’s important (in our opinion).

(Photo: Courtesy Specialized)

It comes with SRAM’s top-of-the-line Red eTap AXS hydraulic disc groupset, which is a dream to ride, as well as their Roval Terra CLX disc wheels and 2Bliss Ready 700x38mm Pathfinder Pro tires that rode well over all the gravel we took them over.

This is an unabashedly racey and performance-oriented bike, which lacks the versatility of the Obed. If you’re looking to get into some serious gravel riding and racing (and you have the disposable cash) then, yes, the S-Works Crux is well worth a closer look, but if you’re after a bike that’s ready for any adventure then we wouldn’t start here.

The winner

Is it really a fair race when one bike on test costs three times that of the other? Perhaps not entirely, but, as already mentioned, we did bear this in mind throughout all of our testing. The Crux is a delightful bike to ride, it’s undoubtedly a bike that’s about show and dough, and it will garner the love and attention of many of your peers (and plenty of strangers too), but for us that’s not quite enough to justify the price. Over the course of the many miles we’ve ridden on both bikes, there’s just no way the Crux gives three times the performance (or the pleasure) of the Obed. Given that (for triathletes, anyway) this bike will likely be number two or three in your quiver of machines, unless you have a ridiculous bank balance (and we know many triathletes do) then it’s very hard to justify parting with the cash needed to take the Crux home. For triathletes, a gravel bike is (likely) going to be about having fun, enjoying a different kind of riding, learning some new skills, and stepping away from being super performance-oriented. For this reason, the Obed is our winner. It delivers all you’ll need—and some more—while also enabling you to have some cash left over to invest in a new wetsuit, aero helmet, race wheels, groceries for your family…the list goes on.

RELATED: What Gravel Equipment and Gear Do You Need for Your First Gravel Ride?

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