Vibration Testing Four Expensive Gravel Bikes – Which Is Most Comfortable?

This is the first time I’ve been able to comfort test four interesting gravel bikes, at the same time and under the same conditions.

The Gravel Field Test contenders are:
– Specialized Diverge Comp
– Cannondale Topstone Carbon
– Canyon Grail CF SLX
– Enigma Escape Titanium (my benchmark bike)

I’ll be first showing you the comfort features of these gravel bikes, then we’ll look at the vibration test results, and finally, I’ll give you my ride impressions of all four bikes.

By the end, you will not only know which gravel bike is the most comfortable to ride, and also, the bike that’s the most fun to be on.

The Main Comfort Features of These Bikes

The Specialized Diverge Comp features the FutureShock 2.0, a suspension damper unit that sits inside the fork’s steerer tube. I’ve said this many times before, but the FutureShock is probably the best front-end comfort solution you can buy.

The Specialized is using a Roval Carbon Terra seatpost at the back that’s designed to flex over bumps and depressions in the road.

You can see my review of the previous Diverge with a FutureShock 1.0 HERE and the Turbo Creo SL eBike HERE.

The Cannondale Topstone Carbon has a rigid fork that’s paired with a SAVE handlebar and stem that can flex up and down while you ride.

At the bike’s rear is a carbon flex chainstay with a small pivot mounted halfway up the seat tube. The Kingpin rear triangle is said to flex 10 to 12mm vertically to keep you comfortable. This is in addition to the SAVE seatpost that can deflect a similar amount.

The Canyon Grail uses a carbon rigid fork too but it’s coupled with a Hover Bar setup. This funky handlebar and stem combination can also flex up and down while you ride, smoothing out the gravel roads.

At the rear of the Grail is an Ergon Allroad Pro seatpost (Canyon branding) that has proven to be the most comfortable carbon seatpost I’ve tested over the last few years.

And finally, I will test these bikes against my Enigma Escape titanium benchmark bike (not the bike pictured above). This has an OPEN U-Turn carbon fork, which is the most comfortable carbon fork I’ve ever tested. I’ve also set it up with a Redshift ShockStop suspension stem and a Coefficient Wave carbon handlebar.

At the rear, I’m using a Redshift ShockStop suspension seatpost, which is exceptional at damping both small vibrations and bigger hits.

The Test Bike Setup

Having four bikes at the same time created a great opportunity for me to compare them under the same conditions.

I used the same tires (Rene Herse Barlow Pass 38mm) at the same tire pressure (30 psi) to make this a fair test. The Barlow Pass tires had an actual width of 39mm on all rims.

I used the same saddle (SQlab 612 Ergowave Active) but the standard seatposts that come with these bikes. This will allow us to see the combined frame and seatpost compliance of each bike.

Of course, the saddle height and distance from the saddle to the handlebar were identical for all bikes.

Finally, I collected my measurements in very similar weather conditions (dry and mildly hot). Hopefully, with so many variables neutralised, we can draw some real conclusions.

Vibration Test Results

You can see my vibration measurement procedure & outdoor test courses HERE.

The Diverge with its FutureShock was the equal best on the bumpy forest trail. It had the same level of vibrations as recorded on the Enigma Escape with the Redshift ShockStop suspension stem. The Canyon Grail was the worst – the Diverge and Enigma were attenuating 22% more vibrations.

The biggest surprise result was the Cannondale Topstone.

The Topstone uses a rigid carbon fork, handlebar, and stem combination that works incredibly well on bumpy forest trails – it was only 4% less effective than the Diverge and Enigma. I did not expect this result at all, and it makes me wonder if we really need a suspension stem or FutureShock for bumpy trails, when a simple rigid bike can offer such great front-end comfort.

When the fast gravel road is considered, the overall results were somewhat similar.

The Specialized Diverge with its FutureShock was 11% more effective in reducing front vibrations than the second-best bike, the Enigma Escape, which was using a Redshift ShockStop suspension stem.

The bikes without any form of suspension were next. The Diverge had 17% fewer vibrations than the Cannondale Topstone, and it was attenuating 23.5% more vibrations than the Canyon Grail. That’s a huge result!

On the bumpy forest trail, we saw only a small difference between the three carbon gravel bikes at the rear.

The titanium Enigma Escape with the Redshift ShockStop suspension seatpost was easily the most comfortable overall. It absorbed 24% more vibration than the Diverge on the bumpy forest road, and 21% more vibration than the Topstone or Grail. I even managed to get a vibration recording below 2,0 on the bumpy forest trail for the very first time. Suspension seatposts really work!

I was really interested in how the Topstone frame with leaf-sprung rear suspension would perform in my tests. I had high hopes for it because it’s the only bike with a ‘proper’ rear suspension system in this field test. But unfortunately, the Topstone is not a magical comfort solution.

The bumpy forest trail test is where the rear suspension should shine the most but I recorded the same level of vibrations as the Canyon Grail, which was equipped only with a carbon seatpost (although, it’s the most comfortable carbon seatpost available).

And on the fast gravel road, the Enigma/Redshift combination was the best once again, however, by a much slimmer margin (4% to 7% across all bikes).

Surprisingly, the Canyon’s carbon seatpost proved to be more effective (3.7%) at reducing vibration than the combination of the Topstone’s flex rear triangle and carbon seatpost. You could say that the Topstone frame is not only about improving comfort but also wheel traction but I honestly had a hard time feeling any difference.

The cool thing is that you can make any bike as comfortable as the Enigma simply by fitting a RedShift ShockStop suspension seatpost. I’m certain the Diverge, Grail, and Topstone would offer the equivalent comfort with this upgrade.

Ride Testing The Four Gravel Bikes

Talking about comfort is easy because I have the hard data but talking about ride feel and experience is a bit more subjective. Perhaps, my additional thoughts will help make the choice between these bikes easier for you.

I set up a 30-minute course combining the bumpy forest road, the fast gravel road, and a paved road. I then rode the four bikes back-to-back over a two-hour test period.

This time each bike was on its standard tires and standard saddle. But the saddle height and saddle-to-handlebar distance were set up identically.

So, what did I think?

Specialized Diverge Comp Analysis

This Specialized Diverge Comp is very different from the model I tested last year. And it’s quite different from the Turbo Creo SL eBikes too.

By different, I mean the frame is much longer and slightly lower at the front. It’s also heavier.

As a result, the new Diverge feels more like a cruiser than a bike made for speed. It feels slower than the Canyon Grail or Cannondale Topstone, but this is just a feeling – your body position and tire rolling resistance will likely play the biggest role in your true cycling speeds.

I still consider the previous Diverge as one of the fastest-feeling gravel bikes I’ve tested.

In terms of handling, the Diverge is still very eager to change direction, and the extra frame length helps to make it feel very stable and predictable. Coupled with the FutureShock 2.0, you can really hammer down any gravel road – just make sure to add a proper suspension seastpost so you can do this while riding seated too.

The Cannondale Topstone with a Lefty suspension fork might be the only real competitor in this category. But until I can properly test it, the FutureShock is still at the top in terms of comfort. Especially on fast, vibration-inducing gravel roads.

Cannondale Topstone Carbon Analysis

The Cannondale Topstone Carbon is a different beast, and in some ways, it resembles the previous Diverge – it feels rather tall and has a very short chainstay. It’s very agile.

The Topstone has quite a long front centre relative to its chainstay length, which results in an interesting ride experience. It feels like you are positioned right over the rear wheel, and you can even notice the front wheel lifting off the ground when accelerating hard.

While the steering is not particularly fast on the Topstone, it’s more than enough for navigating through tight forest roads with speeds above 25km/h (15mph).

Overall, the front and rear comfort feel quite balanced, and combined with agile frame geometry, the Topstone really encourages you to go further and faster than before.

Canyon Grail CF SLX Analysis

The Canyon Grail CF SLX is a very interesting bike indeed.

It’s interesting because Canyon seems to have not made the Grail frameset itself compliant – it feels very stiff and responsive. To claw the comfort back, Canyon instead installed the excellent Ergon Allroad Pro flex seatpost and unique flexing Hoverbar.

The result is the fastest and the most road-bike-like gravel bike in the field test. It feels best when accelerating, almost as if no pedal power is wasted.

It has a noticeably slow steering response but it’s still fast enough to make the bike enjoyable to ride.

The comfort feels great at the rear with Ergon Allroad Pro seatpost. But there is no denying that when riding in the brake hoods at the front, you take the biggest beating of all bikes in this field test.

While the Grail was last in the vibration test at the brake hoods, it has something unique to offer – the double-decker handlebar that was created to ride most comfortably at the bar tops (near the stem).

Does it work? Yes!

It’s tough to get repeatable results on the bar tops as you put a lot less body weight on the bar. This results in your hands moving much more freely, which tends to generate a higher vibration reading. But I can tell you that I recorded my lowest-ever vibration readings at the bar tops with the Hoverbar.

However, the difference is not that huge compared to the best-performing carbon handlebar I’ve tested. It was only 1% more effective than the Ritchey WCS VentureMax on the fast gravel road at 20km/h. And it was 6% more effective on the bumpy forest trail at 15km/h.

The real important question to answer here is this: would you trade off brake hood comfort for the best bar top comfort?

I personally would choose comfort at the brake hoods, simply because vibrations coming from hoods are much more tiring – at least for me. When you’re using the bar tops, your arms tend to have more bend and work as an additional form of suspension.

Fortunately, the Grail’s fork will accept a 700 x 50mm tire (Soma Cazadero works nicely) that you could use at a lower pressure to gain extra comfort (see my tire width comfort comparison HERE).

Enigma Escape Analysis

And finally, there is my benchmark bike, a titanium Enigma Escape.

I bought this frame simply because I was tired of the flex of my previous benchmark bike (Jamis Renegade). Compared to the carbon gravel bikes I was testing, the Renegade just felt slow and dull to ride.

The titanium frame material feels very similar to steel but with much less frame flex. It’s still not as stiff as something like the Canyon Grail, but it’s in the ballpark of the Specialized Diverge.

The Enigma feels heavy compared to the carbon bikes in this field test, but I think it feels a bit more ‘lively’. In comparison, the carbon bikes ride a bit more ‘muted’ to me.

In terms of handling, the Enigma is most similar to the Specialized Diverge. It’s agile, stable, and predictable. I think it helps that it has a similar level of frame stiffness and overall bike weight.

Which Is The Best Gravel Bike Overall?

This is tough because each of these bikes is really good and you will not go wrong with any of them. But they are not created equally.

If you are after:
– A fast, most road-bike-like gravel bike then I would recommend the Canyon Grail.
– Something fast, but also well-balanced in terms of performance/comfort, I would suggest the Cannondale Topstone (just make sure it has the excellent carbon SAVE handlebar).
– The best possible comfort, and a jack-of-all-trades ride feel, then the Specialized Diverge (upgrade the seatpost though).

And the Enigma Escape?

It’s a great all-rounder in terms of speed, stiffness, weight, and comfort. But you can achieve a faster feel with Grail, more stiffness and less weight with the Topstone, and more comfort with the Diverge. It’s the choice for someone who wants something unique and exclusive. Or someone who wants a nice gravel bike that can also carry a child seat (in my case).

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