Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.
Argonaut Cycles, the custom carbon bike manufacturer in Oregon, has brought a gravel bike into the world.
Three years in the making, the GR3 joins a gravel market flush with options for every type of ride and every type of rider. The Argonaut GR3, which boasts a geometry that is unmistakably Bend born and bred, offers a fresh take on what a gravel bike can be.
As with Argonaut’s RM3 road bikes, the GR3 is designed and fabricated in house at the brand’s Bend headquarters. Argonaut uses a patent-pending high pressure silicone molding technology to construct its carbon frames and also does testing and painting in house.
The first run of GR3’s will come in seven ‘proven’ sizes with four build options. In late 2023, Argonaut will add custom builds to the GR3 lineup.
Although developing a gravel race bike (GR3 = gravel racer three) was an early priority for Argonaut founder Ben Farver, he shelved it for a few years while developing the brand’s road bike. That gave he and his team time to lay the groundwork for the engineering and production capacity of a gravel race bike.
In many ways, it’s a good thing Farver waited. Three years is a lifetime in the timeline of bike tech, and Farver says that “since then, the gravel bike segment has changed dramatically.”
Even Argonaut’s own early prototype, the GR2, wasn’t living up to his standards.
“It felt like it worked, but it was a road bike with bigger clearance,” Farver said. “It didn’t have its own ride quality, and I was frustrated with the design. It felt undergunned for the gravel segment.
“What the GR2 was lacking was really solid and stable descending and handling, mostly for the kind of riding and racing we do around here.”
The resulting GR3 is a wholly updated version of the prototype that comes with Argonaut’s newly-trademarked GravelFirst geometry, which the brand says addresses every element of a typical gravel ride — “a bit of road, some smooth gravel, some rough gravel, singletrack, and long days out.”
What exactly does GravelFirst look like?
To address the issue of increased confidence and capability on descents, the GR3 clears up to a 50mm tire. A super slack 68.5 degree head tube angle gives the bike a mountain bikey front end.
However, while it would be easy to mislabel the GR3 given those two characteristics, a tall adventure rig it is not. Nope, you can’t even reverse the mullet protocol to say the bike is party in the front, business in the back.
The bike’s surprisingly low front end keeps the party in check for quick handling and aggressive rider position.
The business is in the bike’s tight rear center. Short, 415mm chainstays and a 75mm bottom bracket drop add to the GR3’s racier characteristics. In addition to shredding singletrack, the GR3 is meant to win gravel races (and it has, under the piloting of superstar Sarah Max).
Its short rear center accounts for how it climbs and accelerates on flat, fast terrain.
Farver knows that the GR3’s geometry is unique, but it makes sense given the terrain around Bend and the type of riding the Argonaut crew likes.
“The bike likes to be counter steered, especially when descending,” he said. “You almost ride it more like a mountain bike in terms of how you can square off turns and go through berms and really counter steer into turns and let the bike tip over and dive in. It’s really impressive how it holds a line and how it holds traction. And it makes it way more fun to ride.”
GR3 first ride
The GR3 is available in four build kits, including an $11,500 SRAM Red spec, Shimano GRX Di2 for $11,100, SRAM Force for $10,369, and Campy Ekar for $9,700. Those prices include Schwalbe G-One R tires but not wheels, which can be customized to a customer’s liking.
Over three gloriously warm autumn days in October, I rode the Campy version of the GR3 with a handful of other journalists. Our bikes all had matching Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels and Rene Herse rubber. Bars were Enve SES AR with Argonaut’s own custom stems.
Bend is a unique place to ride gravel bikes. Within city limits is a vast network of singletrack that winds through huge stands of ponderosa pines. Most of the town trails are completely rideable on gravel bikes, and not even in an underbikey way. Many of the trails aren’t technical or steep — they honestly feel tailor-made for gravel bikes.
In Bend, the spirit of gravel is definitely mountain biking.
I had the most fun riding the GR3 on this type of terrain. Like Farver said, the bike’s steering was smooth and responsive. And descending was super fun because the bike was incredibly stable and planted. I had complete confidence coming hot into corners, save for the epic clouds of dust that we kicked up riding through the forest.
Taking the GR3 off of the singletrack, however, exposed a whole other side of the bike.
One day, we took the bikes on a long gravel ride from Bend to Sisters, and from there we wound around Black Butte before ending at picturesque Suttle Lake. The ride took in pavement, smooth gravel, rough gravel, dusty gravel, and a fairly sustained eight-mile climb.
On pavement, the bike felt smooth and supple, and my body felt comfortable — the low front felt familiar to the race-oriented bikes I ride. On gravel, the bike soaks up chatter effortlessly. Having ridden a RM2 earlier this year, I can safely say that Argonaut knows a thing or two about how to make carbon bikes incredibly compliant.
Where I did have a funny feeling was when we started climbing. That’s when I noticed the front wheel getting kind-of swimmy. That’s strange, I remember thinking, I normally have better control than that. I was able to bring the front wheel in line with some effort, but I’m curious how it would be on a longer, steeper climb. That’s not energy you want to be expending when going uphill.
Ultimately, I wanted more time on the GR3, mostly to ride it more on the pavement and on steep climbs. If my friend Sarah Max hadn’t ridden her way to so many podiums on the GR3 this summer, I’d say the bike was more of a shredder than a racer. But then again, a party in the front and business in the back might be just the combination.