quiet and low-maintenance Gates carbon drive
WTB tires are hard to get on/off the rims;
gearing is not suited for climbing
The Priority Apollo offers an excellent value for a gravel grinder bike. I like the simple and quiet Gates carbon belt drive, but wish the gearing options, provided by the Shimano Alfine hub were more hill-friendly.
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What happens when you take an “alternative” bike to an event (sarcastically) dubbed the Alt-Cycling championships? Answer: you are reminded that cycling is still a sport.
Taking place in October in New England, the Nutmeg Nor’Easter draws folks who like knobby tires and beautiful gravel rides. It features a variety of mostly self-supported routes ranging from 60 miles of gravel described as “95 percent rideable” to “25 percent for the roadies.” It was the perfect event to test the Priority Apollo, a belt-drive gravel/commuter bike.
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Priority is a direct-to-consumer company that exclusively makes belt-drive bikes. The Apollo is made of 6061 aluminum and has a Shimano Alfine 11-speed hub — an alternative to traditional chain drive and — makes good sense for any bike intended for use in inclement weather. A belt drive also makes sense for a quiet ride: belt drives are famously silent. The Nutmeg Nor’Easter 5 routes wove through autumn forests where the babbling brooks nearby only competed with the rustling of the wind through the trees. If you ride to see wildlife and don’t want to scare anything off, a belt drive might be ideal.
I didn’t see any wildlife, however. I was too busy straining on any incline greater than five percent to notice anything besides the slope underneath me.
The Apollo comes with a 50-tooth chainring and a 24-tooth cog on the hub’s 409 percent gear range: Therein lies the issue with calling it a gravel grinder.
The nature of the 6061 aluminum frame and internal hub resists damage from the elements and to the shifting mechanism. The only problem is the stock cog and chainring combination isn’t as kind to the rider as it could be when it comes to steep inclines. And the internal hub isn’t exactly light at about 1,600 grams. The bike weighs about 11kg with cages, but the real issue is the aforementioned gearing.
The tire width sets it well in the gravel grinder range: The max tire clearance is about 50mm, and mine came with Byways, which are 40mm wide. But commuters seem to have been the focus when they built up my test bike. The Byways are a semi-knobby, with a flat center strip and light knobs on the sides of the tread, and it was tubed.
So, taking this bike to an event with about 1,000 thousand feet of climbing for every 10 miles instead of my Trek Domane with a mid-compact and an 11-32 cassette, for me, meant embracing the spirit of the event — ride for the pleasure of riding, not for rip-roaring speed.
Accepting that this bike is not a climber, and acknowledging the very reasonable cost to value, the Priority Apollo is a great buy. On the flats and the downhills, it felt capable. Yet, I’d call it a “confident commuter” rather than a “gravel grinder,” though with some modifications it could grind more gravel.
The bike uses Priority’s own 1x shifters that are very much like the Microshift XLE dual-paddle design. I wouldn’t change those, nor the TRP Spyre dual-sided mechanical disc brakes which performed very well over the downhill chunk; the bar to stem ratio is also well-thought-out. These aspects alone make for a solid bike. But, if I were to keep using this as a “gravel” bike I’d change almost everything else.
I would mount the maximum tire width the frame would take, and I’d set it up tubeless — because yes, the Apollo’s WTB i23 ST rims are tubeless-ready. As I mentioned, my test bike was tubed, and a pinch flat was my reward during the ride. I thank the cycling gods that it was a front flat — while Priority hosts videos explaining how to take the rear wheel on and off, I was not looking forward to testing my knowledge on a ride. Also, a quick reminder that both the tires and rims are WTB: My experience with the brand is limited, and all tough to seat or remove. I’ve never met a WTB that didn’t take a wrestling match to unmount or seat.
For the drivetrain, I’d see about swapping the chainring to something smaller like a 42, or the rear cog to something larger like a 28. The point is, with some modifications the Apollo could truly grind.
Of course, most people aren’t going to want to make all those changes — luckily most people won’t have to. The Apollo’s braze-ons for storage and fenders, and the reasonably wide tire clearance for a comfortable ride are features of an excellent commuter and multi-surface bike. Its 11-speed Alfine means no muss or fuss — no external derailleur to get encrusted with dirt, or dangle precipitously from a bent hangar. If you live in a very hilly area or want a bike for gravel events, this may not be the one, but otherwise, the Apollo is a sturdy, hard-working, and quiet machine that’s a very good choice for someone who just wants a long-wearing bike they can set and forget, especially for the price.