Milen Angelov is a cycling enthusiast who loves to ride bikes - all types. We invited him to test the new DRAG Gravel bike - Sterrato and he wrote an interesting, informative and fun article about his experience, the genre of gravel bikes and the happiness of riding, which we can literally feel while reading what he wrote. Thank you, Milen for the words and Miroslav Marinov for the photos!

Briefly about Sterrato from Milen:

Gravel bikes are gaining more and more followers with the lack of annoying technological load compared to mountain bikes, but without depriving them of the opportunity to be used on the same attractive and inaccessible for road bikes routes, enjoying the pastoral-idyllic atmosphere of more remote and rare visited places without accompanying car traffic.

To my great satisfaction, the Bulgarian "support" of this idea did not take long in the face of DRAG Sterrato.

With Sterrato, I experienced the authentic pleasure and ease of riding a bike at the same time on terrain, for which I used to have to choose between a mountain bike or a road bike, depriving myself of the comfort and stability of one at the expense of speed and lightness of the other. Whether this is a road bike for mountain bikers is difficult for me to determine, it rather reminds me of a bicycle version of an SUV - off-road enough for a more unpretentious rough terrain, but without being deprived of the comfort, speed and safety of the family van. A real 4x4 for road cycling enthusiasts.

A detailed description of the Sterrato test ride and Milen's opinion on the various components and features of the bike can be read here:

STERRATO TEST RIDE

For the pleasure of riding

If there is a mathematical formula to measure the pleasure of cycling, it would probably look something like this:

This, of course, will be untenable if we do not add a weight to balance the indifferent side. Say the choice of a bike. Each one of us invests something personal when choosing a bike. Sometimes this is determined by the terrain we like to drive, other times we are influenced by friends or social networks, fashion trends, the desire to spend more time in the nature or just to tone up.

For the development of gravel bicycles

Often, the best solutions are the most natural and casual ones and in the world of bicycles these are those devoid of complex mechanisms, functional and as versatile as possible, which give us the freedom to indulge in the authentic emotion of cycling, but without unnecessary technology burden. Gravel bikes are gaining more and more followers with the lack of annoying technological load compared to mountain bikes, but without depriving them of the opportunity to be used on the same attractive and inaccessible for road bikes routes, enjoying the pastoral-idyllic atmosphere of more remote and rare places without concomitant traffic. Gravel bikes are often cited as a transitional fossil between mountain and road bikes for many reasons - geometry, wider tires, solid construction, typical of mountain bikes, but with a dropbar, lack of suspension and a distinctive stance and pedaling style closer to those of road bikes. With the development of this type of bikes for more than 8 years since the first officially named as Gravel bike began to take shape and different currents - from racing to those more oriented towards cycling tourism.

First impressions of Sterrato

To my great satisfaction, the Bulgarian "support" of this idea was not late in the face of DRAG Sterrato.

I had already heard about the Bulgarian Gravel Bike by DRAG and had asked and read the first reviews, so I contacted its creator, Boris Kiryakov, and asked what was the opportunity to take it and test it. When I was told that the bike was waiting for me in one of the Dragzone stores, different scenarios and routes spun in my head, covering as many different terrains as possible, so that I could get impressions of the bike in all its manifestations.

The version I got is the most affordable one - 3.0 R2000, fitted with Shimano Claris, mechanical disc brakes and an aluminum fork. Guided by the primitive and irrational male emancipation, I first acquainted myself with the shapes and curves of the frame. For me, the bicycle is above all an emotion and its appearance is an essential part of it. For me, Sterrato catches the eye, the clean design of the frame, the graphics, combined with the well-chosen color scheme, definitely attracted my attention. In line with the new trends for wider tires, I paid attention to the clearance and although the bike was with 40mm tires, apparently 42mm could also be fitted. Quite enough for more aggressive terrain. The handlebars had minimal flare, and given the appearance of wider and wider handlebars (there are already up to 750 mm and 35 ° flare on the market), I would say that DRAG had been more conservative in their choice. I did not lose sight of the scarce amount of space for mounting additional accessories, something that is part of the depiction of Gravel bikes. The emphasis here is rather that this is a bike that will ride me, and not my luggage. I was pleasantly impressed by the internal wiring, which gives a more sophisticated look, but the lack of an additional input for a dropper could not escape to me. It is questionable to what extent the hydraulic disc brakes have a place in the world of Gravel, but anyway they exist and can not be overlooked as an opportunity. In terms of geometry, I would not like to dwell in detail, but definitely two things aroused my interest - definitely the longer wheelbase and the larger angle of the seat tube compared to the average of other manufacturers imposed in the last year.

Beginning of the test - climbing the Boyana path

It was this interest that led me to my first destination and, in particular, a popular trail at the foot of Vitosha Mountain above the Boyana neighborhood, unofficially called the Boyana Trail. For the more experienced cross-country and enduro riders, this path is unchallenging, but it is the perfect place to test exactly this kind of bikes due to its various elements, including wider and speed turns, sharp, slow and ones with no visibility and sharply changing slope up to 20%. There are also sections with roots and gravel, stray dogs, shocked tourists wandering between panic and indignation, and sometimes frightened doe. I decided to get there past the Boyana Church, climbing the cobbled street "Pop Evstati Vitoshki", where I wanted to get an idea of the possibilities of the bike on a wider path with this type of pavement. Undoubtedly, I would have preferred to have a smaller front plate than the standard one with 34-tooth at the front, but by adding a few watts on top, I even managed to improve my time for this Strava segment. Heading for the next section, I already had more spartan expectations about going through a not-so-steep section with roots. My legs began to ask Kafkaesque questions, which led to an increase in cadence during the first few meters. However, there was an intrusive cognitive sense of dissonance - the expectations for a difficult passage passed in reality, on the other hand, the bike greedily swallowed every meter of displacement. When crossing the stream at the bottom of the trail, the premonition that the rear wheel would end up in another time zone did not come true either - without a trace of doubt, the bike took the sharp turn and the subsequent ascent. And with a smile on my face, the rest of the climb turned into a game of whiteness, where all the jacks and nines were in me, and someone else had shouted "all in." I tried several positions on the handlebars (dropbars have 5 main grips and several varieties), alternating a more upright body position with a more bent, but giving more stability. As above mentioned, though with a reaction flare of the handlebar, the wider lower base brings a greater stability, a more natural position of the hands and an open chest. I wanted to take maximum advantage of this joker. Climbing this path with Sterrato proved to be painful and difficult. I had to constantly greet politely, ride around children walking dogs, enjoy nature, check my phone and determine the degree of inner harmony under the watchful eye of surprised cyclists. I was grateful that the bike was happy to do the rest of the work with calmness and grace like Nina Simon's song on a rainy autumn afternoon. At several places instinctively I stood up on the pedals, but at a second reading this proved to be unnecessary. Lost in this rhythm imperceptibly I found myself in "Tihia Kat" trying to draw on my side two cats for a total selfie.

Sterrato - descent

For the descent, I formed an opinion to make adjustments to the genre and to check how Sterrato handles at higher speeds on a nervous surface with wide and open turns. Ultimately speed itself has not hurt anyone until now. What causes pain is usually a sudden encounter with hard ground. The seductive sense of stability, as well as the lack of any playfulness in the front, prompted me to descend with acceleration. When heading to the opposite direction on the Boyana Path, the bike kept the spatial curve I had chosen quite precisely in the open turns, and in the more stumbled and invisible visions to the exit the corrections were minimal, but required more concentration and focus. I had to jump over a small obstacle a few times, but flying is not part of my arsenal and definitely requires good trajectory planning and undoubtedly refining the tire pressure. Going through the roots and the crushed gravel at the bottom led to a loss of speed and comfort, but the stability, despite the meandering was still reassuring.

Sterrato on the forgotten roads with bad pavement, which are abundant in Bulgaria

The next day we decided to go to Eleshnitsa with friends, where to ride on hybrid roads, forest paths and the ones which've forgotten the taste of asphalt. The old road to Vidin, which is a small part of the Murgash route, includes both. I've been on this route several times with an All-mountain bike, a hard-tail cross-country bike and a road racing bike, and I had the obsessive feeling that this is the place, this is the stage where this bike will be able to develop its talent and show its essence. In Bulgaria, unfortunately or not, there are even more roads in such a state, and they hide a lot of beauty and charm, which is worth seeing and feeling. Forgotten roads between abandoned villages, field and forest roads, those with poor pavement may not be attractive to road cyclists and be prosaic, even uninteresting for more adrenaline-seeking mountain bikers, but in fact they are plentiful and provide many opportunities and more freedom. My senses did not disappoint me and Sterrato shone in this setting. It managed to maintain an enviable speed through the uneven sections, and bypassing and jumping through holes turned out to be more fun than a pioneer camp disco. The bike remained under control during a sharp change of direction, bypassing the puddles, and I managed to maintain an enviable speed for miles, but without the element of urgency. Of course, I did not miss the opportunity to turn to Bukowski and ride on a dirt road, which confirmed my impression that this is a very effective means of enjoyment and fun in the tranquility of the mountains. But also able to add a generous amount of sweat to the forehead when it is a desired effect.

Sterrato at speed

With all of Sterrato's good capabilities in terms of speed and agility, we can reasonably conclude that the focus here was not so much on the speed, but rather the balance between comfort, efficiency and appropriateness. Of course, there is no reason not to participate with this bike in one of the many racing events for Gravel bikes. And such have been organized a lot in recent years, and some of them managed to acquire the status of classics such as Dirty Kanza and Grinduro. Even some of the professional teams allow their competitors to officially participate in such competitions as part of their pre-season training, including Education First Pro Cycling, TJ Eisenhart and Ian Boswell.

For this year we had planned with friends to participate in Gravel Epic in the vicinity of the town of Bled in Slovenia, but the circumstances necessitated the postponement not only of this, but also of many other similar events. However, I had a strong desire to put Sterrato in this role and returning to Sofia, I decided to cover a section of about 5 km on a service road along the Hemus highway at a competitive pace. The road, although devoid of abrupt changes in slope, had all the elements needed for such an experiment. And I was not disappointed at all - I managed, albeit with some effort, to maintain high speed by my standards, bypassing or flying between various bumps and obstacles, and Sterrato scored points in the stability of straight sections and showed a good temper when I had to change the direction abruptly. Perhaps only the lower class groupset and the more unpretentious tires made me at certain moments to miss the rhythm of Kraftwerk, depriving me of more elegance and finesse.

Conclusion

The construction and geometry, the selection of a groupset with 1x or 2x, the choice of tires can be discussed for a long time, but in the end there is always a search for the golden mean, to find a compromise, justified by objective factors and expediency. And for me, this compromise was largely found in the Sterrato, with which I experienced the authentic pleasure and ease of riding a bike at the same time on terrain, for which I previously had to choose between a mountain bike or a road bike, depriving myself of the comfort and stability of the one at the expense of the speed and lightness of the other. Whether this is a road bike for mountain bikers is difficult for me to determine, it rather reminds me of a bicycle version of an SUV - off-road enough for a more unpretentious rough terrain, but without being deprived of the comfort, speed and safety of the family van. A real 4x4 for road cycling enthusiasts.

And if there is an equation that can describe the pleasure of going further, riding more and as diverse terrains as possible, having fun and sharing, then the Gravel bike in the face of DRAG Sterrato would definitely be the possible solution.