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Basso Palta 2020 review

30 Jan 2020
Verdict:

Fast, aggressive gravel bike that performs very well on the road as well as superbly off it, although racy geometry sacrifices comfort

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
€3,520 (approx £3,000), €1,990 frameset
For 
Light • Agile • Fast handling • Climbs well
Against 
Geometry will be too aggressive for some • Long-ride comfort

I’ve tested two bikes this year that have made a lasting impression on me for the wrong – or rather unexpected – reasons: the Time Alpe d’Huez 01 and the Vaaru Octane 64.

The first is billed as the ‘lightest bike Time has ever created’, while the other is a custom-painted, incredibly pretty titanium number that costs north of 10 grand. Neither, in other words, was designed specifically for riding gravelly type stuff, but they both excelled at it.

Both bikes were possessed of an ineffable sense of strength (for a road bike), and where the Vaaru was concerned, came with serious amounts of clearance, accepting up to 32mm tyres.

The upshot was that on my usual road routes, instead of riding past those openings in the trees through which mountain bikers dive like mud-faced deer in knee pads, I couldn’t help but be magnetically drawn in.

Suddenly the bike I was riding didn’t seem like a barrier to entry – these road bikes were gravel bikes. Well, nearly. Their tight angles and slick tyres produced a rather skittish and less than surefooted ride, but nevertheless both were fast, aggressive and joyously rewarding to pedal through the forests of Essex, and then equally gratifying to pedal on the tarmac home.

This left me thinking, where is that same feeling in an actual gravel bike? One that can dart and leap excitedly like a road bike yet has proper grip, won’t pinch-flat and will emerge from a forest to embrace the road with a racer’s aplomb?

On the face of it

According to Basso’s marketing director, Joshua Riddle, the Palta is ‘Basso’s gravel solution’, now in its second generation and still manufactured in-house in Italy. Yet as refined and Italian-born as it is, I was a little underwhelmed when I first clapped eyes on it.

I’ve become accustomed to the latest gravel bikes looking very different to road bikes. While road bikes all seem to be converging on the near-ubiquitous dropped seatstay/truncated tube design, gravel bikes are getting progressively more esoteric, with wildly shaped asymmetric chainstays, huge tyres, all manner of springy bits and more bolts and bosses than B&Q’s annual management conference.

By contrast, the Basso Palta looked normal. There are some extra bolts under the down tube for a third cage, and the fork is also available with three bosses on each leg for more luggage mounting. Plus there are knobbly tyres and there’s Shimano’s dedicated gravel groupset, GRX.

But beyond that, at 20 paces I could have mistaken the Palta for a long-distance sportive machine (there’s even a blank boss for a front mech hanger for 2x). So had Basso somehow missed the gravel curve? Absolutely not. If anything I’d say Basso stopped at the arc’s apex and made a beeline for its workshop to create the bike I’ve been looking for.

Geometrically pleasing

The best way I can describe the Palta is a road bike that does gravel, but at the same time a gravel bike that does road. OK, at 8.8 kg, with a 71° head angle, 430mm stays and 1,027mm wheelbase, the Palta will never be in the same performance league as a paid-up road bike, whose measurements hover around 73°, 410mm and 995mm in an equivalent size to this.

But with a 140mm head tube, short trail and a bottom bracket drop of 65mm (which is pretty high on any bike), the Palta is far more closely aligned to a road bike than the current crop of gravel bikes.

Moreover, it picked up well on the road, with noticeable stiffness in the lower half of the bike and a feeling of efficient power transfer that only continued on the climbs.

Descending was fine too, slightly bereft of the snappy directional changes of sharper-handling road bikes but nonetheless fast and composed when sweeping through turns.

In short, with a dedicated set of road wheels, or maybe even just some narrower, slick tyres, I would be happy enough to call the Palta a good road bike. But this is not its strongest suit. The Palta plays its ace in the rough stuff.

Buy now from Cycle Republic for £3,900

Racing intent

The launch of this bike took place over several hundred kilometres of Spain’s Catalonia region, across some gravel tracks that wouldn’t look out of place on a World Cup cross-country course. They were that bad (or that good, depending on how you look at it), comprising rocks best described as really quite big, wheel-eating sand, exposed roots and lots of loose, loamy soil.

I had my reservations about taking on such a challenging proving ground on a bike with 40mm tyres and no suspension but, as it was, the Palta took it all in its stride. And then did it all again back in Blighty over some weeks of really rather poor weather.

The bike felt robust enough for me to want to plough over obstacles, front wheel unweighted, rear tubeless smashing and bouncing over rocks, tough enough to have a stab at (and somehow land) some poorly executed drop-offs and bunny hops, and hardy enough to bin it in a corner without feeling the need to check it over for damage before riding tentatively off again.

If I were to draw an analogy, the Palta rode like how I remember my early steel mountain bikes rode, but at two-thirds of the weight and with vastly superior braking and no-pinch flats thanks to the tubeless tyres. It rode with reckless abandon, and it encouraged me to do the same.

But don’t many gravel bikes do this? In my experience, largely no – the gravel trend is for slack, stable comfort. Don’t get me wrong – the Palta is stable and isn’t going to beat you up, but its naturally low, aggressive position was a tad trying over some of my longer rides, and hence the geometry here won’t suit riders seeking long-distance comfort in their gravel bikes.

That said, Basso does offer the ‘Palta Endurance Pack’, an integrated spacer kit that raises the front end by an additional 20mm, which helped in the comfort stakes. However, I wouldn’t want to compensate for the Palta’s overtly racy nature too much.

It is best enjoyed unadulterated and unapologetically in its current form – a truly racy gravel bike that offers a fast, flowing and deeply immersive ride off-road, with near road bike performance when you switch back onto it. That might just prove a new trend.

Buy now from Cycle Republic for £3,900

Spec

Frame Basso Palta
Groupset Shimano GRX
Brakes Shimano GRX
Chainset Shimano GRX
Cassette Shimano GRX
Bars Microtech XL Compact Alloy  
Stem Basso Diamante
Seatpost Basso carbon
Saddle Fizik Vento Argo R1
Wheels Hunt 4 Season Gravel X-Wide, Vittoria Terreno Dry 38mm tyres
Weight 8.83kg (large)
Contact bassobikes.com

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