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Alpkit Sonder Camino titanium adventure bike - first ride review

Outdoor company partners with Pact Bikes to create new titanium adventure/gravel bike. We ride it

Alpkit is a British outdoor gear specialist (think down jackets, sleeping bags and tents) that has become popular in the adventure/touring world recently with its range of bikepacking bags. The latest venture sees the Nottingham-based company branch out with a range of bikes developed under the Sonder tag.

The bikes aren’t being launched until November, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have the chance to ride Alpkit director and co-founder Kenny’s actual pre-production bike. It might seem odd for a company that specialises in camping and outdoor equipment to launch a range of bikes, but with its growing popularity in the bikepacking world, and staff that are clearly keen cyclists, it seems like a natural extension to the product range.

So Sonder is the brand, and Camino is the first model in the range. That’s the bike you see here - it’s actually a pre-production bike, some small details will change for the production version, but otherwise it's essentially as you see it here. And it's quite a looker. As well as the Camino there will be the Broken Road, a 650b+ rigid mountain bike and the Transmitter, a B+ longer travel hardtail mountain bike. Choose the size of your adventure and there's a bike to match you ambition.

For designing the bikes Alpkit has partnered with Pact Bikes, a relatively new company headed up by the very experienced Brant Richards. He’s a well known bicycle designer in the mountain bike world, and has worked at On-One and Ragley Bikes over the years, and knows a thing or two about designing a bicycle. 

The Sonder Camino is pitched as an adventure/touring/gravel bike, with a titanium frame with a carbon fibre fork, disc brakes and huge tyre clearance. It’s clearly the sort of bike you’re going to buy if you want to load up with a tent and some bags to survive a couple of days, or weeks, in the wildness, and be able to ride swiftly over any terrain you encounter along the way. 

“An in vogue quick and light drop-barred adventure travel bike,” is how Alpkit describes the bike.

All the tubes are carefully shaped where needed. The down tube is big in diameter to provide stiffness, the top tube is a squashed oval shape to lend some compliance in the frame. Slender seat stays curve out to meet the dropouts, providing maximum clearance for the rear disc brake caliper. There are regular quick release axles at both ends.

Full outer cables run along the bottom of the down tube with simple zip tie guides, keeping the top tube nice and uncluttered so a bag can easily be attached. Slotted into the head tube is a carbon fibre fork with an external Hope headset. The bottom bracket is also an external type too - durability and easy maintenance were clearly high on the design brief.

The bike I’ve been riding for a bit has a SRAM Force 22 drivetrain with hydraulic disc brakes. Wheels are a Hope Pro 2 Evo rear hub laced to a WTB rim, the front wheel is a SP Dynamo hub and Stan’s ZTR Rapid rim. Mounted to both rims are WTB Nano 40mm tyres, which have the sort of tightly packed tread pattern that works well on a range of surfaces. Fast on the road, grippy in the dirt.

So how does it ride then?

Riding the bike out of the road.cc office on its first outing, and negotiating the busy Bath traffic, the Camino instantly feels at home weaving between buses and calming the potholed roads. The short stem keeps the handling quick and nimble, and there's clearly enough length in the top tube to prevent things feeling very cramped. 

The flared drops of the Salsa handlebars feel odd at first, but riding along in the hoods is comfortable enough, as the city gives way to towns and villages. Out into the countryside and I’m keen to explore some bridleways and byways I’ve often ridden past on my road bike, but never dared take a 23mm tyre filled with a vulnerable inner tube along.

The Camino rolls surprisingly quickly along the road. There's a little drag from the tyres but not enough to seriously halt progress. With an eye on some off-road trails and dirt tracks, I drop a little pressure out of the tyres, and dive through a gap in the trees onto a bumpy dirt track disappearing away into the trees. Here and now the flared drops make wonderful sense. The stable handling I noticed on the road provides a reassuring balance on the dirt. 

Tubeless tyres are a godsend on a bike like this, providing the peace of mind to batter over tree roots and drop into rocky gullies without fearing of puncturing. The big tyres provide plenty of traction and the titanium frame feels tight with a degree of flex occasionally noticeable when leant hard into a corner. Roots and rocks are easily coped with.

I continue to ride the bike in this way during my time with it. Riding all my favourite roads, hills and descents, and mixing up the terrain with frequent diversions down off-road paths, it's clear the Camino is happy on any sort of terrain. It's a bike that leans more towards off-road excursions than some of the more road-focused gravel and adventure bikes I've ridden lately. 

There are a lot of new bikes entering the growing adventure and gravel market, and it’s clear every brand is coming at the genre from slightly different backgrounds with different requirements. The Sonder Camino is a homegrown bike that excels on British roads and trails and is rugged enough to survive any sort of adventure you might want to plan for it, but is fast, agile and capable enough to inject a bit of fun into any ride. I didn't get the chance to load it up with luggage during this first ride review, but there's no doubting it would make a great multiday adventure bike. 

It might not be the finished production bike, but the Sonder Camino really impressed. If you’re looking for a capable bike for tackling a multitude of surfaces and terrain, and especially if you have a taste for bikepacking anytime soon, the Camino is one to check out.

Pricing and availability has yet to be confirmed, we'll update this article as soon as we know.

www.alpkit.com

David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes

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19 comments

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richdirector | 7 years ago
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This fits into my desire to downsize the bike quiver - sell the lynskey road bike the lynskey 29er and the mercian tourer and have this with two wheelsets - a quicker 700c 25mm wheelset for roadie days and a 650b 48mm wheelset built on USE dynamo hub for adventures.

May have to rent one to see ....

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Bikeylikey | 8 years ago
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Point 1: The pic of the seatstays appears to show a mudguard mount under the bridge, but there aren't any mudguard eyes to be seen anywhere near the dropouts. What's going on?

Point 2: Said seatstays are curved downwards, the opposite of many other ti frames (e.g. Lynskey Sportive, Burls Audax Ti). This upward curve looks like it would tend to make the rear end more rigid, rather than more compliant - the usual reason given for downward-curved stays. What's going on?

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macrophotofly replied to Bikeylikey | 8 years ago
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A curved seatstay in either direction is going to flex more than a straight seat stay for vertical travel. However they will be compliant in different ways. Curved downwards it acts more like half a leaf spring, flexing along the entire length. Curved upwards it draws like a bow.

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Airzound | 8 years ago
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So where are the rack mounts, front and rear, to carry panniers in which will be Alpkit's kit such as sleeping bags, bivis, down jackets, etc ? Also bottle mounts and eyelets for mudguards. Massive fail.

Genesis Croix de Fer or Shand Stoater Rohloff are far better propositions.

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Sub4 | 8 years ago
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Croix de Fer (confusingly) Ti?

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bikerdavecycling | 8 years ago
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Unless I've missed it there is buggar all mentioned of mudguard/racks eyes? This is where the Pickenflick falls down, and seemingly so does this?

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Bmblbzzz replied to bikerdavecycling | 8 years ago
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bikerdavecycling wrote:

Unless I've missed it there is buggar all mentioned of mudguard/racks eyes? This is where the Pickenflick falls down, and seemingly so does this?

True! Ok, it's a CX-variant, gravel/adventure/etc bike, but it's a BRITISH CX-variant, gravel/adventure/etc bike, with all the weather and ground condition implications of our dear, beloved climate.

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chw0112 replied to bikerdavecycling | 8 years ago
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No rack mounts from a company that specialises in bike packing? Can't say I'm surprised.

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CMB replied to chw0112 | 8 years ago
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It feels a bit like snobbery and out of touch with riding trends.i purchased the pick n flick as my winter commuter/road bike, changed the forks to Kinesis which have mudguard mounts and Shane from Halfords Barnsley put rear Mudguards on for me. Still much cheaper than the tipster. Also changed the wheels to Kinesis cx disc. They were quite heavier than they claim. I pointed their error out but they ignored me. It seems many of the cheap alloy bikes have mudguard and rack mounts but the snobbery only comes in on the more expensive ones.i suspect many more would have bought the pick if it had mounts.

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kace19 replied to chw0112 | 8 years ago
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Exactly. Alpkit specialise in luggage that sits inside your frame or behind seat post etc, so I suspect the lack of mounts is deliberate

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Gkam84 | 8 years ago
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Standard clinchers as tubeless?? Are you sure you aren't talking about Open Tubulars? Look and fit like clinchers, but run tubeless...

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Scowel replied to Gkam84 | 8 years ago
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Hi mate, open tubulars are not clinchers designed to run tubeless. They are generally tubulars that haven't been sewn up and have a bead put on them instead, usually lovely and supple and work brilliantly with latex tubes. They are however definitely not any good for running tubeless and I wouldn't recommend it. Wouldn't like you to buy them expecting to run tubeless and be disappointed. Some clinchers work very well as tubeless with sealant but only for cross or mountain bikes, not at the higher pressures that road tyres run.

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joules1975 replied to Scowel | 8 years ago
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Scowel wrote:

Hi mate, open tubulars are not clinchers designed to run tubeless. They are generally tubulars that haven't been sewn up and have a bead put on them instead, usually lovely and supple and work brilliantly with latex tubes. They are however definitely not any good for running tubeless and I wouldn't recommend it. Wouldn't like you to buy them expecting to run tubeless and be disappointed. Some clinchers work very well as tubeless with sealant but only for cross or mountain bikes, not at the higher pressures that road tyres run.

Bingo, my argument all along, but I would add that it's also OK on the road, so long as the tyre and rim combination give a really good fit, and as you say you don't try and run higher pressures. 50psi appears to be the max, but the lower you can go the safer it tends to be.

No-tyre company recommends doing this, but they didn't recommend running MTB tyres tubeless either, till they realised that a huge number of people were doing it without any significant issues

Having said that, if you do got the same route with you CX/gravel bike, take care, as clearly a failure on the road could have rather more dramatic consequences than a failure off-road. For this reason my road bike has tubes!

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joules1975 replied to Gkam84 | 8 years ago
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Gkam84 wrote:

Standard clinchers as tubeless?? Are you sure you aren't talking about Open Tubulars? Look and fit like clinchers, but run tubeless...

Yep, standard clinchers. I run Conti Cyclo-cross Speed Wire bead on my cx/gravel bike and mountain king/x-king combination on my MTB - all run as tubeless (in fact, all run on stans rims using stans sealant).

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joules1975 | 8 years ago
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Will the person who shot me down in another thread for suggesting that you can run standard clincher tyres tubeless so long as the pressures aren't to high please step forward, as this bike seems to be do exactly what I suggested (looking at wtb site the nano is not designed as a tubeless tyre).

I have crest rims (similar to the rapid, but better quality) on my cross bike with standard conti cx speed tyres, run tubeless (run at 40-50 psi), and the ride is fantastic - very fast, comfortable and virtually no chance of a puncture.

NOTE: do not try running your standard road tyres tubeless, as anything over 50psi with standard clincher tyres appears to be a very bad idea!

This sonder l looks to have a great set-up if my experience is anything to go by.

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David Arthur @d... replied to joules1975 | 8 years ago
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joules1975 wrote:

Will the person who shot me down in another thread for suggesting that you can run standard clincher tyres tubeless so long as the pressures aren't to high please step forward, as this bike seems to be do exactly what I suggested (looking at wtb site the nano is not designed as a tubeless tyre).

I have crest rims (similar to the rapid, but better quality) on my cross bike with standard conti cx speed tyres, run tubeless (run at 40-50 psi), and the ride is fantastic - very fast, comfortable and virtually no chance of a puncture.

NOTE: do not try running your standard road tyres tubeless, as anything over 50psi with standard clincher tyres appears to be a very bad idea!

This sonder l looks to have a great set-up if my experience is anything to go by.

They're tubeless tyres

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joules1975 replied to David Arthur @davearthur | 8 years ago
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David Arthur @davearthur wrote:
joules1975 wrote:

Will the person who shot me down in another thread for suggesting that you can run standard clincher tyres tubeless so long as the pressures aren't to high please step forward, as this bike seems to be do exactly what I suggested (looking at wtb site the nano is not designed as a tubeless tyre).

I have crest rims (similar to the rapid, but better quality) on my cross bike with standard conti cx speed tyres, run tubeless (run at 40-50 psi), and the ride is fantastic - very fast, comfortable and virtually no chance of a puncture.

NOTE: do not try running your standard road tyres tubeless, as anything over 50psi with standard clincher tyres appears to be a very bad idea!

This sonder l looks to have a great set-up if my experience is anything to go by.

They're tubeless tyres

I see now they are the TCS ones. Feeling a little sheepish now!

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cat1commuter | 8 years ago
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Brant also designs for Mango Bikes.

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PeterM | 8 years ago
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Sonder Camino? First thing that popped into my head was SonderKommando  2

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