The Monsal from Forme Bikes is one of the new breed of bikes designed to take on a multitude of riding on a variety of terrain. There is obviously the old 'Jack of all trades, master of none' risk, but the Monsal won't let you down, it's fun to ride pretty much everywhere and it excels away from the tarmac.
- Pros: A light, flickable ride style means it's a blast on tracks and trails
- Cons: Mavic Aksium wheels are a bit weighty
With an abundance of bridleways, byways and towpaths criss-crossing the country, it's no wonder the gravel/adventure genre of bike is growing rapidly; depending on where you live and ride you can find yourself flicking from one terrain to the other every few miles.
Having the Monsal for a month has certainly seen me darting down every little gravel route I've seen, just to find out where it goes. Gaps in the hedges I've never even noticed before have become mini adventures and planned quick blasts have turned into multi-hour recces around the countryside.
Forme has managed to create a very enjoyable bike to ride, with well-sorted geometry and a comfortable feeling frameset finished off with a decent selection of components, most notably the excellent SRAM hydraulic disc brakes.
On the road, the Monsal has a sort of mild-mannered ride thanks to a high level of neutrality in the handling. That doesn't mean it's dull – far from it. You can still point this thing downhill and have a blast through the bends with its long wheelbase aiding stability.
Technical sections can see the Monsal just lacking a little sharpness when changing direction quickly, but that's not really what you are buying this bike for, is it?
The position on the bike felt spot on too. My body weight and centre of gravity felt really well balanced and I could just go with the flow of what the Monsal was doing; if it needed a nudge, a slight lean or shift of weight had it heading in the right direction.
All of this road performance is what makes the Forme such a blast to ride off-road.
On a surface that is likely to move around underneath you, like gravel or dirt, you'll find that neutral handling on the road is now spot on for an exciting ride through the woods.
As the bike moves around it's easily corrected and the fact that it feels even lighter than its 9.12kg means the Forme is easily directed around tree roots, potholes or large stones and the like.
I've got a couple of favourite little trails through the local woods. It's nothing massively technical if you were on a mountain bike with fat tyres, but on something like the Monsal it takes a bit more thought and planning as you flow between the trees. There are a lot of exposed roots often mid bend, so you need to set the bike up for the turn before you lift the front wheel off the ground to clear the obstruction.
The Monsal was great at this, the lightness allows you to really flick the handlebar quickly and bunnyhop your way out of trouble.
If cruising along on the gravel trails is more your thing, then you'll get on with the Forme here too. As you've probably read in my other gravel bike reviews, I'm lucky enough to have a network of hundreds of kilometres of gravel roads on my doorstep, so great for a full day out without going near a road. Some are hardpacked and relatively smooth, while others are smaller aggregate that you tend to float about on a bit more.
The Monsal was great on all of these: really balanced, easy to control and surprisingly comfortable. In a lot of ways it reminds me of one of my favourite bikes, the excellent Canyon Grail.
Frame and fork
Forme has constructed the Monsal from Torayca 700 and 800 grade carbon fibre, and the designers have done a very good job in terms of the layout.
The ride quality is smooth, no buzziness or rattling over any surface, so it scores very highly for comfort.
They've managed to keep it stiff, though, creating a solid feeling frame all without going massive in terms of the tube diameters.
The head tube is tapered, as you'd expect, to help beef up the front to deal with the steering loads and the powerful disc braking.
The down tube is pretty wide, which gives it a large cross sectional area as it blends into the bottom bracket area. You notice that the seat tube and chainstays are quite chunky here too, to resist pedalling forces.
You'll also see that the drive-side chainstay is dropped, similar to that seen on the Open UP gravel frameset we reviewed last year.
It creates clearance for up to 45mm tyres while being able to run a 42T chainring up front as well. Having an alloy plate to protect the frame against chain suck is a sensible measure too.
Going back to the bottom bracket, some will be disappointed to see a press-fit option, especially as we are seeing a shift away from them especially on this type of bike. Things were pretty dry until virtually the end of the test period before I could get some wet rides in, and when the bike went back to the office there were no creaking issues.
Up front the fork is full carbon fibre, with a tapered steerer, 12mm thru-axle for the wheel mounting, and flat mounts for the disc calliper. The fork is stiff and did everything I asked of it.
Overall, I'd say it's a nice looking frameset. I like the colour and things like the full internal cable routing makes for a clean finish.
It'll take full mudguards too, but if you don't want to and are after a smooth look then the seatstay bridge is removable.
You also get three water bottle mounts If long rides are your thing.
The Monsal is available in three sizes: a 49cm, 52cm and 55cm, with each of those sizes relating to the seat tube length. It's a compact style frame with a sloping top tube, so the seat tube is shorter than it would be on a traditional frame.
We've got the 52cm on test, which has a 571.5mm top tube (effective), 150mm head tube and a wheelbase of 1,021mm.
The head angle and seat angle are the same at 72.5 degrees. Often gravel bikes have a slightly slacker head angle by a degree or so to keep the handling more neutral for riding off-road, but I think Forme has done well here to give such a good, fun bike to ride on any terrain.
Stack and reach figures (the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the BB to the top of the head tube) are 575.5mm and 390mm respectively.
With this model you get a full SRAM Rival groupset in a single chainring setup.
The cassette is 11-speed spread over 10-42T sprockets, with the chainring a 40T. It's a good range of gears for all types of terrain, a little gappy for pure road use maybe but you learn to adapt.
To keep the chain in situ, the long cage rear mech is fitted with a clutch to keep the pressure on over the rough stuff.
Shifting is fine up and down the cassette even under load and when the drivetrain is covered in mud and grit.
I wouldn't say the shape of the Rival shifters are my favourite but they are a comfortable place to spend a few hours on a ride and the Double Tap system soon becomes second nature if you've never used it before.
On a bike like this you definitely want hydraulic shifters for the stopping power and modulation whatever the terrain or weather.
I don't find SRAM's braking systems quite as progressive as Shimano's, almost a little more on/off rather than ultimate control, but you can't argue with the stopping power with the 160mm rotors used here on the Monsal. Braking hard from 50mph saw me stop quickly and the thru-axle fork never showed any signs of twisting at the hub like quick release systems can.
Forme provides the seatpost, stem and handlebar which are all aluminium alloy. They are decent enough quality for the price of the bike and comfortable too. The handlebar's shallow drops mean you can get quite a lot of use out of them, even off-road.
Saddle-wise Forme has specced a Fizik Aliante which is a nice touch. Its shape suits me and I found it very comfortable throughout the test period no matter where I was riding.
Forme's bikes were originally specced with American Classic wheels but with that company going bust the transition has been made to Mavic options. It's the Aksium here on the Monsal, and while they are quite weighty at around 2kg they roll pretty well, and if you want a pair of wheels that are going to stand up to some hard knocks then they are a great choice.
I've used a set on a gravel bike for well over 5,000 miles and they are still running true and creak-free.
Getting a tyre that'll work both on and off-road without sacrificing performance on either is a tough call, but the Kenda Flintridges used here are pretty good.
The small tread means they aren't draggy on the road and you'll still find yourself spinning along at a decent speed. Cornering grip is acceptable, too, even at speed. Off-road they feel well suited to forest trails provided the ground is pretty dry, but anything too muddy and you'll soon be running slicks.
On hardpacked gravel they perform well, with just enough bite to stop you sliding about too much, but if you spend a lot of time on smaller gravel their 35mm width means they can sink and get bogged down, in which case switching to something around 40mm would be an idea.
As for durability, just like the wheels they can't be criticised: I haven't had a single puncture or any damage to the tyres.
Priced at £2,600, the Monsal is up against some strong competition from the various gravel/adventure style bikes we've been testing lately.
The Orro Terra C was well regarded by Mat for its handling both on and off-road, and its weight is practically the same as the Forme. We tested the 105 model but closest to the Monsal Rival is the Ultegra version at £2,499.99.
It may be steel but the Fairlight Secan runs along a similar vein of being a bike that works very well pretty much everywhere. The Ultegra model we tested was £2,649, and even the weight of a metal frame isn't that much of a penalty at around 800g (9.98kg overall in that test build).
The only thing I would say is that, as good as they are, I would like to see some lighter, better quality wheels for £2,600 than the Mavic Aksiums.
The Forme is a great bike for any rider who likes a bit of choice without having to have a whole stack of bikes. It'll make a capable commuter with some slicks and mudguards bunged on it, before you get out and tackle the byways on your days off.
Comfortable, capable gravel bike that is a joy to ride on the road and off it
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Forme Monsal Rival
Size tested: 52cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
FRAME UD Carbon
FORK UD Carbon
SHIFTERS Sram Rival 1x
REAR DERAILLEUR Sram Rival 1x
CHAINSET Sram Rival
CASSETTE XG 1150
CHAIN KMC X11
BOTTOM BRACKET Sram PF30
BRAKES Sram Rival
HANDLEBARS Forme Ergo Aero
STEM Forme Stealth
SADDLE Fizik Aliante
WHEELSET Mavic Askium Allroad
TYRES Kenda Flint Ridge
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Forme says, "Gone are the days of stereotypes and genres, mountain bikers or road riders. We are all just cyclists, people who love to ride bikes regardless of their tyre size or handlebar type.
"The Monsal is the perfect bike to appeal to any cyclist. It's the bike that makes you realise what you love about cycling and why you started riding a bike in the first place. That feeling of freedom and adventure is what encourages us to ride and explore the places bikes can take us. With the Monsal, there are no limits to your adventure. Why be restricted to the tarmac when there is another world of cycle routes and natural terrain waiting to be explored."
I think this pretty much sums up what the Monsal is about: exploring new and old routes both on and off road.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
There are two models in the range, with this Rival option the lower priced at £2,600, while the Force version costs £3,000. It's a very similar build list other than the upgrade to the higher SRAM groupset.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Very nicely made and finished with neat little details like the removable seatstay bridge and internal cable routing.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Both the frame and fork are full carbon fibre.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The front head angle is a little bit more aggressive than the majority of gravel bikes that we see, but other than that it's business as usual.
Full geometry tables are here - https://formebikes.co.uk/monsal-rival.html
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
With this medium sized of the three options having a stack of 575.5mm and a reach of 390mm, it's exactly what I'd expect to see for this style of riding.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The frame and fork do a very good job of taming any road buzz and discomfort.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The frame is perfectly stiff, especially around the bottom bracket and front end.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Pretty well. The chunky bottom half of the frame means it delivers all the power you give it.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Neutral, which works well on the road while giving a bit of fun when off it.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very well balanced, which means that it offers a very stable ride whatever the terrain.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The tyres were comfortable and I really got on with the Fizik Aliante saddle.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The handlebar and stem are plenty stiff enough for hauling on when dragging yourself up the steepest of climbs.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Lighter wheels would making climbing and acceleration even better.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
It's all decent kit and works well in all conditions. Shifting is good, as is the braking performance. It has a good wide spread of gears too.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
Mavic Aksium Disc wheels are, from my experience, very reliable, strong and roll decently with their only trade-off being their weight against some of the competition.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
A decent set of tyres for all of the terrains the Forme is likely to see. Quick and grippy enough on the road and they'll cope with most gravel situations and hard mud trails.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Basic aluminium alloy kit but it all does the job and looks good on the bike. I found the shallow drops allowed you to get plenty of use out of them even off-road.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's in the ballpark with bikes like the Orro and Fairlight mentioned in the review, with which it shares a lot of qualities.
Use this box to explain your overall score
A quality frame and fork that is a joy to ride wherever, and it comes with a decent build spec for the money. Lighter wheels would make it even more responsive.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.