Gravel bikes are more diverse than ever. We initially thought of them as road adjacent, with road bike geometry optimized for stability over groomed fire roads rather than rutty singletrack. But the more we’ve seen, the more that mindset is starting to change and add mountain bike technology. Bikes like the new 2020 BMC URS gravel bike show what new-age gravel geometry can do for the Swiss Army Knife segment of cycling.
The infancy of gravel bikes saw small brands build their bikes as burly pack mules that were more about getting out there than how efficient they were. Over time, bikes such as the OPEN U.P. approached gravel with a road bike mindset, with only a few concessions to tire clearance and straight-line stability on dirt terrain. The URS is a bit different, as BMC took their expertise from the World Cup-winning Teamelite hardtail and applied it to the unique needs of gravel riding. BMC calls it Gravel+, a concept that is aimed squarely at gravel-specific performance. We photographed the 2020 URS THREE with Shimano GRX and Mavic Allroad Disc wheels.
At the core of the URS is a slack 70-degree head angle, long trail figure, and relatively low stack numbers across all sizes. Additionally, there is BMC’s MTT suspension system built into the rear triangle. BMC has used it for years on their Teamelite that has been raced on XC courses for years to great effect. In essence, it uses self-lubricating bushings close to the seattube-seatstay junction and an engineered flex point in the chainstays that offer 10mm suspension travel. An elastomer cover acts as a bit of a damper. While 10 mm doesn’t seem like much, this “soft tail” concept assists with traction and a touch of comfort without compromising performance.
Truthfully the concept isn’t too far from the popular Lauf True Grit. That bike shows remarkable straight-line stability due to its long reach measurements, Grit SL suspension fork and low bottom bracket. If there is anything the Lauf misses out on, its that the rear end of the bike doesn’t quite match the plushness the fork offers on rough terrain. The URS looks to remedy that in a way that is uniquely BMC.
URS features a fairly-steep 74-degree seattube angle that, when paired to a very short 55 mm or 70 mm stem (depending on size), places plenty of weight on the front wheel allowing the tires to dig into the dirt and grip hard. This also means that the rider is fairly upright on the bike, in a way that feels more like a mountain bike than anything with a drop bar. Is this better than the Lauf? We’ll get to that later, but it means the URS fits differently than your average gravel bike.
BMC didn’t stop at geometry or the TCC suspension. The URS uses a zero-setback proprietary carbon seatpost that BMC uses on other bikes like the Roadmachine. They quote the additional compliance from the seatpost, but BMC has designed it such that a regular 27.2 mm seatpost can be fitted with the aid of a small shim. It is even dropper compatible, with provisions for internal dropper routing. And if the “steep seattube, slack head angle, dropper post, stubby stem” stuff wasn’t enough mountain bike crossover, BMC says that the URS can handle a Fox AX 40 mm travel fork or a Lauf Grit SL fork without affecting the bike’s handling.
All URS models use BMC’s unique ICS stem that routes brake cables through the stem and into the headtube, as well as a modular cable stop that fits a Di2 junction box. There are integrated rubber bumpers at the fork dropouts, downtube, driveside chainstay as preventative wear pieces on the downtube. They’ve also included fender and rack mounts, dynamo hub wiring, three bottle cages, and space for a 700 x 45c or 650 x 47b tire. A frame weighs in at a reasonable 1050 grams with hardware. URS is 1x-specific.
The URS is different than anything else than we have seen on the market. Many gravel bikes have some sort of suspension system and fit massive tires, while are stripped down and feel like burly road bikes. The URS is different, as at first blush it looks more like a race XC hardtail with drop bars than anything else. It is a product of BMC’s Swiss upbringing, where a gravel ride might see everything from steep, loose singletrack climbs to long fireroad descents. Does that type of riding fit what you do? If so, the URS might be your pick.
Each new gravel bike seeks to be different from the competition, thanks to an ever-growing list of gravel bikes from just about every manufacturer on the market. And despite the wide list of bikes on the market, the URS manages to stand out as a gravel bike that pulls from XC mountain biking for performance rather than road bikes or traditional touring bikes. And if anyone is to pioneer that type of design, who better than BMC to do it.