Where Did All the Gravel Go? An Untimely Look at the Crust Bombora

Nic Morales (@morajez) offers us some well written, “untimely”, deep insight about the Crust Bombora. This article is a fun read, and the photos are very easy on the eyes. Thank you for sharing this with us Nic! – Garrett

Irrespective of the kind of cycling you prefer– you’ve probably seen a Crust Bombora. Almost everything about it draws attention. Be it the pastel pink paint job or the uncharacteristically large tires most seem to run on the classically styled frame, the Crust Bombora is a bike celebrity if there ever was one. Though we’re a few years on from its debut and some of its key features are less ‘groundbreaking,’ the transformation of the ‘gravel’ space still offers a good platform for judgment. Is this just a hipster bike frame with good, home-brew marketing, or did the small team over at Crust capture a zeitgeist that has yet to be meaningfully improved upon? 

As the third-hand owner of a new (to me) original production Bombora– I dare to answer such a lofty question.

Terms and Conditions

As three or four scrapped intros show, there isn’t a singular reason I long fawned over the Bombora. Though the perfect bike doesn’t exist, a confluence of factors makes what, to me, gets pretty close. Capability, capacity, and aesthetics merge to form a more perfect union. The capability to move relatively quickly is a trait with obvious value but, nonetheless, a relative term. I’m not a racer, so sustained speeds above, say, 23mph aren’t really that important to me on the flats. But a frame that is at least conducive to moving around 20mph when I really want to put the watts down serves a purpose outside Strava. 

For all the hubbub about the codification of ‘gravel,’ what the space centers around is an experience of escape. What that means in practice is relatively long days in the saddle. The capacity to traverse terrain that would have ‘faster’ bikes looking at the terms and conditions of their warranty is another important part of the equation. Simultaneously, capacity also relates to your ability to carry necessities for those bigger, nature-centric rides. Namely, water, food, layers, and a flat kit. Frame size, geometry, and inherent capacity in the form of mounting points all play a role in determining how easily one can escape the toil of our modern world. 

Much like the other points, aesthetics are fungible. The idea that 32mm tires are ‘big’ is as sensible or ridiculous as preferring a lugged frameset or a round set of steel tubes. To each their own. That said, there’s something about a frame with some personal touches that adds character. At the end of the day, this is a production frame, but one that, if for no reason other than the size of Crust as a company, breaks through the endless monotony of big box brand frames that draw more comparisons to something you’d see at a car dealership.

With our points of judgment defined and understood– what is it about this bike that makes it such an industry darling?

Convention be damned

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Bombora is its weight distribution. Coming from the neo-classical pairing of a steel frame/carbon fork, I was warned by the prior owner that the fork was ‘a bit of a boat anchor.’ Having struggled to put my prior build below 23ish pounds, I didn’t really care. I figured the weight of a heavier frame and carbon fork versus a full steel build with lighter tubing would amount to roughly the same. I’d had plenty of fun on my last bike and never found the capacity of a 24-pound base weight limiting on mile-centric bikepacking trips. As an aside, part of my approach to cycling has been to quell my tendency toward pure performance. I’m focused on achieving relative to myself, but not so much that it becomes the sole driver of my cycling-related purchases. I’d buy something worthwhile for the look as much as the ‘performance benefits.’ Maybe that’s a bit rich after spending most of a paragraph fixating on weight, but– I think you get the point. Anything around 23/25lbs is light enough, and anything sub 17 is probably just inappropriate. We’re riding bikes, not paperweights. 

On my first ride, I could feel the benefits of the construction. The tube set is lighter than that of my last frame, such that the bike feels like it accelerates and keeps speed better by comparison. The chainstays are pretty darn short even when compared to carbon frames, which can and tend to do ungodly things in terms of shape. That helps in making the bike feel razor-sharp through corners and tight spaces. The fork, however, mellows it all out in the best ways. Where a lighter material might deflect and lose its line if not carefully looked after, this ‘boat anchor’ blasts through chunk. I’ve yet to encounter much in the way of uncomfortable chatter and the handling is still light and responsive. You’ll never worry about cracking when loading up the blades or a front-loaded bike bag. It also appears to have some love baked right into it. I mean, look at the logo. It just looks right!
Those at Crust have also been wary of bike industry conventions, making the infamous idea of ‘standover’ a thing of the past. Though I’ll admit, I was a bit hesitant, given there’s not much left to the imagination in terms of distance between my genitals and the top tube– the on-bike feel is amazing. No overly long stem or exposed seatpost to adjust– just a good old-fashioned French fit that feels right at home. The practical benefit of this approach is that riders are less likely to have to make that frustrating decision between appropriately sized bottles and a frame bag. I can fit a medium to large Outer Shell frame bag between my legs with a 1-liter bottle on the seat tube and a ‘normal’ 26-ounce bottle on the downtube. No compromise here!

*a note on the fit front:
If you don’t believe me, the best bike reviewer on the market and all things anti-industry convention, Russ of PathLessPedaled, has even come around to the idea of doing away with standover height as a measure of whether a bike will fit.


If I did have to choose an aspect of the Bombora that drew me in, it’d be the tire clearance. Multi-wheel size bikes are definitely not uncommon nowadays, but a steel bike that has clearance for 700 x 48, 27.5 x 2.3, and, from the Bombora’s most famous rider Anton Krupicka’s estimation, 26 x 2.6 (apparently, he runs 2.8 in the front and 2.3 in the rear) there’s little in the way that can beat it. Sure, there are just mountain bikes, but, as I’ve touched on before, the best part of the tried and true ‘gravel bike’ is the goldilocks nature of its design. One can feasibly take it on both long road rides and singletrack and not feel particularly out of place on either. Yes, a lycra-clad, deep dish, SL7 road group will drop you in the same way you might clog up the local mtb park, but I’d much rather have the ability to do a version of both than one or the other, given I don’t find myself at the pointy end of either.

Multi-wheel size speculation aside, the bike feels at its most natural state on 650b’s. The dreaded and over-used idiom of being ‘in the bike’ is most true when, unsurprisingly, using the wheel size the bike was designed around. 700c definitely isn’t a bad experience, but it’s more for the road miles or when speed is at a premium. If anyone has a set of thru-axle, road-spaced 26-inch disc brake wheels they’d like to send me so I can try them in the unofficial third wheel size, feel free. 

Adult Bionicles

Having made a number of changes, repairs, and adjustments to my last build, I’d become increasingly familiar with almost every part of the bike and how it works. At this point, it’s part of the fun for me. So, when I had the chance to grab this frame, I was excited to take a whack at building it myself. Save for the headset (I don’t have a bearing press, and I didn’t feel like incorrectly installing one), I built the entire thing on my own. With external cable routing and simple, easy-to-use, serviceable components, building this frame up from my last bike felt like an adult Lego. No propriety parts to faf with or much in the way of difficulty whatsoever. The pleasure that brings me is immeasurable, and all I can really say to that effect is– work on your bike. You will mess it up. You will inevitably fuck something up. But, the experience of learning and understanding how it all works together improves the experience of riding tenfold. Bicycles are incredibly simple. With a bit of trial and error, I’d venture to say almost anyone can become an expert on their own steed. A frame like this one allows for that sort of experimentation and agency. 

Siren’s Call

Living in the age of late capitalism has many pitfalls, chief among them a perpetual sense of material longing. Whether it’s bikes, boats, or carbon ballast, the constant stream of advertising we can’t seem to ever get away from is always pushing money out of our wallets in the hopes of a more perfect existence. As someone that spends a fair bit of time thinking about bicycles, I’ve long pondered the concept of a ‘dream bike.’ What does that really mean? Is it correlated to how much money was spent? Or how much fun was had? How can such a thing be quantified? Philosophy 101 aside, the Bombora may have all but silenced the voices in my head. 

I don’t tend to wonder whether I can justify that shiny new upgrade when staring at the bike. My Bombora, a relatively modest build(!) is all the bike I need. It does what I want it to do and it does so in style. A 200-mile day, a coffee shop cruise, a bikepacking trip, a jaunt into the front range, or the marshes of my home state. The Bombora tackles them all with ease. 

Reading that back, it sounds like the typical bike review BS. Breaking news, a nice frame is nice. But, what I’d venture to say is truly special about the Bombora, and perhaps Crust as a whole, is that you can buy some of the best steel production frames on the market for pennies on the dollar when compared to the rest of the bicycle industry. Lately, it seems like the big box companies are intent on testing the upper limits of what people will pay. 15,000 dollars isn’t money I’ve ever had all at once, so throwing that at a bicycle that’s only built to do one thing doesn’t seem like something I’ll ever do. But comparisons to the absolute top of the totem pole aside, it’s confounding, given what similarly specced frames go for, that you can get one of the best gravel frames money can buy for a little over a thousand dollars. It’s actually one of Crust’s most affordable offerings, aside from their BMX frames and BMX-inspired Wombat. 

It’s easy to be cynical about anything today. Many are quick to point out aspects of any product or company they aren’t particularly interested in as proof of why it’s not the magical thing people have imagined it to be. Crust, however, feels like they’ve bottled whatever mysticism is left in this world and given a little piece to anyone willing and able to listen. If for no reason other than that, I’d say the Bombora is worth a look.

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