Cycling journalists forced to live in tiny flats long ago discovered that a single drop-handlebar bicycle can achieve a lot of different tasks. However, it’s a fact that bike makers have taken quite a while to clock onto. The latest of them is the Italian firm Wilier. Narrowing the gap between what constitutes a fast gravel bike and a still very nippy road racer, its Rave SLR is a single bike available on two distinct guises.
Despite being convertible between the two set-ups, each version’s unique build kit and distinct one-piece bar and stem assembly means there’s a minimum of compromise involved in selecting either.
Using either the Zero-Bar to achieve a lower and narrower front end or the gravel focused J-Bar for a higher and broader stance, the wheels also vary depending on the option selected.
Besides changing the position, the stem on the gravel version also incorporates a radical-looking v-type split design. Coming in builds featuring Dura-Ace R9200, Ultegra Di2 R8100, SRAM Force Etap AXS, and Campagnolo Ekar, the wireless shifting on the first three of these will at least make swapping somewhat easier. Either way, each configuration manages to smuggle away any brake lines resulting in an extremely clean looking front end.
Our sample was kitted out in Campagnolo Ekar, alongside Campagnolo Shamal carbon rims.
Known for making quick bikes, the Rave uses the same carbon mix found in Wilier’s Filante SLR and 0 SLR machines. With a partly aerofoil profile, it also shares many of the same design features. The Rave is not too far out of the ballpark for a competitive road frame either, with a claimed 950g frame weight, plus 415g for the fork. Geometry is, of course, somewhat extended and relaxed; however, the bike’s road heritage is evident in its relatively attacking angles.
At the same time, clearance for 42mm tyres leaves it capable on faster and drier gravel rides. However, rather than leave it simply to swapping the treads, each build comes with wheels suited either to the road, like the firm’s own SLR 42 KC wheels, or gravel, as catered to by Campagnolo Shamal or Miche Graff carbon options.
Gearing is similarly focused on surface type, with single ring options for gravel or dual chainring designs for the road. Leaving it less readily adaptable, this nevertheless means there are fewer compromises when fully applied to the selected genre of riding.
Our Ekar setup was ideal for off-road riding, though in truth the gearing offered 90% of what we could have wanted on the road as Campagnolo’s 13-sprockets offer not only substantial range but highly palatable steps between gears.
With more riders exploring different styles of riding, firms are increasingly betting riders will be less bothered by slight differences in geometry or a couple of extra grams of weight than they will be by having to purchase and store two similar bikes. Helped by the ability to now build robust bikes without significant weight penalties and the standardisation of disc brakes and bolt-through wheels, several have recently released similarly intentioned bikes.
Of these, the Rave SLR tends towards the racier end of the spectrum. It’s also unique in the focus with which each build pursues either discipline. Marketing them almost as separate bikes, Wilier is branding the Rave SLR as a single bike with two separate souls.
On the road, and on the gravel
That really came across when it came to the riding experience. While with 38mm Vittoria Terreno Dry tyres this was verifiably a gravel set-up, I often had to remind myself of that while cruising along the tarmac.
Wilier has always prided itself on designing bikes with a snappy handling character. That’s very much evident in the Rave SLR, and the stiffness of the front-end setup only adds to that responsiveness and liveliness in terms of handling and off-the-saddle sprinting response.
Riding with some of my friends on shorter road rides, I was able to keep up — albeit with some considerable heaving and a higher than normal heart rate — on everything but shallow descents where I’d occasionally run out of gears.
I would have loved to have tested the Rave SLR in its 32mm tyre 2x groupset guise. Ultimately, the choice will probably split those who use tarmac roads to link up gravel tracks, trails and bridleways, against those who predominantly ride on the road and occasionally veer onto the unbeaten path.
In terms of my riding habits, I’d probably fall into the latter category. But that said, riding this Ekar setup on 38mm tyres was just so much fun.
It strikes me that Wilier was once considered a dedicated road brand, having taken some time to even dip a toe in the world of disc brakes. Today, the brand is truly all-terrain, and the Rave shows exactly how mature the brand’s understanding of modern riding is.
The Rave SLR is a lot of fun in an extremely race-ready package.