There are few places in the world that hold as much prevalence in modern cycling as the small Spanish town of Girona, nestled deep in the region of Catalonia. As tourists marvel at the mediaeval architecture and stroll around Barri Vell, the walled Old Quarter, the soundtrack to their meandering is often the high-pitched sound of a bicycle freewheel.
The town is home to a huge number of both amateur and professional cyclists, made famous in the sport when it became a base for Lance Armstrong in the early 90s. It might be the River Onyar that flows through the centre of colourful rows of houses and the landscaped gardens which line the Passeig Arqueològic that attract the casual tourist, but it was the temperate climate and spectacular training roads that drew the likes of David Millar and Christian Meier to the area.
Such an influx of cyclists has led to the creation of many cycling-specific businesses which harness the coffee traditions and social aspect that runs through cycling culture. Meier himself is the founder of La Fabrica, Espresso Mafia, and The Service Course, cafes and bike shops which have become Girona institutions over the years, actively sought out by cyclists who live in and those visiting the area.
Above all, though, Girona is loved by those who ride on two wheels because of its breathtaking variety of roads. Whether it’s heading into the mountains to tackle the iconic Rocacorba climb, or rolling steadily along the stunning coastline, there are options for every cyclist’s need. In recent years, as the popularity of gravel riding has skyrocketed, Girona has an answer for that, too. There's a labyrinth of dirt tracks to explore, many converted railway tracks and old dirt B-roads. It’s why some of Europe’s biggest gravel events and races take place in the area, namely the 360km Traka, an event which traverses through some of the area’s steepest and most stunning off-road ascents.
In late April, just as the temperatures were beginning to creep upwards and flowers of spring were out in full bloom, I spent a week exploring the famous gravel terrain of Girona for the first time, ascertaining if it lives up to the hype and legend that surrounds it. In order to do so, I needed a bike that was up to the job. The Service Course, a bike rental service and bike shop, lent me an Argonaut GR3 for my time in Spain, fresh from Argonaut’s HQ in Bend, Oregon.
Argonaut is a bike brand which is slowly rising to prominence in the cycling industry, namely due to the widespread praise of its RM3 model – previously the only bike it sold. What sets Argonaut apart from its competitors is the custom element to its bikes. Every bike the brand sells is made to order and each of the frames’ carbon layup is individual to the rider based on factors such as weight, FTP and the general landscape where the bike will be most commonly used. Rather than having one set of adjustable moulds for each size, Argonaut retains geometry specific tooling meaning that each size has its own set of frame tooling.
If a rider doesn’t fit with the pre-existing geometries and wishes to go full custom then the brand’s unique, 3D printing frame moulding allows Argonaut to have, so they say, no limitations on geometry – they can make bikes of any size, for any rider.
Since I was on a rental bike from The Service Course, I was riding a frame that hadn’t been specifically tuned to me personally, but I was still extremely impressed with the ride quality and feel of the bike. The GR3 features Argonaut’s GravelFirst geometry, which the brand says represents a “major leap forward in gravel bike design”. This includes ample tyre clearance (up to a 50c tyre) alongside a 415mm chainstay and a 75mm bottom bracket drop, as well as a slack 68.5º front end.
I found that this innovative geometry took a little getting used to, but once I became more accustomed to the bike it helped me descend in a way that felt incredibly stable. The bottom bracket made the GR3 fly over rough terrain and bumps – though it should be said that the gravel in Girona is mostly well-kept and tame. The only issue with such a low bottom bracket is that the bike is prone to a pedal stroke when ragging it round corners, something that is important to be aware of.
When going uphill, the GR3 didn’t feel sluggish at all, something that I’ve felt before on gravel bikes, this is likely due to the short chainstay which gives the bike a great acceleration and responsiveness when out of the saddle. This, combined with the stability that the lower BB offers and then the slack head tube angle, means that the GR3 ticks the boxes for riding both up and downhill. The fact that there is room for 50mm tyres means that the GR3 could tackle extremely rough terrain too – the versatility of this bike is impressive. There’s no toe overlap risk when taking on technical switchbacks either thanks to the progressive frame geometry. It’s worth noting that the frame does, however, lack mudguard mounts for the winter, something that might deter buyers who want a bike they can ride all year round.
This is the only place where I can see a slight issue with the GR3 – who is it really for? It has considerations in the frame design that tell us it’s a bike meant to for going fast both up and downhill, and the fact it can be customised to each rider’s individual needs is definitely a selling point, but the bike lacks any aerodynamic considerations, something that the seasoned gravel racer would be looking for (especially due to the wide, exposed sections of flat which are common in many races across the US.) As brands such as BMC bring out specific aero-focused gravel bikes such as the Kaius, Argonaut might have missed a trick here if it wants to appeal to those looking for aero gains off-road too. But since the bike doesn’t have mudguard mounts or any major considerations for multi-day, bike-packing adventures, it doesn’t necessarily appeal to that market either.
That said, maybe this means it's a bike for most of us. Those of us who sit in between being full-on racers and multi-day adventurers, just like I was when riding the bike in Girona. For long rides where I wanted comfort but also speed, the GR3 did everything I asked of it.
When it comes to aesthetics, these too can be customised based on rider preferences, but the model I rode came in Argonaut’s signature paint job which is said to represent the colour palette of central Oregon, where the brand is based. I really liked how the colours were natural and almost seemed to complement the geometry and flow of the bike with their shaping.
The integrated front end of the bike gives the GR3 a really sleek look and makes it easy to keep clean, too. The Enve all-road bars route the cables down through Argonaut’s own stem, my bike was equipped with Campagnolo Ekar and a 13-speed 9-42 cassette. This gave me enough range for the steep climbs I was tackling in Girona, though I did find myself spinning out on some of the long tarmac descents and the gear changes were sometimes a little bit clunky when under load. The braking power that comes with Campagnolo Ekar rotors is impressive – I was able to feather the brakes and stop quickly on demand.
My GR3 rolled on Enve AG25 wheels with 40mm Hutchinson Touareg tyres, these were puncture proof for the whole week I spent in Girona and were the perfect choice for the tightly packed gravel that I spent most of my time on. The Enves rolled fast on the descents but felt sturdy and reliable at the same time, while I found the Touareg tyres gave me enough grip even when the gravel was loose –admittedly I did not try them in wet weather, though.
Overall, the GR3 was the perfect companion for my week of discovering Spanish gravel. It served me well for the type of riding I was doing on varied terrain where I wanted to push the limits on some technical descents. This isn’t the bike I would reach for if I was going for a top-10 in a big gravel race or taking on a huge bike-packing extravaganza, but it’s just what I needed for everyday riding. I can only imagine how good the comfort would have been if the frame’s carbon lay-up was properly tuned to my weight and power as Argonaut offers to a normal customer, because I was pretty already pretty impressed with the comfort and handling on the frame I rode. The Service Course was on hand to help if I needed any adjustments made to the bike and even offered to clean it for me after my rides – professional service indeed. This, combined with Girona’s buzzing, friendly atmosphere alongside the backdrop of sunshine and mountains has left me only dreaming of the next time I can go back to the Spanish town. And I’d definitely be asking for another ride on Argonaut’s GR3.