It’s Saturday morning and I’m nervous. I’m milling around Houffalize, a small town nestled deep in Wallonia, surrounded by over one thousand other cyclists who are planning to compete in a couple of hours. Awaiting us is 110 kilometres of gravel racing with over 2000 metres of climbing. The best of the bunch will qualify for the UCI Gravel World Championships in a couple of months time. For me, that’s no consideration, I’m just aiming to finish the route in one piece.
Once we get started, I quickly realise that this isn’t the type of terrain I’d had in mind when I agreed to take part in the event. I’d been daydreaming of wide stretches of fine gravel and long straights where I’d settle into a group and we’d start working together. I’d imagined that we’d speed quickly through the route, averaging a high speed on the wide gravel stretches. I had envisioned the type of gravel I’d seen in races across the pond: the bright stony roads glittering under sunlight, not too technical, but a little more spicy than smashing along the tarmac.
I’d been so sure that this is what the terrain would be like that I’d even confirmed to BMC that I wouldn’t need the URS LT One bike which comes equipped with 20mm of front suspension. Once the race kicked off and I hurtled down the first of many rocky singletrack descents, my mind briefly skipped back to that email I had sent to BMC a few weeks before, confirming: “I don’t think it will be too technical or rocky.”
My expectations for the race likely couldn’t have been further from reality. The route was littered with narrow, windy, technical descents. Big grey rocks, tree roots and uneven surfaces littered my path, trees and shrubbery stuck precariously far out into the road, thorn bushes catching my arm as I did my best to speed past. The inclines were sudden and incredibly steep – the race kicked off with a 16% climb to split riders up after the mass start. At some points, it was hard to keep traction as the gradients savagely kicked up. In my mouth all I could taste was thick dust being thrown up from the tyres of the riders in front. This quickly turned into dirt as it mixed with my sweat, my skin was covered in it.
There was one perk to the hardship that I endured during the Houffa Gravel Race, though, and it was that the event gave BMC’s URS 01 Two gravel bike a true and proper test. The terrain and conditions were more severe than I could have created back home in the UK, and the racing nature of the event meant I pushed my limits both physically and technically far more than I ever could have on a training ride.
BMC’s URS 01 Two features the brand’s signature, forward-thinking, modern gravel bike geometry. The front end has a slack 70-degree head angle to give the bike a longer wheelbase, I found this meant it had a more stable feel over rough surfaces. I rode a size small bike which came equipped with a short 70mm stem – size large comes with 80mm and extra large with 90mm. BMC also sent the bike with wider handlebars (42cm) that have become synonymous with gravel bikes, but admittedly I did switch these to my own 40cm bars due to personal preference and having narrower shoulders. This combination of geometry works incredibly when riding the bike. It’s responsive and nimble when navigating technical sections, while it also stays straight when you brake hard.
At the rear of the bike, the URS 01 Two has a steep 74 degree seat angle and zero-offset seat post which means the rider is well over the cranks. This makes the bike perform well on the tarmac, especially when accelerating. During the race, the URS 01 Two sprinted fast out of corners and had a feel akin to a road bike in particular sections.
BMC has extended its TCC (tuned compliance concept) technology to the carbon and fork on the URS 01 Two, which they say builds compliance into important areas of the frame. Included in the TCC iss the famed D-shaped carbon seat post which adorns most of the bikes in BMC’s URS (Unrestricted) range. The seat post flexes slightly as you hit bumps, improving the ride feel.
The bike's exceptional ride quality is also helped by the 10mm travel technology suspension built into the bike's seat stay. With this, the elastomer compresses as you go over bumps while the chain stay slightly flexes thanks to its carbon compliant nature. This gave the bike an added comfort over tricky terrain, greatly smoothing vibrations – I felt no pain in my arms or hands despite being on rocky roads for extended periods.
The BMC URS 01 Two comes equipped with SRAM Force AXS shifters and brakes, a 38-tooth single-ring Force chainset, an X01 Eagle rear derailleur and a wide-range 10-52t cassette. The shifting was smooth and immediate, while the cassette gave me more than enough gearing options to make it up the steepest gradients. I was also helped up the climbs by the 8.8kg weight of the bike – relatively light for an off-road machine. The bike isn’t compatible with a 2x set-up which I was sceptical about at first, but I didn’t find myself missing having another chainring to switch to, this was actually preferable in a high-speed gravel race.
I was spinning out on some long, fast descents, often making it more efficient to freewheel in an aero position to hold the wheel in front. I did find the brakes a little tricky to align without any rubbing and they took some adjusting, but they were responsive and gave me confidence on technical descents once I had them working optimally. BMC have neatly designed the cockpit so that all cables are hidden, giving the bike a sleek look that we’ve come to expect from BMC’s stylish design team.
Wheels and tyres
I rode BMC’s Carbon CRD400 wheels which have a 40mm rim depth and 23mm rim width with WTB Raddler 40mm tyres. I found these to hit a sweet spot between giving me control on the descents while also rolling fast on the tarmac and flat sections. I ran my tire pressure at 40 PSI during the race, but I found myself letting air out midway through due to the severity of the terrain. With a maximum tire clearance of 42 mm, the URS 01 Two does live up to its name as “Unrestricted”, it could really be pushed to the limits on terrain equipped with such wide tyres.The wheels themselves have a light and lively feel but they still were stable and reliable.
BMC’s URS 01 Two did everything I needed for the rough and ready landscapes that I faced in Houffalize. On rocky terrain, it smoothed vibrations and allowed me to get through the day as pain-free as possible in the circumstances, while at the same time giving me the confidence on technical sections with its impressive responsiveness. It is a bike which looks sleek and unique, with minimal branding and a tasteful colourway, while the geometry strikes a good balance between being race-ready and comfortable.
This makes the bike versatile enough to use in a gravel race like I did, or on long, all-day bike packing adventures (it features bolt-on mount for top tube bags and multiple other mounting options, too.) The wide tyre clearance also means it could survive pretty much all terrain while keeping the rider as comfortable as possible. At €7499, the URS 01 Two is a premium bike, but this is justified considering it is the lightest bike in the URS range which is marketed as made to the high performance standards that “a dedicated gravel rider needs.”