Even in a relatively nascent category like gravel, well-worn paths have been beaten down in bike design. Ben Farver, founder of Argonaut Cycles, isn’t much interested in those paths. Nor is it the first time Farver and crew ventured further than anyone had before.
In 2015, Farver had a prescient moment. He teamed up with Chris King to help develop the T47 bottom bracket standard — yet another addition to the much-maligned bottom bracket ‘standards’ of the day.
Farver knew his way was better. So he had a decision to make: Take the safe route and do what everyone else was doing, or take the chance on better technoloogy.
Fast forward to today and T47’s grip on the bike industry is only growing. Farver’s bet paid off, and he intends to make another with the Argonaut GR3 gravel bike. This time, Farver and his crew in Bend, Oregon want to tell a new story in gravel bicycle geometry.
Carbon processes redefined
Argonaut builds every GR3 in-house in its Bend, Oregon facility. It’s no easy feat building bikes in the U.S., but Farver knew it was key to controlling the parameters of what a great bike can be — and heading off what can go wrong.
“We make our molds in house so we can control consistency,” says Farver. Beyond that, the carbon layup team wanted to control fiber distortions. As a bladder expands when the carbon sets, the bladder grabs the carbon ply and moves the fibers. “That means you aren’t getting the mechanical layup you wanted,” he says, and in turn the rider does not get the intended ride quality.
To solve this, Argonaut developed a new patented process for laying up the carbon. It’s called high-pressure silicone molding. Argonaut creates silicone mandrels around which the carbon is wrapped. The silicone expands during the curing process, creating the internal pressure necessary to make a clean carbon layup with no fiber distortion. After curing, the mandrels contract and can be cut out of the carbon frame section.
The result is perhaps the cleanest carbon tube internal one can make. Less distortion and less mess inside means less weight and better ride quality.
“We can tune the stiffness up and down through various layup angles,” says Farver, and the curing process won’t distort the intended tuning in any way.
GR3 GravelFirst Geometry
The GR in the name stands for Gravel Race. The 3 indicates the third iteration Argonaut has developed. But you won’t find the GR2 or GR1 for sale anywhere.
Argonaut put those first two iterations underneath some trusted testers. From there, the process of refinement became paramount. All told, the GR3 has been in development for five years.
The goal, according to Farver, was to rethink the geometry of a gravel bike and tailor it for the conditions riders actually encounter on the racecourse.
“I think it’s enough of a different total organisation of angles and lengths that it’s unique unto itself,” says Farver. “It doesn’t share geometry from any one style of bike. Our idea was to make it really stable going downhill, to descend fast and confidently on. Really bumpy roads, singletrack…to give you confidence too roll through rough stuff.”
To accomplish that, Argonaut has unleashed a unique combination of geometry angles. The Trail figure comes in at 74.4mm, the head tube angle is a slack 68.5 degrees, a 75mm bottom bracket drop for tons of stability, and tire clearance for up to a 50mm tire.
On top of that, the 415mm chainstays are the shortest currently on the market for a gravel bike. Argonaut wanted the rear wheel tucked up underneath the rider to ensure a playful, lively feel, one that can change lines in an instant. It also means better climbing and more explosiveness during high-power efforts.
“We don’t think it’s necessary to have long chainstays to have stability,” says Farver of the unique geometry. “If you can fit a big tire and chainring in that small amount of real estate, by dropping the chainstay and offsetting the seat tube, it allows you to tuck the wheel in tighter.”
The overall goal was to create an exceptionally stable bike without making feel, as Farver puts it, like a big sluggish dump truck. With shorter chainstays and a slacker front end, Argonaut has managed to balance the front-center and the rear-center of the bike in a unique way that offers the best of both worlds when it comes to handling.
Despite the set geometry numbers, Argonaut tailors each GR3 to the rider. The holistic approach includes an assessment of the rider’s FTP, power numbers, riding style, preferred terrain, and other data to tailor the flex zones on the bike.
That means your bike will ride exactly the way you need it to ride. The carbon layup pattern will be adjusted specifically for your needs, with zones that flex and zones that resist flexing — all according to the way you ride.
Riding the GR3
I was fortunate enough to visit Argonaut’s headquarters in Bend and get some lengthy rides aboard the GR3 while I was there. Bend has long been known for its mountain bike trails, so it comes as no surprise that we found ourselves on singletrack quite often.
It’s an incredible testing ground for exactly what Argonaut says the GR3 is made for: rough gravel, singletrack sections, punchy climbs, and fast descents. The GR3 makes short work of all of it, but it didn’t shine until Farver clued me in on a secret.
“The bike loves to be counter-steered” much like a mountain bike or motorcycle, he says. That means you’re pushing into the turn and also pulling from the outside. This leans the bike over further, while still planting it into corners. This is possible because of the slack front end, combined with the short chainstays.
That was a turning point for me. The bike lives up to Argonaut’s promises. It’s lithe and quick on twisty singletrack, but absolutely flies with uncanny stability on rough, fast gravel descents.
The GR3 is ultimately its own unique beast, entirely suited for the racecourse but just as at home on all-day adventures. The geometry sets it apart, but it’s Argonaut’s willingness to dive headlong into the tiniest details that make the GR3 a special ride.
At the end of our first ride on the GR3 and our first look at the Argonaut facility, Farver tells us, “Our intention is to make things.” It’s a simple statement with complex implications. Argonaut has not shied away from setting trends in the past. The GR3 is no different. Argonaut’s goal is not to copy. It is not to maintain, nor to simply disappear into the broad competition.
Farver’s intention is to make things, but the GR3 proves Argonaut takes that one step further. Argonaut makes things that matter.