Franco Grimes Gravel Bike Test

An All-road Presence with the Franco Grimes

It was 15 years ago when, in search for a new road bike, Julian Franco and his cousin Hector grew unhappy with the open-mold frames that seemed to be taking over the road market. In response, they decided to not only start their own bicycle company, but they also decided to go big and invest in their own molds so they could offer something personal and unique. 

In the years since, the boutique road brand has grown its catalog to include all-road and gravel-ready options, as well as steel frames.

FRANCO GRIMES FRAME

Oozing an appreciable sense of style with its attractive Sea Foam Green colorway, the Franco Grimes stood out on every group ride it encountered. The 42.5mm, asymmetric (dropped drive side) chainstays help pull your attention to the shapely rear triangle. Thin, flat dropped seatstays mate with the truncated-airfoil seat tube, and their flat wishbone design is used to help damp vibrations. The seat tube features a deep cutout that, in conjunction with the asymmetric design of the chainstays, allows up to a 650x50mm or 700x42mm tire. 

“The frame is designed for a wide range of tire sizes, which allows a personalized build to best handle riding in many conditions.” 

Franco positioned the Grimes in the gravel section of their catalog, and after measuring the geometry, we’ve found more of an all-road focus in the numbers. The 101.6cm wheelbase is on the shorter side of gravel geometry and the long side of road design. 

Photo: Jordan Clark Haggard

When paired with the slack 71.5-degree head tube angle, it gives the Grimes a more responsive feel than a longer gravel bike like the 105.6cm GT Grade or even the 102.5cm all-road Factor Vista. For anyone that has to ride pavement to get to gravel or for those who are looking for one bike to do it all, this gives the Grimes an advantage over dedicated gravel rigs.    

THE PARTS

Franco offers the Grimes as a frameset for $1,950 and in six build kits that range from the $2,450 SRAM Rival spec to the $5,950 SRAM Red eTap AXS option. All models use a 1x drivetrain, so our 2x Shimano GRX Di2 kit is a special order. Those in the gravel scene may have heard of GRX, but for those out of the loop, GRX is the world’s first gravel-specific drivetrain. What makes a drivetrain gravel-specific, you may ask? 

The 160mm Shimano rotors give the Grimes an advantage when you need to hit the brakes on the steep stuff.

Essentially GRX was designed to optimize the type of low gearing that is best suited for unpaved roads and is only available with disc brakes. The 48/31t cranks are paired with an 11-34 cassette, which is an ideal combo for the steep, rarely maintained fire-road climbs where we do most of our testing. The GRX Di2 levers offer a hooked-shape hood for increased grip and a deeper curve for a shorter reach to the lever while in the drops. Nice. 

“On gravel climbs, the 31-34 low gear was so small, we often had the easiest gears when we rode with others. 

 The 700c carbon Mavic Allroad hoops on our build are not available from Franco; instead, they offer a 650b Hed Eroica wheelset with most builds. A pair of 35mm Mavic Yksion All-Road tires helped keep the Grimes planted. Prepared for the rough stuff, the 160mm rotors provided massive stopping power.

Shimano’s GRX drivetrain offers a wider gear range than any other Shimano road groupset. This allows it to capably handle the multitude of all-road conditions.

A proprietary carbon seatpost supports a Pro Griffon saddle, which bucks the trend of the modern saddle design by virtue of its standard length and lacking a cutout. Happily, the Griffon’s padding was dense and reactive for a plush and compliant ride over bumps. 

THE RIDE

Each of our test rides consisted of plenty of dirt, and each one necessitated ample road miles to get to the fire roads. The Grimes felt equally at home on road and dirt. 

The stack and reach felt similar to an endurance fit and kept us sitting more upright with less pressure on our hands. The key takeaway here was that we felt more relaxed further into rough rides than we did on more race-oriented gravel bikes.

In deep gravel sections, we wished we had wider rubber than the 35mm tires and a longer wheelbase for a more stable ride. When rocks weren’t bouncing us around, the compact wheelbase made navigating tight trails, winding descents and even road traffic a breeze for a “big rubber” bike. 

On gravel climbs, the 31-34 low gear was so small, we often had the easiest gears when we rode with others. And as the climbs wore on, the small gears became the envy of the group.

Photo: Jordan Clark Haggard

THE VERDICT

Franco has grown with the times to offer a gravel-ready rig with a simple and clean style. The Grimes can conquer the growing scene of all-road riding. The frame is designed for a wide range of tire sizes, which allows a personalized build to best handle riding in many conditions. 

Even though all of Franco’s builds are 1x-specific, the frame can be mounted with a front derailleur to increase the utility of the frame. The downtube frame ports will hide shift cables and brake lines, so any drivetrain can maintain the clean lines that our Di2 build had.

Simply put, the Grimes expands the horizon of where you and a bike can go, and you can expect it to capably open up the sort of gravel roads that your 23mm slicks stopped short at years ago.

PUNCH LINES

Small brands still have punch

Wide range of drivetrain options

All-road-suited, gravel-capable

FRANCO GRIMES STATS

Price: $1950 (frameset)

Weight: 18.24 pounds

Sizes: XS, S, M (tested), L, XL

www.francobicyles.com

THE GEAR

Helmet: Specialized Prevail 2                 

Jersey: Pactimo      

Bib: Gore Wear                

Shoes: Vittoria Tierra   

Socks: Save our Soles

Glasses: Rudy Project Defender

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