YT released its first gravel bike late last year. With a suspension fork, dropper post, and taglines like “gravity in its genes”, I was expecting a heavy drop-bar MTB. But after riding the Szepter all winter, I can confirm it’s a true gravel bike. A very dirt-friendly and fast descending gravel bike, but still a gravel bike. Great for cranking out efficient miles on mixed surfaces, but with enough singletrack chops that you can confidently explore any path that catches your eye. With the Szepter you are always ready to answer the Siren’s call of “I wonder where that goes?”.
With a slack (for gravel) 69.4 degree head angle, RockShox Rudy XPLR fork, integrated mudguards, and high strength frame (ASTM 3 certified), the Szepter is more capable on singletrack than most gravel bikes. 1990’s me would have killed it at the NORBA XC races on a Szepter. Flying across those ski hill water bars thanks to the RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR dropper post, 180mm SRAM HS2 front rotors, and 1×12 SRAM Force XPLR Etap AXS wireless drivetrain. Look out Tinker!
In addition to its singletrack capabilities, the 1,400g Ultra-Modulus carbon frame is also comfortable and efficient on pavement. The lightweight frame helps offset the extra heft of the fork and dropper. Yes, 21.8lbs is on the heavy side for a gravel bike in this price range, but not overly so. For me, the offroad functionality is well worth the extra pound or two. It’s perfect for my hometown riding, where dirt and gravel roads are plentiful, but are mostly nasty, brutish, and short.
A “gravel ride” in the more populated areas where most of us live, often needs a lot of paved sections to connect the unpaved woods, parks and rail-trails. The Szepter is perfect for this. On group rides it had me pleasantly moving right along with the pack, keeping pace with unsuspended bikes. And when things inevitably turned sketchy, I didn’t walk or dab. I could hop over logs at speed, scootch rock step-ups, and even a-line rollers, small drops, and jumps.
As mentioned, the Ultra-Modulus carbon frame is light but it’s also built to the ASTM 3 offroad standard. The frame design is unique, with a curved seat tube (30.9mm) matching the arc of the rear wheel, and with an integrated rear fender. Both help minimize spray in wet conditions and let the pack know you’re not going to ride around the puddles.
The top tube is thin and wide for tor torsional strength, while the chainstays, downtube, and headtube are also beefed up for strength and efficiency. With top tube mounts for a frame pack and two large bottles, overnight bikepacking is on the table. But overall there is limited pack capacity due to the suspension fork and dropper. So it’s a very dirt-friendly design but is not a platform easily set up for long-haul bikepacking.
The unique-looking frame has a geometry tuned for offroad riding but isn’t so radically slack that it hampers road performance. The 69.4 degree head angle is relatively slack for a gravel bike, but with traditionally shaped 440mm (M_L) drop bars it feels like a gravel bike. However, the 74.4 degree seat angle is notably steep, and I didn’t have to slide the saddle forward due to my long legs. It’s a comfortable and forward-riding position. Combined with short 425mm chainstays lifts easily for a gravel bike but climbs steeps fine.
And the more forward over the BB position added to the bike’s general efficient power transfer vibe. Pedal strikes were less common thanks to the tall 290mm BB height, which didn’t seem to hamper stability, likely thanks to the dropper and lower body position. Finally, the 45mm limit on rear tire clearance keeps the Szepter in the gravel bike spectrum, though it fails to match the Rudy fork’s 50mm tire clearance up front. On a bike like this, you’re more likely to want to run 50mm tires front and rear, so it seems like a bit of a miss.
Price and Build Options
The Core 4 is the top-end build we tested. At $4,499 it’s a very strong spec. As mentioned, the RockShox Rudy Ultimate suspension fork, SRAM Force XPLR AXS drivetrain and brakes, and RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR dropper post are great for singletrack, but are very pricey. The SDG Bel-Air V3 Overland saddle and Zipp Service Course stem and bars are also good performers. Along with the WTB Proterra Light i23 alloy wheels, skinned with WTB Resolute 42c TCS light tires.
YT’s consumer-direct business model allows for a high-value build, and the Core 3 build at $3,299 (sale price $2,999) has the same frame and has a great build spec for the price, but lacks the dropper and uses less costly SRAM Rival drivetrain and WTB SpeedTerra wheels.
SRAM wireless shifting had already won me over on other bikes, and I’ve become surprisingly fond of the Reverb SRAM AXS 50mm dropper too. Initial rides had me skeptical of only 50mm of travel in the dropper and I was doubting the ActiveRide suspension feature, which only provides a bit of cush and only when partially dropped.
It requires mad gamer skills to depress both shifters quickly enough not to drop down too far. At first I struggled to micro-drop into the less rigid Goldilocks zone, but eventually, I figured it out. Although the suspension is very subtle, I found it worth the effort to get into the sweet spot to reduce long chattery sections.
A 75mm dropper is also available, and I would recommend the longer post, but I found the 50mm drop to be sufficient to easily slide back behind the seat. The dropper was great for technical riding, duh, but I also found it useful on steep descents (both road and gravel), where I could get more aero and more easily lean into the curves. The 30.9mm seat tube diameter can fit a bigger MTB dropper too. If you ride mostly dirt and gravel, then I could see buying a Core 3 and adding a 150mm dropper (size L, XL, XXL), a bigger front tire, and maybe flatter mustache bars, and have a super-efficient go-anywhere bike.
Paint and color schemes typically aren’t worth mentioning in reviews, because they are largely personal preferences and I prefer function over fashion (e.g. socks and sandals). So while the Core 4 “machine light grey” matte paint looks kinda badass, I have to mention that I really dislike matte paint. The rough coating reaches out and grabs dirt and stains. Everything that touches the bike leaves a mark: riding gloves, rubber bike rack straps, mud, air, everything. I’m not a neat freak, but the bike gets embarrassingly marred and is impossible to keep clean. End of knit pick.
The Szepter is great for exploring new places. Before this winter on the Szepter, I thought I had hiked or biked every path within a 25mi radius of my house, especially after the last few years. But I found several “new” routes while riding out from the house. Does that path get around the lake? Yes, but there’s a stream crossing with a tippy board. Is that just a driveway, or does it cut-through to the park? Both, if you’re faster than the dog. I would leave the house with intentions of a gravel ride, but could end up on mountain bike trails, or sometimes a short neighborhood spin ended up crossing 3 town lines. The Szepter was a joy no matter the route.
On climbs and the actual gravelly sections I mostly rode the hoods, and the bike was efficient and comfortable, and I never felt the need to lock out the fork. When things got hairy, I moved down into the drops for a better grip and one finger braking. The front wheel was easily lifted to manual and bunny hop, and the 180mm front rotor and XPLR brakes provided MTB-level stopping power. Riding the drops on flowy singletrack improved the handling too. Especially with post down, the lower center of gravity allowed the bike to carve better than most gravel bikes.
If the tires slid a bit, I didn’t panic, because I was tucked in low between the wheels where I could control a slide without fully washing out. The 42c WTB Resolute tires were a good compromise in width and tread. Hitting the sweet spot for offroad traction, without being too buzzy on the road. While the Rudy can hold up to 50c (and up to 45c in the back), I don’t see the need to go more aggressive, unless you’re lucky enough to never have to ride pavement.
Not to oversell the bike’s technical trail riding potential, however. The Szepter is still a gravel bike and rocky and rooty old-school singletrack was challenging. There’s no floating over rock gardens or rooty sections, and line choice was critical. But it’s fun to slice and dice to find the smoothest line, and there is a huge payoff on the climbs from the super-efficient pedaling. I turned a decent time on my local classic 10-mile MTB loop, but that easy XC loop left me drained. Only an hour or so of riding, but it involved a lot of panicked late reactions and high concentration to stay within the slim margin for error. Rooty sections were rumbly and needed careful line choice, and it was bit stressful knowing any of the big rocks might biopace the rear wheel if I mistimed a hop. Underbiking at its best.
So while the Szepter pushes the limits of a gravel bike, it’s not meant to replace your XC or Trail bike. But for mixed surface rides and flowy trails, (with the occasional techy bit), the Szepter is perfect. It’s ideal for long gravel rides with friends and exploring any side trails that might tempt you. It’s an excellent gravel bike with the bonus of siren insurance, letting you ride almost any nasty piece of trail one of those watery tarts might convince you to take.