(Cyclingnews) – As capable on the rough stuff as on the open dirt road, the Basso Palta is one of the raciest gravel bikes on the market
The Basso Palta is no ordinary gravel bike. It looks and feels more like something from the cyclo-cross scene such are its racy aesthetics and compact, almost road bike-like geometry. This, however, has done very little to affect the Palta’s ride quality and composure, even on the rougher stuff – technical ups and downs included.
A three-day 200km ride taking in 5000m of vertical ascent through some of Catalunya’s most challenging terrain would provide the ideal setting to test the Palta’s mettle and ascertain whether it’s got what it takes to capture the market as well as the hearts of the true gravel adventurers.
Design and geometry
Like all its bikes, Basso describes the Palta as ‘100 per cent Italian’, meaning everything from the R&D and design to the carbon production and paint procedures are carried out exclusively at its factory near Bassano Del Grappa, in northern Italy’s Veneto region – no made-in-Taiwan fine print here.
The Palta – which means dirt in Italian – draws on the Italian company’s rich road bike heritage and naturally takes on an aggressive, racy-looking facade. Unlike many of its rivals, the Palta is more cyclo-cross-like in appearance, its geometry comprising a flat, horizontal top tube, a 71-degree head angle and relatively short chainstays (430mm).
While this is not necessarily a bad thing, those who enjoy a bike that offers a more cosseting ride quality should take heed as the Palta has been designed more for speed and performance than outright comfort. The bike is available in five sizes ranging from XS to XL, and has clearance for tyres up to 42mm in width.
Despite its gravel inclination, the Palta has a contemporary feel about it. Take the slightly dropped seatstays and integrated seat-clamp system, for instance. While some may argue these cues make little to no difference out on the trail, they no doubt add to the Palta’s racy appeal as well as dial in a touch more compliance to the frame.
For 2020, four colourways are available: Sienna Terra, Emerald Green, Grape and Purple Label. They’re all very complementary and do well to accentuate the Palta’s sleek frame. Other notable standouts include the internal cable routing and a plethora of bottle cage bosses for extra storage options.
There are also two optional off-road riding packages available – the Palta Endurance Pack, which adds a 20mm stem spacer for improved comfort over longer distances, and the Palta Mudfest Kit, which comprises a front and rear mudguard.
Components and build
Basso offers the Palta as a complete build or frameset option. This test bike was built up using components from a host of other brands who were also part of this particular press camp.
Apart from the standard Microtech alloy handlebar, stem, and carbon vibration-damping seatpost, our Palta gained extras such as the all-new Fizik Vento Argo saddle and Hunt 4 Season Gravel Disc X-Wide wheels wrapped in Vittoria Terreno Mix 38C tyres.
Shifting and stopping power came compliments of Shimano’s all-new gravel-specific range – GRX. While GRX Di2 is available, our bike was of the mechanical variety complete with hydraulic disc STI levers, a clutch-equipped rear derailleur and GRX-branded cranks.
Ride, handling and performance
Where do I start? The Basso Palta is one fast machine. It’s nimble in cornering situations and climbs just as well as it devours the flats. While it can be a little twitchy in tighter corners, especially on looser surfaces, it tends to track clean lines which adds assurance in spades and encourages the rider to trust the bike’s geometry and surplus of grip.
The route in and around the hill-laden outskirts of Barcelona provided the ideal testbed to put the Palta through its paces. Here in this hilly, serpentine environment, the Palta really excelled. It effortlessly dismissed the rocky and technical terrain – including a few treacherous descents that had us on our toes a lot of the time.
Much of the added composure came courtesy of the all-new Vittoria Terreno Mix Graphene 2.0 38C tyres which ensured Velcro-like levels of adhesion. Of course, to get the best out of this particular rubber compound you’ll need to experiment with the tyre pressures, but regardless of your riding style and pressure preference, these Vittorias genuinely tend to grip a lot harder and hang on longer than you’d expect.
The Shimano GRX hydraulic brakes provide confidence-inspiring modulation even when positioned in the drops. While it’s always a good thing to scrub off as much speed as possible before entering a corner, the Shimano stoppers allow a certain degree of trail-brake modulation before locking up, allowing you to transfer weight onto the front wheel for added grip and stability.
Not once during the ride did the Shimano GRX drivetrain misbehave, and we traversed some incredibly gnarly sections of gravel. 1x setups have a propensity to drop chains – regardless of n/w chainrings and clutch-equipped derailleurs – but the GRX kept progress swift and hesitation free, no skipping gears here. The 42, 11-42 gear combo isn’t too bad either and it’s only on gradients in excess of 20 per cent where things can get a little on the tough side, especially on looser terrain.
Of the little flat sections we traversed throughout the three-day ride, the Palta dismissed it all – effortlessly. From corrugated gravel tracks to pan-flat tarmac, the Palta’s turn of speed is indisputable. In fact, I can foresee many future Palta owners running it as a winter bike such is its versatility to double up as both a road and gravel option. You could easily use it as a cyclo-crosser, too.