As an avid cyclist for many years, I’ve noticed how much I prefer a light bike. Give me something I can almost raise with one finger, that glides forever on smooth pavement, and I’m happy.
Recently, I tested a bike that challenged these assumptions. The Decathlon GRVL 520 Subcompact is not exactly heavy at all (ar 23.6 pounds), but it has an aluminum frame as opposed to carbon fiber, so the cost is a bit less than other higher-end bikes. Most importantly, it is meant for riding on “any terrain” including gravel, so the tires are of course thicker and heavier.
I first took the bike on a gravel trail and I slowly realized what I’ve been missing by focusing on so many trail bikes, including the Specialized model I own. The handling is amazing on gravel, never feeling like the bike will slide around at all or slip on the loose stuff. I put the bike to the test on trails that would wind around a lake with some tight curves. I pedaled up and down quite a few hills on gravel as well, and enjoyed every minute. No trie slip, no problems.
For someone who tends to ride mostly on paved trails, using the Decathlon GRVL 520 Subcompact on gravel was a game-changer for me. Yes, the bike is not as light as some previous test models. The trade-off is that it can practically go anywhere. I even tried the bike on a light mountain bike trail near my home (one that is mostly flat, since this bike is not meant for bumps) and also felt sure on the trail.
One perk with the bike is that it uses disc brakes, so the stopping power is sure and confident. I own a bike without disc brakes and you can really feel the difference especially if you get some good speed going as I did several times and had to then come to quick stops for passing cars.
The overall design looks beefy as well. Combining the gravel-road traction with the thicker tires, the disc brakes, and yet with the Shimano 105 groupset (aka. the drivetrain) for added power, the whole package felt rugged enough for dirt and gravel but powerful enough for the trail riding I do most often — which means long rides on pavement.
To test that, I also headed out in a downtown area and pedaled over bridges, up and down trails close to tall buildings, and plenty of sidewalks just to see how versatile the Decathlon GRVL 520 Subcompact really is. While I preferred riding on gravel with this bike (since that’s not really possible on some of the recent bikes I’ve tested), it was fun to see how well the bike performed on pavement as well — it provided a sure ride on any surface.
I’ve seen quite a few comments about the price, which at press time was $1,599 (and normally $200 more than that). $1,500 is that sweet spot for bikes, I’ve found, since it’s where you really separate from the pack of regular everyday bikes and move into the territory of offering something special. I first used a bike like that about 10 years ago that was made of carbon fiber and there’s no going back. There’s just more power at this price, more glide, and better braking. Bikes with this assortment of technology usually cost north of $3,000.
I was thoroughly impressed with the Decathlon GRVL 520 Subcompact on all my rides. Eventually, I even got to the point where I realized I would like to have a gravel bike on hand at all times, especially when paved roads are hard to come by.