Highlights of the story
- What it is:Wilier’s all-road and gravel bike with ‘two separate souls’ but the same ‘race spirit’. .
- Frame Features:Carbon fiber frame and fork, full internal cable routing, mechanical and electronic group compatibility, removable front derailleur mount, gravel or all road spec and handlebar options.
- Weight: 950g (claimed, frame only); 415g (claimed, fork only); 8.03 kg (17.7 lb), as tested, size L, without pedals or accessories.
- Price: €8,300.
- Highlights:Fast, stiff, relatively light in delivering that racing bent.
- lows:Handlebar geometry, doesn’t excite my road bike, expensive, limited tire clearance.
It’s been a little over a year since Wilier announced his attempt at the drop-bar quiver killer with his new Rave SLR. gravel racer and/or all-road bike. With the more adventurous Jena gravel bike already in Wilier’s off-road range, the Rave is designed to be more of a performance gravel racer and/or all-road bike, connecting sealed and unpaved surfaces as quickly as possible. As Wilier puts it, the Rave SLR is a bike with “two separate souls” made for all-road and gravel, but with the same “racing bent”.
The Rave has already lived up to that high bill in the first 12 months since its official launch last October. The bike made a winning debut at Filippo Pozatto’s “pro-only” Serenissima Gravel race just four days after its official launch. Ivar Slik rode his Rave SLR to victory in the Unbound Gravel race in June. The bike was also featured in ultra-endurance races and the inaugural UCI Gravel World Championships.
I’ve had the Rave SLR for review during that time, and on either side of an injury-induced four-month hiatus and another four months of gravel nervousness, the Rave has provided motivation, excitement, and plenty of food for thought throughout.
The best of both?
I reviewed the technology and specs of the new bike when it launched in October 2021, but I wasn’t at Rave myself at the time. Before we get into the review, let’s briefly recap what the Rave has to offer.
Wilier borrowed much of the carbon technology used in its Filante and Zero SLR road models to create a frame that supposedly offers similar performance, stiffness and weight, but in a gravel package. The frame features truncated aero tubes, integrated cable routing and clearance for 700×42mm-wide tires. The frame geometry is a little more relaxed to better suit the Rave’s focus on gravel and endurance. Weighing in at 950g for the frame and 415g for the fork, it is definitely on the lighter side of the gravel offering.
The Rave is available with several electronic and mechanical build options, including Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra Di2 R8100, Campagnolo Ekar and SRAM Force eTap AXS. Furthermore, two integrated one-piece carbon handlebar setups are available. More gravel-oriented builds get Wilier’s J-Bar, with a positive rise for a more upright riding position and a split stem section (making the stem look like a Y, not a J). All-road versions come equipped with Wilier’s more conventional-looking Zero-Bar. Both options have full internal cable routing.
Wilier sent me the Campagnolo Ekar and J-Bar-equipped gravel-ready Rave SLR, which also came with a huge €8,300 price tag. To that I also added a set of Campagnolo Shamal carbon road wheels with 28 and 32mm wide Continental GP5000 S TR tires to test the Rave’s performance on the road. However, even with the single standard wheelset, the Rave would be a significant investment in anyone’s books, with some big expectations that come with it. But if Wilier landed on a true quiver-killer platform and this single bike can cover the work of two, maybe it could somewhat justify that price tag.
Growing up, my childhood heroes weren’t Sean Kelly or Stephen Roche, but rather rally drivers Colin McRae and Bertie Fisher. Rally sport is in the water around these regions and McRae’s “when in doubt, go full steam ahead” mantra transcends the cult rally fanbase. That might explain why, to this day, the moment my front tire rolls off the sealed tarmac and rolls onto loose ground, just “flat out” is enough.
My favorite version of gravel is fast and sideways through short stages on the loose stuff connected by sections of paved roads. I just don’t have the time (read: maturity) to enjoy the longer and more relaxed gravel routes or bikepacking. As such, versatility is not at the top of my list of priorities when it comes to gravel bikes, and I prefer my gravel bikes to be closer to a road bike with more clearance and of course a few geometry tweaks, but still retaining the road/racing bicycle soul.
So on paper, the Rave SLR should be right up my alley. According to the Rave SLR webpage, Wilier had set his sights on “creating a product with two separate souls, perfect for all-road, perfect for gravel, but with the same incredible proclivity for racing”. That sounds a lot like my kind of gravel bike, but could it live up to that billing?
Well, yes and no. There’s no questioning the speed of the Rave, both on and off-road – and if there was any doubt, the stiff ride will soon remind you. I had a lot of fun on the Rave, chasing new gravel routes, connecting paved roads with loose shortcuts and whizzing through singletrack, all without so much as a cry of disapproval. This bike motivated me to get on the bike for many days last winter, when otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered. And when fitted with the more aerodynamic Shamals and narrower Continental tires for club riding, the Rave’s clean lines and fully integrated routing never seemed out of place.
The truth is that the Wilier confuses me. On the one hand it is a gravel bike for racing and an all-road bike for trips on both paved and unpaved roads. At least it’s aesthetically aerodynamic and low-comfort, and features the internal cable routing and integrated handlebars people have come to expect from performance bikes. While not the most aggressive or overly progressive, the 570mm (+10mm mandatory head cap) stack and 391mm reach are definitely on the racier end of the gravel geometry spectrum in terms of rider position. And with no extra mounts for bottle cages or rear racks, no suspension, and no dropped chainstays, the Rave is clearly, as Wilier claims, a bike with a “racing bent.”
But this is where the confusion begins for me. First, there is the J-Bar. The positively slanted split stem is taken directly from Wilier’s Jena adventure gravel bike to create a more relaxed and upright position. There’s definitely a place for that, and yes, it might just be the fit that a lot of people really need. However, that upright position is still at odds with the racing leanings of the rest of the Rave’s design. To me, the inclusion of the J-Bar here feels more like a last minute attempt to expand the Rave’s past those who might actually want to use it for racing.
There is a workaround, of course, and that is to buy the Rave in one of the all-road setups with the more aggressive Zero-Bar, then add gravel tires. But that eventually leads to another question which I will return to later.
Wilier was kind enough to send a Zero-Bar, which (after a lot of headaches in the workshop) certainly allowed for a much more race-like setup and position. But while that solves one problem, it points to another potential contradiction. The Rave is undoubtedly fast, and its more aggressive position encourages you to stay on the throttle. Yet there is no sense of urgency or agility. It can handle gravel, roads or even singletrack, but it lacks the agility and speed I feel a bike with that “racing bent” needs to live up to its racing credentials. The Rave may be a race bike, but it struggles to make you feel like a race bike rider.
In my opinion, the steering geometry is just too relaxed with its 70mm trailing figure and slack 71° head tube angle, again arguably more at home on the Jena’s intended use case than the Rave’s. The result is a predictably stable bike at higher speeds and in straight lines, which probably helped Ivar Slik quite a bit in winning Unbound Gravel with his long stretches of Kansas flint straights. In fact, the Rave is so stable that Slik could have probably ridden the entire Unbound course with his hands above his head. But that stability turns into a sluggish and lethargic feel at lower speeds and tighter corners where the Rave feels like it has a turning radius equal to that of the moon.
Keep in mind that there’s nothing inherently wrong with that particular aspect of the Rave, and you could even argue that such super-stable handling is exactly what someone would want for modern gravel racing. [particularly US-style gravel racing – Ed.]. But like I said before, I like my gravel bikes to be more like rally cars, and this Rave just doesn’t deliver the huge kick I craved. Would I personally be better off on a cyclocross bike with room for bigger tires? Could be. “Gravel riding” is ultimately a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and while this Rave SLR’s interesting mix of super-fast aerodynamic shaping, weight and stiffness coupled with lazy handling might be perfect for someone else, it’s just not my gravel or all-road drive. Cup of tea.
If it’s left to me, I’d like to see the Jena and Rave differentiated more clearly. Keep the Jena platform for exploring with its more upright positioning, slower controls, and more plentiful mounts. But make the Rave SLR even more race-oriented with faster handling – and drop the J-Bar.
More information can be found at Wilier.com.