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REI ADV 3.1 Gravel Bike Review

The REI ADV 3.1 is a 30 speed steel gravel bike with puncture resistant tires
The REI ADV 3.1 is a 30 speed gravel bike with puncture resistant tires.

REI ADV 3.1 Gravel Boke

Wheels and Tires
Drivetrain
Controls
Frame
Brakes
Ride

Very Good

The REI ADV 3.1 is a 30 speed gravel bike that has knobby tires, disc brakes, drop handlebars and more relaxed geometry for comfort on pavement and off. It has a durable Shimano drivetrain, disc breaks, and puncture resistant tires to keep you in the saddle for years of use.

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The REI ADV 3.1 Gravel Bike is a 30-speed adventure bike specifically designed for riding on gravel and packed dirt roads. While it doesn’t have a mountain bike frame or suspension, it’s outfitted with some of the same components that you find on mountain bikes like disc brakes and low pressure knobby tires so you can ride it on unsurfaced rail trails, fire roads, or paved roads. Gravel bikes aren’t designed for hard core mountain biking with jumps or single track, but they’re a lot of fun to ride because they open up a lot of wilderness settings that have unpaved roads and require longer rides to access.

What’s so special about the REI ADV 3.1 Gravel Bike? It’s a great value that includes a lot of excellent components with an MSRP just over $1000. While you can easily spend two, three, or even four times to get a better gravel bike, the incremental cost doesn’t really translate into huge performance gains for the average rider. If you’re a beginner or coming back to cycling after a hiatus, the ADV 3.1 is great build that won’t hold you back as you get deeper into the sport of gravel biking and one that even your snobby backpacking buddies will appreciate.

Specs at a Glance

  • Frame: Double-butted chromoly steel
  • Fork: Chromoly steel
  • Crankset: Shimano Deore, 48/36/26
  • Bottom Bracket: Shimano Deore SM-BB52 external bearing
  • Shifters: Microshift BS-M10 bar-end
  • Front Derailleur: Shimano Deore
  • Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deore
  • Rear Cogs: Shimano HG62, 11-34, 10-speed
  • Number of Gears: 30
  • Brakes: TRP Spyre mechanical disc
  • Rims: Alex AT 470
  • Wheel Size: 700c
  • Tires: Clement X’PLOR MSO, 700 x 40mm
  • Handlebar Shape: Drop Bar
  • Headset: FSA with turn limiter
  • Chain: KMC Z99
  • Pedals: Not included
  • Weight: 25 lbs. 9.6 oz.
  • Click for complete specifications and sizing charts
The upright frame geometry of the REI ADV 3.1 makes it more comfortable to sit upright. This is useful off pavement because it provides better visibility ahead and comfort.
The frame geometry of the REI ADV 3.1 makes it more comfortable to sit upright. This is good off-pavement because it provides better visibility ahead and comfort on longer rides.

The REI ADV 3.1: Key Features

Frame

The REI ADV 3.1  has a steel frame. While this provides a excellent durability and smooth riding, it makes the bike a few pounds heavier than bikes with aluminum frames. While it weighs 25.5 pounds, it’s going to be hard to find a lighter weight bike at this price point without compromising on drivetrain components and brakes. If you intend to train (on road or off) with the ADV 3.1 everyday, then I’d encourage you to get a lighter weight bike. Otherwise, the ADV 3.1 is still a fine option for recreational use or as an urban commuter.

The ADV 3.1 frame comes with low rider fork mounts and numerous braze-ons for adding front and rear racks and accessories. When buying racks, make sure you buy ones that are compatible with disc brakes, like the Topeak Explorer MTX Tubular Rack with Disc Mounts. This is an important consideration if you want to try bikepacking and want to use a pannier (saddle bag) storage system for carrying your gear.

The REI ADV 3.1 has an flared handlebar and bar-end shifters for better control on downhills in rough terrain
The REI ADV 3.1 has an flared handlebar and bar-end shifters for better control on downhills in rough terrain.

Flared Handlebar

The ADV 3.1 has an aggressively flared handlebar which increases the number of hand positions and angles you can grip the handlebar with. However, if you have shoulder issues, you may find it uncomfortable. It’s one of the distinguishing things about the bike.Try it and see if you like it. If not, your local REI bike shop may still be willing to replace it with a more conventional handlebar or you can do it yourself if you’re comfortable moving brakes and shifters.

The bike has bar-end shifters which provide better control on downhills if you’re riding in the drops. Bar end shifters are not convenient if you ride on the hoods though. It helps to know what your preferred riding style is to understand if this shifter control system matches your preferences, as well as the terrain you expect to ride in. For instance, if you ride flattish rail trails where you can sit more upright with your hands on the hoods, you’re probably going to want shifters that are closer to your hands. But if you plan to ride fast down lots of hilly terrain, then bar shifters can be preferable.

The ADV 3.1 has front and rear mechanical disc brakes
The ADV 3.1 has front and rear mechanical disc brakes.

Disc brakes

The ADV 3.1 features TRP Spyre cable-actuated mechanical disc brakes.These offer excellent braking power. Disc brakes are the norm these days on mountain bikes and pretty commonplace on gravel bikes as well. They provide excellent performance in wet weather and overcome the disadvantages of rim brakes, like heating on extended mountain descents. Adjustment is fairly easy with just an allen wrench, but you want to make sure to keep the discs clean when cleaning or lubing your chain to avoid ruining the brake pads.

The REI ADV 3.1 drivetrain is powered by Shimano Deore Components
The REI ADV 3.1 drivetrain is powered by Shimano Deore Components

Drivetrain

The ADV 3.1 is a 30 speed bike that provides you with versatile performance on any grade. Having such a wide range of gears makes the bike fun for riders at all fitness levels. A Shimano Deore triple crank, and front and rear derailleurs power the drivetrain. These are very respectable Shimano components that will give you thousands of miles of use if you clean and lubricate your chain regularly. They’re not the highest end and most durable Shimano components available, but they’re just one step below the Ultegra components you’ll find on more expensive bikes.

The Clement XPLOR MSR has a knobby tread that's good on gravel, trail, and pavement
The Clement XPLOR MSR has a knobby tread that’s good on gravel, trail, and pavement.

Wheels and Tires

The REI ADV 3.1 has Clement X’PLOR MSO, 700 x 40mm tires mounted on AXEL AT 470 rims, a lightweight tubeless ready rim that’s  designed for the rigors of cyclocross racing. The Clement X’PLOR MSO is an adventure tire designed for mixed conditions. It has a combination of smooth-rolling center knobs and aggressive shoulder lugs that provide great traction and durability for gravel roads, trails, and even pavement. You may never need or want to go tubeless, but it can be a good option on a gravel bike if you want to ride at a low pressure and avoid pinch flats.

Buying a Bike at REI

Why would you buy a bike at REI or one made by REI? Honestly, I bought a bike at REI because my local bike shop really let me down when I expressed an interest in getting into gravel biking. I figured I’d check out what REI had on offer and came away pleasantly surprised. They have a very good selection of bikes from many good brands including: Salsa, Ghost, Diamondback, Cannondale, Charge and the REI Co-Op house brand.

But the kicker is the REI return policy which I used to good effect. If you buy a bike at REI and you’re not happy with it, you can return it within 6 months of purchase and get your money back. That made all the difference and saved me a pile of money.

The REI ADV 3.1 reviewed here is the second bike I’ve purchased from REI. The first one was a mountain bike that I quickly realized wasn’t what I wanted. If I’d bought that first bike from my local bike shop, I would have been stuck with it. REI let me return it “no questions asked,” and I decided to trade up to the REI ADV 3.1.

I wasn’t made to feel like I was pulling a fast one by returning that mountain bike and getting a different bike. REI had made it very clear when I purchased the first bike that I could return it if it didn’t work out. That’s a really consumer friendly way to make sure people get what they need, even if a period of trial and error is required. Net net. If you’re just getting back into biking or you’re a novice, buying a bike at REI is a safe bet.

Disclosure: The author purchased this bike with his own funds.

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14 comments

  1. I’m enjoying your biking stories and reviews. This isn’t an activity I’m likely to undertake myself, but I am learning some interesting things.

    • So am I. I’m becoming a bit of a bike geek. There’s a lot more to bikepacking and gravel riding than I expected when I started getting into it. The exercise is great and it’s another way to experience the outdoors that adds an entirely new dimension to wilderness navigation and camping.

  2. I don’t know if I’ll ever get into bikepacking but with the grandkids around I’m becoming more and more of a bicycle repairman. I’m looking at bike repair stands now to make the job easier.

  3. Is there an advantage to drop bars on a gravel bike ? I hear that the aerodynamic advantages of riding on the drops are minimal if you are going less than 20 miles per hour. I imagine a flat bar would be easier to steer on rutted roads, and provide an easier reach to brake and shift levers. Did you find that to be the case ?

    • Excellent question. The drop bars are good because you’re probably going to be on pavement at least 50% of the time. But it really is a matter of taste ultimately. Gravel bikes aren’t going to be fast like a road bike because you’re on a loose surface when you’re off pavement. I like drop bars because I like having a lot of different hand and back positions. I also ride my gravel bike on pavement when I’m in the city.

    • Unless you’re going somewhere in a hurry or have many steep inclines to surmount, scenarios where aerodynamics and propulsive force come into play, there is no real advantage to drop bars.

      In fact, for out-back adventure touring I prefer a modified flat bar like the Jones H-Bar, which is so much more comfortable, offering an ergonomic bend, a a plethora of hand positions, and more upright posture affording increased operational awareness and ease of viewing the environs surrounding beauty.

      But ultimately, as Philip says, it is a matter of personal taste and what your body will tolerate!

      • H-bars aren’t used widely on gravel bikes yet. I think they’re a lot more popular on mountain and fat tire bikes, so far at least. It’s not a terrible idea but will have ramifications for brake and shifter control placement. Do you know of anyone except the manufacturer who is shipping them on “off-the-shelf” in gravel or MTB builds?

      • I saw references last year that Surly was shipping Jones H-Bar on the Long Haul Trucker, Disc Trucker, Cross-Check and Straggler, however, I never saw a real life example and today it appears to be not the case.

        Although I’ve been riding gravel most of my life only recently did I learn from biking industry news that I should buy one one of the newly defined “gravel bikes” as soon as possible to replace or augment my current bike.

        I’ve always believed that, as long as a bike has tires 25mm-40mm wide that can safely be ridden at lower pressure, it will work just fine for gravel. I prefer a fat bike with 29″ wheels, 75mm tires pressurized to 25 psi, and a Jones H-Bar to relieve pressure on neck, shoulders, arms, and wrists. A lower bottom bracket might be nice or a thud buster, but I’m happy with what I have and just completed a 100K.

        It’s good to determine one’s preference for drop vs. flat bars before purchasing a bike as the frames have different geometries, although one can be set up like the other with generally acceptable results. Salsa Marrakesh is an example of one product with two distinct offerings, one drop bar and the other flat.

        Cheers!

      • Bob, what you’re describing is exactly what REI is bringing to market next year. Look up ADV 4.2

        As far as drop bars go, I think it’s just an “adventure bike” thing where you’re spending a lot of time on both pavement and dirt and the bars are more comfortable and have more hand positions than the regular MTB flat bar. Certainly, if you’re on dirt most of the time and going slow, drop bars will not provide you with more comfort then the less known “alt” bars

      • Of course it’s also twice as expensive as the ADV 3.1, but it looks nice if you want to spend $1900.

      • Yes, it’s outrageously expensive (even with the 15% anniversary sale discount), but next year ADV3.1 is going up by $100 to $1200 (a beefier model will be $1700) – and they’re actually changing the design, the gears, the wheels. A Jones H-bar starts at $80 + you need grips & tape, so round up to $100 – that’s $1300. Yes, $600 is still a big gap but not nearly 2x the price. I’m just saying that big corporations are paying attention.

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