Bike Check: Cooper Ray and his Nemo Gravel

Bike Check: Cooper Ray and his Nemo Gravel
After a few months of riding his Nemo Gravel, we asked our friend and urban cycling icon Cooper Ray for an honest review of our flagship 100% Made in Italy gravel bike.
His answers are illuminating for any rider considering a high performance steel bike…and his photos beautifully capture the atmosphere of his daily rides around and out of Mexico City.


How many kms/miles have you clocked on your Nemo so far?

I’ve ridden this machine more than any other new bike I’ve ever owned. I’ve put nearly 2,000 miles on it in the first month… just wow! 

What kind of riding have you been using it for? What kind or rides do you most love taking it on?

I’ve put this bike through the ringer, honestly. I’ve ridden everything from exposed singletrack in California, to enormous remote mountain roads in the sierra of Oaxaca. Not to mention a couple road centuries on it. 

How does your setup reflect that? Could you take us through the details of your build and its relationship to your riding style and needs?

Sure. The most boiled-down way I could describe my riding style is super long single day rides with mixed diverse terrain with a focus on dirt and off-road. I love finding the places you never knew about that connect more typical or known places to ride. The good news for me is that we have many of those types of connections here - camino reales or camino viejos de los pueblos. Super cool unique stuff. There’s almost always a connection and a lot of the time they aren't even on maps (sadly these are also quite dangerous places… do your own due diligence to speak with locals and maintain vigilance at all times).

The build: I’ve swapped a few parts from the stock build - mainly to push the bike to its limits and to make it a bit more capable. Here in Mexico we have to ride a lot of pavement to get to the plethora of more wild, empty places. When we arrive offroad, too, it’s not exactly dirt - there are seriously rough roads in the bosque and sierra of large, uneven volcanic rocks (the endemic road of Mexico! they come in all shapes and sizes, and fun fact, the indigenous communities build their own unique stone and cement roads!).
Bigger tires are an absolute MUST - even for “road rides”.. because you will almost always encounter holes that might end your life if you’re not careful. Everything is out to get you.

1) I swapped the AXS RD for a MTB AXS RD to allow me to run a 50t cassette in the rear to climb absurdly steep things with ease
2) I put a carbon bar with some flare to make it a little more comfortable on multi surface, long days, and to gain a little more stability in the handling onrough stuff. 
3) Tires, of course. I settled on 38c knobby rené herse tires which offer a great balance of fast rolling resistance for multi terrain rides with a lot of pavement.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised how it can handle almost anything I throw at… all while maintaining a good deal of confidence and agility. It’s a very balanced bike.

Is this the first time you’d ridden a modern steel bike with contemporary wall thicknesses and oversized tube sections?

No, not my first bike of this style. I’ve had a couple iterations of modern oversized steel or Ti over the years. The super thin walls and massive tube diameters on my favorite material offer an incredible ride quality. I'm a big fan of dialing in ride quality with tube shapes and butting… I don't ride aluminum or carbon, only steel or titanium.

How does it compare to the carbon (or other material) bikes you had been riding previously? What are the pros and cons?

Steel is really second to none for ride quality and dampening. With the contemporary Columbus tubes you can get that same performance and stiffness of contemporary carbon or aluminum bikes without sacrificing ride quality or longevity. I love steel. I have a bike from 1973 with Columbus steel, and now 2023 with Columbus steel.

How would you describe the handling and ride experience?

Pleasantly surprised. The ride is excellent. The bike handles almost anything I throw at it. The geometry is dialed for a balanced multi-terrain bike. It’s confident and fast off-road, even on technical terrain, yet still is a very fast and capable bike on pavement with snappy and confident handling. Bottom line - this bike f***g rails!

What do you like most about this bike and why would you recommend it to a friend?

Honestly, the seat stays are my favorite part of this bike. They are a diamond shape, yet they have a beautiful s-bend to the non-round tube. Great work! I would recommend this bike to someone who is looking for an all around-er rig that rides a fair amount of dirt and pavement, but doesn’t ride all too much super super rugged terrain, as it only fits 40c tires. 

bike setup

Frame/fork: Cinelli Nemo TIG / Stock Columbus Carbon Fork
Front derailleur: 1x n/a
Rear derailleur: SRAM AXS GX Eagle 
Shifters: Rival AXS
Brakes: Rival Hydro
Hubs: DT Swiss 350 Straight pull 24h
Cassette: SRAM XX0 Eagle 50t
Chain: SRAM XX0 oil slick
Rims: Light Bicycle AR25 Falcon Pro 
Crank: SRAM Rival
Chainring: SRAM Rival 40t narrow-wide
Bottom bracket: SRAM Rival
Headset: Columbus
Handlebars: Easton EC90 AX 42cm
Stem: Salsa something 70mm
Seat post: Thompson Elite 
Saddle: Selle San Marco 
Front Rack: I wish! 
Tires: René Herse Steliacom 38c ENDURANCE casing

Bags/Other accessories of note: 
Outer Shell Half Frame bag
Porcelain Rocket 8L Seatbag with steel rack for stability.
Ritchey Mini Aerobar mounts (low profile to be able to use handlebar tops comfortable) with some random old vision extensions I like the shape of.


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