Reviewed: Kinesis Tripster ATR v2 frame
- Brand: Kinesis
- Model: Tripster ATR v2
- Price: £1849.99 (frame only)
It feels like a long time since I collected the Kinesis Tripster ATR from Upgrade’s Rory Hitchens. It was in the minutes before the start of the Brighton Big Dog 2017 race, and I was about to use the Brighton-based brand’s flagship gravel/adventure bike to race against mountain bikes for six hours. You can read all about how I fared here. The remainder of the test period included equally unconventional rides, as well as many more miles. Before we get into that, lets rewind things a little, though. What is the Tripster ATR and what is it designed for?
The Tripster ATR has been part of the Kinesis line up since 2012. While this v2 model sports some updates and tweaks (more on that later), the ethos of the design is the same. At the time it was at the forefront of a movement to create drop-handled bar bikes that were neither ‘cross bikes nor road bikes, but do-it-all machines that had clearance for mud and chunky tyres, a little more stability than a traditional CX bike, a little more upright as well. This bike could be used for adventures, touring or racing (ATR). At the time, it was one of select few others, but (no doubt fuelled in part by the popularity of the Tripster and its ilk) five years down the line and there are few bike brands without a gravel/adventure model.
Despite that, this particular Kinesis manages to stand out from the crowd. Titanium frames have a tendency to do that. While many may now see carbon as the ultimate material for performance, titanium and steel are still held dearly to by many. There is something especially satisfying about a raw frame. No paint to cover the (very tidy, thank you) welds, no need for added gloss or fancy paint jobs. There’s an honesty to that grey-silver and my eyes, at least, will always linger longer over a Ti frame than the latest carbon or aluminium.
Looks are nothing without the right features or performance however. As we’ve said, five years is a long time in the bike industry. “Standards” change, manufacturers learn, for the most part bikes get better. Keen to stay ahead of the curve, Kinesis have introduced the Tripster ATR v2. Here’s a quick run down of the new features:
- Stronger custom tube set, with thicker gauge on the downtube and flattened base of toptube
- Flat mount rear brake, mounted inside the rear triangle
- Switchable dropout system (9x135mm or 12x142mm) – we tested the 12x142mm version
- Internal routing (including Di2 compatibility)
- Third bottle cage mounted on the underside of the downtube
- Increased tyre clearance to take up to 700c x 45mm or 650b x 2in MTB tyres – we tested the bike with 700c x 40mm tyres
Alongside this, the frame retains mounts for full rack and guards (clearance for 700c x 40mm tyres with guards). It also has a few well thought out finishing touches, like the chain keeper nubbin to keep things tidy while wheels are removed for cleaning/transport, and a forward facing seatpost slot to keep the worst of the elements away from the inside of the frame.
That titanium tubing has seen a lot of shaping. The hourglass head tube was one of the defining features of the original ATR, and it has been carried over to the v2. As already mentioned, the top tube has been flattened along the base to help with shouldering the bike and/or stabilising bikepacking luggage. The rear stays have more wiggles than you average ‘cross course, and their very own name; the “anti road shock stays” are designed to maximise comfort for the many hours in the saddle that this bike is intended for.
Before I go any further, it’s worth noting that this frame was tested in conjunction with the Lauf Grit fork. Should you wish to run this set up, Upgrade will sell you a pair for £799.99. Those forks are now destined for another frame, but keep checking Grit for an interim review. Should you not feel so inclined, a Tripster ATR Disc fork is available for £279.99.
Back to that Lauf fork briefly though. The axle to crown difference between the Lauf and the ATR fork is 15mm at rest (the ATR comes in at 398mm), 9mm when sagged; and when fully compressed, the Lauf a-to-c is 385mm. What the hell does all this mean? Well, simply, the front end is a smidge taller with a Lauf fitted when the bike is static. When riding and weighted it is not far off the same, and when fully compressed (when hitting larger bumps) it ends up a little shorter. The effect this has on the overall bike is to make the front end and bottom bracket marginally higher, in most situations, and the head angle a smidge slacker. Why am I telling you this? Well, while the geometry differences are negligible, it is tricky to fully separate the experience of riding the ATR v2 frame from how it felt with the Lauf fork, as it very much felt like a package. It is to Kinesis’ credit that the two worked very well together, but more on that shortly.
Returning to where we started, and standing on the line at Brighton Big Dog, with a brand new drop-barred bike, amongst a sea of mountain bikes. A little intimidating, but there was no need to worry. The ATR v2 is an immensely capable off-road machine. The course at Stanmer Park is largely flowing singletrack, with occasional rough rooted sections. Good line choice and a few well timed bunny hops were required – 40mm tyres would simply stall, pinch or bounce offline on the worst sections. At no point though, did I feel like I was on the wrong bike. Sure, an XC mountain bike would probably have completed each lap quicker, but then so would a passenger who didn’t have a beer each lap (it was hydration, alright?). I was seriously impressed with how lively, yet surefooted and robust the bike felt on that first baptism of fire. Given that, I was looking forward to returning north with it and hitting my local trails and hillsides.
During the intervening 3-4 months, the ATR has been used for blasting around my woods for a couple of hours, all-day mixed road/bridleway explorations and most recently the Rapha Cross Prestige Manchester. I’ve chopped and changed wheelsets and wheels as test items have come and gone, but the rest of the build has remained pretty much constant. Happily, my first impressions have been confirmed. On relatively technical terrain (of the kind that is borderline mountain bike territory), I felt better able to attack rough sections rather than hang on and hope for the best. Sure, the Lauf forks have undoubtably helped this, but I never felt like the back end was unable to cash the cheques that the front was making. The 70mm BB drop leaves the cranks high enough to avoid too many pedal strikes on seriously lumpy ground, without compromising too much on overall stability and cornering. It would be great to throw some 650b wheels and larger volume tyres into the frame. I’m sure the resultant bike would be an absolute hooligan.
While we are on rough terrain, one of the few niggles I had with the ATR was a little bit of cable rattle in the frame, specifically near where the rear mech routing enters on the downtube. This was rarely more than a small distraction, but even after removing a refitting, I wasn’t able to eliminate it entirely.
Over smoother ground, the ATR feels efficient and smooth, without being flexy. If anything the ride is best described as “direct”. I was maybe a little disappointed that there was little evidence of the classic titanium “twang”, but the flip side to this is that accelerations were punchy and there I couldn’t feel any twisting around the bottom bracket under load. I’m sure the bolt-thru rear axle also keeps the frame torsionally stiff and this feeling was amplified when I fitted a pair of Sixth Element carbon wheels. Of course, higher volume tyres do a great job of dampening road and trail buzz and the ATR was a comfortable ride, even after long days in the saddle. Over very quick terrain, the ATR feels extremely stable, without any of the twitchiness or lightness of steering that can sometimes come with a more traditional ‘cross geometry.
As so often is the case with geometry, the compromise that the stable handling brings is some of the nimbleness that I love in a drop-barred bike is missing. It wasn’t as though I was oversteering every corner, but when carving tight lines in amongst the trees it felt like a little precision was lost. Is the compromise worth it? On this bike, I’d say absolutely yes.
A fairly long headtube and long, near horizontal top tube combine to give plenty of room in the front triangle. This allows acres of space for bikepacking luggage as well as a couple of bottles with side-loading cages. I was tempted to fit a more aggressive negative-rise stem to bring the front end down a little and counter some of the extra height that the Lauf fork brought to an already quite high front end. As time went on though, I learned to embrace the fact that this isn’t a cyclocross bike. The slightly higher position enabled me to feel more confident over steep technical terrain, and I was more comfortable over the course of back-to-back days of long hours in the saddle.
For me, the ATR v2 has stayed completely true to its roots and aim of being the ultimate do-it-all bike. It has somehow taken the place of an XC mountain bike, classic gravel bike and occasional road miles muncher for me over much of the summer and early autumn. I’ve no doubt it would make for a more than adequate ‘cross bike as well, although there are many other bikes which would be more suited if this is your priority.
In short, the Tripster ATR simply allows you to get on with the serious business of having fun riding bikes. There are no quirks to get used to, neutral but engaging riding. Get on it. Or, that is, if you can afford it. £1849.99 is no small amount for a frame. Titanium is never cheap, but it is possible to buy the (very good) Sonder Camino Ti as a full bike for less than the price of just the Tripster frame. Now the Camino is lacking some of the features of the ATR, but it is to all intents and purpose a bike designed for the same job and comes in lighter. Can you justify paying more? Lets rephrase that. Could I justify spending more? In short – yes, just about, but with some caveats. To my eyes the Tripster ATR is a slightly better looking bike, and the thru-axle rear brings a stiff back end. Also, I doubt many will be buying either bike for a short period of time. These are bikes to be ridden for years and years. The Tripster ATR is a bike that many will fall in love with. And we all know you can’t put a price on love. For those who simply can’t justify the expenditure, Kinesis also offer the AT – an aluminium version of the Tripster for £699.99 (frameset only). We tested this model back in the summer and Hannah was impressed.
The ATR is available as frame only so I won’t dwell on the build, other than to say that the combination of SRAM Rival with TRP Spyre cable-operated disc brakes was functional (as you would expect), although the speed that the Tripster was able to carry would have been better served by more powerful hydraulic brakes. There was the odd occasion that I was ultimately left wanting for more.
The Kinesis CX Disc wheelset was robust, but I did manage to knock the rear slightly out of true – presumably as a result of coming in a little hot into the kind of ground they aren’t really designed for. As well as these wheels I also ran the aforementioned Sixth Element wheels for a big chunk of the test period, and a pair of Crank Brothers Zincs shod with Isla Greim ‘cross tyres. Each brought with them their own handling quirks and strengths (FYI, gravel tyres are rarely great in deep mud), but each complemented the frame well.
The Lauf fork worked superbly with the Tripster frame. Any on-paper geometry changes weren’t noticeable on the trail and the robust nature of the frame meant that I enjoyed pushing and pushing the bike. I was able to hit rougher sections at a speed I would not normally think of as possible on a gravel bike. That’s not to say that it was impossible to overtake the frame/fork. It was all to easy to end up out of your depth, but it was incredibly good fun finding out where that was, and pleasantly surprising to find out what could be got away with. It’s fair to say that Laufs are not designed for smashing into rock gardens at high speed. Back on smoother terrain they reduced trail chatter and were noticeably more comfortable than a rigid fork. This had two benefits; firstly, more comfort is a good thing in its own right, er, right? But, secondly, it allowed me to ride over the typical lumps and bumps of fire roads and bridleways at a higher speed than I would have done without the Lauf.
The remainder of the Kinesis-branded components were notable only in that I didn’t notice them. They performed quietly and let me get on with the riding. Bob-on. All builds came in around the 10kg mark – respectable given the components and particularly the additional weight that the Lauf fork brings.
Three things that could be improved
- Minor cable rattle from the internal routing
- Ride is not that classic twangy, (but also flexy) titanium
- Titanium is never cheap, but a similar riding frame could be found for less
Three things we loved
- Modern classic looks and raw titanium finish
- Confidence inspiring ride over any terrain
- Combined superbly with the Lauf Grit fork to further improve on its do-anything status
- Frame // Kinesis Tripster ATR – Ti3AL/2.5V titanium alloy
- Dropouts // Multi dropout system; 12 x 142mm with through axle supplied [or 10 x 135mm QR option]
- Brake mounts // Shimano flat mount inboard rear disc caliper mount
- Seatpost // 31.6mm
- Seatpost clamp// 34.9mm
- Front Mech // Band on 34.9mm
- Bottom bracket// 68mm, BSA threaded
- Headset // Tapered, integrated, 41.8ø upper, 51.8ø lower, for taper head tube. FSA No.42/ACB
- Cable routing // Internal cable routing, Di2 compatible
- Size Tested // 57cm
- Sizes available // 48cm – 51cm – 54cm – 55.5cm – 57cm – 60cm – New 63cm
- Weight // 1.9kg (48cm) – 2.2kg (63cm) – claimed
- Price // £1849.99 (frame only)
A genuinely great all-rounder, with the DNA of one of the original do-it-all framesets. Titanium bling combined with solid practicality and a predictable, fun ride. You probably already know whether you want one. If you do, you are highly unlikely to be disappointed. It was a sad moment when the Tripster ATR was packed away and sent back, it will be a sorely missed member of the grit test fleet.