Lessons of Gravel Bikes: Reviewing Priority’s Apollo Gravel Bicycle

When a gravel bike means not only riding anywhere, but smiling everywhere

It was a cool, fall day, and it took a little while longer to get outside. The day before, I sat around the house, legs still burning from the extended ride on Thanksgiving. However, this was a beautiful Saturday with old and new roads meant to be traveled. So, I put on my warm weather gear — including a thicker merino hoodie under the orange merino Café du Cycliste jersey which is becoming a favorite — and made my way to the suburban roads the Priority Apollo gravel bike was meant to enjoy.

All of the ride didn’t stay on the paved road.

Coming to This Road

For a little more than a year, I’d been scouring the web for a bike setup tailor-made for the cyclist I’ve become. First it was the simplicity and durability of the hub gearing of my Brompton M3L which convinced me this would be a route. However, more than three speeds was necessary, and so I hunted for the Rolhoff and Pinion options. The belt drive of my Karmic Koben S was also very appealing. Besides it’s durability, it’s quiet operation made rides less about getting to know the sounds of the bike, and more about picking my ears up to hear what the trees and roads were speaking of.

I came very close to a custom build. Very. There were tweets and emails exchanged. I looked at the color options. The bike was sitting in the cart, just waiting for me to pull the trigger. Then Ryan Van Duzer tweeted about a gravel bike from Priority Bicycles. Familiar with them from the homework for my eBike, I took a look at what they were offering. Belt drive: check. Internal gear hub: check. Lightweight (24lbs) aluminum frame: not titanium, but for $1700 I didn’t mind that at all. Took half a day to think on it, and clicked to order the green/white version. This was June/July, delivery scheduled for October. I waited… anxiously.

The Apollo Arrives

Opening the box to remove the Apollo, I was struck at how light it was. For comparison, I picked up my Brompton M3L. Felt the same in either arm. It’s wild, the steel-framed Brompton’ s stated weight is a full pound more than the Apollo sized Medium. The Apollo felt lighter because it is made of an aluminum alloy. This was a great first impression. At this weight, I knew that rides would not have the added mental burden of “oh now, I’ve got to carry this up the stairs.” The Apollo does carry the bulk of its weight towards the rear due to the internal gear hub, but this was of no initial concern.

Putting together the Apollo was not all too difficult. As Priority packs things, the setup is painless and very simple. The included tools help (so, so many Allen wrenches now); where things are not clear they’ve setup a number of YouTube videos for fine tuning things. In my case, I needed some more guidance for both the stem/handlebar and making sure to align the front brake properly. Bookmarked for later: how to remove the rear wheel — this belt drive is not the same as a quick-release, derailleur equipped bicycle, and there will be a a time when a rear flat repair has to happen.

Speaking of the rear, here’s where things are a bit different. The Priority Apollo uses is a an 11-speed hub from Shimano. Some healthy reading of Sheldon Brown before the bike got here helped in understanding maintaince and quirks. I think I get it (there’s minor remorse for not going with the other bike which used the 14-speed Rohloff, but that hub gear alone costs as much as the complete Apollo build). There are two triggers on the right side of the drop-handlebar to shift. The larger paddle for shifting down, smaller (and sometimes hard to find) one immediately above to shift up. Upon setup, it just worked. And as mentioned earlier, there’s a bit more weight towards the back of the bike. It’s noticeable, but not jarring.

There were some quick changes I did to my Apollo once it was out of the box. First was to use my Brooks saddle. I didn’t go for the blue Apollo. It would have color-matched the saddle almost perfectly. I also begun adding some minor touches in the way of white bottle cages (and still think of a white seat post clamp). Otherwise, it’s stock. My two Ortlieb saddle bags work equally well in the rear, a Relevate Designs bar bag up front, and Bontrager’s cube lights front and rear. These are personal bits. Others will customize differently or not at all. But to just ride, this was a very easy setup.

Off the Launchpad and into Suburban Space

My riding routes vary from casual rides to a few local cafes, to 15–20mi “chase the sunset” rides, to 30 to 50 mile road-only journeys. The reason for a gravel bike was to continue these kind of rides and stitch at places in between. There are a few “low travel“ walking and hiking trails nearby where my hybrid bicycle could handle, but it was definitely out of its element. There are also trails less than an hour’s drive away where having a bicycle that can just go without much fuss would be ideal. Very much the mixture of urban and suburban patches, some streets often remind that having a bicycle capable of handling trails is also suitable for diving around potholes, stacked automobile traffic, and punching thru narrow-ways. Gravel bicycles are often called “all-road bicycles;” the Apollo seems quite capable of handling these conditions.

By no means was it the first ride, but this would be the first exploratory ride on the Apollo. The route started with a 6.5mi road-only stretch. It was here the drop bars and 11 speed hub came into their own. Having done this same route with a road bike, eBike, Brompton, and the hybrid, I was very familiar with all bits. Unexpectedly, it was the speed which surprised me. Much like my former road bike, the Apollo got up to speed gently but quickly. Shifting is different here — with a hub, you let up from pedaling before shifting. But, you can shift several gears up or down at once when you do so.

And silent. Oooh boy silent. There was only the sound of the wind thru my ears and barely perceptible sound of the tires. You don’t realize how loud a chain is until you don’t have one. Doesn’t matter if you are pacing or speeding, there’s no sound. Similar also to my eBike, staying at speed was easy. The 40mm WTB Byway tires showed well here; offering a soft and quiet ride, and soaking up the few bumps found when traveling a painted bike lane next to 45mph+ autos.

After that stretch was a 4.5mi stretch which added the hills. Here, the geometry of the Apollo was more noticeable. In a few points of this road with the other bikes, it wasn’t uncommon for me to need to crouch more for speed, or stand on the pedals to keep momentum when the switch uphill added a turn or several. The Apollo didn’t need this. Any questions about its sizing for my reach were answered when grabbing the “drops” (the lower, curved portion of the handlebar) and there was no pain in the hands, arms, or lower back. Was also a shock when I didn’t stand on the pedals for some of the hills. It’s nearly a reflex to do so, but the Apollo didn’t need it, and I could gear down and hold momentum for a bit longer. Such a feel for a bike doesn’t come until it’s ridden and online-only brands suffer on this measure. That said, the size Medium for my 5‘10“ frame fit perfectly.

Next was the unexplored bits. A trail often seen in the corner of an eye at a stream-head. A shape of something marked by Gravel Maps and something older than my residency. There was a road. So I tuned off the pavement to this trail. Then tossed the Apollo over my shoulder to cross and climb a creek bank. Walked up the path. This isn’t a cycling path, it is walk/hiking trail. Pushing the Apollo up and up until the path flattened out just enough, I threw my leg over the saddle and then couldn’t stop smiling.

For the next 3–5 miles (got lost, I forgot how far it was), a hiking trail turned into single track along a decent sized river. Rain from days before left much of the ground soft, but no longer muddy except in a few spots. The Apollo went from this comfortable road bike, to a decently competent (low-end?) mountain bike. The way it felt dipping and diving was just fun. With tight turns it was like being on the Brompton with the quick steering. Accelerating in and out of spaces was no problem with the range of the 11spd hub. And it was just… pleasant. No sore body parts. No wondering if the tires would be supple enough. Just a pleasant ride.

Leaving the wooded area, there was another 5mi of hills and road to getting back home. Covered with mud and dirt, the Apollo was no longer all that aerodynamic, but no less comfortable. Granted, the tires had a bit less air in them after the rocky excursion (they might be tubeless ready, but I’m not ready to go tubeless) so it was just a touch softer. But, the ride was no less enjoyable. Arriving home with a decent, post-Thanksgiving, mixed road ride in the books, I was happy to have purchased the Apollo.

Finished Ride with More Launches to Come

Joy is a common-enough framing when speaking about products and their influences. A well-designed product causes you to take faith-filled risks; while a poorly designed one more firmly entrenched you into modes of use which aren’t profitable.

Hence this approach for writing this review of the Priority Apollo gravel bike. Almost any bicycle, taken care of, can do the ride the I described. Yes, my road bike and the Brompton would have failed on the trail per their design. My eBike is also great for the road, but the trail would have left me with more of a workout for the hike-a-bike portions. And that’s before talking about how little traction the eBike’s WTB Horizons would have given vs the Apollo’s Byways. My hybrid had wider tires, and had done similar rides, but not with the same amount of joy afterwards. It wasn’t built for the multiple types of terrain, even though it has been across similar in its 11 years of ownership. The Apollo fit a space and created new routes for joy where those other bicycles couldn’t. This is what a gravel (all road) bicycle offers.

I’m looking forward to more journeys with the Apollo. The cold of the winter has already given some meat to the lessons about hub gearing and shifting. A few flats have also granted some weekend lessons on aspects of maintenance which are not uncommon when the miles start to accumulate. But, that too is part of the joy. Discovering new roads happens in and out of the saddle. The $1700 Priority Apollo is a heck of a value for discovering these bits. I’d recommend that it should at least get a look if you are considering a gravel bike. And if someone near you has one, try it out. You might be surprised at just how much you smile during and afterwards.

This bicycle was purchased of my own funds and no items were provided by Priority Bikes or any other company mentioned within this piece. None of the copy of was reviewed by Priority Bikes before hand; and items will change if edits are needed.

Visit Priority Bikes website or Twitter (@RidePriority) to view this and other bicycles.



Designing a cooperative, iterative, insanely creative pen of a future worth inveinting between ink & pixels @AvanceeAgency

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Antoine RJ Wright

Designing a cooperative, iterative, insanely creative pen of a future worth inveinting between ink & pixels @AvanceeAgency