- Price: £1,899.99, £399 frame only
- From: alpkit.com
- Tested by: Amanda
New for 2021, the Sonder Dial is the brand’s first cross-country bike, and for its debut is available in aluminium as frame only or fully built. Having said that, Sonder shies away from the usual bike categories, preferring a ‘roady to rowdy’ spectrum, and the 29in-wheeled Dial sits between the Camino gravel bike and the Frontier trail hardtail. So, you want to travel huge distances with the added comfort of a lightweight, race-tuned hardtail? The Dial might be for you. If you’re after a more aggressive, trail-ready bike, the Frontier or the Signal might be the ones to look at.
Now then, there are six build options for the Dial, and we haven’t actually got any of them due to ongoing supply chain issues. The bike tested is the GX Eagle build, but what should be a RockShox Sid Ultimate fork is a RockShox Reba. Other build options start from £1,099.99 for SX Eagle paired with a RockShox Recon Silver, then it’s £100 more to swap the SX Eagle for Deore. From there, the NX Eagle with a RockShox Reba is £1,399.99, or swap the NX for SLX for £1,549.99. Finally, the top two builds are a great price for the spec. The wheels are upgraded from the Sonder Nova to the Sonder Alpha, and for SRAM fans the GX Eagle with SRAM Level TL brakes and a RockShox SID Ultimate fork is £1,899.99, and Shimano fans get XT throughout for £1,999.99, with everything else remaining the same.
Taking a closer look at our makeshift Sonder Dial, the Sonder Alpha cross-country 29 wheelset has 23mm alloy rims optimised for running 2.0in to 2.4in tyre widths. The claimed weight of these wheels is 460g each, front and back, considerably less than the beefier 30mm-wide Alpha 29 at 960g/1140g front and rear, making them the best choice for the Dial cross-country bike. Out of the box the wheels are tubeless ready, and I promptly got the tubes out before this bike hit the trails.
Tyres are WTB Ranger 2.4in front and rear. These aren’t listed on the Sonder site, so if you do buy a Dial you’ll want to check what tyres you’ll be getting if you have a preference. The WTB Rangers are fast rolling with a fair amount of grip. They’re a level up from the more traditional 2.0in/2.25in cross-country Ranger, making the build fit into the more popular cross-country Trail category. Fast hard-packed trails are well suited to the Rangers; however, I’ve found the limits of these tyres at almost every corner I’ve tried to carry speed through. They lack side grip for really aggressive riding, but they’re well suited to what this bike is built for.
The SRAM Level TL twin piston brakes are compact yet powerful, with 180mm front and 160mm rear rotors. They have a reliable and direct feel, and are a great match for the bike. Not too much, but certainly solid enough to trust in a fast-paced cross-country race.
I tested a medium sized frame, which is aimed at riders from 5ft 6in/168cm to 5ft 10in/178cm. With the 70mm Sonder Storc stem, this bike is a great fit for me at 5ft 7in, however, with the stem any shorter I think I’d find it too short. Fortunately, I’ve taken an interest in cross-country racing and bigger moorland yomps this year, so the longer stem suits me. This bike is designed to cover long distances at speed, so the stability you get from the longer stem is far more important than the more responsive steering you may get from a shorter one.
I’ve treated this bike as the cross-country machine it claims to be, though I do struggle to define ‘cross-country’. You only need to watch the cross-country World Cup to realise the reputation of long moorland yomps is possibly quite inaccurate. So, my riding has been long distances linking up fun trails – trails I feel comfortable and safe riding without a dropper seatpost, which in all honesty doesn’t rule too many out, just the steepest of the steep.
The most standout quality of the ride on the Sonder Dial is the pedal efficiency. As you’d expect from a lightweight hardtail, pedal force getting to the wheel feels really direct. I have found myself not needing to use the full range of gears, but instead riding the Dial a bit like I’m at a cross-country race and just standing up toward the top of the steeper climbs to use a different muscle group and power the last bit out. If you were looking for a budget build, any 10 or 11-speed groupset would be more than adequate in my opinion.
The 74° seat angle is in the sweet spot for pedalling and I’ve really appreciated just how great this bike climbs when I’ve got to technical sections of a climb and found a few easy cranks gets me straight up them. My weight being slightly further forward due to the 70mm stem helps keep traction and the big wheels deal with the rocks.
As I’ve just mentioned, the medium Dial comes with a 70mm stem, around 20mm longer than I tend to run on my personal hardtail. I was immediately impressed with how responsive the handling is on technical climbs and descents. Making last-minute changes to my line choice is no issue, the bike just takes whatever I request and comfortably complies. It gives a real feeling of control and ease to the ride, something you’d certainly want on big cross-country adventures or, in my case, cross-country endurance races. The longer stem offers great stability on fast flow trails, putting your weight slightly further forward, keeping your front wheel in control and in contact with the ground.
There’s no denying that a hardtail can leave you feeling rattled if you demand too much from it, and I’ve tested the comfort limits as best as I can. Fast rocky sections really had me bouncing around and wishing for some forgiveness. Wheels and tyres can make a world of difference to how supple the ride is, so the Sonder Alpha cross-country 29 wheelset is a bargain at £299.99 if you’re not going to treat this like a trail bike, yet could be upgraded to increase ride quality. The WTB Ranger 2.4in tyres are quite a generous choice for a bike designed to be a fast cross-country whippet, as I’ve found the seating in the 23mm rims paired with the tread pattern to be much grippier than expected. There’s so much tyre clearance with these that even if you found yourself wanting a more aggressive mud tyre, you’d have plenty of options. Some slightly more aggressive side nobbles certainly wouldn’t go amiss in winter.
The SRAM Level TL brakes caught me off guard on the first ride. They’re all-or-nothing, and really quite powerful for a lightweight bike; however, it is designed to travel at high speeds, at which point you don’t want to feel underpowered on the brakes. Speaking of high speeds, it’s really easy to get this bike going and just keep gaining speed thanks to the big volume tyres offering little rolling resistance. It can behave like a big-wheeled jump bike when it comes to pumping the trail, too. A relatively stiff frame with responsive steering and a short chainstay are all the right ingredients for fast rolling fun.
The Sonder Dial is marketed at riders wanting more confidence than a gravel bike and a more direct feel than a trail bike, and its geometry is that of a classic cross-country riding and racing bike. You’ll be hard pushed to find a cross-country race capable, lightweight hardtail at a better price, and it’s an excellent tool for the job. I have come to realise that a lot of the things I think I ‘need’ on a bike, like the best gearing and a dropper post, are definitely more of a want than a need, especially when it comes to cross-country riding. You could get a Dial frame for £399, add a budget dropper post for a little extra comfort and control, and get away with a low range groupset, without feeling like you’re on a budget bike. It’s light, fun, fast and looks great.
Frame: Sonder Dial Aluminium
Fork: RockShox Reba
Rims: Sonder Alpha 29 cross-country 23mm
Tyres: WTB Ranger 2.4in
Chainset: SRAM GX Eagle DUB 170mm / 32T
Rear Mech: SRAM GX Eagle
Shifters: SRAM GX Eagle
Cassette: SRAM 12-speed
Brakes: SRAM Level TL, 180mm front, 160mm rear
Stem: Sonder Storc 70mm
Handlebars: Wonder Aspect Flat
Grips: Sonder Clutch
Seatpost: Sonder 31.6mm / 400mm Fixed
Saddle: Sonder Zone
Size Tested: M
Sizes Available: S, M, L, XL
Weight: As tested 11.5kg/25.3lb
|Dial GX Eagle
|£1,899.99, £399 frame only
|by Amanda for 2 months