YT Szepter Core 4 Review – Gravel For MTBers?

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For this YT Szepter review I’ve been testing a medium sized YT Szepter Core 4, the slightly pricier version – the Core 3 gets a slightly lower grade suspension fork and drivetrain, and doesn’t have a dropper post.

  • Brand: YT
  • Product: Szepter Core 4
  • Price: £4,399
  • From: YT Industries
  • Review by: Hannah

The YT Szepter Core 4, we are told, is not a gravel race bike. It’s not a bikepacking bike. It’s not a monster crosser, or a cyclocross bike. It is, apparently, a gravel bike for mountain bikers.

It’s no surprise then that it comes with a dropper seatpost and suspension fork. I have ridden a lot of mountain bikes, and a lot of gravel bikes. I’m not sure if I’m a mountain biker or just a rider of all off-road bikes. Would this bike force me to pick a side?

It might look like it’s been in a wind tunnel, but the swooping lines of the carbon frame are all about the aesthetic – the designers took inspiration from Centurian helmets and racing cars when thinking about how they wanted it to look.

Front and rear mini mudguards are built in, and the bike comes equipped with 700x42C WTB Resolutes on alloy WTB wheels, although you could squeeze in up to 45C according to the tech specs.

The Rock Shox Rudy Ultimate XPLR fork has 40mm of suspension travel, while the SRAM Reverb AXS XPLR has 50mm of drop. If you drop the dropper 1mm or more, it gives a small amount of squish, effectively giving you a slight suspension seatpost.

With a bit more to potentially fiddle with than my usual gravel bikes, I took to the trails…

The Ride

At 175cm tall, YT’s sizing charts put me right on the cusp of the Medium and Large options, but I went for the Medium, which weighed in at 22.54lbs / 10.22kg.

There’s some curiosity in the numbers here. The listed reach is actually in line with other gravel bikes I’ve ridden and found especially comfortable: the Sonder Camino (size Medium) and the Canyon Grizl (size Small). But the numbers on the Medium Szepter’s stack and effective top tube are both larger.

Then, the seat angle on the YT Szepter Core 4 is, 74.4°, slightly steeper than the other two bikes, but with the bottom bracket set forward of the line of the seat post. Which does mean that, at the upper end of the height recommendations for the medium, I’ve got a lot of seat post sticking out and will have added to the effective top tube length.

There is oodles of standover, so sizing up might well work out OK, but I think if you’re on the cusp of sizes it’s going to depend somewhat on your particular proportions. It’s probably worth trying to get a test ride – especially if this is your first gravel bike.

It’s designed for the rowdy side of gravel, so you’re probably looking for a more upright position with plenty of standover, rather than anything stretched out or aero like you might want on more of a mile muncher. 

The most noticeable thing about the ride is that you barely ever stand up to pedal. Funny, then, that the promo video (above) consists of a guy pedalling furiously, but never ever sitting down.

The short chainstays and fairly steep seat tube angle combine with the gears to give a ride that means you can sit and spin your way up pretty much everything. This means you get great traction, even on greasy climbs.

I did notice that this meant a little adjustment of habits when it came to clearing larger obstacles on climbs – I’m more used to standing up to pedal and chucking in a quarter crank or extra shove to clear things like large water bars on a climb.

With plenty of clearance, I found that I could often stay seated to pedal over things, but it took a little figuring out as to what I could make it over while spinning, and where I would need to time the crank/ground alignment just right. That in turn had me doing for sit-to-stand shifts than I might normally do – because usually I’m already standing. None of this is a problem, but it seemed to me to be a noticeable difference to other gravel bikes I’ve ridden.

It’s perhaps surprising that it’s the climbing performance that I found most noticeable, given this was my first gravel bike suspension fork experience. For me, the fork gave a comfortable ride without any twanging sensation even on rough and square edged descents, but in many ways this was not that dissimilar to a rigid gravel bike with larger volume tyres.

Of course, you get the payoff here that you haven’t got larger volume tyres, with the attendant rotational weight and sluggishness on the road. But, for those wondering whether to go for larger tyres or a suspension fork on a gravel bike, I’d say that the overall effect on comfort isn’t too different. I would suggest that your decision comes down less to the question of comfort, and more to whether you’re needing to whizz along roads, or focussing on off road travel.

When it comes to whizzing along roads on the Szepter, it’s got the zip in the frame that you want in order to transfer leg power into forward motion, but the WTB Resolutes felt quite draggy to me. In fact, the Resolutes took a little getting used to off-road too. They’re very square edged, with gives them something of a proclivity towards sideways slippage. That slippage quickly stops as the knobs dig in, but it took me a little while to trust that the grip would come after the initial squirm in the mud.

On actual gravel, however, they’re great, and not a bad choice as an all-round tyre. However, I think buyers of this bike who have a lot of road sections on their rides may look to swap these out for something a little nippier. Personally, I’m quite partial to tyres with a reduced centre tread but decent side knobs – I usually find these offer a good balance of speed and traction across a range of surfaces.

The built in mudguards do do something – especially up front I noticed I wasn’t getting the usual face full of canal filth on rides to work – but they’re no match for a full commuter guard. But, they’re not meant to be – they’re keeping the worst of things off your face and dropper (helpfully avoiding a bidet effect too, through the saddle) while also not flapping about or falling off when you hit the rough stuff.

As you’d expect of components at this level, everything works absolutely fine. If I had any niggle about the set up, I’d have liked a very slightly more flared bar. I find a bit of flare especially eases the transition from hoods to drops, allowing you to kind of creep/sweep your hands around the bars, rather than doing a straight hands off and drop motion as is the case here. If you’re on a rough section that you realise needs more braking power than the hoods offers, I find this helps keep things feeling more in control.

This is the first time I’ve ridden a gravel bike with a dropper post. I’m unconvinced by this teeny tiny amount of drop (50mm). It does help on the more technical trails, but I did feel like I’d rather be done with it and have more, or none. This feels like a bit of a tease.

I am also totally unconvinced by the Activeride ‘suspension’ setting, where if you drop the saddle by just 1mm or more, but not all the way, it provides some squish. Maybe other parts of me are more squishy than this dropper post, but the only thing I noticed was that I was now riding with my saddle too low.

And, sometimes, in the wrong gear too – you need to hit both gear shift paddles at the same time to drop the dropper, and if you don’t get that quite right (perhaps because you’re bouncing along a rough trail) then you can end up shifting gears instead. On balance, I’m not convinced the 50mm of drop is useful enough to be worth it. There are other, longer, options out there that I think would be more useful.

If this all sounds a bit negative, it’s not meant to. It’s just that it’s quite a lot of money to spend, and for that I’d be wanting to know that it was worth it. Carbon, suspension fork, dropper post… does it deliver a better package than, say, steel and bigger tyres? I think the answer is: it depends.

That’s not a cop out. If you live somewhere with fairly tame trails and gravel that’s actually gravel, then you can probably get away without the suspension and dropper post, and just ride larger volume tyres. Or even these 42C tyres, if you don’t mind a bit of jiggling about.

But if you want to ride this on steeper terrain with plenty of rocks – mountain bike terrain, for example – that’s linked together by road sections, then I think you’re going to feel the benefit of what this bike has to offer.

If you live somewhere where the trails don’t all link seamlessly together, or you’ve got a decent pedal before you get to the off-road fun, then the YT Szepter Core 4 is indeed a mountain biker’s gravel bike. It’s fun to play around on, and happy to tackle the bumpier side of life.

Overall

It’s a package that I think will appeal to mountain bikers who find themselves without trails on their doorstep, or looking to add spice to their daily rides. The suspension takes the buzz out of the arms, offering a more comfortable ride without the addition of chunkier rubber. The ability to sit and spin your way up climbs leaves the legs fresh for the descents, and the standover gives room for you to make a few mistakes and get away with it. If you’re looking to get out to play on drop bars, the YT Szepter Core 4 is worth a look.

  • Frame // Ultra-Modulus Carbon
  • Fork // RockShox Rudy Ultimate XPLR 40mm
  • Wheels // WTB Proterra Light i23 700c
  • Front Tyre // WTB Resolute 700c x 42c
  • Rear Tyre // WTB Resolute 700c x 42c
  • Chainset // SRAM Force 1 Wide, 38T, 172.5mm
  • Drivetrain // SRAM Force XPLR ETAP, 12-speed, XG1251 XPLR 10–44T
  • Brakes // SRAM Force ETAP, 180/160mm
  • Stem // Zipp Service Course SL, 70mm, 31.8mm
  • Handlebars // Zipp Service Course XPLR, 440mm wide, 70mm reach, 115mm drop, 11° out/3° back/5° flare
  • Bartape // Fizik Terra Bondcush 3mm
  • Seat Post // SRAM Reverb AXS XPLR 27.2mm, 50mm, with Activeride
  • Saddle // SDG Bel-Air 3.0 Overland
  • Weight // 10.22kg

Geometry of our size M

  • Head angle // 69.4°
  • Effective seat angle // 74.4°
  • Seat tube length // 480mm
  • Head tube length // 145mm
  • Chainstay // 425mm
  • Wheelbase // 1,076mm
  • Effective top tube // 578mm
  • BB height // 61mm drop
  • Reach // 398mm

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Viewing 17 posts - 1 through 17 (of 17 total)
  • YT Szepter Core 4 Review – Gravel For MTBers?
  • tall_martin
    Full Member

    Can we have an article in the magazine, or even online where you compare a 90’s MTB to a gravel bike to a current MTB with gravel tyres? Perhaps with a control tyre? Panaracer gravel kings come in 26″ for example.

    A gravel bike for mountain bikers- can I put gravel tyres on my MTB and just ride that? It’s got a suspension fork, dropper and awesome brakes already.
    Perhaps a bigger chain ring?
    Something on the bars to give another hand position- whisper it “bar ends?

    Ben_Haworth
    Full Member

    I think there’s something that could be done but I think the significant difference is riding position more than tyres etc. We shall have a think!

    Ben_Haworth
    Full Member

    ayjaydoubleyou
    Full Member

    is that unsagged on the capra? otherwise that is a huge difference in BB height

    nickc
    Full Member

    At some point I’m going to start a thread that enables me to write a polemic about the fact that many of things that are wrong in the world today can be placed at the feet (nominally) of gravel bikes.

    Ben_Haworth
    Full Member

    Unsagged I think. Still messing with me settings!

    zerocool
    Full Member

    So RockShox have taken an annoying fault with their droppers (the annoying squidgy that they all seem to develop over time, called it ‘Active ride’ and made it a selling point?

    slackboy
    Full Member

    Can we have an article in the magazine, or even online where you compare a 90’s MTB to a gravel bike to a current MTB with gravel tyres

    I think I could probably supply all the bikes required for that test…

    tall_martin
    Full Member

    @Ben_Haworth

    I think there’s something that could be done but I think the significant difference is riding position more than tyres etc. We shall have a think!

    Could you do/ have some stem and bar swapping to get the hand position closer?

    Get some free tyres in for test purposes and use them to bribe members for a loan of bikes?

    I’ve got a hello Dave in xl 29″ that I’d loan or come out with for “the test”. And a 61cm transition rapture that is on 35″ gravel kings


    @slackboy

    What bikes do you have have that match up?

    Ben_Haworth
    Full Member

    I’ve not given this a great deal of time yet but initial thoughts are that, on a MTB, it’ll be hard to mimic how low hands are when in the drops on gravel bike.

    chakaping
    Free Member

    Can we have an article in the magazine, or even online where you compare a 90’s MTB to a gravel bike to a current MTB with gravel tyres? Perhaps with a control tyre? Panaracer gravel kings come in 26″ for example

    Great idea, mainly for the gravel vs. ’90s MTB bit.

    And current MTB with gravel tyres (if included) should be a light hardtail, surely?

    rOcKeTdOg
    Full Member

    Sounds like a bike designed by an mtber who wants the idea of a gravel bike but actually hasn’t ever ridden a gravel bike. It’s a refreshing approach to the industry standard of using existing road bike geometry and adding some tyre clearance.
    Worryingly for YT the big market is existing drop bar users and they’ll probably hate it whereas the majority of mtbers who dislike the thought of gravel bikes would love it but will never try it.

    I love WTB resolutes btw

    hungrymonkey
    Free Member

    Could you do/ have some stem and bar swapping to get the hand position closer?

    One of the fundamental differences between a gravel bike and a 90s MTB (other than faster rolling, larger diameter,tubeless tyres made from decent rubber and light but strong carcasses, and hydraulic brakes, and wide range, close ratio drivetrains and modern frame materials, and availability of brand new bikes, rather than 30yr old NOS bikes) is that the difference in bar position (and width) that gives a much more aerodynamic position on the bike which makes them quicker or easier to ride over long distances and on typically less technical terrain 🙂 (see also the lack of hybrid bikes in the TdF).

    tall_martin
    Full Member

    Well apart from aqueducts, crime and medicine what have the Romans gravel bikes ever done for us? 😉 ( Wink)

    I have a gravel bike and never really get up to aerodynamic speeds. I bought super flared drops. Mostly these were good because my hands were wider, I was lower and the brakes worked better.

    Maybe I’m just slow. Maybe I’ve got lucky and not had mega headwinds. Maybe I bought the wrong bike for me.

    hungrymonkey
    Free Member

    Horses for courses innit 🙂

    I ride a lightweight gravel race bike, haven’t really ridden a road bike since. Very different to even my xc bikes (for good and for bad). Not sure I really get the more ‘adventure’ style relaxed gravel bikes tbh but they must work for some!

    Today’s ride was prob 50-50 tarmac and dirt, with a few tracks that would have been better on MTB but the overall mix definitely suited the bike I was on.

    chakaping
    Free Member

    other than faster rolling, larger diameter,tubeless tyres made from decent rubber and light but strong carcasses, and hydraulic brakes, and wide range, close ratio drivetrains and modern frame materials

    This is exactly why it’d make a good feature IMO.

    I guess the gravel bike would still be more terrifying than a ’90s MTB on modern trails though?

    richrr
    Free Member

    Gravel bike for MTBers just when the market is now starting to try and sell ‘All road bikes’ to the faithful, in stating the obvious for £4399 I could put together a pretty reasonable XC bike, trail bike or whatever or even a decent road bike – I can’t imagine this selling well, further I think front suspension forks on drop bar bikes only really exists in the world of bike journalism and supplied review bikes – I’ve yet to see anyone riding one but maybe I ride in the wrong places …

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