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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…
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.
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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