Updated – Thompson R9300 Gravel – First Impressions

On my more scenic route home from work, after a railway crossing, there is a gravel road leading off towards the river somewhere, I’ve looked at it regularly, I wonder where it goes. Now, thanks to the Thompson R9300 Gravel and it’s “take me on an adventure” attitude, I’ve found out. I struggled to find much information about the R9300 online, so for anyone else looking at one, read on. Having now ridden in excess of 1000 miles on the R9300, this post has been updated with my further thoughts.

The track, it turns out, is only about 200m long and ends at a bird watching hide and serene fishing spot on the river. Where it went, I will admit, didn’t really matter, it was a mini-adventure to liven up an afternoon commute on a dull, grey Thursday afternoon. A short enquiry into the unknown made possible by the Thompson gravel bike and it’s chunky (relative to normal road 25mm) tyres. Whilst it is a perfectly capable road riding machine, the R9300 actively encourages me to venture away from pure tarmac rides, like an excitable puppy with an “oooh what’s down there” mentality.

Thompson R9300 in front of a river at sunset
River at the end of the gravel track

By all accounts, Thompson is a relatively unknown brand in the UK, I had never known of them until I stumbled upon them at the Cycle Show in Birmingham. But the Belgian brand have a long history of making bikes, right back to 1921 and have a typically Belgian racing pedigree to go with it. Being widely available in Belgium, they are now expanding into the UK. Their trademark comes in the customisation options for their carbon road range, focusing on the ability to design your own colour scheme, #becreative they like to say, #standoutfromthecrowd. When mentioning the fact that my new bike is Belgian, people are shocked that the R9300 is actually one of a range of road rather than cross and gravel bikes, perhaps surprising from a country renowned for it’s love of cyclocross and mud.

Thompson R9300 on a dismantled railway line
Thompson R9300 Gravel

The Thompson R9300 sports a 6061 hydro formed triple-butted smooth welded Aluminium frame, carbon fork with alloy steerer and wide 35c Schwalbe G-One tyres. The bike can be specced as a frame-set or one of 5 Shimano drive train options from Tiagra up to Ultegra, including double and triple ring derivatives.

The model I have here is the Tiagra double. It features a full Tiagra group too, no mixing and matching of cheaper components solely to bring the price down. The shifting is crisp and sharp, I was expecting more of a difference to Shimano 105, but there is really very little to tell between them

This is a road groupset however, and whilst the combination of 50/34 chainset and 12-28 cassette provides a suitable range of gearing for road riding, I have often found it to be over geared for off-road or bikepacking duties. If Thompson wanted this to be a true gravel adventure bike, consideration should be given for swapping out the rear derailleur for the Tiagra long cage version, allowing the use of a wider range 11-34 cassette, or even changing the chainset for a 48/32 or 46/30 offering from Praxxis or FSA.

Thompson R9300 Belgian flag detailing
Belgian Flag Detailing on Seat Tube

The Thompson customisation doesn’t include the R9300 models but, thankfully, I love this design already, the paintwork is an extremely attractive shade of matte red which has been complemented not only on the Tuesday night club run, but also on social media and even by a passing faster rider. The graphics are understated but complement the bike perfectly, the Belgian flag on the seat-post and well disguised “1921” on the head tube (in reference to the company history) are beautifully subtle touches that really finish the look.

The brakes are Tiagra grade RS405 hydraulic discs by Shimano, which provide excellent stopping power compared to rim-braked road bikes, especially in the wet and muddy conditions of British winter roads. The lever hoods are fairly large in comparison to a mechanical system, attributed to also having to house the hydraulics, but these are nicely shaped and I found them more comfortable than I had anticipated, even though I have relatively small hands.

Close up of disc brake caliper
Shimano Tiagra level BR-RS405 Disc Brake Calipers

The bike comes with the RaceGuard version of the Schwalbe G-One Allround 35c tyres, they are fast rolling on the road and grip well off road. The extra volume allows a lower pressure to be run to provide good off-road traction and comfort, I’m currently running about 45psi. So far they have only really struggled when the ground gets really muddy and soft. The good grip comes at the price of shorter lifespan, looking well worn already, though they will soon be swapped for the tubeless version of the same tyre thanks to the bike coming equipped with tubeless ready Novatec Thirty wheels. A 42c tyre will comfortably fit up front, but whilst it fits in the rear it does foul the chainstay under harder efforts.

The bike itself is a joy to ride, the high front end and slack head angle provide for a short reach from saddle to bars, ideal for longer days and a more relaxed riding position. I will admit that, having once had my body proportions described as “all arms and legs”, this geometry fits me very well and actually is not far off my summer road bike, one of the main reasons for choosing the R9300. The head angle is  slacker and it has a longer wheelbase, meaning a very stable ride, I’m not particularly good at riding no-handed, but I find it easy on the Thompson due to this inherent stability. The combination of carbon front fork and large volume tyres mean the ride is smooth and comfortable, ironing out any imperfections in the road.

Thompson R9300 carbon forks with frame protector
Frame Protector to Stop Hose Knocking on Fork Internals

The bike openly invites you to explore away from the road, however once tracks get a little lively, there can be quite a bit of chain-slap noise and I have unfortunately put a number of chips in the chainstay paintwork from the chain jumping around. A chainstay protector is a must. The internally routed front brake hose can also jump about a bit and knock against the fork internals. I had to use a small frame protector in the inlet port to hold the hose steady as this was chattering even on tarmac surfaces.

It has full mudguard and rack mounting points so, along with the grippy tyres, will make an ideal commuter and winter bike. I had no issues fitting some full length SKS mudguards to it, though I did have to drill a small hole in the rear guard to line up with one of the mounting points. The go-anywhere attitude also allows you to be a bit more creative with your commuting route. It also takes soft bike packing luggage well (see my post on my mini bikepacking trip here), however I would like to see more mounting bosses. Beneath the down-tube and outside of front forks are common places to see extra bottle bosses now for loading up multi-day adventure bikes, but these are frustratingly lacking on the Thompson.

Me riding my Thompson R9300 on a sandy track
Out on a road ride but end up finding tracks like this

The Thompson R9300 has ignited that childish excitement for exploration in me. It’s not about chasing down the fastest time on Strava segments (not that the bike is slow), or hurtling down rocky descents, but finding the middle ground and recapturing that joy of adventure on a bike. Earlier, riding along with an on-road route in mind, I saw a Bridleway sign and a gravel track leading into the woods, “I wonder where that goes” I think and I’m off, throwing all route planning out of the window, it’s like I’m 10 years old all over again.

Thompson R9300 in front of a green field
Thompson R-9300 Gravel