Thompson R9300 Gravel Bike Review

On my more scenic route home from work, after a railway crossing, there is a gravel road. I’ve looked at it regularly, leading off towards the river somewhere. I wonder where it goes. Now, thanks to the Thompson R9300 Gravel Bike 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. 

The track, it turns out, is only about 200m long. It 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 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.

Edit: After longer term use and over 4000 miles on the R9300, I have come to understand the limitations of the R9300 as a gravel bike. I've upgraded various parts to make it even more gravel specific, such as gearing and tubeless. But some limitations, such as tyre clearance and mounting options, remain. It's important to understand these limitations, as i've come to conclude that the R9300 is more road bike with wide tyres than true gravel bike. Have a read of this initial review, then check out the upgrade details here.

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 brand have a long history of making bikes, right back to 1921. With 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. Some are shocked that the R9300 is actually from a range of road bikes, rather than cyclocross, when they learn of it’s Belgian heritage. Perhaps surprising from a country renowned for it’s love of cyclocross and mud.

The Thompson R9300 Gravel Bike sports a 6061 hydro formed triple-butted smooth welded Aluminium frame, carbon forks and wide 35c Schwalbe G-One tyres. The bike comes specced with one of four Shimano drive train options from Tiagra to Ultegra.

The model I have here is the base model Tiagra build. It features a full Tiagra group though, 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. The combination of 50/34 chainset and 12-28 cassette provides a suitable range of gearing for road riding. But I have often found it to be over geared for off-road or bikepacking duties. I intend to swap in an 11-34 cassette to give a wider range. For this to be a true gravel adventure bike, Thompson should consider swapping out some parts of the road groupset in this way.

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. Admired on the Tuesday night club run, on social media and even by a passing faster rider. The graphics, understated, 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. Providing 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 they are nicely shaped and I found them more comfortable than I had anticipated, even though I have relatively small hands.

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 allowing a lower pressure to be run to provide good off-road traction and comfort. So far they have only really struggled when the ground becomes soft mud or sand. The good grip comes at the price of shorter lifespan, a pair often lasting only two-thousand miles. Though, thanks to the tubeless ready Novatec Thirty wheels, I’ll be trying the tubless version soon. A 700×42 tyre will comfortably fit up front. But whilst it does just fit in the rear, it fouls the chainstay under efforts, wearing away at the paintwork (and no doubt eventually the metal).

The bike itself is a joy to ride. A 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. The head angle and longer wheelbase mean 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.

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. 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. This was chattering even on tarmac surfaces, but a frame protector in the inlet port will hold the hose steady.

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, 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 to allow for loading up multi-day adventure bikes. These are frustratingly lacking on the Thompson.

The Thompson R9300 Gravel Bike has ignited that childish excitement for exploration in me. It’s not for chasing down the fastest time on Strava segments (not that the bike is slow). Nor is it for hurtling down bike-park rocky descents. Instead it is for finding the middle ground and recapturing that joy of adventure on a bike. Riding along, a road route in mind, I see 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.

Edit: To see how i've upgraded the Thompson R9300 into more of a gravel bike, and the limitations it still has, check out my upgrades review here. To see more of the R9300 in action, check out some of my bikepacking adventures to work, the beach and the Outer Hebrides.

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