I’d imagine most of you will be pretty familiar with gravel bikes like the Nukeproof Digger by now.
If any of you are wondering what the hell a road bike is doing on Wideopen… well, let me explain.
They’re basically the lovechild of a cyclocross, road, MTB, touring bike orgy. They take features wide and grippy tyres, disc brakes and more MTB geometry and put them into a drop-bar bike. They’re basically a mountain biker’s road bike.
Jack of all trades
The common thing that I keep noticing is the versatility of the Digger.
I’ve had this bike for 5 months and in that time I have used it with panniers for commuting, have logged some big training rides, and have even fitted a baby seat to the back to take my daughter for her first bike rides. I’ve also done plenty of laps of the local, gravel-surfaced blue graded MTB trail where it proved to be quite a challenge compared to a mountain bike… but still lots of fun.
On the road, compared to a skinny tyre road bike, the first thing you notice is how comfy and smooth it is, thanks to its large volume WTB Resolute 27.5 x 42mm tyres. I am sure it is the same where you live, but around here, the brutal winter we just had has destroyed large stretches of road surface, making it super bumpy and rough on a road bike.
With the Digger though, you just don’t notice the rough surface and with about 50 psi in the tyres it just rolls silently over the imperfections of the road. On perfectly smooth sections of tarmac that roadies have wet dreams over, it did not feel draggy either, the lightly knobbled tyres whizzing along without too much drag and still giving you good confidence to pull the brakes hard or carve a turn.
When you hop on the Digger Comp it is clearly not a mountain bike, but it does feel somewhat familiar. The position is more upright and comfy than a road bike, you look down and see a 1×11 drivetrain with big cassette, then look at the 27.5” wheels and their hydraulic disc brakes and you start to remember that this is a bike aimed at mountain bikers. It even has wide bars, albeit drop bars, that give you a bit more control off-road as well as a more open body position that I really liked compared to a road bike.
How did it stack up?
Throughout the test period not a single gear shift was missed and it feels as crisp and sharp now as when I got it out the box. The brakes are powerful enough to use with one finger on the drops, or two fingers when riding on the hoods and will stop you as fast as traction will allow. The pads still have loads of life in them and there is no hint of them needing a bleed.
With the Digger you get a large MTB cassette paired with a 40t chainring, giving you plenty of gears for the steepest hills even with the added weight of panniers or a 13 month old baby on the back.
As much as this bike became a bit of a daily workhorse for me, it is still designed to cope with some pretty full on, off road riding, and it even has cable routing to fit a dropper post if you like.
The first time off road on anything rougher than a towpath was an interesting experience to say the least. You have to get used to your hands being in a totally different position on the bars as you either ride on the hoods of the brake levers, or on the dropped part of the bars.
Taking it off road
On the hoods you are holding on for dear life with your ring finger and pinky whilst braking with the other two, whilst on the drops where you feel more secure on the bars, you feel like you are really low down with your bum in the air. Once you get your head around this and relax a bit, it does get easier and confidence grows, but it takes some time to feel like you can push on a bit in turns or over rough sections.
A key factor for enjoying this type of bike off road is line choice. You have to look up and find the smoothest line that offers the most traction and the least chance of getting bounced off the bars. You will find that you are using a lot of forward and backward body movement, especially on more technical climbs.
You can’t simply ride over obstacles and you will need to lift the front wheel up small steps before pushing your weight forwards and hopping the rear up, keeping smooth and keeping the power down. Riding like this is actually really engaging and you find yourself doing little challenges up sections of trail that you would just sit and spin up on a full suspension bike.
The fine details
On the whole I liked the kit fitted to the Digger, but there were a couple of small changes I would make. The Nukeproof Vector saddle is one I am familiar with from riding a couple of Megas and I have never had any issues with it, but when fitted to a rigid bike with a stiff, large diameter seatpost I did find it pretty harsh on my bum and would prefer a bit more padding.
The only other thing I didn’t like was the miles of gear cable running to the rear mech. It is clumsily routed and loops out at the back of the bike looking untidy and rattling over rough sections of road or trail.
Although I have not really thrashed this bike off road, preferring a more steady approach, it has been solid throughout, without so much as a loose spoke, puncture or rattle. The chain has not dropped, thanks to the clutch mech and thick/thin chainring and with a little less pressure in the tyres it grips fairly well in the mostly dry, dusty conditions that we have enjoyed this year. Ideally
I would love to hold onto this bike and ride it in some proper cyclocross style mud and gloop and see how it holds up through a winter of abuse, but for now it seems really durable and dependable.
Go anywhere versatility.
Could do better:
More comfortable saddle.
Better rear mech cable routing.
Overall the Digger has been a lot more fun for me than I expected and has already made me want to put my old road bike up on eBay.
It’s making my commutes faster and more comfortable than on my road bike, and encouraging me to take the long way home.
I also like the fact that when I ride it (with flat pedals) people don’t think I’m a roadie and that it feels robust enough to mess about on and do skids and endos if I feel like it!
Full details on the Digger Comp and the rest of the Nukeproof range, head over to Nukeproof’s website here.