Since it was founded by former professional rider Cino Cinelli (winner of the Milan-San Remo), Italian brand Cinelli has had a long history of making some of the best steel bikes.
The beautifully built Cinelli Nemo Gravel is one such bike, and it’s deserving of its place on our 2022 Gravel Bike of the Year list.
The brand may offer great bikes in aluminium, carbon and titanium, but it’s still its sublime steel that gets the cognoscenti of the bike world excited. The handsome Nemo, with its stellar ride quality, is a prime example.
Cinelli Nemo Gravel Disc Ekar Mendini frame
Not only is this frame that’s beautifully handcrafted in Italy made from Columbus tubing, it’s Cinelli’s Spirit HSS steel, which sits at the very top of the Columbus tree.
The composition of the steel (a niobium alloyed composition) is produced seamlessly and triple-butted throughout each of the main tubes.
Seamless tubing means the tubes are extruded through a die rather than rolled and welded. It makes for a lighter and much stronger tube, with the material being stretched instead of joined.
The butting process is a way to reduce excess weight while maintaining strength where it’s needed. The tubes have thicker walls at their ends, where they’re TIG welded together, and then step down in wall thickness towards the centre.
It’s most common to see double-butting on metal tubes. Triple-butting is a more time-consuming and costly process, and thus reserved only for the very best tubes. Columbus Spirit HSS tubing has a minimum wall thickness (at the centre of the tube length) of just 0.45mm.
The Nemo’s TIG frame weighs in at 1,900g, with the all-carbon fork 450g. A weight of 1,900g may not sound that light in the company of sub-kilo carbon frames. Cinelli, however, hasn’t skimped on the details.
The Nemo frame has fender/mudguard mounts, twin bottle bosses, bento box (top tube) mounts, flat-mount disc mounts and frankly glorious rear dropouts that beautifully incorporate the wings of Cinelli’s logo into their drilled-out design.
My test bike arrived in the limited-edition Mendini finish, with its custom paintwork by acclaimed Italian designer Alessandro Mendini (Antonio Colombo has a long-standing reputation as a patron and collector of fine art and design).
Under the admittedly fabulous paintwork, though, it’s the same Nemo gravel bike because stock and pricing is much the same regardless of version.
Cinelli Nemo Gravel Disc Ekar Mendini geometry
My 56cm test bike underlines Cinelli’s approach to gravel bikes. With a slammed 563mm stack and lengthy 387mm reach, the Nemo is built to be quick.
The 72.5-degree head angle is only half a degree away from what I’d expect of a road bike, and the 73.5-degree seat angle is pure road-bike stuff.
The full-carbon fork comes with a 47mm offset, which when combined with this head angle and the stock 35mm-wide tyres, brings a trail figure of 61mm (this measure shows the tyre’s contact point ‘trailing’ behind the steering axis).
A small measure of trail makes for a fast-handling bike; more trail slows down the steering response. A figure of 61mm puts the Nemo in gravel-bike territory, but with a bit of road-going endurance bike thrown in.
|Seat angle (degrees)||74.5||74.5||74||73.5||73||72.5|
|Head angle (degrees)||70.5||70.5||71.5||72.5||72.5||73|
|Seat tube (mm)||480||510||540||560||590||610|
|Top tube (effective) (mm)||514||525||540||554||579||594|
|Head tube (mm)||100||115||140||150||175||200|
|Fork offset (mm)||47||47||47||47||47||47|
Cinelli Nemo Gravel Disc Ekar Mendini ride impressions
I’ve tested the bike on mainly gravel roads, with the odd excursion into more mountain bike singletrack territory and plenty of tarmac too. The Nemo excels in two of those three scenarios.
On the road, the chassis feels simply stunning – exactly how a great steel bike should. The bottom bracket and head-tube stiffness are exemplary and I couldn’t feel an iota of deviation from straight and true, be it sprinting, cornering or even hopping over sleeping policemen and potholes.
At the same time, there’s a lively feel to the way the bike responds to rougher terrain. It has a compliance and nimble feeling that gives the Nemo a character you simply don’t find with most carbon gravel bikes.
Its lively handling can, though, become a bit of a handful when it comes to truly technical trails.
Compared to the supple BMC URS or sublime Giant Revolt, the Nemo can feel as though you’ve accidentally ventured onto mountain bike terrain on your favourite road bike.
I found myself having to slow down significantly, relying on the (excellent) Ekar brakes and testing the grip of the slender tyres to edge down slopes that I’d throw myself into on more (off-road) capable bikes.
Cinelli Nemo Gravel Disc Ekar Mendini specification
The lively and nimble feel the Nemo has on tarmac makes it a rapid responder when riding bigger gravel roads, fire roads and byways.
The contact points only add to the Nemo’s prowess, with the Swamp bar having a more subtle flare than most, which keeps the Campagnolo Ekar hoods and levers in a more natural position.
The bar’s bulging and flattened top section is a comfortable hold when climbing or taking a breather. At the rear, the San Marco shortfit saddle is excellent, well padded and a great shape with enough flex in the hull to take the sting out of bigger hits.
The Fulcrum Racing Red 500 DB is essentially the same wheel as the aftermarket Racing Red 5 (£389.99). These are part of Fulcrum’s more recent wheel-line revamp, and the alloy rims are two-way fit (both clincher and tubeless-ready) with a new 24mm-deep rim that has a gravel-friendly 23mm internal width.
At 1,760g a pair, they’re not bad for an alloy wheelset. However, on a bike costing more than £5,000, I’d expect something a little higher up the gravel wheels hierarchy.
All that aside, I’ve no complaints about their performance. The freehub engages quickly and is fuss-free, the wheels feel as responsive as the frameset, and they’ve stayed arrow-straight after all the abuse I’ve thrown at them.
If this new design retains the legendary longevity of alloy Fulcrum wheels, then I’ve no complaints.
The wheels are shod with Pirelli’s mildly treaded Cinturato Gravel M tyres in a modest 35c width.
Cinelli states that the Nemo comes with clearance for 40mm-wide tyres, but I wouldn’t say its back end looks as if it could take much bigger than these stock tyres.
Maybe in the dry, dusty conditions of a Tuscan summer on the white roads of Strade Bianche, but on a damp March day in wet, murky and muddy Wiltshire, I’d expect (and experienced) plenty of clogging at the chainstay/bottom-bracket junction.
The completely Italian build (frame, fork, saddle, bars, stem, post, tyres) is completed with Campagnolo’s gravel-specific 1×13 geared Ekar groupset. The 40-tooth chainring, combined with a huge spread 9-42 cassette, offers a road- and gravel-friendly range in a similar vein to the BMC Roadmachine X’s genre-busting XPLR setup.
Ekar’s fully mechanical setup works well. The shifts are positive, both up and down the cassette, and a solid thunk of the chain lets you know it’s settled into your gear choice.
The Nemo has what would now be described as ‘old-school’ cable routing, with an external cable running down the down tube and along the chainstay to the rear derailleur.
The hydraulic hose to the rear brake does, though, run internally through the oversized steel down tube. I heard a few grouchy noises in the middle of the cassette after the first few hours of riding, which required a quick barrel adjustment of the cable tension, but that’s usual for any new mechanical-gear setup.
Where Ekar does score maximum points, however, is with the braking. It has a controlled progressive feel and the organic compound pads never once scraped the steel rotors, no matter how caked in grime they got.
Campagnolo has got the lever shape right too; the brakes feel great in your hand, be it in the drops or on the hoods. In that respect, they’re a match for the shape of the ServoWave-equipped GRX Di2 levers that are my favourites for gravel.
Cinelli Nemo Gravel Disc Ekar Mendini bottom line
Overall, the Nemo Gravel is a standout machine among the ever-popular gravel segment.
Its ride quality is superb, smooth and, above all, lively fun.
The relatively modest overall weight simply doesn’t factor because the bike never feels anything close to unwieldy or hefty.
The tyre clearance is only an issue if you’re riding in very muddy conditions, but if your idea of gravel means hard-based tracks, trails, fire roads and byways, then the Nemo is a rapid companion.
All the artisan, handcrafted Italian metallurgy, however, does come at quite the price.
Gravel Bike of the Year 2022 | How we tested
Testing for our 2022 Gravel Bike of the Year category started on a loop around Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.
This fast blast takes in wide, well-paved gravel roads, proper mountain bike singletrack trails and forest fire roads, with the ride out using connecting towpaths and bridleways, and the ride back taking in a bit of tarmac. It’s exactly the kind of multi-terrain route on which we want a gravel bike to excel.
Following this, each bike was then taken on a 70-mile/113km route over mixed terrain with plenty of elevation changes.
The bikes were then ridden back-to-back over a few weeks, during which we assessed the pros and cons of each, finally coming to a decision on the best gravel bike on test based on how well it handles, its spec choice and – arguably most importantly of all – how much fun it is.
Our 2022 Gravel Bike of the Year contenders are:
- Cervélo Aspero Rival AXS
- Cinelli Nemo Gravel
- Cube NuRoad C:62 Pro
- Giant Revolt Advanced Pro 0
- Vielo V+1
|Weight||9.82kg (L (56cm))|
|Available sizes||XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL|
|Bottom bracket||BSA 68mm / Press Fit|
|Brakes||Campagnolo Ekar Hydro|
|Cassette||Campagnolo Ekar 13x 9/42T|
|Chain||Campagnolo Ekar 13x|
|Cranks||Campagnolo Ekar 13x 40T|
|Fork||Columbus carbon gravel|
|Frame||Columbus Spirit HSS steel tubeset|
|Rear derailleur||Campganolo Ekar|
|Saddle||Selle San Marco Shortfit|
|Shifter||Campagnolo Ekar 13x|
|Tyres||Pirelli Cinturato Gravel M 700 x 35c|
|Wheels||Fulcrum Racing Red 500 DB|