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Shimano read the tea leaves correctly: Gravel would indeed grow into its own and become more than just a flash in the pan. That’s evident by the company’s choice to develop GRX, a group dedicated to the gravel and multi-surface rider. Now that gravel has established itself, GRX has become representative of just how different a gravel rider’s needs are.
What I love: Having now spent almost a year exploring the ins and outs of the GRX group, I can tell you that Shimano hit the nail on the head; GRX is no gimmick. It’s indeed a group tailored to the specific needs of the gravel rider.
The brake levers make GRX easy to love right off the bat. Unlike road levers that moonlight on gravel, the GRX levers are designed specifically for the off-road rider who needs a more planted hand position and easier access to the brake levers for added leverage when the terrain gets tricky. Indeed, the hoods seem to suck your hands into place, molding to your palms in exactly the position you’ll be in for the vast majority of your riding. And the wider lever blades allow you to maximize leverage, even from the hoods position, to ensure positive braking. The blades also curve inward slightly to make it easier to grasp them while riding in the drops.
And even cooler: The little buttons hidden in the hoods can be set up to control your Garmin, or they can be configured to shift your derailleurs. Nifty indeed.
What bugs me: Wires, wires everywhere. Yes, those wires help ensure quick shifting and a rock-solid system. No complaints there. But it took me ages to get the entire group up and running on my bike because of the endless wire configurations. It took weeks — weeks! — to get all the correct wires and junction boxes for my bike, as I installed one wire only to discover I needed a different junction box to connect it to, or to find that the wire length was too short, or…you get the point.
Obviously this isn’t an issue exclusive to GRX. All of Shimano’s Di2 systems require that you run wires all through the frame from the shifters to the derailleurs. And this is largely a moot point for most users who will simply buy a bike already equipped with GRX, or will have a bike shop install the system for them. But for home mechanics and tinkerers, the endless wire configurations and routing issues is enough to drive you to a wireless system. Hopefully Shimano has an answer to SRAM’s eTap wireless system in the near future, whether it be a wireless system of its own, or a simpler wired system.