While we give a lot of coverage to big, burly dropbar touring bikes, there’s something freeing about riding a lightweight and zippy gravel bike at a faster pace. Mason Cycles’ Bokeh 3 offered up this exact riding experience for John as he fled the frigid lands of Northern New Mexico in winter for a romp in the grasslands of Patagonia, Arizona. Let’s check it out…
Cari in the Redwoods, 2016, Leica M240, Canon 50 mm ƒ .95
When Mason Cycles reached out, wondering what I’d think about their aluminum chassis gravel bike, the Bokeh 3, I kept pining over ways to incorporate a bokeh discussion into the bike review. Because if there’s one thing I like more than bike nerd speak, it’s camera nerd speak…
Bokeh. It’s what every photographer craves in their portraits. Formed by light, the lens’ aperture blades, and a shallow depth-of-field, it is the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light. Many lenses are known for unique bokeh swirls, from Takumar, Canon, Leica, Minolta, Zunow, and Zenitar. Each of these lenses renders a dream-like bokeh when shot wide open. Shallow lenses with an ƒ from .95 through 1.4 are often difficult to focus but when the focus distance and subject align, the resulting images are profoundly enjoyable.
Cari in London, 2016, Leica M10, Canon 50 mm ƒ 1
When I think of bokeh, I think of the Canon “Dream Lens.” This 50 mm lens sports a whopping ƒ .95 aperture. At full dilation, the lens looks like a glass cavern. It was introduced in 1961 as part of the aperture race between 35 mm camera and lens manufacturers that began in 1953 with the introduction of the Zunow 50 mm ƒ 1.1 lens for Nikon S-Mount. Soon to follow were the Leica 50 mm ƒ 1.2 and 50 mm ƒ 1 Noctilux lenses and later, the Canon Dream Lens.
Bokeh, as you can see, is just one of the elements of fun portraits. But to fully utilize it, you’ve got to shoot it wide open…
Onto the Bike
Ok, enough camera nerd talk. Let’s get down to it! Unless you crave more of this stuff? If so, let me know… ;-)
The Mason Bokeh 3 is an aluminum-chassis gravel bike with a carbon fork, generous tire clearance, a “fast-aligned” geometry, and a spirited ride quality. It has cargo bosses on the fork like every bike of this pedigree should have and is a prime example of what I consider a modern gravel road bike.
I reviewed the 12-Speed Shimano GRX 820 build (£3,300) in a size 58 cm as a 6 ‘ 2 ” human with a 36 ” inseam, sizing down from my normal size 60 cm in the interest of a speed-aligned fit.
- Frameset price: £1450
- As reviewed price with GRX 12-speed: £3300
- Sizes: 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62
- Colors: Flare Orange, Optic Green, Sensor Blue, Sepia (pictured)
- Tire clearance: 650b x 55 mm (2.1”) or 700 x 45 mm
- Frame: Dedacciai aluminium
- Fork: Rangefinder AS fork with optimized carbon layup and cargo mounts each eyelet static tested to 30 kg vertical loading
- Frame made in Italy
This size 58 cm GRX 12-speed build weighed 22.6 lb with pedals and Ti King Cage bottle cages.
Run the Numbers
I consider myself lucky. Lucky in that through my experience, a bike’s optimized riding experience is often limited to its larger sizes. For instance, every bicycle has an idealized ride quality, programmed in vis-à-vis a number of components to the equation. From tubing material, to engineering of said tubing, component selection, and yes, geometry! The size 58 cm Mason Bokeh 3 I am reviewing here was selected because I wanted the fit to be a bit more fast-paced and racey, sacrificing comfort for a slightly more aggressive and fast ride quality.
As such, the 58 cm Bokeh has a (near) parallel geometry, optimizing this experience even further.
Road bikes often relied upon parallel geometry for a balanced ride quality. That means a seat tube angle of 72º would be paired with a head tube angle of 72º, and the bottom bracket drop would even be around 72 mm. For a long time, supporters of this geometry ran the gamut, including the great Eddy Merckx. Granted, this theory is highly subjective, but if it was good enough for Eddy…
So why am I talking about road geometry for a “gravel” bike? Well, for a few reasons. First of all, it is a long-held belief of mine that all road bikes are gravel bikes, yet not all gravel bikes are road bikes. Hear me out. A bike with a traditional “stance,” such as the Bokeh 3, would quantify as a road bike to me, while a bike like a Tumbleweed Stargazer or Kona Sutra ULTD would qualify what a gravel bike should be. So, by that logic, the Stargazer is not a road bike, meaning it exists within its own species.
Looking at the geometry of “faster paced” gravel bikes, I quantify them as road bikes with bigger tires. While looking at a touring bike such as the Kona Sutra, I would qualify their use when not touring as a gravel bike. IMO, anyway.
After coming off what I would consider dropbar mountain bikes, I was ready for a fast-paced bike review. The last one I reviewed was the Cotic Escapade last year. But before we get into that, let’s look at what the Bokeh has going on in terms of frame detailing…
For being a simple bike, when compared to some of the full suspension MTBs we review, the Bokeh has a lot of intricate detailing, pointing towards a goal of being very versatile. For starters, it’s got mounts a plenty! Actually, let’s just break it down in a list…
Some of my favorite details include:
- Custom-formed Dedacciai tubing and smooth welds.
- Threaded bottom bracket in a beefy Ø56mm shell–Both the shifter housing and brake line now run through Mason’s proprietary ‘ThruBB’ shell and out through the chain stays.
- Custom Mason “Element” chainstay guard compatible.
- Replacable derailleur hanger
- Internal routing that doesn’t rattle (although I’d still prefer external routing) and utilizes a number of various cable port options depending on drivetrain used. Check out Mason’s Multiport options.
- Cargo bosses on the Rangefinder AS fork (because why not?)
- Third bottle cage mount on the downtube
- Top tube bag bosses
- Top tube internal dynamo routing! This is neat but I would still prefer external routing
- Fender and rack mounts
- 27.5″ x 2.1″ mm or 700 x 45 mm tire clearance
- Lots of neat little phrases marked throughout the bike’s finish.
The Bokeh is a frame that is worthy of sharp focus and when you really zoom into its details, the background visual noise just seems to fade away.
A Few Build Notes
As a rider with very broad shoulders, I prefer handlebars that are wider than what is usually specced on a production bike. Like the Tumbleweed Big Dipper bar conversation, I feel like bar width should be closer tied to shoulder width for riders. I.e., I don’t think someone with a 53 cm wide shoulder span should be riding 46 or 48 cm wide bars. As such, I swapped out the Ritchey bars that were specced on the Bokeh 3 12-Speed GRX build kit for the wide, but not crazy wide PNW Components 52 cm Coast drop bars.
I felt like this width was conducive to the bike’s modus operandi. It’s a road bike, in my mind, yet with the bigger tires, I was able to wield it on unmaintained dirt road descents with a bit more control thanks to the 52 cm wide bars. The Coast bars have an entirely flat top, allowing for plenty of hand positions while climbing and lots of real estate if you were to mount a handlebar bag like I did with the Fab’s Abs. While not as wide as the OG wide bar, the Crust Leather Bar (later dubbed the Towel Rack), or the Tumbleweed Big Dipper, the Coast bar made the riding experience all the more enjoyable.
The Bokeh 3 resting on an old Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii), in the San Rafael Valley, mimicking its fall foliage and bark tone.
One other note I’d like to briefly make is how comfy the Mason Penta Seatpost is in 27.2 ⌀. It was not stiff whatsoever. In fact, as I was climbing up a punchy road while seated, a friend commented on how they could see the post flexing with each pedal stroke. I’m 190 lbs with a 36″ inseam, so I can put out a lot of leverage on a bike saddle. This seatpost and the custom-shaped rear end on this bike made for a pleasant ride…
Modern Aluminum Is Nice
I gotta admit, this custom-formed and drawn Dedacciai aluminum tubing was a very light-footed and airy feeling. Modern aluminum is worlds apart from the aluminum bikes I grew up riding. For one, metallurgy technology has come a long way over the past thirty years. Another point worth making is that Dedacciai is made in Italy, where these Bokeh V3 frames are made, making it easy for Mason to specify certain profiles and shapes and fine-tune the ride quality and frame design in one fell swoop without too much back and forth between supply chains across the globe.
Speaking of swoops. These swoopy curves have programmatic reasons. In the above photo, you can see the “Bowtail” profile of the chain and seat stays, bent in all sorts of curves, springing from the ovalized top tube of the frame. These stays are bent in such a way to allow for clearance for the flat mount disc caliper on the non-drive side and to avoid chainslap on the driveside when you’re in the smaller toothed cogs on the cassette.
If you are worried about chainslap, you can run 3M Mastic tape on the top of the chainstay, but to be honest, I didn’t experience any chainslap at all.
Another benefit to these shapely tubing profiles is to allow the rear of the bike to act as a spring. Granted, this is not a sensation you will feel like actual, active suspension or passive suspension like a eeSilk seatpost. But if the seat stays were straight and not shaped as they are, it would stiffen the bike up considerably. More tubing material, bent in more ways, means more dispersing of vibrations too.
Overall, Mason’s dedication to frame detailing, engineering, and treating their bikes like ridable, utilitarian sculptures created one smooth ride from a material that often gets unfairly categorized as being overly stiff. And if you’re still not convinced, Mason makes the Bokeh in Titanium, the crown jewel of bicycle frame materials.
A Hot Rod for Dry Places
Coming off the Santa Cruz Stigmata, a bike that I used as a proper mixed terrain machine, riding pavement, gravel roads, rutted 4×4 track and singletrack on, the Bokeh to me felt more like a dedicated road bike; paved road, chip-seal roads, hardpack roads, gravel roads. For starters, the parallel geometry felt more at home in this terrain. It’s a quick, fast-to-accelerate, predictable, and stable bike that feels more sure-footed the faster you take the descents. The front end isn’t slacked out, meaning the responsiveness of it was predictable and instantaneous.
With some bikes, steering and wielding them is a total body endeavor but the Bokeh careened with the slightest movement of my hips. It felt planted as I dipped my hips into turns and stayed planted on loose terrain when the road got rough. The 45mm tires provided all the absorption and damping I needed when encountering road corrugations and rain ruts. It climbed familiarity, feeling like a classic road bike in terms of my hip deflection and riding position.
I do enjoy a fast-paced pedal as there’s no greater feeling than an elevated heart rate and the endorphins released during and after these quick rides. While in Southern Arizona, my rides ran the gamut from end-of-day cool-downs from work to 3+ hour hammer fests, and due to the tubing, geometry, and tire size, I never felt exhausted from the bike beating me up, rather by my own doing. At moments of cool down, the road geometry allowed for comfortable re-centering while I focused on my breathing. Fast-paced riding often gets a backseat over here, personally, and while I enjoy longer, more arduous rides in the summer, my winter riding, while infrequent, is often at a quicker pace.
My days of racing are over, but the Bokeh 3 would be an incredible ally for such endeavors for all the reasons mentioned above.
A Quintessential Qualm
One of the by-products of a great riding bike that handles like a road bike, rides like a road bike, and honestly feels more like a road bike–in the best ways possible–is it’ll most likely have toe overlap when you put 45mm tires on it. Granted I have a size 47 shoe and my bike fit requires me to run my cleats all the way back, towards my heal, but I’d feel gross not pointing out the biggest issue I found with the Bokeh, in favor of a gleaming review.
Now, some context. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: toe overlap doesn’t matter on bikes. Or rather, it is made out to be a bigger issue than it is in online groups and forums. I’d prefer to have a bike that handles marvelously, thanks to a parallel geometry, 50 mm offset, and a trail number around 62 mm, than have a bike where the head tube has been slackened a degree or more. According to my rough math, it’d have to have a whole 1.5º slacker head angle to eliminate toe overlap completely with my size 47 shoes.
The only times you will encounter toe overlap are while track standing and passing through cycling gates at trailheads. I.e. very, low-speed, tight maneuvering, low consequence moments. If you’re cutting your wheel this sharply on your normal rides, you’re doing something wrong on a bike like this. I’ve spoken about how the Bokeh is not a singletrack bike and this is one of those reasons.
So could Mason eliminate the toe overlap? Most certainly. But I would argue not by changing the angles or fork rake, but by lengthening the top tube and shortening the stem. Is that ideal? Not in my opinion but I also feel like the toe overlap didn’t take away from the superb ride quality of this bike in any way whatsoever.
It’s also worth noting that the Bokeh can run 650b / 27.5″ wheels to help dial in toe clearance.
Take-Away and TL;DR
While big, rugged, fat-tire touring bikes are a blast to ride and tour on, there’s something to be said about sprinting around on a light and airy gravel bike with lower rolling resistance and a good, stable 1x drivetrain setup. The Mason Bokeh 3 is a lightweight, aluminum chassis gravel road bike that is at home on hard-packed surfaces. Be it asphalt, chip-seal, hardpack dirt, gravel, or even smooth double-track, the Bokeh provides sharp focus in hard efforts, blurring its surroundings.
With versatility in mind, it has a number of provisions for longer (or even short) trips, with fender, rack, and cargo accouterments. You won’t have to worry about a bag rubbing through layers of carbon fiber on the frame, as it’s made from resilient and sprightly Dedacciai tubing that won’t leave you feeling beaten up or sore from excessive road vibrations.
While the size 58 cm I rode weighed only 22.6 lb with pedals and bottle cages, my size 47 shoe did have a fair amount of toe overlap. Yet, I feel that isn’t too great of a concern for this bike’s use case.
The Mason Bokeh 3 is a proper do-it-all dropbar dirt road bike for people who prefer riding consistent surfaces but don’t mind the occasional sprinkling of rough stuff. It’s perfectly adapted to be a bike for “all roads” and even a bike for lightweight bike tours. Part of its charm is that it doesn’t require the latter to come alive or for you to feel sated.
- Lightweight, Dedacciai frame.
- Versatile carbon Mason Cycles fork
- Plenty of places for bolt-on provisions
- Generous tire clearance for 650b/27.5 or 700 wheels
- Parallel geometry across the larger sizes
- Proper road bike geometry
- Stunning finishing, detailing, and tubing profiles.
- Great colors.
- Made in Italy
- Great value at with a GRX 12-speed build kit coming in at £3,300.
- More expensive than similar bikes in its domain
- Toe overlap for big-footed riders
- Geometry not consistent across all sizes
Check out more at Mason Cycles!