One Ride With Shimano GRX Gravel Group on an Ibis Hakka MX

The Old Growth Classic took place this past weekend – 500 riders took to a grueling 55-mile course through coastal redwoods and old-growth groves. At the end of the day over 8,000′ of elevation gain would be throbbing through the legs of every person that crossed the start and finish lines. I had planned on bringing my Sklar with me to ride and photograph the course, but Ibis reached out and asked if I’d like to ride their Hakka MX with Shimano’s GRX drivetrain and a new ENVE spec build. Here’s what I thought about the build kit on this bike, specifically GRX…

Ibis Hakka MX

Last year, we gave an in-depth look at the Hakka MX, a revitalization of the brand’s flagship drop bar ‘cross bike. The Hakka is a veritable all-road, built around either a 700c or 27.5 wheel platform. I particularly liked the latter wheel size with a plump tire to take on our rough roads in Los Angeles and the same would apply for the Old Growth Classic route. My reasoning being is that the Hakka is a stiff bike and the fatter tires really soften not only the road but the frame’s ride as well. Yet, this stiffness doesn’t mean the bike is heavy. At 1000g for the frame, the Hakka is a lightweight all-road bike. The overall build was impressive and if I had a scale with me, I’d wager it would be around 18lbs. It’s nice to ride a bike that is lighter than my camera bag for races like this!

New for this year is the off-white bone color, which, in my opinion, is the best color in the three options for the Hakka. Also new for this model year, is an ENVE build spec, shown here, featuring ENVE’s Gravel Bar, post, and stem. The Gravel Bars were a real treat. At 48cm from the hoods and 60cm at the drops, they offer a little amount of flare without being too exaggerated. I tend to prefer classic, shallow drops for all-road riding but was impressed at how well these bars rode, especially with the new Shimano GRX hood design, which we’ll touch on later.

For $4399.00, the GRX Hakka includes Ibis’ 733 Alloy wheels, the aforementioned ENVE bits, 27.5 x 2.1″ Thunder Burt tires, Praxis Zayante M30 Carbon cranks, and that new Shimano GRX drivetrain.

Shimano GRX

It’s kind of hard to not do an eye-roll when a brand announces it has developed the “world’s first gravel drivetrain” especially considering people like Ira Ryan were racing – and winning – Trans Iowa on downtube shifters and 28mm tires just fine. Yet, here we are, in a new era where the cycling industry has really embraced the world of gravel riding and racing. Still, my nagging question was what makes a gravel drivetrain different than a ‘cross drivetrain? Is there a difference? In short, no, but that’s not entirely fair either. There are some nice details in the GRX system that feels at home to all-road riding.

The first and most noticeable difference that sets the GRX apart from the rest of Shimano’s catalog are the shifters. With a textured, ribbed profile, and a level palm platform, they felt like an extension of the handlebars, with a bit more grip. I really loved the shape of the hoods too! They gave a solid grip when descending the rutted and loose roads in Santa Cruz. In fact, I found myself wanting to descend on the hoods just to see if my hands would slip at all. I should also note that I didn’t wear gloves at all on the ride.

Like new bar tape with a lot of tactility, the hoods will feel much different on your bare hands, especially coming from SRAM hoods. I did find that initially, I had to take some breaks and shake my hands out, as the ribs felt like they had too much grip. 15 miles in, however, I was habituated to the design and really began to enjoy it. The shifting from these levers is on-par with Shimano’s other kits. That’s partially due to the shifters and the newly-designed rear derailleur.

The GRX rear mech comes in two sizes: Shadow RD+ – 42T and Shadow RD+ – 34T. This means one has a max cog size of 42t and the other 34t. I like to think of them as a mountain and a hill derailleur. The Hakka I reviewed had a 40t front Praxis ring and the 42t cassette. Which, I would have liked a 38t front for the steep and loose hills but overall, it was ideal gearing for the Old Growth Classic.

On the rough roads, the adjustable stabilizer – one of the Shadow RD+’s technical features – maintained proper chain tension and minimized chain slap on the Hakka’s carbon chainstay and never skipped a beat when shifting under load.

The GRX flat-mount brakes did their job without screeching or chattering and look great with their minimal design, tucked up into the end of the chainstay. 

As far as critiques of the overall system, I really don’t have much to offer. Other than as someone who prefers a 1x drivetrain for off-road riding, I did miss the 10t cog from my SRAM system when pedaling on the descents. The 11-42t offered plenty of climbing range but that 10t cog makes a world of difference. I will say that it would be nice if the Shadow would fit a 46t CS-M8000 cassette too. The hoods will definitely take some getting used to as well with their ribbed profile but the enhanced ergonomics combined with a bar like the ENVE Gravel Bar make the overall riding experience a real treat.

You don’t need a special group to ride gravel roads or even a special bike for that matter, yet it is nice to see companies designing products specific to said activities, even if gravel riding has been a thing for well over 100 years. Check out more information on the Ibis Hakka MX at Ibis, the GRX system at Shimano, and the Gravel Bars at ENVE.