A fast, left-field gravel bike option for those who prefer exclusivity over ubiquity
- Stiff, made-to-measure Italian frameset
- Beautiful design, handpainted graphics and quality workmanship
- Fast and adaptable, and able to double up as both a road- and gravel-bike option
- Ride quality can be firm at times
- Pricier than its rivals and more established marques
The gravel market is the most rapidly growing niche at the moment, with virtually every manufacturer surfing the proverbial dust cloud. However, it's not just the industry perennials that are finding favour among cyclists looking for an answer to the gravel-bike conundrum, but fringe brands, too.
Take boutique Italian bike maker, DeAnima, for example. While new to many, the company has a rich heritage when it comes to building made-to-measure frames, having opened doors in 2014 with Gianni Pegoretti - brother of master frame builder Dario - at the helm.
During this time the company has grown from strength to strength and boasts a comprehensive frameset portfolio spanning options forged from both steel and high-grade carbon fibre.
The company has recently added the Soul to its line-up - a dedicated gravel bike with racy geometry which DeAnima claims 'can go most places'.
With that in mind, we decided to test the Soul on a variety of terrain surfaces and situations to see just how capable it really is as an every day gravel-bike option.
Design and geometry
It's difficult to dispute the visual presence of the Soul, especially when tricked out in the visual design you see here. While the frameset can be optioned as a fully painted version, the exposed carbon weave of our test bike is an engaging package nonetheless thanks to the playful relationship between the decorative DeAnima logo - reversed out of colourful blocks - and Zebra-like motif. The overall design is super clean thanks to internal cable routing, a 12mm front/rear thru-axle configuration and flat-mount disc brackets.
From the paint to the construction of the carbon-fibre tubing the DeAnima Soul is all about craftsmanship. Each frame is handpainted and manufactured in-house by either Gianni Pegoretti or Antonio Attanasio - no transfer stickers or electro-static finishing kits here, a notion that echoes the company's artisanal virtues. The carbon weave visible through the clear coat - while beautiful and complementary - isn't a wrap but rather a legitimate meld of unidirectional carbon fibre and weaved fabric. The frame is modular in construction and comprises Toray T8000s tubes joined with HM3K carbon pre-preg to bolster strength and reduce weight, ideal for taking customised geometry into consideration.
Speaking of geometry, the Soul is available in both standard sizes (48 to 62cm with 1cm increments) or custom sizing options. With the Soul, DeAnima set out to create a light and fast bike that can handle the rigours of off-road riding but still function as a super-agile and responsive road bike. As such, it borrows several cues from the firm's Unblended road bike and combines them with a slightly more relaxed front end and a longer, gravel-specific wheelbase which helps ensure a fast yet tidy handling bike.
Components and build
Each bike in DeAnima's portfolio is sold as a frameset. Our test bike was built and sent to us by Blacksmith Cycle in Canada, the same bike shop that was tasked with building and maintaining the DeAnima test fleet during Roval's recent Terra CLX gravel wheel launch. The Soul is built around SRAM's Force 1 groupset, a 1x11 build kit that utilises a clutch-equipped derailleur, hydraulic brakes and 175mm carbon cranks.
Deda Elementi componentry features heavily in this particular build and everything from the headset bearings and handlebar to the stem, 27.2mm seatpost and bar tape come from the Italian manufacturer. Other bits include a 179g Fizik Antares R1 Versus Evo saddle, Supacaz Fly Cage Ano bottle cages and Shimano XT M8100 pedals.
The wheels are Roval's Terra CLX gravel design wrapped in Specialized Trigger Pro 38c rubber. These gravel wheels feature a 25mm internal width, DT Swiss-built hubs with 180 EXP internals and hooked rim design for added security when running high and low pressures. Weighing in at a mere 1296g, the Roval CLX wheels are the lightest gravel offering currently available and help keep the Soul's already low mass to a minimum - a medium Soul weighs 7.89kg without pedals.
Ride, handling and performance
The Soul rides very much like the Basso Palta I tested a few months back in Spain and that's because it possesses very much a road-bike-like geometry and aggressive riding position. The frame is incredibly stiff thanks to the chunky, squared-off downtube and reinforced bottom bracket area - and while this ensures power transfer is immediate it does bring the ride quality into question, particularly when traversing corrugated terrain.
I could, however, tailor the ride quality to a certain extent by manipulating pressure of the Specialized Trigger Pro 38c tyres (the frame has clearance for tyres up to 40mm). In this case, the happy medium in terms of tyre psi was 21 front, 25 rear for this 62kg rider. The Trigger rubber compound was super grippy on the dirt but also fast rolling on tarmac and relayed all sorts of information and feedback through the super-stiff and extremely light Roval Terra CLX wheels when scything through singletrack and off-camber gravel corners. While the handling can be a touch on the twitchy side during cornering manoeuvres, quelling this sensation is more a case of braking sooner so as not to unsettle the weight balance mid-corner.
'The SRAM stoppers are powerful and allow for precise squirts of force to be applied in an accurate and calculated manner'
The SRAM Force brakes are superb items. The SRAM stoppers are powerful and allow for precise squirts of force to be applied in an accurate and calculated manner. Chain slap and chain drop are non-existent thanks not only to the roller-bearing clutch in the rear derailleur but also the narrow-wide X-Sync tooth profiles found on the front chainrings and jockey wheels.
Utilising a single 42t chainring and 10-42T cassette, the Soul can work up a fairly decent head of steam on the flats without spinning out - around 48kph at 100rpm to be precise. It also climbs well and never feels laboured, even when the gradient kicks upwards, a result owing to its impressively low kerbweight and 42 x 42 bottom gear.
The DeAnima Soul is a fast bike - no question. It climbs and descends like a road bike and although the Italian company describes it as an out-and-out gravel bike it's a far racier proposition in my opinion.
While the ride quality did come across somewhat jarring during the first few test rides, experimentation with tyre pressures and bike set-up transformed it into a more-than-capable gravel exploration machine. In fact, once everything was dialled in it did a commendable job dispatching muddy singletrack and open gravel roads. That said, it always felt more at home and more urgent on firmer surfaces like hard-pack gravel and tarmac rather than choppy, rowdy terrain.
Overall, the DeAnima Soul is a well-made quality gravel offering aimed at riders who prefer performance and speed over comfort, and enjoy mixing up road rides with a bit of dirt on the side. That's not to say the Soul can't be enjoyed exclusively on trails alone but the direct and often firm ride quality is an acquired taste.
A DeAnima Soul frameset will set you back £2,945, while the build you see here will come in at a price point of £6,040.
- Temperature: 5-10 degrees
- Weather: Moderate wind, showers
- Trail/road surface: Wet
- Route: Tarmac, singletrack, gravel roads
- Mileage: 450km (349km on gravel, 101km on tarmac)
Specifications: DeAnima Soul
- Price: £2,945 (frameset), £6,040 (SRAM Force build)
- Frame: Carbon
- Size: 54cm, medium
- Weight: 7.89kg (950g, medium frame)
- Groupset: SRAM Force 1
- Crankset: SRAM Force, 175mm carbon cranks. 42T, 11-42T cassette
- Wheels: Roval Terra CLX
- Tyres: Specialized Trigger Pro 38c
- Brakes: SRAM Force 1 hydraulic
- Bar/stem: Deda Gravel 100RHM bar and Deda Zero stem
- Bottle cages: Supacaz Fly Cage Ano
- Seatpost: Deda Zero 100
- Saddle: Fizik Antares R1 Versus Evo