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Moots Routt RSL Titanium gravel bike review

Is there more to a bike than the raw performance numbers?

A silver Moots Routt RSL bike stands free in a car park
(Image: © Josh Ross)

Our Verdict

If raw performance numbers are your only metric, it won’t make sense, but if you value the feeling a head tube badge carries, Moots is already on your shortlist and the Routt RSL is your option if you want a racier gravel bike.

For

  • Tons of customisation available
  • Beautiful and functional stem and seatpost
  • Comfortable ride quality
  • Three bottle mounts
  • Hand-built
  • 50mm tyre clearance

Against

  • Some toe overlap
  • Heavy

The Moots brand of bikes comes from the mind of Kent Erikson. He started building custom frames in 1978 and over 40 years later, his company still exists. Kent isn't part of the brand anymore but those that are continue to build handmade frames in the USA and the name has reached the level of cultural touchstone. In the early days, Moots had a reputation for off-road designs and that's still what most of the products cater to. It's a brand that has remained close to its lineage, despite continually evolving and moving forward. 

The Moots Routt RSL would fit in among our list of the best gravel bikes and now we've had a chance to spend some time with it. For many people, a Moots of any kind is a dream bike, and if you've ever wondered what it's like to actually ride, keep reading to hear our thoughts. We did something special with it and now we are ready to tell you about the experience. 

Moots Routt RSL detail of headtube badge

Moots is a brand steeped in heritage (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Design and aesthetics

Despite what the website says, Moots currently has three gravel bikes available. They all have the same maximum tyre clearance of 50mm which is a limit that comes from the frame in the rear, not the fork. The 45 and the YBB are the endurance options and they get a slightly more endurance friendly geometry. The only difference between the two is that the YBB has an active rear suspension system. The last of the three options is the Routt RSL and it's the racier choice. 

According to Moots, not only is the RSL the racy option, but it's also the most advanced of the three bikes. The Routt RSL is the bike Moots says "encompasses everything we've learned in 40 years of frame building." While the endurance bikes use straight gauge tubing, the Routt RSL gets the best tubing Moots works with. It's custom-butted to maximise strength where it's needed and drop weight where it's not, and the tubing diameters differ depending on which of the seven sizes are being ordered.

At the rear of the bike, the RSL gets trick 3D-printed titanium drop-outs on both sides. When manufacturing still involves hand welding there are challenges around heat management that arise. In this case, 3D printing is a solution to a quirk of flat mount disc brake designs. While a post-mount moves the mounting point a bit away from the chainstay, the reality of welding flat-mount tabs can mean heat build-up and warping. Moots uses 3D printing to solve the challenge and on the RSL it uses it on both sides for greater strength with less weight. 

The frames Moots manufactures aren't totally custom but they are incredibly close. If you want to add a bit of height to your headtube, it's available as a free option. Then you can choose one of eight different finishing options, plus the option to prep it for paint. Unlike a brand like Firefly that lets the end-user go crazy with any look they want, Moots tries to steer its customers towards a more defined aesthetic endpoint. It offers lots of options but nothing that overwhelms the beauty of the titanium and workmanship. There's a timelessness to the look of a Moots and no matter when you buy your frame it's not going to look out of place compared to those that came before, or after, yours. 

Specifications and build

As discussed, you can spec everything in whatever way you want to. The seatpost and stem are Moots titanium pieces and both are works of art in their own right. At the front of the bike the handlebars come from fellow American brand Enve in the form of the Enve G Series Gravel Handlebar that we've featured on our list of best gravel handlebars. The saddle is the Selle Italia SLR Boost Gravel Superflow Saddle with titanium rails that match the bike perfectly. Down at the bottom of the bike, there's a threaded bottom bracket for easy maintenance and no creaking. 

When it comes to options for groupsets all the pricing is very close and at this level, it's likely to be more of a choice of preference vs pricing. If you'd like mechanical then there's an option for Shimano GRX 2x and if you'd like to stay with 1x then SRAM Rival XPLR AXS 1x wide is available. The other three options are Rival AXS 2x, Force AXS 2x, or GRX Di2 in a 2x configuration. Keep in mind that you can spec anything that will fit. If you want to move to different build, there's no reason that you can't make a change during the ordering process.

Wheel options include other American options. There's Chris King GRD 23 at the base level. Or you can step into upgrade options. The first level is Enve G23 and from there it moves to HED with either the Emporia GC3 Performance or the HED Emporia GC3 Pro. The frame is disc brake only so all the wheel options reflect that. 

Moots Routt RSL loaded bike back from an epic adventure

Freshly back from a long and difficult, but fun, ride.  (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Ride, handling and performance

Moots describes itself as a "cultural touchstone" in the bike industry. If you roll up to a group ride on a Moots it's a statement that transcends just about any detail. The bike isn't faster, it will not climb mountains for you, and it will not do something another bike will not. The purchase is going to be about the feeling that the brand story brings and not because of the yearly churn in the carbon performance bike market. 

With all this in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to do something special with the limited time I had on the bike. It just so happened that not far from my house an ultra-endurance race was going to set off on a weekend I could arrange to have the Moots Routt RSL. It was an opportunity that was too good to pass up. 

After taking delivery of the bike, I made a few small changes to fit the event. The Enve G series handlebars are some of my favourite handlebars of all time and the stock Lizard Skin bar tape is some of the best on the market so no changes there. I'd never ridden the Selle Italia SLR Boost Gravel Superflow saddle but it turned out to be incredibly comfortable. It also offered a nice long clamping area so despite needing a setback seatpost, and not having it, I was just able to meet my fit. 

Making this change did mean interacting with the seatpost. As mentioned, this is a Moots specific piece and is worth mentioning because the clamping system is so wonderful. It's possible to loosen the clamp from either side and slide the saddle without having to juggle the tilt. I wish more brands had something this easy to work with. 

The only other change I made was to the wheel and tyre combination. I just had the opportunity to review the included HED Emporia GC3 Pro and they are a perfect match for the bike. In this case though, I knew I'd be covering a lot of fast gravel roads, or paved roads, so I opted for a more aerodynamic wheel. I swapped in the Hunt Limitless 42 wheels with American Classic Kimberlite tyres and Muc-Off sealant mixed with Hold Fast Cycling Highland Dust sealant enhancer. I also strapped on a collection of Brooks bikepacking bags. I did not take advantage of the third bottle cage because there was room for bigger bottles and places to refill on my route.  

A couple of days later, I set out on the Moots RSL with the intention of riding for about 35 hours. Over the next 18 hours I covered a total of 320km / 200 miles including 3,500m / 11,500ft of elevation. There were gravel roads, a short section of rough hike-a-bike, and a lot of tarmac. As the rain set in after more than 12 hours of riding, I decided that I was going to head home. I was wishing I'd put the mudguard mounts to use, but more importantly, I hadn't accounted for the climbing. The event was really a three-day route and I hadn't budgeted that time, so I headed for a roundabout route home.

What I found is that all the descriptions of titanium ride quality ring true. There really is a magical feeling. As I parsed out the feeling over the next few days it came to me that the best way to talk about it is to talk about a feeling of density. It's possible to use carbon layup to create an endurance-focused bike but it always has a brittle feel to it. It's stiff, strong, and light, but it lacks the feeling of density that the titanium has. There's still a liveliness but vibrations die in a different way.

It's not just the frame material though. Moots is a brand with the experience of marrying the material to the design. The curves of the seatstays and the butting of the tubes all contribute to the wonderful ride feel. There's a ton of stiffness in the front end with the carbon fork adding a bit more playfulness and the geometry keeping things both comfortable and lively. There’s a small bottom bracket drop that keeps the bike feeling manoeuvrable but an upright position and a relatively long wheelbase offer comfort and stability.

The only thing that bothered me right from the very beginning was the groupset. Shimano GRX Di2 was groundbreaking when it hit the market, but in my opinion, it's becoming outdated. Moots doesn't include the wireless module, so when I was riding through the dark and rain on a loaded and unfamiliar bike it was tough to gauge where I was in the cassette and I couldn’t rely on my head unit, and I found the available gearing to be a regular point of frustration. 

The Moots frame isn’t the lightest option on the market. The weight for the frame is 1,400g (claimed, frame only, size 54cm) and 475g claimed for the fork. Still, I never felt like I was being held back by the frame, even with the extra weight I was carrying. It can be tough to judge uphill speed but easy to tell if a bike isn’t a good climbing partner. Often it comes down to the way the frame responds to the inputs of standing and putting power through it. The Moots Routt RSL is stiff, both in the front end and in the bottom bracket area, so when you stand and ask it to respond on a climb, it does. It’s a similar feeling if you ask it to sprint but with a loaded bike, on a very long ride, there’s not much sprinting. It did prove an ample partner though when I wanted to catch a competitor after stopping to adjust my light.

Despite the capabilities of the frame though, the groupset felt like it was holding it back. The gearing was constantly on my mind. As the roads headed up I felt under-geared. I had to stand more and ride at lower cadences than I would have liked. Wonderful for testing a frame but not so ideal for riding through the night. Then, when it was time to descend I kept looking for one more gear down low. If you decide to pick up a Moots bike you are well into superbike territory. Do yourself a favour and spec a SRAM AXS XPLR groupset. 

Verdict

How we test

For information on Cyclingnews' testing protocol and how our scoring system works, see our how we test page.

This is a bike that defies easy, numerical grading. When people see a Moots bike there's a sharp intake of breath. They want to look at it and there's often a discussion about how it's a dream bike. The frames do evolve over time but they aren't ruled by the year-over-year incremental performance gains. Trying to measure a Moots against performance features doesn't work. You have to think of it as buying a piece of functional art. The price isn't about what it does, it's about how it makes people feel. 

It's for that reason I moved my critique of the GRX groupset to the performance section and didn't list it as a negative. When you walk through the purchase experience with a Moots representative, you'll have every opportunity to choose a different groupset. I recommend taking that opportunity but the frame will remain the same quality no matter what choice you make. It's not just the frame either, the wheels, the saddle, the seatpost, the stem, and the handlebars are all perfect choices for the bike and they represent the very best of what's available. 

What I did list as negatives are that there’s toe overlap on a size 54 frame and also that the finish has a tendency to polish easily. For me, toe overlap is a fact of life and exists in some form on almost every bike I’ve ever ridden. As for the finish I’d recommend being liberal with helicopter tape if you put bags on the bike. 

If you are thinking about a Moots, probably your biggest choice is going to be about which one. With that in mind, I'd say the Routt RSL is going to be the best drop-bar bike that Moots makes for most people. This is the case with racier grave bikes in general but especially true when talking about a Moots where the frame material, and geometry, favour comfort. The RSL will work well as a road bike with the right wheels. When it's time to get adventurous, swap in gravel wheels with 50mm tyres and there's little you won't be ready to take on. 

Testing scorecard and notes
AttributesNotesRating
Design and aesthetics It’s a genre of aesthetics. If you like the style, Moots is among the best.10/10
Components The stem and seatpost are gorgeous Moots pieces. Everything else can be hand-selected to your preference.10/10
Performance, handling and geometryUpright geometry and low BB drop creates a comfortable, manoeuvrable bike.10/10
WeightTitanium is never going to be as light as carbon but it’s competitive.8/10
Value for moneyIt's hard to say this is a bike about value6/10
Overall rating88%

Logbook: Moots Routt RSL

  • Temperature: 2-20 C / 36-68 F
  • Weather: Overcast and rainy
  • Road surface: Chip seal tarmac, gravel roads, and a bit of single track
  • Route: 160km / 100 miles of heavy climbing with a variety of road surfaces before switching to an equal amount of mostly flat riding.
  • Rides: 1
  • Mileage: 322km / 200 miles

Tech Specs: Moots Routt RSL

  • Price: $12,654 as ridden (pricing will differ from build to build)
  • Frame: Moots Routt RSL
  • Size: 54
  • Weight: 8622 grams, size 54, with HED Emporia GC3 Pro wheels and no pedals
  • Groupset: Shimano GRX Di2
  • Crankset: Shimano GRX 2X 48/31
  • Cassette: Shimano GRX 11-34T
  • Wheels: Tested with Hunt Limitless 42
  • Tyres: Tested with American Classic Kimberlite 40mm
  • Handlebar: Enve Gravel Handlebar
  • Brakes: Shimano GRX Hydraulic Disc
  • Bar/stem: Moots Titanium
  • Seatpost: Moots Titanium
  • Saddle: Selle Italia SLR Boost Gravel Superflow Saddle

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Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minutia of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer will be yes.
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 137 lb.
Rides: Orbea Orca Aero, Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Trek Checkpoint, Priority Continuum Onyx