Object of desire: Cinelli Nemo Gravel bike

Modern-day design requirements and a brand's fundamental principles combine to create a truly stunning bike

Object of desire: Cinelli Nemo Gravel bike
(Image: © Daniel Benson)

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There are just a handful of brands within cycling that come with the level of history and prestige to rival or exceed Cinelli. Founded in 1948 by the late Cino Cinelli, the Cinelli company has become a watchword for quality and innovation. Think Cinelli and the elegance and beauty of the Supercorsa comes to mind, and if not Supercorsa, then the iconic full disc Laser Hour Record bike or the banned Spinaci bars. The Cinelli name is a hallmark for excellence.

Recently, the Italian brand has been in the news after it changed owners for just the second time in its history after Asobi Ventures Inc, a Texan-based group, acquired a majority stake in the company that until just a few weeks ago rested in the capable hands of Antonio Colombo, who took over from Cino Cinelli several decades ago. Cinelli would turn his back on cycling forever after relinquishing control, retiring to the Tuscan hills to become an olive grower but the main foundations on which his company were built on have survived to this day.

That’s why when the Cinelli brand dipped its toes into the ever-expanding gravel market it was a significant moment in the Italian company’s history.

There are a number of striking features that immediately stand out with the Nemo Gravel. The first is just the immaculate nature of the Columbus Spirit HSS triple-butted steel tubing and classic lines and expert welding. The first impression is that the authentic nature of the Cinelli-Colombus DNA hasn’t been compromised, although there are a few modifications that help differentiate this from Cinelli’s road models. For example, the geometry has been tweaked, so there’s added wheel clearance – at the front, it’s still less than a width of a finger, although you can accommodate 40c tyres. The chainstays are longer, and there are some neat additions such as internal cabling, flat mount disc brakes, a Columbus Futura Gravel monocoque fork that allows for mud-guard installation, and mounts on the top tube that accommodate the needs of bikepackers and longer gravel adventures.

At 1900g for the frame and a further 450g for the fork, the combined weight is on the side of robust but everything is relative and depends on the rider’s specific requirements. If like this rider, you’re not in need of an out-and-out gravel race bike; your pre and post-ride nutrition involves copious amounts of crisps; and your love of cycling has little to do with watts or weight-saving, then the overall load of the Nemo is unlikely to put you off, and if they truly are leading considerations then there are areas around the rest of the top-end spec that claws back some of those additional grams.

Overall though, the delicate details of the frame build, combined with the stunning artistry of the paintwork, and sleek front forks bind to create a spectacular looking machine. While the frameset is rich in beauty and style, there are plenty of other eye-catching features.

One of the main highlights is the Campagnolo Ekar 13-speed gravel groupset. Having had experience with GRX and a number of other groups I was eager to get my hands on Campagnolo’s new flagship gravel offering. The Ekar 1 didn’t disappoint. The one-by element takes some getting used to if you typically ride a double chainring but aside from that it’s clear to see why the componentry has been so well received. Shifting is faultless with each interchange impeccably accompanied by a solid ‘clunk’ that gives both reassurance and confidence. The two-step shifting mechanism on the inside of the hood provides two positions from which the rider can up-shift through the gears, with the second step making it easier to change if your hands are down on the drops.

This particular bike came with a 40-tooth chainring and a 9/42 cassette and whether out on the country lanes or ratting across gravel the Ekar 1 stood up. If like me, you don’t have instant access to gravel roads, and you’re looking for a bike that maintains its performance on the road then the Nemo will meet those requirements but it’s very much a bike that comes alive on gravel.

On over 300 miles of riding across road and gravel, the chain didn’t drop once, and while the design of the groupset means that the rider can’t shift down and brake at the same time, that never once became an issue. If weight is a factor the Ekar 1 comes in at a claimed 2,385g, so lighter than most groupsets in the same sphere of influence, but the real selling point is just the sheer ride quality.

It takes some time to adjust your cadence and to become familiar with the cassette ratios on offer but whether it was on nine per cent inclines through the Devonshire countryside or along gravel trails, the 9/42 had everything covered.

The hoods deserve praise too. They’re perfectly set up for gravel needs with a curved top section that points inwards and provides not just an extra hand position but some much-needed safety when you hit some heavier off-road surfaces or are just caught out by the terrain. It never feels as though your hands are locked in but curved hoods provide just enough support for virtually any level of gravel.

There’s also a neat section of compound material just under the hoods that’s gently grooved and offers grips for your fingers when you’re riding on top of the hoods.

The rest of the cockpit is built around the Swamp Bar and Via Stem, both made by Cinelli. Handlebars were part of late Cino Cinelli’s early products and the brand hasn’t lost its way over the last 70-plus years when it comes to its standards. The Swamp Bar is designed for gravel riding, with its double-butted aluminium construction capable of absorbing bumps in the surface but it’s clear that Cinelli has also thought long and hard about the combination of its componentry on the Nemo too. The front end absorbs but doesn’t dampen the control of the ride, while the Miche CarboGraff N3W carbon fibre wheelset is an excellent combination for riders who need to combine sections of road and gravel into one.

Overall it’s clear why the Cinelli Nemo belongs in the bracket of Object of Desire. Cinelli and Object of Desire almost roll off the tongue as if the very words were meant for each other. This is a stunning machine that holds up beautifully across road and gravel. It provides a sumptuous ride that mixes the best elements of steel – comfort, strength, and great handling – while also blending in requirements for gravel riders. This particular build has a retail price of £6,449, which does verge on the edge of extravagant, despite being in line with the best gravel bikes. But for cyclists who adore the look and feel of Italian steel, and want to bring themselves closer to cycling’s history then the Nemo Gravel is a wonderful accompaniment.

Tech Specs: Cinelli Nemo Gravel

  • Frame: Cinelli Nemo Gravel Special Order Paint – Gold/Pink Flip
  • Groupset: Campagnolo EKAR groupset-40t chainring-9/42 cassette-170mm chainset (customers can choose length and ratios)
  • Rotors: Campagnolo AFS rotors (160/140mm)
  • Stem: Cinelli Via Stem (customers can choose length – typically specifies 100mm)
  • Seatpost: Cinelli Via Seatpost 27.2mm
  • Handlebar: Cinelli Swamp Bar 42cm
  • Bar tape: Cinelli 3D Volee Tape
  • Saddle: Prologo Scratch M5 AGX TiroX Saddle 140
  • Wheels: Miche CarboGraff N3W wheelset 700c
  • Tyres: Schwalbe G-One Allround 700x38c TLE (set tubeless – customer can request at no extra cost)
  • Sealant: Doc Blue sealant

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.