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Sonder Camino AL gravel bike review – a budget-friendly bikepacking rig

A capable and confidence-inspiring gravel bike that won’t break the bank

A blue Sonder Camino gravel bike on some singletrack
(Image: © Mildred Locke)

Our Verdict

The Sonder Camino AL is a good quality gravel bike that’s affordable and capable of everything from short whips on local trails to bikepacking in the wilderness

For

  • Budget-friendly price tag
  • Decent quality build
  • Rugged and capable
  • Lots of mounting points for accessories

Against

  • Aluminium frame can feel a bit harsh on the rougher stuff
  • Could do with an XS frame option

Sonder Bikes is part of Alpkit, the B-Corp accredited outdoor store that produces good quality products for affordable prices. Its flagship gravel bike, the Camino, has been around for a while now, and we’ve spent a few months testing the Camino AL Apex 1 build in a variety of conditions, from fast and fun laps of the local woods, to fully laden bikepacking and all-day off-grid epics.

While there’s plenty of competition out there vying for a spot on our list of the best gravel bikes, finding one of the best gravel bikes under £1,000 can be quite a challenge, but we reckon the Sonder Camino AL makes a serious case for itself. Read on to find out why.

Design and specification

A blue Sonder Camino gravel bike on some singletrack

(Image credit: Mildred Locke)

The Sonder Camino AL Apex 1 is constructed from a 6061 aluminium frame and carbon monocoque fork, resulting in a relatively lightweight but sturdy build. According to Sonder, the Camino is “infused with DNA from cyclocross, gravel and adventure race bikes”, combining elements of relaxed geometry, such as the long wheel base and head tube, and slack 69-degree head angle, with more agility-focused aspects like a low 73mm bottom bracket drop, and short 435mm chainstays.

The frame comes with mounting points for mudguards at the front and rear, a pannier rack mount, and a few eyelets on each fork leg. 12mm bolt-through axles are used at both ends, and the frame has clearance for 700 x 50mm or 650b x 2.2in tyres.

The stock build for this version includes a SRAM 1x11-speed Apex 1 groupset and Sonder wheels shod with Donnelly X’Plor MSO TL tyres in 700c x 40mm width. Finishing kit is all Sonder’s own, including some widely flared Sonder Bomber handlebars and a unisex Sonder Abode saddle.

The overall aesthetic of the bike is fairly simple and easy on the eyes. A classic diamond frame with straight lines and round tubes makes this a pretty elegant choice for a sub-£1,000 gravel bike.

Performance

Taking the Camino out onto the gravel, it really shows off its capabilities very quickly. The build is excellent for what the bike is meant to do, and at this price point as well. SRAM’s Apex 1 drivetrain offers reliable shifting which, if you’re used to Shimano, takes a bit of adjusting to — tap the right shifter inwards once to go up a gear, or push it further in to go down — but it soon becomes second nature. While the gearing did need a bit of tuning up immediately after taking the bike out of the box, it was only a small amount of cable tension that needed adjustment, and the bike has ridden excellently ever since. The Apex brakes meanwhile provide reasonably powerful modulated braking performance, and I haven’t seen this change much throughout my testing period.

The aluminium frame feels sturdy, isn’t too heavy, and has plenty of room to carry accessories, should you decide to use the Camino for bikepacking. Admittedly the sizing isn’t ideal for someone of my height, and the smallest model is slightly too large for me, but I was able to ride it confidently and put it through enough paces to tell what it’s capable of.

On simple bridleways, smooth gravel and towpaths, the aluminium frame does a decent job of gliding through without jarring the wrists and elbows, while on road the frame feels plenty stiff to maintain a decent pace while knitting off-road sections together.

When you hit the rougher stuff - singletrack and designated mountain biking trails with roots, rock gardens and ruts - it’s not as jarring as you might expect and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it held its own. However, if you’re going out on an all-day epic, or planning some multi-day bikepacking, you might want to limit the amount of technical terrain you expose it to. After several hours in the saddle, the rough can get a bit too rough, causing some fatigue to build up in the wrists, elbows and shoulders.

While I have a personal preference for 650b wheels and chunky tyres - something I, unfortunately, didn’t have time to try out with the Sonder Camino - I found myself really enjoying the 700c wheels and quite impressed by the lesser-known Donnelly tyres that come stock with the bike.

The 11-42 cassette combined with a 40T single chainring offers a decent range of gears, including a lower-than one-to-one ratio for the big climbs, and while I’ve experienced better ranges with even spinnier gears, this is plenty enough for most cyclists to climb comfortably.

As a female cyclist, I will admit that the first thing I did when I got this bike was to swap out the saddle for something with a more suitable shape, as I know from personal experience that the shape of Sonder’s Abode saddle is something I do not get on well with, anatomically. For that reason, I can’t comment on the stock saddle’s performance, but anyone who can comfortably ride a unisex saddle with a long nose and lack of cut-out will probably have no issues with it.

My favourite aspect of the build has to be Sonder’s Bomber handlebars. They’re super flared with quite shallow drops, making them excellent for negotiating technical descents off-road, and I found them to offer a lot of stability when the ground felt anything other than stable.

Verdict

For anyone looking to get into gravel cycling or bikepacking, or upgrade from a cheap, entry-level bike, the Sonder Camino AL Apex 1 is an excellent choice. The build is good value for money, the price tag is only three-figures, and the bike itself has plenty of capability on a variety of terrains. Large tyre clearance and dual wheel size compatibility offers plenty of customisation opportunities. Meanwhile the frame is rugged and durable, and the handlebars especially make it a confidence-inspiring ride.

The only gripes I have are that after a long day on rough surfaces, arm fatigue is basically inevitable, and I’d love to see Sonder add an XS size to its lineup for those of us who aren’t 5ft 2 and above.

Testing scorecard and notes
AttributesNotesRating
Design and aesthetics Simple and classic looks8/10
Components A decent build for the price8/10
Performance, handling and geometryReally capable and confidence-inspiring, though arm fatigue sets in after a while7/10
WeightWeighing 11.3kg it's relatively heavy, and there are lighter gravel bikes out there at this price point7/10
Value for moneyGreat value for money8/10
Overall rating76%

Logbook: Sonder Camino AL Apex 1

  • Temperature: 10 to 29 degrees C
  • Weather:  Sun, rain, wind, cold, warm
  • Road surface: Road, light gravel, bridleways, singletrack, mud
  • Route:  Multiple routes around Bristol and the South West
  • Rides: 10+
  • Mileage: ~350km

Tech Specs: Sonder Camino AL Apex 1

  • Price: £999 / $TBC
  • Sizes: S*, M, L, XL (*tested)
  • Weight: 11.3kg (size S with pedals)
  • Frame: 6061 aluminium
  • Fork: Carbon monocoque
  • Shifters: SRAM Apex / 1x / 11-speed / mechanical
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM Apex / 11-speed / long cage
  • Crankset: SRAM Apex 1 / 1x / 172.5mm / 40t
  • Cassette: SRAM PG1130 / 11-speed / 11-42t
  • Brakes: SRAM Apex 1 / mechanical / flat mount
  • Wheels: Sonder Nova 700c
  • Tyres: Donnelly X'Plor MSO TL / 700c x 40mm
  • Saddle: Sonder Abode
  • Seatpost: Sonder Seatpost / 31.6mm
  • Stem: Sonder Storc
  • Handlebars: Sonder Bomber

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Mildred Locke
Mildred Locke

Mildred joined as Reviews Writer for Cyclingnews and BikePerfect in December 2020. She loves all forms of cycling from long-distance audax to daily errand-running by bike, and does almost everything on two wheels, including moving house, and started out her cycling career working in a bike shop. For the past five years she's volunteered at The Bristol Bike Project as a mechanic and session coordinator, and now sits on its board of directors.

Since then she's gone on to write for a multitude of cycling publications, including Bikeradar, Cycling Plus, Singletrack, Red Bull, Cycling UK and Total Women's Cycling. She's dedicated to providing more coverage of women's specific cycling tech, elevating under-represented voices in the sport, and making cycling more accessible overall. 

Height: 156cm (5'2")

Weight: 75kg

Rides: Stayer Groadinger UG, Triban RC520 Women's Disc, Genesis Flyer, Marin Larkspur, Cotic BFe 26, Clandestine custom bike