We were fortunate enough to be provided with a few prototype Civilderness bikes from BILDA Bike! The Civilderness is BILDA's first foray into the purpose-built "all-road" machine market that is at home in both civilization and the wilderness, and we are stoked to be able to help them launch this bike!
BILDA Bikes are all designed in-house by the staff at the Affordabike retail store, right here in Charleston! They take feedback from customers on the front lines and then design bikes accordingly, trying to offer exactly what customers are looking for. Since they do all the design in-house and source all the parts themselves, it allows them to be super competitive on price points and they pass on the savings to the customer! As a reminder, the boys at BILDA Bike are providing a custom-built Civilderness to one lucky raffle winner at this year's Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race!
We put the Civilderness through its paces in the Francis Marion National Forest on some of the same roads and trails featured in the Hellhole Gravel Grind. Our overall impression is that this is a very capable bike and would make a great bike for those riders that are interested in getting started with gravel, bike packing, or all-purpose commuting. Here's our review and initial impressions!
The Build: Civilderness
We were provided three prototype-Civilderness bikes for testing (47 cm, 54 cm, and 57 cm). Each stock bike featured a 6061 Aluminum Alloy frame with a 4130 Chromoly fork. The frame and fork were comparable in weight to some of our custom-built, personal steel-framed gravel builds. The Civilderness's aluminum frame is light and stiff paired with the steel fork for shock absorption on the gravel roads. The slack and long head tube added to a relaxed riding feel which is important for long days out on the gravel roads. The frame and fork have plenty of tire clearance, perfect for some impromptu singletrack sections of the Swamp Fox passage of the Palmetto Trail.
Whether you're looking to do some long distance gravel riding or bike packing, the multi-purpose use of the Civiliderness frame can easily be seen with it's 14 frame mounts (perfect for extra fork-mounted cages, snack mounts, or fenders) and clearance for accommodating 29x2.1" tires. The boys from BILDA also incorporated some nice touches and some ability to personalize your frame with "anodized bits" (headset, spacers, seat collar, cage bolts, and QR skewers) available in 9 colors!
Groupset and Wheels
For the Groupset, BILDA largely shirked the mainstream and went with the Microshift Advent 9-speed shifting system (rear derailleur, cassette, and shifters - also available in flat bar mount for those that want it). They did this for several reasons, not the least of which was cost. An entire Microshift Advent gruppo will set you back a remarkable $125, helping keep the cost of a full build around $750 for the base model ($600 for the flat bar model) - an incredibly low price for entry into the gravel world. According to BILDA, Microshift was also very willing to work on various designs to suit the manufacturers design.
Skepticism aside, we found the Advent's shifting to be intuitive and precise (if not a bit delayed). However, the shifting never let us down even when the derailleur and cassette became fouled with sand, leaves, and pinestraw. The 9-speed cassette is "the working-man's group" and the added spaces of the 9-speed cassette proved robust. We ran a 11-42 rear cassette and the RD had no difficulty reaching the tallest cog (although we didn't need it). The shift levers provided ample surface area for grip/leverage and the textured hoods were a nice touch. (Note: There is a special version of the Microshift Advent drop shifters that has a dropper lever already built into the left lever and the frame has the cable guides to be dropper-ready. Perfect for bombing down a dirt road.)
If Microshift Advent isn’t fancy enough or you want a little more range, never fear...upgrades are available. For the drop bar configuration, BILDA Bike is offering Sram Apex Hydraulic Brake/Shifters paired with an 11 speed 11-46 MOUNTAIN cassette and a Sram NX derailleur! Not only do you get 2 extra gears but you get more range as well! If you want to upgrade your riser bar configuration we will use a Sram NX shifter. Rounding out the group are Tektro mechanical disc brakes which can be upgraded to Tektro hydraulic brakes. and BILDA will be offering their own crankset and narrow-wide chainring. We found the brakes (Avid BB5) to have good stopping power while allowing "on the fly" adjustments to pad spacing. The SRAM 1x drivetrain functioned flawlessly, however, like any 1x system, we did find ourselves wanting a few more gears (of course, the Civiliderness can be equipped with a 2x crankset).
As for the wheels, our prototypes were fitted with both the standard WTB STp i23 wheels and the upgraded Boyd Pinnacle wheels (Boyd Altamont also available) running tubeless WTB 40mm Nano tires. All Civilderness bikes will come with stock tubeless wheels. Nothing against the WTBs (as they were robust and could take a beating), but we definitely recommend the upgrade to the Boyd Wheelsets (if you saved enough on this great value of a bike then treat yourself and upgrade to some Boyd wheels - we love our Boyd wheels and he is our sponsor after all...). The Nano tires provided the classic gumwalls look and a plenty of grip, though we did find the sidewalls to be a bit steeper than necessary (rounder profiles a better suited in the Francis Marion National Forest).
The Details (as tested)
Framset: BILDA Civilderness 6061 Aluminum Alloy frame with a 4130 Chromoly fork with QRs
Geometry: Proprietary (for now). We can say that the sizing is true to form.
Wheelset: WTB STp i25 tubeless wheels (or upgrade to Boyd Pinnacle or Altamont wheels)
Tires: WTB 40mm Nano Black Wire Bead (stock). Upgrade to WTB Thick Slick 29x2.1 for urban riding or WTB 700x45 Riddler Gumwall Tubeless for gravel. Frame will accommodate up to a 2.1" tire.
Drivetrain, shifty bits, and brakes: Microshift Advent 9-speed shifters and RD, 11-42 cassette, SRAM NX 1x crankset with a X-Sync 38-tooth chainring, Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes.
Cockpit: BILDA Bike (or Whisky No. 9), Brooks C15 carved saddle (upgrade)
In summary, this is an unbeatable bike for the price and utility. The Civilderness offers near full- customization for any purpose. Perhaps more importantly, it was designed and spec'd by some very good people with the customer's interest at the forefront of their minds. In the Civilderness, you have the opportunity to meet the people that actually designed your bike, and they will listen to your feedback! Not many people can say that of their bike brand, and we are thankful to have been trusted to test out the prototypes!