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Top gravel racer Peter Stetina on choosing the ideal race bike

His thoughts on the Canyon Grizl versus the Canyon Grail

Photo by: Canyon Bicycles / Wil Matthews

It would be hard for Peter Stetina’s season so far to be going any better.

The former WorldTour rider made his transition to gravel racing in 2019, winning the Belgian Waffle Ride, coming second in the DK200 (now Unbound) and fourth in the Leadville 100.

Following the skipped 2020 season, he came into 2021 with a jam-packed calendar of gravel racing around North America. Despite several subsequent weeks of racing (“At this point I’m racing so much that it really is just kind of recover, sharpen, race, recover, sharpen, race…”, he said) Stetina has managed to finish in the top five of every event he’s rolled up to this year.

Peter Stetina. Canyon Bicycles / Wil Matthews

His accolades include wins at Shasta Gravel Hugger, Gorge Gravel Grinder, Wild Horse Gravel, the Oregon Trail Stage Race (and three stage wins), Crusher in the Tushar, Belgian Waffle Ride and the Rift. He also came in third at Unbound, third at SBT Gravel, fifth at Gravel Locos 150 and Leadville 100, finished first overall in the LeadBoat (racing SBT Gravel one day after Leadville 100) and set a new FKT on the Kokopelli Trail.

RELATED: The new Canyon Grizl gravel bike is designed for rougher roads

For Unbound, the Oregon Trail Stage Race, Crusher in the Tushar and STB gravel, he was riding the Canyon Grizl, a bike Stetina says he is quite smitten with.

We asked the gravel privateer about his experiences with the Canyon Grizl:

Canadian Cycling Magazine(CCM): What do you think of Canyon’s Grizl in general?

Peter Stetina (PS): The Grizl is amazing, I love that bike.

The discussion [with Canyon about riding the Grizl] started last year. I said “I want to put aero bars on if Unbound were to happen” (this is before we really knew how serious COVID was) I feel like the aero bar thing is important because you’re out there for 10 to 20 hours, and at some point, you’re going to be on your own. It’s windy in those hills, it’s not outlawed and it makes a difference at the end of the day if you’re really going for it. They actually call it comfort bars in the gravel world, because you do offload those risks and it’s not necessarily about aerodynamics.

So [Canyon] said, “okay well, if this really is gonna be the difference-maker, we have this bike in the works, and it’s a single bar so you could do aero bars.” They didn’t really want me to race it yet.

So they sent me this prototype to test and I started riding it and I was like, “No, you guys, it’s really really fast.”

I’m pretty smitten with the bike, actually, it exceeds in all categories.

CCM: Can you tell me about your custom-painted Grizl?

Stetina’s Grizl.Photo: Canyon Bicycles / Wil Matthews

PS: The paint scheme is an artist’s rendering of my life story onto a bike, conceptualized onto a colour palette, so that’s pretty cool. It gives me special powers, with the custom paint job I’m so proud to arrive at everything. When you have a bike you’re really proud to be on, I think it just gives you a little bit of good energy, you know—something that’s really personal. That goes for anybody but that’s what this current Grizl is for me.

CCM: You have Canyon’s Grizl and Grail gravel bikes, they’re both very different bikes, do you have a preference between the two?

PS: I use both, and they both have certain things they’re better at. Like everybody, when I first got the Grail, I was like: “The handlebars….what the fuck?”

But once I rode it I was actually a total fan of the way that it rocks back and forth. On the top that bar basically rocks a little front and back so the vibration [dampening] is awesome.

And you can actually do some of that little puppy paw things that the UCI now outlawed, and grab the bottom of the bar. So you’re actually really stable if you rest your arms on like that top smaller bar, and try to just kind of get your fingers on the bottom. (There are pictures of me doing it in some race.)

The best way to think about it is basically: the Grail is good for smooth gravel, what we call Gucci gravel (harder packed). It has a long wheelbase, it’s really stable at high speed—I use it for SBT [gravel].

And then the Grizl is more rugged. It fits wider tires and with a single handlebar you can actually fit handlebar bags on there (that is one downside of the Grail–you can’t really get a handlebar bag on that thing) So there’s more versatility for like, all-day adventure stuff and all-day ruggedness. It has more attachment options so I used the Grizl for Unbound because I had a top tube bag on there.

I also have the Grizl for the Oregon Trail stage race–it’s so chunky and you almost want mountain bike tires.

Canyon Bicycles / Wil Matthews

CCM: What kind of rides have you taken the Grizl out on?

PS: It’s funny, I feel like old-school mountain bike trails are kind of having a renaissance right now.

The old fire roads and the trails that were cool in the 90s/2000s are kind of boring now, because mountain bike technology is so good. You have these super plush, super-efficient bikes that handle so much that there’s like a whole host of trails that are kind of bland.

But now, with today’s gravel bikes, [these trails are] really fun again. They’re kind of on the limit, kind of choppy and chunky, so I’ve actually been using the Grizl in that realm where it’s almost like, like old school mountain biking. The Grizl works really well for single track—it turns really well, it’s kind of tighter and for the chunky/bumpy stuff you can fit wider tires in there for more volume.

UNBOUND Gravel 200 near Emporia, Kansas, USA on June 05, 2021. Photo: Craig Huffman / Craig Huffman Photography

CCM: I like how Canyon was advertising it as an under-biking bike.

PS: Yeah, it’s a good idea.

I got on and they’re like, “this is our adventure bike” but I was like, “Yeah, but I can race it…it’s really fast”. Classic Germans, they just over-delivered.

CCM: It seems like the Grail and the Grizl are on two ends of the gravel spectrum. I know that sounds a little bit extravagant, but is there a rider out there (maybe that’s not at your level of competition) that would actually want both of these bikes?

PS: I mean, I think so—I hope so. If you’re that serious about your gravel-ing. I would say, for me right now, the Grizl is kind of like a swiss army knife. It’s that go anywhere, do anything bike. You can race it, but you can also go bike packing. The Grail is more of a dedicated race bike, it has almost a road bike style feel to it.

I have a canyon road bike at home, but when I’m on the road I just have two sets of wheels: 28mm road tires on one and 42mm chunky gravel tires. I’ll swap out road tires onto my Grail and go for a road ride—the bike is just one pound heavier than my road bike.

photo: Canyon Bicycles / Wil Matthews

CCM: 1X or 2X on your Grizl?

PS: 2X. I’m a Shimano guy—some of my old roadie habits die hard. I use the Dura-Ace power meter on my gravel bike. The nice thing with Shimano is you can kind of cross-pollinate, so in my front I have Dura-Ace and the power meter, and I have GRX in the back for the bigger cassette. It all works beautifully.

I do see the allure of the single—the simplicity of it. But I really like all the options of the two. For mountainous races, the big ring and for the higher speed stuff, the small climbing gear. For Unbound specifically, put a 50-42 which is a much narrower drop, and that way you can get every little cadence difference instead of these big jumps. I think the only reason that I would ever run a 1x is for a super muddy race because of the gunk factor.

CCM: How has your experience been working with Canyon?

PS: I will say that Canyon is one of the more fun bike companies to work with, I mean any half-baked idea I come up with, they’re just like: “Yeah, let’s do that, that sounds fun!”

They’re not worried about tradition and the way the bike industry has always been. Whether it’s the double-decker handlebar or their one-piece stem stuff on their TT bikes, they just like to think outside the box, so it’s actually really fun to be a rider that works with them on stuff like that.