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Motorcycles: With excellent on- and off-road performance, Priority Bicycles' Apollo is the perfect no-maintenance, go-anywhere gravel bike

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  • Gravel bikes (sometimes called adventure bikes) are perfect for riders who want the utility to mesh fast, aerodynamic riding on paved roads with the ability to swap in wider, nubby tires for off-road terrain.
  • Priority Bicycles' new Apollo gravel bike takes a slightly different approach, doing away with metal chains and a finicky rear derailleur, creating a low maintenance bike that rides through any weather.
  • The bike comes standard with a great set of tires that are fast on road and grippy off, but you can upgrade to beefier tires for even greater capability.
  • After riding the Apollo for a few months, I found it to be the perfect cross between a beginner gravel bike and a suitable option for those looking for a low-maintenance, go-anywhere bicycle.
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Because they tackle two very different kinds of riding - smooth pavement and rugged off-road trails - gravel bikes are growing in popularity. From afar, the drop handlebars on a gravel bike, along with the integrated brakes and shifters, might be mistaken for a typical road bike.

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But a closer look reveals a frame and fork with enough clearance to accommodate wider, nubby tires, giving the bike the ability to go off-road where no road bike would dare. Paired with hybrid tires, you can ride this bike to work during the week and take it off-road for a bikepacking trip on the weekend.

Priority Bicycles, a New York City-based, direct to consumer brand that launched via Kickstarter in 2014, recently announced its first gravel bike called the Apollo. The brand's garnered a reputation for making low maintenance bikes as all of its models come sans a metal chain or derailleur, two traditional bike parts that require the most upkeep. With the Apollo, Priority continues that trend.

After more than two years in development, the Apollo promises much of the same easy-to-own features but with a faster, performance-minded ride. I had the opportunity to try one for the last several months to see how it measures up.

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Delivery and pickup

Priority delivered the bike to me, which isn't typical. Customers normally buy the bike directly from its website, and the bikes are designed to be easy to assemble and maintain, using the information provided via the Priority website. But if you get tripped up, the brand has an in-house customer service department that's around seven days a week.

The bikes ship with all the tools you'll need to build it and they're even packed after about 95 percent of it is assembled, including the entire drive train. This leaves you with between four to six additional steps before you can start riding.

Priority can also deliver the bike directly to your home where you're able to just build it entirely yourself - the brand even says that over 85 percent of its customers do that. But, if available in your area, it offers two other methods: Velofix, which is a white-glove home delivery service that drops off a built bike, and Beeline, a service that'll deliver the Priority bike to your local bike shop for assembly, then you pick it up there.

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Specs

a close up of a bicycle: Priority Bicycles © Priority Bicycles Priority Bicycles

If you're new to Priority, the first thing you'll notice is the lack of a traditional metal chain. In its place is a carbon drive belt from Gates. The CDX belt used here is Gates' high-performance model that you'll find on everything from premium commuters to e-bikes. The carbon fiber-reinforced engineered polymer won't rust and requires no grease (so it won't ruin your pants), and if occasionally rinsed with a hose, should last roughly 10,000 miles.

The other detail you'll notice is that for a bike with 11 speeds (there's even a rocket sticker on the frame in reference to Apollo 11) there's no derailleur hanging off the rear cassette of gears - and there's no visible gears either. This is also part of the low maintenance build: The Shimano Alfine 11 rear hub houses the gears, protecting them from the elements, which means the Apollo doesn't need a derailleur that's easy to ding with a rock or branch. You can still shift until your heart's content as it has a 409 percent gear range that's very similar to a traditional bike's setup.

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a man holding a bicycle: Priority Bicycles © Priority Bicycles Priority Bicycles

The aluminum frame pairs with a carbon fiber fork, which is very lightweight, resists rust, and, because it's stiffer, offers better control than metal in turns. The XL model I tested weighs 25 pounds and all four sizes of the bike, which fit inseams from 28.5 to 33.5 inches, arrive nicely equipped.

Its WTB Byway tires have a slick center strip that's speedy on asphalt but the nubby outside walls provide bite to keep you sure-footed on dirt or loose terrain. As a larger rider who often finds stock seats uncomfortable, the flat, 150mm wide WTB Pure is one of the most comfortable saddles I've tried.

The TRP Spyre mechanical brakes don't have the maintenance associated with hydraulic breaks and they squeeze from both sides for better control of the stopping power, even in wet conditions. They're easy to adjust, too, by just tightening the barrel, no tools needed - which is something you'll want to do every 3,500 miles.

Priority developed the handlebars and shifters in-house with 440mm drop bars that flair out 12 degrees for better leverage on turns. The right brake houses the shifter, similar to a traditional setup.

Ride experience

After hopping on the bike, I immediately noticed that the geometry was a bit more stretched out and aggressive, at least more so than other bikes in my garage. I chalked that up to the stem, which was 10mm longer than my standard Trek. But I quickly forgot about it as I started pedaling. The belt drive means the Apollo is buttery smooth and noticeably quieter than a traditional chained bike. If you know the feeling of just getting a bike back from a tune-up, or adding a freshly-lubed chain, you know what I'm talking about - that's how the Apollo felt nearly the entire time I was on it.

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On roads, the bike felt fast, responsive, and silent. The north shore of Long Island has a few hills and once or twice I might've wished for another gear while going up, but likely because of my fitness level. For most of my rides, the 11 gears gave me solid flexibility uphill and I never spun out going downhill. The brakes never seemed to be overwhelmed even when stopping in the rain, too.

Off-road, the WTB tires give you the confidence to go faster because they feel solid. I was never worried about taking on the terrain for fear of wiping out and you could, for even a plusher ride, get wider 700c tires. When you're on the saddle, you feel like you can take on anything because you're not worried about poor shifting performance or gunking up the crankset. On one ride, where the asphalt stretch was getting a little mundane, I spied what looked like a path through the woods carved by an ATV and took it for about a mile. That's the kind of flexibility (and fun) the Apollo was designed for.

a man riding on the back of a bicycle: Priority Bicycles © Priority Bicycles Priority Bicycles

When the shifting is dialed in, cycling through the range is fun. But when it slips, torquing down on the pedals results in a jarring grinding motion. On one ride the Alfine felt off but fixing it mid-ride took all of about 45 seconds with no tools. Once I tweaked the barrel on the shifter, I was quickly back riding again. Taking care of the Alfine is certainly easier than getting tools out and dealing with a derailleur, too.

It's even good practice to make these adjustments from time to time to keep your rides smooth. Shimano suggests adjusting the hub and shifter after about 600 miles. That hub is filled with oil to keep the shifting smooth and after about 3,100 miles, or every two years, you'll need to use a syringe to pull out the old oil and add fresh lubricant.

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After a few rides, when I got home and unloaded the bike off the rack, the mud I had fun plowing through dried, clinging for life onto the bike frame and components. The Apollo wears these like a badge of honor. It's certainly a cool feeling to be able to hose the bike once you're done riding and not have to worry about rusting. Maintenance-wise, all I did was check the tire pressure and tweak the shifter.

A minor nitpick

Aside from adjusting the shifter, which any bike requires, the biggest issue is the fact the wheels aren't quick release. You should plan on carrying wrenches in your kit to change a flat (something that inevitably happens while riding almost any bike).

Should you buy it?

If you're new to gravel biking or want a bike that's easy to own, then yes. The design of the bike serves you well on-road and off and a moderately handy owner should be able to resolve the little maintenance issues that come up. Part of what makes Priority special is the internally geared hubs and belt drives, both of which have been around for a while. Still, before buying, you might want to give a ring to your local bike shop to see if they have experience servicing them - any decent shop should have at least some knowledge of working with a belt drive.

What are your alternatives?

Nearly every major bike brand, like Specialized, Trek, and Cannondale, all offer their own gravel bikes and those often start at around $1,100. The Apollo's price is more in-line with mid-level gravel bikes but comes with far less maintenance year-to-year. So, you'll pay a little more upfront for the peace of mind that it'll work, the maintenance is easy, and mud and rain aren't an issue.

The bottom line a bicycle leaning against a wall: Priority Bicycles © Priority Bicycles Priority Bicycles

If you're just getting into gravel riding and are curious to find a bike that'll handle your commute plus whatever weekend plans you have, I highly recommend the Apollo. It simply works each time you hop on - which also makes it a solid choice if you're wanting a second gravel bike you can ride in just about any weather.

You won't have the maintenance issues traditional bikes have and you don't have to baby it either. At $1,699, the Apollo is more expensive than your average commuter bike but represents a solid value in the gravel bike category where things can climb north of $2,000 very quickly.

Pros: Easily tackles both on- and off-road riding, compatible with wider tires for riding rougher terrain, smooth ride experience, great customer service able to help with anything at any time, almost no routine maintenance

Cons: Hard to find a service shop outside of New York City, more expensive than the more typical gravel bikes from brands like Specialized or Trek

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