Bombtrack Cale + Cale AL Review: Veneto Trail Tested

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We recently took a Bombtrack Cale and Cale AL to Italy to see how they’d hold up to a week of bikepacking in the Dolomites for this two-in-one first-ride review. Find an introduction to both models, our Veneto Trail packing lists, and lots of images here…

Photos and additional words by Joshua Meissner

With travel being an unpredictable prospect at best these days, and COVID-related regulations constantly changing here in the European Union, it was somewhat spontaneous that regular contributor Joshua Meissner (@joshm.de) and I found ourselves hopping on a train in Berlin and heading down to Italy to ride the sixth edition of the Veneto Trail in late June.

We arranged for a pair of Bombtrack hardtails to meet us in the medieval walled city of Cittadella—where the route starts and ends—the day before the event kicked off. After making some minor adjustments and swapping out a couple of parts, we hit the trail to slow roll all 450 kilometers and 10,000 vertical meters of the Veneto Trail, agreeing to prioritize beautiful campsites and stops for cappuccinos over speed to make the most of our time away in the Dolomites.

Because we only had a week with the Cales—a fraction of the time we usually ride and tinker with bikes before penning any thoughts here on the site—this post isn’t a full-on review. Rather, it’s more of a first look based on our initial experiences, which we hope will provide some context for how the two Cale models fit into Bombtrack’s ever-expanding lineup, as well as who they’re for.

Bombtrack Cale, Bombtrack Cale AL

A Tale of Two Cales

Despite their nearly identical names, Bombtrack’s Cale and Cale AL are different beasts, and they come at markedly different price points.

First released in September 2019, the steel Cale was Bombtrack’s response to the growing number of customers curious about running suspension on their Beyond+ builds. Although the Beyond+ was conceived as a rigid platform, the team soon realized many buyers were interested in swapping out the stock fork for something with a bit of travel for ripping around trails when they weren’t on loaded bikepacking trips. As such, the first-generation Cale was positioned as an evolution of the Beyond+ and featured 27.5+ wheels, a 120mm travel fork, and trail geometry.

  • Bombtrack Cale AL
  • Bombtrack Cale

These days, the Cale has come into its own as a modern bikepacking hardtail, earning what looks like it’ll be a longstanding place in Bombtrack’s range. In keeping with trends among bikepackers and trail riders alike, the Cale is now based around 29″ wheels, and it also has 10mm of additional travel. With its relatively upright position, tons of mounts throughout, and design focused on comfort and control, it’s a platform that Bombtrack says is an “ideal choice for riders who head out for regular bikepacking adventures but love to shred local trails in between.”

Envisioned as another logical progression of the steel Cale, Bombtrack launched the Cale AL in late 2020. Made from lightweight aluminum and geared toward the racing crowd (think of events such as the Silk Road Mountain Race, which Bombtrack team racer Sofiane Sehili will be racing on one later this month), the Cale AL was purpose-built with extended riding over rough terrain at speed in mind. Even with a longer reach than the Cale, for a slightly more sporty position, it’s still mellow enough for super long days in the saddle. And although it resembles a conventional hardtail, it features several mounts that you’re not likely to find on other off-the-shelf options in the category.

Bombtrack Cale, Bombtrack Cale AL

Beyond their differences in frame material and geometry, the two Cales also come with quite varied build kits—and the prices to match. As the higher-end offering, the steel Cale comes in at €749.99 ($880) for a frame or €3,199 ($3,570) for a complete build. With its less expensive aluminum frame and lower-end parts spec, the Cale AL is priced at €499.99 ($585) for a frame or €2,199 ($2,580) complete. It’s also worth noting that the size runs differ between the two bikes too, with the Cale offered in three sizes (M, L, XL) and the Cale AL in just two (M and L). At least for now, neither model is available in a size S, but Bombtrack says they’ll be adding an XL version of the Cale late next summer.

Bombtrack Cale Review

Bombtrack Cale
Image by Andrea Securo (@segu_sec) from our Rigs of the Veneto Trail roundup

Josh’s Thoughts on the Bombtrack Cale

The steel Bombtrack Cale is designed as a highly versatile hardtail that serves double-duty as a burly bikepacking rig for backcountry trips. The frame is welded from 4130 chromoly steel for a sleeker look compared to its bulkier brother, the Cale AL, which Lucas discusses below. The 2021 Cale features a high-end build kit centered around the SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain with a 30T chainring and 10-52 cassette. Up front, the RockShox Pike 130mm keeps things planted while the fast-rolling Maxxis Ardent tires roll fast with good bite on dry dirt and gravel. The bike comes stock with a 150mm dropper post and a correspondingly small main frame triangle.

Bombtrack Cale, Joshua Meissner

Judging by the modern geometry and thoughtful component selection, the Cale is equally suited for trail riding and week-long bikepacking trips, such as our alpine adventure in the Dolomites. Within the Bombtrack lineup, it’s a sporty complement to Bombtrack’s more touring-focused designs like the popular Beyond and Beyond Plus lines. Although a trail bike at heart, the Cale gives several nods to the bikepacking crowd, with rear rack mounts, threaded bosses on the top tube for direct-mount bags, and triple threaded bosses on the downtube.

  • Highlights (Size L)
  • Angles: 67.0° Headtube, 73.5° Seattube
  • Reach/Stack: 450/619mm
  • Bottom Bracket: 73mm BSA / 55mm drop
  • Hub specs: 148×12 (rear)
  • Seatpost Diameter: 30.9mm
  • Max Tire Size: 29 x 2.5”
  • Price: €3,199 (complete)

Bombtrack Bicycles have always impressed me with their innovative yet subtle paint schemes and intricate graphics. Their 2021 Cale is no different in this regard. The downtube wordmark is massive, but the barcode aesthetic renders it less bold, and since it faces straight down, it’s also less noticeable when looking at the bike, which I appreciate. Colors are a subjective preference of course and, if you can’t tell from my bags, I generally prefer dark, earthy tones. Perhaps the loud color scheme is Bombtrack’s way of differentiating the Cale and Cale AL from their Beyond (Plus) line, which usually features more muted colorways.

Bombtrack Cale

Cale on the Trail

Going into the Veneto Trail, I was uncertain about what the Dolomites would hold in store for us and which bike I should bring. What will the trails look like? What kind of surfaces will we ride? Can I do it on my gravel bike? These questions were quickly resolved when Bombtrack offered us the opportunity to test the Cale on the challenging course in the Italian Dolomites. For this seven-day bikepacking trip, I was running a relatively lean setup with a bivy bag sleep system and minimal water boiling setup shared between the three in our riding crew. As such, I was able to fit the majority of my gear in the front harness and seat pack, both by Outer Shell. With a larger front roll such as the Revelate Pronghorn system, I would have been able to run a smaller seat pack and actually make use of the dropper seatpost of the stock build.

The Cale proved to be a reliable ally on the rugged Veneto Trail with no mechanicals and only minor personal fit issues that I ironed out after the first day. Climbing the steep gravel pitches of Monte Grappa, I used every last gear inch provided by the SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, thanks to the 30T chainring and 52T large cog in back. I was pleasantly surprised at just how easy, crisp, and accurate the shifting felt, even under load. Since I usually only ride rigid bikes, I was naturally curious about the utility of the RockShox Pike suspension fork. I wasn’t about to set any speed records on the alpine singletrack, but having my tires constantly planted thanks to the suspension fork, coupled with the generous margin of traction provided by Maxxis Ardent tires, was very reassuring on the frequently rocky trails.

Veneto Trail, Bombtrack Cale

For the crushed gravel and flowy singletrack sections, I was probably overbiked, which is not a bad thing for a less experienced mountain biker trying to keep up with more skilled riders. With the suspension fork doing all the work, bombing the chunky gravel descents put a huge grin on my face from all the way above the tree line down to the muggy valleys. Without a mental catalog of mountain bikes to compare to, it’s tricky for me to judge the impact of the geometry on handling. One notable aspect that relates to bike handling is the dropper post, which would have come in handy to move behind the saddle on very steep sections, had I not opted to run a rigid seatpost. The next time I ride the Cale, or any similar hardtail, I’d like to try a minimalist rear rack (such as the Tumbleweed T-Rack) and drybag setup to be able to use the dropper post.

Veneto Trail, Bombtrack Cale

The comfort and confidence on the off-road sections of the Veneto Trail came at a severe penalty when we dropped back down to the paved roads at lower elevations. The narrow valleys between the rugged peaks are prime randonneur territory, and the Cale felt sluggish on the long asphalt sections. Of course, this is no knock against the bike, as smooth roads are simply not the terrain it was designed for. Unfortunately, the stock Cale doesn’t feature a lock-out for the suspension fork, which would have at least eliminated the constant bobbing, although the relatively inefficient body position and drag from the wider tires would remain a challenge on longer stretches. Especially on the steep paved climbs, I had to get used to making large steering inputs to keep the bike from wandering—quite a different experience compared to road-ish bikes with drop bars, which feel more like riding on rails. All things considered, I’m glad to have had the Bombtrack Cale at my side on this trip, both for the endless smiles it provided on Dolomiti singletrack and as a basis for me to make more informed bike choices for future bikepacking trips.

  • Bombtrack Cale
  • Bombtrack Cale
  • Bombtrack Cale
  • Bombtrack Cale
  • Bombtrack Cale

2021 Bombtrack Cale Build Kit

My Bombtrack Cale was a demo bike with stock build, save for the rigid seatpost (swapped at my request) and my own saddle and SPD pedals. Next time, I’d also bring my own ergonomic grips. Find the stock build specs below:

  • Frame: 4130 double-butted CrMo Steel
  • Fork: RockShox Pike Select, 130mm
  • Seatpost: KS E20i dropper seatpost
  • Headset: Sealed semi integrated / external, 1 1/2″ – 1 1/8″
  • Bottom Bracket: SRAM DUB BSA 73 mm
  • Brakes (Front): Magura Trail Sport 4 piston, 180mm rotor
  • Brakes (Rear): Magura Trail Sport 2 piston, 180mm rotor
  • Shifter: SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed trigger
  • Rear Derailleur: SRAM GX EAGLE, long cage
  • Cassette: SRAM XG-1275 EAGLE 12-speed, 10- 52 T
  • Crankset: SRAM Descendant aluminium crank, Boost DUB
  • Chain: SRAM GX Eagle, 1/2″ x 11/128″, 118L
  • Front Hub: Bombtrack Grad Boost sealed hub, 6-bolt disc
  • Rear Hub: Bombtrack GON Boost sealed hub, XD driver, 6-bolt disc
  • Rims: WTB ST i29 double wall, TCS 2.0, 32h
  • Tires: Maxxis Ardent 29 x 2.4″ TLR
  • Handlebar: Bombtrack Illusion, 35.0mm clamp
  • Stem: Bombtrack Chase, 35.0mm clamp
  • Saddle: Bombtrack Origin
  • Grips: Bombtrack Return, 135mm
Bombtrack Cale
  • Bombtrack Cale, Outer Shell Adventure
  • Bombtrack Cale, Outer Shell Adventure

Veneto Trail Packing List

Wearing

Patagonia board shorts
Icebreaker merino t-shirt
Icebreaker merino boxer briefs
Merino socks
Icebreaker merino long-sleeve button-down shirt
Shimano MTB shoes
Giro Aether Helmet
Oakley Radar EV sunglasses
Waist pack with wallet, phone, hand sanitizer, mask, etc.

Outer Shell Harness with 8L oval drybag

Cumulus Quilt 250
Borah Gear bug bivy bag
Borah Gear tarp
Tyvek groundsheet
Inflatable pillow
Patagonia down jacket

Outer Shell Drawcord Handlebar Bag

Snacks
Vote Coffee packs
Spoon
Wash kit (toothbrush, etc.)

Revelate MagTank

5Ah USB power bank
Ricoh GR III point-and-shoot camera

Outer Shell Stem Caddy (left and right)

Water bottle
Fujifilm X-T3 with XF27mm f/2.8 lens

Outer Shell Dropper SeatpackMain Triangle

Outer Shell Mini Saddle Bag with tube
Apidura top tube bag with tools/spares
Two water bottles

Bombtrack Cale
  • Bombtrack Cale
  • Bombtrack Cale, Outer Shell Adventure

Pros

  • Versatile, burly steel frame that can handle some serious chonk
  • Bikepacking-friendly with lots of mounts throughout
  • GX Eagle drivetrain offers wide range and low granny gear

Cons

  • No lock-out on the suspension fork is not ideal for mixed bikepacking routes
  • No size small for shorter riders
  • Stock grips and saddle aren’t particularly comfortable at this price point

Bombtrack Cale AL Review

Bombtrack Cale AL

Lucas’s Thoughts on the Bombtrack Cale AL

  • Highlights (Size L)
  • Angles: 67.5° Headtube, 73.5° Seattube
  • Reach/Stack: 466/633mm
  • Bottom Bracket: 73mm BSA / 55mm drop
  • Hub specs: 148×12 (rear)
  • Seatpost Diameter: 31.6mm
  • Max Tire Size: 29 x 2.5”
  • Price: €2,199 (complete)

I’ve always found Bombtrack’s bikes to be quite intriguing, especially the Beyond line, and they’ve never shied away from making occasionally bold choices, both in their bikes themselves and the small design details behind them.

That said, I was somewhat surprised to see the small brand release what appeared to be a fairly traditional trail hardtail when it was first announced, as it seemed to be a step backward in some ways. But in chatting with founder Manuel Schuerholz about how they see it fitting into their stable, and then getting the chance to ride one myself, I now see that it cleverly fills what was a gap for folks who want a proper “adventure trail” bike for the 90% of rides that aren’t fully loaded trips to far-off locales, while at the same time having plenty of thoughtful touches to help it excel once there, instead of trying to repurpose an expedition-specific rig to ride rowdy trails after work.

Veneto Trail, Bombtrack Cale AL

To my taste, Bombtrack’s paint schemes and graphics are hit or miss from year to year, and unlike Josh, I can’t say I’m a fan of their color choices for the current Cale AL (or the steel Cale, for that matter). Both are a bit loud and appear somehow dated to my eye, and I tend to prefer something more subdued (closer to the Beyond+, for example, which I love for its simplicity), though of course such preferences are entirely personal. Based on the comments on the bike I received in the week I was riding it, as well as the feedback I’ve seen around the internet, I seem to be in the minority.

Bombtrack Cale AL

Cale AL on the Trail

Josh and I agree that a hardtail with beefy 2.4″ tires isn’t the right bike for the Veneto Trail, which could mostly be ridden on a gravel-ish bike, albeit with several extended sections where you’d likely be pushing up and down. However, when it mattered, the Cale AL handled the chunkier stuff very capably with its cushy 2.4″ rubber and 130mm of travel up front. On more than a few occasions, as I flew down the route’s twisting tracks with rugged landscapes and jagged peaks all around, I found myself thinking, “Ahh, right, this is why we ride mountain bikes.” I haven’t ridden a proper trail bike in a few years now, for one reason or another, but my time on the Cale AL inspired me to get back onto a hardtail and seek out more a singletrack-oriented route for my next bikepacking trip.

  • Veneto Trail, Bombtrack Cale AL
  • Veneto Trail, Bombtrack Cale
  • Veneto Trail, Bombtrack Cale AL

I think Bombtrack’s stock 2021 Cale AL build kit more than adequately fulfills its design goal of being a capable rig for big rides and races. Despite its lack of stand-out, high-end components, the Cale AL offers an entirely sensible mix of parts that I found worked well for loaded pedaling through the mountains.

The Cale AL’s 30T chainring with 10-50T cassette never left me feeling undergeared on anything I was prepared to ride, which isn’t to say I didn’t push my fair share along the way, but that’s squarely the fault of the rider, not the rig. The SRAM Level hydraulic brakes provided ample stopping power even in the rain and mud, of which there were plenty during our week in Italy. The SX Eagle 12-speed trigger shifter didn’t leave me desiring anything crisper or smoother at this price point. And for a budget suspension fork, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the RockShox 35 Gold RL handled even the roughest segments of the trail, though I’d almost surely invest in something a bit more refined if I was building up a Cale AL from a frame. Because I swapped out the dropper for a rigid post before I’d even taken a test spin, I can’t comment on its performance.

  • Veneto Trail, Bombtrack Cale AL
  • Veneto Trail, Bombtrack Cale AL

As for how the Cale AL’s geometry translated to real-world riding on an impressively diverse mix of terrain, I found it comfortable during long seated climbs, confident when flying downhill, and quite lively on rolling sections, even with my bikepacking payload. As Josh mentioned above, it was obviously the wrong bike for the extended paved detours that were required on the route this year due to landslides, but even then, I didn’t find that the Cale AL put me into a position that was uncomfortable for long and flat slogs when necessary.

  • Bombtrack Cale AL
  • Bombtrack Cale AL
  • Bombtrack Cale AL
  • Bombtrack Cale AL
  • Bombtrack Cale AL

2021 Bombtrack Cale AL Build Kit

I was also running a stock build, with the exception of my saddle (a Brooks Cambium C17) and pedals (Shimano XTR), and I also swapped out the stock dropper post for a rigid one I had lying around, just to be able to run a larger saddle bag without issue. Before setting out, I’d planned to swap the stock grips for a pair of Ergon GP1s but I didn’t manage to do so in time. Thankfully, the stock grips turned out to be more comfortable than expected and I didn’t have any issues with wrist pain, though I’d still change them out for next time. See the stock Cale AL build kit below:

  • Frame: 6061-T6 hydro-formed Aluminium
  • Fork: RockShox 35 Gold RL, 130mm
  • Seatpost: KS E20i dropper, 31.6 mm, 150 mm travel
  • Headset: Sealed integrated, 1 1/2″ – 1 1/8″
  • Bottom Bracket: SRAM DUB BSA 73 mm
  • Brakes: SRAM LEVEL hydraulic, 160/180mm rotorss
  • Shifter: SRAM SX-Eagle 12-speed trigger
  • Rear Derailleur: SRAM SX Eagle, long cage
  • Cassette: SRAM PG-1210 Eagle 12-speed, 11 – 50T
  • Crankset: TRUVATIV Stylo 6K aluminium, Boost DUB
  • Chain: SRAM NX Eagle, 1/2″ x 11/128″, 118L
  • Front Hub: BOMBTRACK Grad Boost sealedb, 6-bolt
  • Rear Hub: BOMBTRACK Grad Boost sealed, HG driver, 6-bolt
  • Rims: WTB ST i29 double wall, TCS 2.0, 32h
  • Tires: Kenda Hellcat Pro ATC 29 x 2.4″ TLR
  • Handlebar: Bombtrack Illusion, 35.0mm clamp
  • Stem: Bombtrack Chase, 35.0mm clamp
  • Saddle: Bombtrack Origin
  • Grips: Bombtrack Return, 135mm
Bombtrack Cale AL

Veneto Trail Packing List

My packing list for our Veneto Trail trip was somewhat unique in that our group made a few key decisions to save weight and space. Namely, none of us packed a tent and we decided to eat at restaurants whenever possible. As such, our riding group split up a minimal cooking kit, which we only used to boil water coffee for coffee (using pour-over packets). For dinners, we’d buy pizzas and fold them up to eat in the mountains later, which worked quite well. Sleeping in the open air was a beautiful experience, as always, and thankfully we were able to find some shelter to stay under on a couple of rainy nights.

Wearing

Randi Jo Fabrications cycling cap
Lazer O2 Helmet
Cotton T-Shirt
Rapha Randonnee Shorts
Cotton trunks
Giro wool socks
Bontrager GR2 shoes
Casio G-Shock watch

Porcelain Rocket MCA Harness w/ Dry Bag

Therm-a-Rest Vesper Quilt
Alpkit Kloke bivvy bag
Groundsheet from Big Agnes tent
Sea-to-Summit inflatable pillow
Pelago wool beanie
Sleeping mask

Apidura Expedition Saddle Pack

Rapha Explore down jacket
Rapha Explore Gore-Tex pullover
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite sleeping pad
Spare cotton t-shirt
2x spare cotton trunks
Spare wool socks
Leggings
MSR Pack towel
Titanium mug

Apidura Expedition Frame Pack

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 stove
Snowpeak Ti spork
Repair kit
Spare tube
Decathlon headlamp
Collapsible water bottle + filter
Snacks
Vote coffee packets
Spare cables
Toothpaste/toothbrush
Wipes and tissues

Top Tube Bag

Sunscreen
Wallet
Mask
Hand sanitizer

Apidura Backcountry Food Pouch

More snacks
Anker battery pack

Porcelain Rocket Mini Slinger

Fuji X100V camera
Dry bag for camera

On Handlebars

Light and Motion Vis Pro 1000 Trail light
Bryton Rider 750 GPS

Hydration

Two bottles

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Strikes a great balance between trail shredder and loaded bikepacking rig
  • Sensible build kit won’t need much upgrading
  • Lots of mounts to extend carrying capacity

Cons

  • Only two sizes, at least for now
  • Relatively pricey point of entry for a complete hardtail
  • Bold colors and graphics won’t be for everyone
Veneto Trail, Bombtrack Cale AL

Find more details about the Bombtrack Cale and Cale AL, including geometry charts, additional specifications, and dealer locations, over at Bombtrack.com.

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