Bombtrack Hook EXT Review: More Than Just Good Looks
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After attending Bombtracks’ yearly Groundwork event, Cass purloins a Bombtrack Hook EXT and takes it bikepacking in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, England, and Wales. With a number of trips under his belt, as well as fast gravel days rides and even a few road outings in the bag, here are his thoughts on this steel and carbon adventure bike…
Back in August, I was invited to Bombtrack’s Groundwork weekend in Germany to try out the company’s then-unreleased 2020 range of bikes. I wrote up my first impressions of the Hook EXT, and because I liked it so much, I asked if I could take it home with me, keep riding it, and post a more thorough review.
So, as part of my #flightfreesummer, I bikepacked over to Belgium to tackle the Ardennes Arbalete, meandered through Holland on the Maasroute, and then caught the ferry over to the UK. There, I used the Hook for various local overnighters, the Bear Bones Bash in Wales, gravel day rides with fast friends, and even a couple of long road outings. All in all, I gave it a respectable amount of use. If you want to see what it looked like when I first rode it, I’ve included a few ‘clean’ pictures below. Otherwise, hop back to the link above for the full set.
Let’s start with the heart of the Hook EXT: its double-butted Colombus Chromor frameset and all-carbon fork. It’s an extremely well-finished ensemble in both overall quality and attention to detail. I’m a fan of the matching graphics, which lend the Hook EXT a semi-custom kind of look.
We often zone in on the largest tyres a bike can run, wanting absolutely everything (namely, massive clearances) without any of the associated compromises (increased weight/design constraints). So, I’ll say this: I think the Hook EXT strikes right balance for this kind of bike. There’s ample room for muddy 650B x 2.1s, which is as much as I think a lightweight, drop handlebar bike needs to fit, before the kind of terrain that warrants wider rubber suggests flat bars would make a more sensible option. Note I didn’t get a chance to try it with larger hoops, but it’ll handle 700 x 40mm tyes too, which means it should be perfect running a nice and supple ‘all-road’ 35mm tyre, if that’s the way you like to roll.
Elsewhere, the Hook EXT is very much a frame that embraces the latest standards. I can’t claim that I’ve kept up to date with all the changing bottom bracket variations, but T47 does at least make sense: it’s oversized and threaded, so the best of all worlds in terms of stiffness, ease of replacement, and (when it comes to carbon at least) its unlikeliness to creak. The Hook EXT includes the provision for an internal dropper post, which isn’t as crazy as it sounds on a gravel bike like this. I can imagine a lower seatpost being a whole lot of fun for techy singletrack, which is well within its abilities. For 2020, the full carbon fork features internal routing for a dynamo, along with provision for mudguards and a full suite of eyelets for cargo cages; each is rated for 1.5kg, adding up to 4.5kg per side. Like the frame, the fork is thru-axle specific and designed for flat-mount brakes, making this bike bang up to date. Let’s just hope standards settle for a bit.
As for the way the Hook EXT rides, I found it absolutely spot on for its intended uses. It’s a fun bike that’s quick to kick up to speed and very playful to steer. I thoroughly enjoyed riding it unladen, which is probably the way it will spend much of its life. Like all my favourite bikes, it encouraged me to get out when my enthusiasm might otherwise be waining. Certainly, its Chromor frame and 2″ tyres offered a markedly smooth ride that much of the bouncing and jarring out of fast and rocky descents. In short, the Hook EXT feels very refined: it’s no basic steel frameset and jackhammer fork. Load it up with a relatively light bikepacking payload and the Hook’s engaging handling remains evident. This isn’t a bike that feels sluggish in any way, whether lightly loaded or stripped bare.
In my opinion, flat bars typically offer a much more confident braking position when riding off road. However, I must admit that SRAM’s Rival hydraulic brakes are impressive. They offer ample power and control, even in the hoods. Prior to trying them, I’ve always felt the need to slip into the drops during steep, off-road descents, particularly with mechanical disc brakes or rim brakes. This is not the case with hydraulics at all.
- Frame/fork: Steel/Carbon
- Angles (L): 72° Headtube, 72.5° Seattube
- Stack/Reach: 589mm/389mm
- BB Drop/Chainstay: 70mm/425mm
- Bottom Bracket: T47 threaded
- Hub specs: TA, 12x100mm, 12x142mm
- Seatpost: 27.2mm
- Max tire size: 700x40mm or 650b x 2.1″
- Price: €2500/£2300/$2750
I did, however, find the Hook EXT’s specced gearing (26-98in) simply too high for the kind of bikepacking I like most: the hilly stuff. The EXT comes with a 40T chainring (mated to a 11-42T cassette) and I swapped it for a 38T before leaving Germany and heading to Belgium. Being direct mount, it’s easily done, without the need for a change in chain length. To be honest, I’d have happily dropped it down to a 36T or smaller if there had been one available. I know, I know. You can’t please everyone, and I appreciate that a 40T ring works well for fast, relatively flat gravel rides. But given the Hook EXT’s bikepacking credentials, I’d prefer to see a 38T chainring specced, as it’s a better sweet spot. Even a 38T feels big for tackling the punishingly steep coombes around Bristol and Bath, where I live.
Not that I minded the limitations of a 1x drivetrain. Quite the opposite, in fact. I love the simplicity of a single chainring for off-road riding, and seeing as I’m never going to spend hours riding tarmac, I don’t need a bike with an especially high top end. Similarly, I’m not one to ride in a local chain gang, so I don’t need to match the pedalling cadence of others, which would be easier to do with a more traditional 2x drivetrain. If that sounds like you, a bike like Bombtrack’s Audax is likely a better fit.
Talking of comparison’s within the Bombtrack range, I spent half a day on the more costly Hook EXT-C (€3000/£3050/$3300), the EXT’s carbon sibling. It’s not possible to compare like for like, as the EXT-C comes specced with a higher end wheelset and different tyres, aside from its subtly tweaked geometry, and a slight difference in sizing. Even so, whilst the EXT-C was light and undeniably smooth, the EXT offered more ‘positive feedback’ to me. By this, I mean I felt more connected to the terrain and its textures. And I say that in a good way, not in a ‘shaken around like a rag doll’ kind of style. Perhaps my preference comes from the way the frame resonates; carbon has a hollow sound that I’ve never really liked. Either way, this dovetails nicely for bikepacking, as I’d generally opt for a steel frame, given its resilience to the day to day abrasion of a framebag. The strategic application of helicopter tape on carbon will help, and I’d even recommend it on powder-coated steel, if you don’t want it to scuff or discolour your frame.
I love to see a bike that’s completely ready for bikepacking or light touring just as it is, and the Hook EXT is exactly that. Everything is accounted for braze on-wise: three on each blade of the fork, six within the frame (allowing for lots of water bottle placement options if you’re running a partial framebag), and two below it, plus provision for mudguards, ideal for winter commuting. There are eyelets for a direct mount top tube bag, too. Again, from an off-road perspective, I’d prefer a handlebar with less drop, more width, and more flare. Still, the model that comes specced – Bombtrack’s own CX-10 drop bar (with a 10° flare) – is a perfectly good starting point, wrapped as it is in a padded bar tape that’s very comfortable for long mixed terrain days. Otherwise, a model like Ritchey’s Venturemax could be a great alternative.
As for sizing, I tested an L, which felt more in proportion to me than an XL. I’m often somewhere between the two. I’m used to flat bar mountain bikes for bikepacking, which tend to be more upright. In terms of riding position, I flipped the stem upwards and later replaced it with a shorter one that offered even more rise and less reach; the hoses and cables are all cut long enough. This is down to personal preference in part. I’m long-legged and I like to be upright, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re similarly proportioned or opinionated. In any case, bear in mind the steerer comes pre-cut with 25mm in spacer length to ensure the integrity of the carbon fork, so you can’t stack up a carbon fork with spacers like you can a steel one. Speaking personally, I’d have liked the headtube to have been 10mm longer or more, to make up for the shortfall.
With the replacement stem, I found the bike very comfortable, once my torso and back had limbered up and I’d become accustomed to the EXT’s more aggressive riding position. Again, bear in mind that I generally bikepack with a flat-bar bike with a much shorter reach, so it was bound to take some adjusting to. Indeed, when I looked around at others who attended the weekend in Germany, I saw I was in a minority… the slammed look definitely holds favour. I can’t say I think it’s ideal for multiple long days in the saddle, but maybe I’m just getting old! In any case, if you’re looking to gain some height, another option would be to fit something like Ritchey’s WCS Ergomax bars, which feature a 10mm rise.
When it came to the rest of the build, I didn’t change anything that didn’t wear out, nor did I feel any need to do so. I know there are similarly priced bikes with a better spec, but still, everything behaved just I’d hope and expect. At a claimed weight of 11kg for a medium (a large is likely 300g more), the Bombtrack feels positively spritely, especially if you’re coming from a steel plus bike, as I tend to ride. If you pack carefully, there’s plenty of potential for a bikepacking setup that’s both light to ride and to shoulder, ideal for those Rough Stuff-style escapades.
I previously owned another steel ‘all-round/gravel’ bike that was generally great, but hit some issues when I wanted to add bigger volume tyres (lack of chainstay clearance and the long reach front mech fouling the tyre), add an easier climbing gear (it needed a road-link to drop the rear derailleur, and a new long cage mech), or fit mudguards for winter commuting (again, the long reach front mech got in the way). Fixing all of these issues felt like a bit of a bodge and still wouldn’t allow for much of an increase in tyre volume.
I’d seen a couple of friends riding Hook EXTs, and on paper they seemed to do everything I wanted straight out of the box. I found one a little discounted at the end of the season sale and impulsively bought it. The Hook has been a revelation. It’s lighter, more direct, and a heap of fun. It feels completely fine cruising around town and much more capable, and comfortable (despite the more aggressive riding position), nipping off into rooty, twisty singletrack. I’ve changed out the saddle and tyres, and will probably swap the bars for a model with a bit more flare. But other than that it feels pretty spot on and more than capable on anything I ride.
As for wheels, the rear WTB ST i23 was out of true before I rode it; this particular Hook EXT was a demo bike at the Groundwork weekend, so who knows what happened. Although I’m generally a fan of WTB’s Rangers – I find them both comfortable and very predictable in the way they handle – the ‘Light’ version is somewhat on the skimpy side for bikepacking. I needed to plug a sidewall in Belgium and I found the tread wore relatively quickly. Still, the wheels proved easy to set up tubeless and I later tried the bike with both a set of ‘all road’ 650B x 47mm Teravail Ramparts – which completely transformed the way it rode on pavement – and a set of 27.5 x 2.1″ Sparwoods – which both looked great and felt blazing fast on forest roads. Fitting 47mm tyres will drop the bottom bracket a touch, but it’s not enough to be an issue if you’re sticking to relatively well-maintained roads and using clipless pedals.
- FrameCOLUMBUS CROMOR, double butted tubing, TA dropout, replaceable hanger, rack / fender mounts, 86.5 mm T47 shell
- FeaturesTA dropout, replaceable hanger, rack/fender mounts, 86.5mm T47 shell
- ForkFull carbon disc fork, TA, tapered steerer, with fender/triple cage mounts, internal dynamo routing
- HeadsetFSA NO.21/12B/44 sealed external aheadset, 1.1/2″ – 1.1/8″
- Bottom BracketT47 sealed BB for 30 mm spindle
- CranksetBOMBTRACK LYER forged aluminum crank, direct mount interface, 30 mm spindle
- ChainringCNC machined aluminum, narrow-wide, 40 T, 1/2″ x 11/128″
- Bottom BracketSealed Cartridge External Bearing, threaded
- CassetteSRAM PG-1130 11-speed cassette, 11 – 42 T
- Rear DerailleurSRAM RIVAL 1 rear derailleur, clutch, long cage
- ShifterSRAM RIVAL 1 double tap 1 x 11
- ChainKMC X11 chain, 1/2″ x 11/128″, 114L
- Front HubBOMBTRACK ORIGIN sealed disc hub, 12 x 100 mm thru-axle
- Rear HubBOMBTRACK ORIGIN sealed disc hub, 11-speed, 12 x 142 mm thru-axle
- RimsWTB ST Light i23 double wall, TCS 2.0, 32h
- TiresWTB RANGER TCS LIGHT folding tire 27.5 x 2.0″
- Brake CalipersSRAM RIVAL flat mount hydraulic disc brakes with 160 mm rotors
- Brake LeversSRAM RIVAL 1 double tap hydraulic
- StemBOMBTRACK ROAM forged aluminum stem, -7°
- HandlebarBOMBTRACK CX-10 drop bar, 31.8 mm, 10° flare
- GripsBOMBTRACK ESCAPE bar tape
- Bar TapeBOMBTRACK ESCAPE bar tape
- SeatpostBOMBTRACK PINE aluminum seatpost, 27.2 mm x 300 mm
- Seatpost clampBOMBTRACK ORIGIN forged aluminum seat clamp, 29.8 mm
- SaddleBOMBTRACK COMP saddle
Speaking of combining road and off-road bikepacking routes, is the Hook EXT a better choice than a cross country mountain bike for mixed-terrain riding? It’s certainly a lot lighter than a fully rigid mtb and a pleasure to ride fast, with a minimal load. Which makes this conundrum one that is ultimately down to terrain, underlining why the Hook’s 2.1in clearances for 2.1in tyre help establish a good cut-off point for which style of bike might be the best tool for the job. And if you’re a drop handlebar enthusiast with the right skills on tap, it will likely be the difference in gearing that you’ll want to consider.
Lastly, the bike is available as a frameset only option, at €900/£815/$1000. Of interest to many, no doubt, is that there’s an aftermarket fork for €330/$499, which has a 398mm axle to crown length, with 48mm of offset.
- Engaging handling that’s fun unladen or with a light load
- All the needs of a bikepacker catered for
- Surpringly capable off road
- Compliant frame and fork with tyre clearance that’s fit for purpose
- Good looking finish with real attention to detail
- Solid, reliable parts including powerful hydraulic brakes
- A little on the pricey side
- Gearing is too high for hilly bikepacking routes
- Lowish front end may irk tall and leggy cyclists who like to be more upright
- Size Tested L
- Sizes Available S-XL
- Weight 24.4lbs/11kg (M)
- Price €2500/£2300/$2750
- Place of Manufature Taiwan
- Manufacturer’s Details Bombtrack
The Hook EXT has been an absolute blast to ride and after a few harmonious months together, I was sorry to return it. Yes, its easy-to-operate 1x drivetrain translates into a more restricted gear range for long pavement outings, as well as less choice of pedalling cadence compared to a bike specced with a double. But neither of these limitations bother me, because most of my riding is off-road in character. In fact I’m happily sold on 1x drivetrains for gravel bikes, I’d just prefer to see a smaller chainring as standard. Whether you agree with me will likely depend on where you ride and how much time you actually spend bikepacking.
This quibble aside, the Hook EXT is the consummate, modern all-rounder for those who enjoy the thrill of fast riding. Whilst I’d argue that a rigid mtb offers more intuitive off-road abilities, the Hook’s tyre clearance is a good reminder of where its strengths lie. Shod with its 650B x 2″ tyres, it feels extremely capable when pavement turns to dirt and trail, especially for the rider to whom drop bars are second nature. As someone who has little interest in owning a dedicated road bike, it’s as fast as I need it to be with a change of tyres or wheelset. In terms of personal fit, I’d have preferred to see a headtube that’s a touch longer, but those who run their handlebars lower than I do are unlikely to complain.
The Hook EXT can’t match the price of some of its competitors, but think its sense of individuality, the notable quality of its Colombus tubing, its high-end, all-carbon fork, and its collection of sensible, hardwearing components help justify its cost. Certainly, it’s a bike that I think will stand the test of time… and one that I’d be delighted to own myself.
I’ve been embarking regularly on two-wheeled explorations for the last twenty years. Most recently, I crossed the Republic of Georgia on dirt roads, tackled the Colorado Trail, traversed Bolivia’s Cordillera Real, rode the Lakeland 200 in the UK, and followed the Trans Alps in Europe. Given my love for mountain biking and backcountry touring, my ideal journey fuses the two, keeping to quiet dirt roads and singletrack where possible.
Height: 6’1” (185cm)
Weight: 165 lbs (75kg)
Inseam: 35” (89cm)
Thanks to Chris Goodman for the Welsh riding photos.
Have you ridden the Hook EXT? Please let us know your impressions below!