Cairn BRAVe 1.0 electric gravel bike review

The Cairn BRAVe 1.0 is a mid-drive electric gravel bike that errs into electric mountain bike territory, offering a fun and well-controlled ride off-road, paired with a competitively priced build.

The brand’s first model, the Fazua-equipped Cairn Adventure, was a well-priced gravel machine using a lightweight system for more subtle assistance.

The BRAVe, however, employs the much more powerful Shimano STEPS mid-mount motor usually found on performance electric mountain bikes and comes in at £2789.00.

The shortcomings in gravel tyre traction on steep, loose-surfaced slopes are overcome by the power boost, giving you the ability to stay seated and so maintain grip and scramble ever upwards.

The BRAVe, however, takes things to another level when it comes to this niche, to the point that it goes beyond the realms of e-gravel, yet is still distinct from an e-mountain bike.

The BRAVe’s simple wonder lies in its marriage of a superb ride position – which is relaxed but not quite mountain-bike upright – with nimble yet stable steering.

This is achieved by combining a relaxed 68-degree head angle with a super-short (for a gravel bike) 60mm stem, and 425mm reach working harmoniously with the wide Ritchey Beacon gravel bar, with its super-wide flare.

This front end is paired with a radically downward-sloping top tube that enables you to really move around the bike for balance when the trail ahead is technical.

Finished off with massive 2.35in tyres, with their superb roll-over-anything nature, the BRAVe is the gravel-bike equivalent of a monster truck.

The sloping frame design means there’s a lot of seatpost exposed. This flexes when riding seated, adding a bit of comfort (not that a frameset suspended on 2.35in tyres needs to be overly concerned with comfort).

The frameset is also dropper-post compatible, and adding the ability to drop your saddle out of the way on technical descents elevates the BRAVe’s go-anywhere potential even further.

The fork – alongside having multiple triple-boss cage mounts and masses of clearance – is of the ‘suspension’-corrected persuasion.

This means that, if you fancy an upgrade to a suspension fork a multitude of wider Boost-hub spacing 29er forks are available to further increase the BRAVe’s considerable off-road prowess.

The Cairn BRAVe is built around a Shimano STEPS E7000 motor system. This provides ample torque-laden power with a max of 70Nm torque (Cairn also offers a higher-specced model e8000 with 80Nm) and three modes (Eco, Trail and Boost).

On the production bike, the motor will be paired with a huge 630Wh battery, but due to ongoing shortages, my test bike arrived equipped with a standard 500Wh version.

This meant my range testing fell short of what BRAVe says the production bike will deliver, yet my test bike delivered an impressive range of run-to-empty distances.

On a flattish ride using just Eco mode, the bike covered 70.2 miles / 113km with 3,290ft / 1,003m of climbing.

When you factor in that the 630Wh battery is 22 per cent larger, then the range potential is worthy of praise.

The only issue with the Shimano system is its controller. Because the E7000 and its sharp LCD screen are intended for mountain bike use, the bar-mounted accessory controller doesn’t really mesh with a drop-bar setup, so Cairn has opted not to use it.

This means you have to cycle up through each mode (and off), so shifting from Trail down to Eco means going all the way through Boost and off first.

It’s an annoying quirk rather than a flaw, but I’d like to have the same two-way control of Steps as I have on my own Shimano-equipped e-commuter.

With the frame adorned all over with mounting points (triple fork mounts, three bottle cages, mudguard mounts, top-tube bento box), you won’t be left wanting for luggage.

The huge Maxxis Rekon tyres, with their broadly spaced deep-set knobbles, provide off-road grip in all weathers beyond what most of us will have experienced with a gravel bike.

It makes on-road progress a little more laboured, but on a bike such as the BRAVe, you’ll be wanting to get off the tarmac almost as soon as you start pedalling.

The other big plus with these tyres is the ability to run super-low pressures. Sub-20psi isn’t unheard of, which spreads the tread and makes muddy winter gravel excursions a reality.

That said, you may want to make use of the mudguard mounts because tyres such as these spray mud and muck like an angry farmer racing his John Deere home for lunch.

The final bonus of big-volume tyres is the excellent comfort they afford. When you compare the ride feel of the BRAVe to your average gravel bike with much skinnier tyres, it’s streets apart.

That’ll come as no surprise to mountain bikers, but to drop-bar aficionados, it’s a big, big change.

Smart-value spec choices

Perhaps the BRAVe’s biggest virtue is its price – with plenty of drop-bar ebikes priced at more than double what Cairn is charging, it makes for a very compelling choice.

The specification shows that this bike was put together by people who practise what they preach.

For instance, the stiff, short alloy stem is unbranded, but it bolts down a quality bar from Ritchey.

The ride feel is superior to gravel bikes with slimmer tyres. Russell Burton / Our Media
Similarly, the alloy seatpost is an unfussy unit that does its job and is topped with Cairn’s own-brand saddle, which is very reminiscent of Fabric’s classic Scoop.

This is another sensible spec choice because many riders have their personal preference when it comes to seating arrangements, so it may get swapped anyway.

The Ryde rims and Formula hubs are tried and tested, good-value mountain bike wheels that aren’t overly heavy and are easy to service and maintain, wrapped in simply brilliant tyres.

Shimano’s motor system is also well proven.

The drivetrain uses Shimano’s dedicated ebike cranks, a Sunrace 11-42 cassette, SRAM’s Apex 1 rear derailleur and shifters, plus Apex hydraulic disc brakes.

Not many bike brands would have the audacity to mix three major manufacturers in the drivetrain alone, but they all work seamlessly together.

The Cairn BRAVe is a genre-busting bike – it’s beyond gravel by some margin.

You could argue it’s simply an e-mountain bike in a drop-bar disguise, but it has much more versatility than that with the raft of fixtures and fittings on offer.

When all is said and done, the BRAVe hits the sweet spot of being a bike so out there, and so different, it could be considered unnecessary.

For me, though, the huge amount of fun it provides makes it one of the best bikes I’ve ridden in quite a while.

Its well-thought-out specification leaves lots of room to grow if you fancy upgrading, but it all works as well as it needs to if you just want to leave well alone and enjoy the ride – and you will.