Based in Bend, Oregon, Argonaut is a boutique custom carbon frame manufacturer with a somewhat atypical approach to bike building. The company maintains a narrow range, but today a second option was added to its website – the new GR3. And as is often the case with boutique brands in the custom bike scene, this fully integrated and aero-looking performance gravel bike offers some ideas that I suspect will expand in the coming years.
Admittedly, the most discerning readers will recognize this new gravel-focused bike as one that has been spotted in the wild for several months, notably under sponsored athlete Sarah Max. Now it’s official and with it come concrete details.
Bike and geo
The new GR3 is a bike that aims to deliver performance-based versatility through a combination of custom carbon fabrication (I’ll get back to that later), clearance for up to 700x50mm tires and a progressive approach to gravel-focused geometry.
The Argonaut achieves this generous tire clearance while keeping its chain stays at an impressively short 415mm. Off the top of my head, it’s certainly one of the shortest lengths for the given tire clearance, even if it comes at the expense of derailleur control.
The 68.5º head angle is another interesting design decision, and this relaxed and arguably sluggish character is then accelerated by a long, 57mm offset fork. The result is a 79mm footprint (700 x 40mm tire) that should fit nicely between the BMC URS and Evil Chamois Hagar.
These geometric shapes and stack and reach are pre-configured and offered in seven sizes. Argonaut has plans to offer fully customized versions of this model, but those things are probably a year away.
Cables and hoses are nowhere to be seen on the GR3 and are hidden via the company’s matching stem. Argonaut makes no claims of aerodynamic gain and rather points out that the hidden wiring is beneficial for those looking to run a handlebar bag and just makes cleaning the bike easier. I don’t agree with such claims, but keep in mind that future headset services will be more expensive due to the design.
Other than that, things are noticeably simple, including the use of regular handlebars (albeit one that allows for internal cabling), round seatposts held in place by an external clamp and a T47 threaded outer shell.
Custom frame manufacturers rarely offer frame weights, partly because they vary by intended use, but also because they are rarely attractive. However, Argonaut’s manufacturing process (details below) delivers impressive numbers, with G3R frames said to start at just 850g with a matching 350g fork. Stem weight is 135g and 120mm long.
Pricing for the Argonaut GR3 starts at $6,500 for a frameset. The current construction time is four months from the order date.
Custom monocoque carbon
“Custom monocoque carbon”. These are three words that rarely come together when talking about bicycles. And yet this is how Argonaut approaches the production of its bikes.
Monocoque design is the only common manufacturing method for carbon fiber bike frames. The specific process varies, but the basics of making a monocoque frame involve layering sheets of prepreg carbon fiber around a removable core material (also known as a bladder or mandrel) and then carefully inserting it into a solid mold. The inner bladder is then pressurized and the mold heated, resulting in a carbon frame (or part) that conforms to the shape of the outer mold. If you’re riding a carbon bike and it’s a brand that races on the WorldTour, chances are it’s monocoque (unless you’re riding a C-series Colnago).
Monocoque carbon is a popular method in the cycling world for creating rigid structures with best-in-class weight. The disadvantage is that expensive tooling must be made for each specific frame size, which is not easily adapted for each bike. As a result, most custom carbon wheels are made using other manufacturing methods – such as tube-to-tube – which inevitably means more excess material.
Argonaut bikes are manufactured in Bend, Oregon using proven monocoque manufacturing techniques similar to mass-produced bikes from Asia, albeit with a few twists. The American company has its own patented silicon pressing process that produces incredibly consistent and clean results, which it calls the “High Pressure Silicon Pressing Process”.
“We make our CNC tools out of aluminum and then we make the mandrels out of silicon,” explained Argonaut’s Erik Bergstrom. “We apply carbon to a silicon mandrel. Each layout pattern applied to the mandrel is unique to the rider. Once the carbon is deposited, it is placed in an aluminum tool, rotated down, and placed in an oven to cure the epoxy in the prepreg carbon. The silicon expands during this process, eliminating any distortions or imperfections. The result is carbon pieces that are just as perfect inside and out.”
While monocoque molds are best suited for fixed-geometry bikes (the company offers custom at a premium), Argonaut adds its own touch with a specific carbon layout for each frame order. Are you a lightweight rider who often finds stock bikes too stiff for your taste? That’s what the Argonaut process is supposed to answer. Do you just want a bike stiffer than a 2×4 that is fast but is actually probably slower? Yeah, the custom process allows for that too.
“We’re trying to get as clear a picture as possible of who is who and how they need their bike to feel and perform,” Bergstrom said. “Some people want stiffer machines to beat their buddies to the next sprint point, others are looking for something they can ride all day on roads that are pristine. We work to deliver them a bike that meets exactly what they want. And of course the rider’s weight and physiology play a role in that.”
Argonaut’s latest release, the RM3 road bike, came with news of in-house fork manufacturing. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. As with other high-end fork options, the company has since gone back to outsourcing the production of forks unique to the brand. “Our ethos is this: if we can do something better than anyone else here, we’ll do it,” Bergstrom explained. “If we find that someone else can really do it better, we will choose the best option. We have made forks in the past, but the price we would have to charge for a fork made in-house was not viable. So we have a partner that makes them just as good as us, but the price makes more sense.”
There’s no doubt that Argonaut makes highly desirable bikes with prices to match. What’s probably more fascinating, though, is how much attention these small boutique brands are getting from the biggest names, and how the ideas you see so often here are filtering into more mainstream product offerings.
Okay, that’s enough. Time for pictures.
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