What exactly is gravity gravel, and what does it have to do with the YT Industries Szepter CORE 4? We put the German brand’s downhill-oriented gravel bike to the test in our big adventure gravel bike group test, pitting it against the ultimate all-rounders and absolute specialists.
This bike was tested as part of our 2023 adventure gravel bike group test – you can find an overview of the group test and test field here:
Are YouTube making gravel bikes now? For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name, YT Industries are a fairly young German mountain bike brand, taking their first foray into gravel territory. They’re aiming to take on the big names in the drop bar world with the Szepter. A gravel bike designed to perform on the trails? The Szepter isn’t just out to impress newcomers to the drop bar scene, but also to convert die-hard roadies and mountain bikers with its suspension fork, dropper post, integrated mudguards, and geometry that’s clearly optimised for off-road use. Coming from a direct to consumer brand, it promises excellent value for money, too. But does all that make the Szepter a good adventure bike?
YT Szepter – Direct to consumer par excellence?
While not always the most important point, direct to consumer brands often still prioritise offering the best value for money. And that’s precisely where the € 4,499 YT Industries Szepter CORE 4 comes in. That’s an impressive price considering that it comes specced with a SRAM Force eTap AXS XPLR groupset, featuring a 10-44 t cassette and 38 t chainring. Even if we would have expected a mullet drivetrain from an MTB brand, the bike is definitely punching above its weight. The RockShox Rudy suspension fork and wireless RockShox AXS dropper post complete the picture. It’s rounded off with a Zipp cockpit consisting of a Service Course SL handlebar and stem, resulting in a high-end build. Only the WTB Proterra Light wheels are slightly lower-end. However, the fitted 42 mm WTB Resolute tires are ideally suited for off-road riding.
Compared to the competition in the test field, the Szepter is an absolute bargain. The Orbea Terra costs € 1,000 more, and while it comes specced with the same groupset, you would have to make do without a suspension fork or dropper post. The GIANT Revolt X also costs just under € 1,000 more, specced with a SRAM Rival groupset and a mechanical dropper, though with the same fork. You’ve really got to ask yourself how a relatively small German MTB brand is capable of offering such a build for that price.
But it’s not just the build that stands out, as the design is also full of surprises and a few head scratchers. What comes to mind when trying to describe the YT Szepter is “accidentally aero” – the head tube, down tube and cutout on the seat tube are all strongly reminiscent of aerodynamically optimised road bikes. In combination with the suspension fork and very tall stack height, however, it looks somewhat contradictory. The front and rear mudguards are cool, but they don’t work properly and are much too small, especially at the rear. Here, the functionality has probably fallen victim to the design. The approach to mounting points is somewhat inconsistent, too – the front triangle has tons of bosses for bottle cages and bags, but the rest of the frame remains completely bare. As such, you can’t attach a full set of bikepacking bags without using straps, or fit proper mudguards.
– longer travel dropper
– mullet drivetrain
YT Szepter Core 4
Fork rigid fork
Seatpost RS AXS Dropper
Brakes SRAM Force 180/160 mm
Drivetrain SRAM Force eTap AXS XPLR 1x12
Stem Zipp Service Cource SL 80 mm
Handlebar Zipp Service Cource SL 420 mm
Wheelset WTB Proterra Light
Tires WTB Presolute 28"
Size S M L XL XXL
Weight 10.36 kg
Mountain bike geometry
Front suspension and dropper post
Strong offroad performance
YT Szepter – Gravity gravel or adventure at its finest?
As the spec promises, the bike is designed for trail performance and you’ll notice that from the get-go. Thanks to the chunky WTB Resolute tires, suspension fork, and dropper post, the bike instils you with plenty of confidence on rough trails and just glides along on even the fastest flow trails. As you’d expect, the Szepter is very stable too, which can catch you off guard on winding forest trails, but makes the bike feel incredibly composed when you’re riding fast. The composed handling makes the Szepter feel rather restrained on normal gravel roads, offering enough reserves to cope with sudden, unexpected potholes with ease. It doesn’t really do fast starts or finish line sprints. This isn’t just due to the slow rolling WTB tires – the geometry simply isn’t designed for it, and the suspension fork also slows the bike down.
But the gravity-gravel Szepter is a hoot when things get steep and fast, because that is exactly the kind of terrain the bike is designed for, with handling that’s very reminiscent of a hardtail mountain bike. The firm rear end combined with a plush fork offers plenty of control, and the dropper gives you ample freedom of movement for optimal weight distribution on technical trails.
YT are clearly wielding the off-road sceptre
The perfect YT Szepter adventure
In contrast to many of the other bikes on test, the Szepter is designed to excel at one specific discipline, and it does. Any mountain bikers and trail riders with an interest in gravel will have a brilliant time aboard the Szepter, and they’ll score an excellent deal considering the value for money. Therefore, the adventures you’re likely to have with YT Industries Szepter CORE 4 will look a little different. It’s not the kind of bike you’d use for bikepacking, or long rides. The Szepter wants to be ridden like a small mountain bike and, accordingly, it prefers blasting down fast trails on short tours. However, it’s more efficient than most mountain bikes.
Our conclusion on the YT Industries Szepter CORE 4
The YT Industries Szepter CORE 4 is a well thought-out bike that delivers on fun, and it performs impressively on the trails. While its looks aren’t for everyone, at least you can be sure that you’ll stand out from the crowd. Due to the rather mediocre performance on gravel tracks and smooth terrain, the Szepter can’t quite hold its own against the competition in our adventure gravel test. However, it definitely wins in terms of value for money, making it the deserved Best Buy.
- absolute and uncompromising off-road performance
- incredibly fun and cool gravity gravel concept
- confidence inspiring on trails
- limited use case
- no frame protection
- a wider gear range would be a better fit for the off-road concept
For more information visit yt-industries.com
This bike was tested as part of our 2023 adventure gravel bike group test – you can find an overview of the group test and the test field here:
All bikes on review:Argon 18 Dark Matter | BMC URS 01 ONE | Cannondale Topstone Carbon 1 Lefty | Canyon Grizl CF SLX 8 Force AXS Trail | Falkenjagd ARISTOS TRAIL GRAVEL | Focus Atlas 8.8 | Ghost Asket Advanced | Giant Revolt X | Merida Silex 10k | Mondraker Dusty XR | Orbea Terra M21e Team Custom M | Ridley Kanzo Adventure | Rose Backroad AL Plus | Santa Cruz Stigmata | Scott Solace Gravel eRIDE 10 | Specialized Diverge STR Pro | Trek Checkpoint SL 7 AXS | Wilier Adlar | YT Industries Szepter Core 4
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Words: Calvin Zajac Photos: Jan Richter