Robust, overbuilt, and stout – these are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when you see the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter for the first time. The gravel bike certainly is big-boned, tipping the scales at 8.56 kg. How does this affect its racing prowess, and can it score with its inner values?
This bike was reviewed as part of our 2023 gravel race bike shootout. You’ll find a comprehensive group test and test field overview here: Which is the best gravel race bike of 2023? 9 gravel race bikes in review
Argon 18 is a Canadian bike brand that allows you to adapt the bike to your own needs with the help of an online configurator. All bikes destined for the European market are assembled in their Danish headquarters. The 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter is based on an older model of the same name. The new model features full integration, a new seat post, and an improved option to remove the front derailleur mount (no longer via the bottle cage bosses). However, not much has changed visually. The Argon 18 Dark Matter still features an oversized and beefy look. It promises to be suitable for all gravel applications, from racing to bikepacking adventures, and even convey a sense of lightness while you’re at it. Can what is perhaps the most versatile bike in the test field keep up with the more die-hard racers and aero bikes on test?
The 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter – Still gravel or already a mountain bike?
The 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter is clearly the bike on test that is most reminiscent of an MTB. The frame has big and beefy tube shapes, the fork looks indestructible and the wheels, including tires, could almost have come from a cross-country MTB. In direct comparison, the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter looks like a tank, which is also due to the military-green paint job.
The 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter weighs in at 8.56 kg. That makes it the heaviest gravel race bike on test after the 2023 Ridley Kanzo Fast. Edgy lines dominate the frame’s characteristic look and are complemented by the rounded tube profiles. You can find an insanely large number of mounting points spread across the frame and fork, with a total of 10 bosses for two to three bottle cages in the front triangle alone. The internally routed cables enter the frame via the headset. As such, you shouldn’t have any trouble swapping out the stem and handlebar. In the case of the handlebar, this is something we’d advise doing since none of our testers could make much sense of the ergonomics of the angled tops.
Argon 18 Dark Matter
Seatpost Argon 18 TDS-C
Brakes SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD 160/140 mm
Drivetrain SRAM Force eTap AXS 2x12
Stem FSA SMR system 100 mm
Handlebar FSA SL-K UD Carbon compact 440 mm
Wheelset Hunt 42 Limitless Gravel Disc XDR
Tires Vittoria Terreno Mix TR GR2.0 700 x 38c
Size XXS XS S M L XL
Weight 8,56 kg
integrated chain guide
generous amount of mounting points
generous tire clearance
The most difficult aspect of speccing the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter is to cover its wide range of use cases in a meaningful way. For example, the shifting performance of the SRAM Force AXS 2×12 doesn’t meet the requirements for racing. Due to the use of just two triggers, the front mech waits for you to press a second time if you press both triggers simultaneously. It feels like an eternity and is annoying to say the least. The small 140 mm rear brake rotor doesn’t suit the bike’s bikepacking and off-road ambitions. For that, we’d prefer a 180 mm model up front and 160 mm rotor at the rear. The HUNT 42 LIMITLESS gravel wheelset, on the other hand, excels off-road with its generous
internal rim width of 25 mm, though it weighs a considerable 1,548 g. Regardless of weight, the 42 mm rim depth offers slight aero benefits and looks fantastic.
But the standout features of the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter are the many details that can only be seen at second glance. This includes the integrated chain guide. Another off-road feature is the massive chainstay protector on the top and bottom. The round seat tube and traditional clamp may not look all that futuristic, but it does make swapping out the seat post or fitting a dropper post a whole lot easier.
Argon 18 Dark Matter vs Ridley Kanzo Fast – Twins or polar opposites?
What do the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter and the 2023 Ridley Kanzo Fast have in common? Everything and nothing. These two gravel bikes on test are very similar on paper, so much so that you could be led to believe they’re twins: visually different but sharing the same DNA. But it just goes to show how far theory and practice can be apart. They share many similar specs, including their weight, geometry and stem length. So, they should feel and behave the same way, right? Wrong! The handling of the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter is stable, composed, and lacking in agility. It’s easy to keep tracking on a straight line, and it takes a lot more effort to initiate direction changes than with the Ridley Kanzo Fast. The 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter completely lacks that fast-paced feeling, too. It cruises along leisurely more than that it charges ahead. This also suits the upright and centred riding position, which invites you to go at comfortable rather than racing speeds.
A reliable companion with certain shortcomings
Compliance isn’t exactly the strong suit of the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter. The frame and seat post offer little to no flex. Fortunately, however, the wide rims and grippy 40 mm Vittoria Terreno Mix tires can compensate for this, ultimately placing the bike midfield in terms of comfort. The Ridley Kanzo Fast fares much better in this aspect too. The problem with the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter is that it has bitten off more than it can chew. It aims to be a good-natured bikepacking bike, and an aggressive, light-footed race bike that performs just as well on trails as on long gravel roads – it’s just too much for one bike. On the upside, it offers a good starting point for different use cases. Thanks to the vast number of attachment points on the frame and fork, swapping out the handlebar, stem, seat post, and tires opens up many possibilities. Of course, you’ve got to be a fan of the burly look, post-apocalyptic vibes, and monster truck feeling.
Argon 18 Dark Matter
|Seat tube||420 mm||450 mm||485 mm||520 mm||555 mm||590 mm|
|Top tube||492 mm||513 mm||534 mm||556 mm||579 mm||603 mm|
|Head tube||119 mm||134 mm||153 mm||169 mm||190 mm||215 mm|
|Chainstay||428 mm||428 mm||428 mm||428 mm||428 mm||428 mm|
|BB Drop||70 mm||70 mm||70 mm||70 mm||70 mm||70 mm|
|Reach||357 mm||367 mm||377 mm||387 mm||497 mm||400 mm|
|Stack||529 mm||549 mm||569 mm||589 mm||609 mm||634 mm|
Who is the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter for?
If you don’t yet know where the gravel journey will take you, the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter is a good place to start. With its burly looks, this gravel bike will make a faithful companion on a wide range of different occasions. For a dedicated gravel race bike, you would have to make several changes to the componentry. If that’s what you’re after, we’d recommend going for its twin brother, the Ridley Kanzo Fast, or one of the other, racier candidates on test.
Tuning tip: handlebar with better ergonomics and more compliance | seat post with more flex or integrated suspension for long distances | lighter wheel and tire combination for a sprightlier ride | 180/160 mm brake rotors
The 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter can do a lot, but it can’t do it all. It doesn’t excel in any specific discipline, but it can be used as a versatile basis. With a few adjustments to the build, which is possible thanks to the use of standard components, the 2023 Argon 18 Dark Matter makes a great bikepacking bike or tank for off-road use. However, it wouldn’t be our weapon of choice if you’re out to win races, rather a trusty mule for all eventualities.
- customisable thanks to the online configurator
- enough mounting points for every bag and all situations
- smart details
- very stable and composed handling
- lack of comfort at the rear
- uncomfortable handlebar and bar tape
- no race genes
- build doesn’t offer the promised versatility
You can find out more about at argon18.com
For an overview of the test fleet head to the group test: Which is the best gravel race bike of 2023? 9 gravel race bikes in review
All bikes in test: Argon 18 Dark Matter | Berria Belador Allroad 8 | BMC Kaius 01 ONE | Canyon Grail CF SLX 9 eTap | Factor OSTRO Gravel | Fara Cycling F/All-Road | Ridley Kanzo Fast | Specialized S-Works Crux | Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap
No, it’s not about perfect race tracks, it’s about efficiency. Fast, fleet-footed and efficient – those who want to speed along high-speed passages need a defined and spritely bike that accelerates with ease and efficiency. Nevertheless, reliable components are important too. We interpret “Smooth tarmac” bikes as follows: Hard efforts at high speeds with a maximum efficient bike on a consistently well-paved road. Effort-joy ratio: 80:30 (not everything has to be 100%!)↩
… also known as bike riding. Broken-up roads in the hinterland, deadlocked gravel roads, loose surfaces – sometimes muddy, sometimes bone-dry. For this, it takes bikes with super all-round, handling and wearing qualities uphill and downhill. Effort-joy ratio: 50:50↩
If you want to use your bike almost every day, you usually do not need an extremely tuned racing machine. Solid components, which are able to cope with the rigours of continuous usage in any kind of weather, are part of the basic equipment. At the same time, the bike should have practicable details: integrated fenders/assembly options, luggage racks/attachment points and a light system or at least the option of installing bike lights. The position on the bike should be rather relaxed, the overall comfort high, so that the Afterwork Ride becomes a cure and not a curse. Effort-joy ratio: 30:70↩
Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of GRAN FONDO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality cycling journalism. Click here to learn more.
Words: Martin Staffa Photos: Robin Schmitt, Jan Richter