A Cross the Great Divide – A 2014 Cyclo-Cross round up
VecchioJo rummages around Eurobike to see what cyclo-cross is doing for 2014
Remember how we’ve been banging on about disc brakes breaking out all over cyclo-cross bikes for the last few years and nothing’s really happened. Well, this year it happened. Like a virulent socially transmitted rash.
Thanks to the big boys Shimano and SRAM finally making hydraulic road disc brakes it’s suddenly a viable proposition to make disc specific cyclo-cross (and road) frames for this particular vision of the future. As if by magic this year the overwhelming majority of 2014 cyclo-cross bikes sprouted discs, and so comprehensive has been the running dismount away from rim brakes that seeing a cyclo-cross bike with cantilevers was as exciting as seeing one with discs on was a few years ago, with only either the real race-bred or entry-level models featuring the instantly obsolete braking system.
Walking round Eurobike last month It was clear that the trend for cyclo-cross bikes has died down as there were significantly less ‘cross bikes decorating stands than the fashion boom of previous years and it was only the core manufacturers that had them in their line up, the ones that had cyclo-cross as a “Me Too” product had quietly forgotten about them to concentrate on whatever the next fashionable thing is. The broad acceptance of disc brakes has led to what you could call a cyclo-cross bike changing and diversifying even more and morphing into bikes that blurred the boundaries between what a ‘cross bike is and what a touring bike is and what a drop-barred 29” wheeled mountainbike might be.
But no sooner has everyone caught up with the new technology than someone else moves the goalposts, and that someone was Giant with their TCX bike. Giant have done a sensible thing and split their cyclo-cross range into the three separate disciplines that they see people using a CX bike for, because they haven’t been a just-for-racing machine for quite some time now. Giant have created the TCX, Revolt and Anyroad series and all of them use discs. The TXC is their race oriented sub-set, the Revolt is their Gravel Racing thing and the Anyroad tackles tamer tracks and genteel off-road as the leisure/commute option.
The top of the tree TCX Advanced is a no-holds barred pure racing machine, something as evolved as you could ever want right now and probably the most talked about CX bike at the show. The full carbon Advanced-Grade Composite frame and fork comes with asymmetrical chain stays and internal cable routing, SRAM Force bits and Rotor cranks, all of which are exciting enough in themselves, but the forks are a first for a cross bike and borrow from mountainbikes in offering a 15mm thru axle front hub instead of a quick-release to keep that front end stiff and to counter any brake influence from the SRAM hydraulic discs. Not happy with changing the front the rear end has a mountainbike standard 135mm hub width too. Will this be the way all CX bikes are going to evolve over the next few years? Are we all going to have to buy new wheels? And everything else. Most likely.
A little less “scream if you want to go faster”, but only just, are the two TCX SLR models. The SLR 1 carries some of the technology from the TCX Advanced at a more affordable price, still with a 15mm front thru-axle, 135mm rear wheel spacing, disc brakes, asymmetrical stays and internal cable routing you have to make do with an alloy frame and carbon fork but you still get to play with SRAM Force and their hydraulic brakes. The TCX SLR 2 gives you an alloy frame and a more prosaic carbon fork with alloy steerer and QR dropouts, Shimano 105 dominates the spec sheet and you stop with Tektro Spyre mechanical discs.
Giant’s new Revolt range is designed for dirt roads, unpaved mountain passes and the next big thing of gravel grinding, it’s like a ‘cross bike but the ALUXX SL alloy frame has “endurance oriented geometry”, that’ll be more relaxed than your pure race machine then, and there’s room in the frame for fat 700x50 tyres. With two models in the range, both under £1,000, they look like a bike that a lot of people who ride A Bit Of Everything on their CX bikes will enjoy. It’s even got an X-Defender guard on the downtube to protect the rider and bike from dirt and debris. That’ll have the ‘cross purists twitching.
Finally the Anyroad is Giant’s all new bike designed, in some would say an aesthetically challenged way, with an ALUXX alloy frame featuring a tall head tube and increased top tube clearance for confident off-road handling, it says here. The AnyRoad’s 33c tyres and description of being good for bumpy roads or “even dirt” suggest it’s better off tootling along to watch a cross race than actually competing in it.
Specialized were another brand divvying up the cyclo-cross spoils into different handy marketing cubby-holes, which is something they’ve been doing for a bit to be fair, but they’ve added a new genus to the family. The CruX is Specilaized’s race machine, a model much used and much loved on the field, the Tricross has been shifted sideways, it used to be a ‘cross bike but of the more everyday utility kind but now it sits in their Adventure Touring niche alongside their brand new AWOL continent destroying beast. This new adventure touring, ultra-cross, UCX, CXtreme, whatever you want to call it is certainly taking hold.
The move continues away from the ‘cross bike just being the ropey bike cobbled together from old road bike bits for smashing about for 60 minutes in the Winter and it’s as easy to spend more than a car on an all-singing all-dancing carbon, hydro-electric bike, it can easily cost more than your poshest road bike. The S-Works CruX Red Disc tops the Specialized range at a healthy $8.5K and shows if you’re serious about cyclo-cross then you can be bloody serious. But if you want a S-Works FACT carbon frame with a tapered headtube, a FACT carbon disc fork, Roval Rapide CLX 40 Disc Tubular wheelset with ceramic bearings, an S-Works FACT carbon and brand new hydraulic SRAM RED 22 disc brakes then that’s what you’ve got to pay. And you get an AXIS 2.0 Disc wheelset for training days too.
Luckily Specialized also cater for the more privateer racer, with over half a dozen models and a handful of framesets to choose from in aluminium or carbon, disc or cantilever. Only a fraction of which are officially available in this country, sadly. If your aspirations are more day-to-day rather than race-day then the re-branded Tricross will be more your bag, a do-a-bit-of-everything anywhere, anytime, workhorse. With integrated rack and mudgaurd mounts and internal cable routing it’s a traffic-jammer during the week but a fun dirt road blaster on the weekends. Available in both disc and cantilever versions, according to budget.
If your riding tends towards whatever horizon you can see then the Specialized AWOL might be for you. A steel frame and fork makes it sturdy for pothole smashing or long continuous days in the hills, something it’s proved in this year’s Transcontinental Race. The AWOL Comp frame has adjustable dropouts and a split seatstay so it can be singlespeeded or have a belt drive slipped on. With full rack and mudguard mounts and a relaxed all-day geometry it’s a bit like a repackaged old tourer from decades ago, but don’t tell them that. AWOL is a bike name we wish we’d thought of though. Dammit.
Next up on the list round were Focus bikes, let’s not forget that the company was founded by three-time cyclo-cross World Champion Mike Kluge so ‘cross is in their genes, and Focus have always done good, and good value cross bikes. Their flagship model showcased their partnership with Rapha in their cross-continental cyclo-cross race team, if you have a U.S. National Champion on your books you’d hope the bike would reflect this. It does in the form of the Mares CX 1.0 Rapha 22-G Red 22, which is a bit of a knee-trembler, tongue twister and start line advantage. The rest of their range is a heady mix of discs, rim brakes and electronic shifting to suit the full range of budgets.
Moving from Germany to Belgium and the spiritual home of cyclo-cross, and the bastion of racing. They don’t use their ‘cross bikes for nipping down the shops here, or going to work, or mucking about in the woods, they use them solely for an hour of intense pain, watched by beer-drinking fans, with flags, lots of flags. German outfit Stevens, like Ridley, has an impressive race winning palmares and both are offering their bikes in canti and disc braked versions. Word was a lot of pros had tried discs and gone back to cantilevers, it probably helps that they don’t have to worry about such things as buying new rims and brake blocks but they figure they don’t actually need discs as they only want a brake to just slow them down a little bit, they seldom need to actually stop. Oh, and they have the skills to handle it, unlike the rest of us.
They haven’t let this attitude make them slow on the uptake though, Stevens had a disc-braked ‘cross bike several years ago. Both companies top level bikes, the Stevens Super Prestige and Ridley X-Night, are available in disc and canti versions, and just because it has cantilevers on it doesn’t mean the frames are backwards looking, both companies have carbon frames with tapered headtubes and internal cable routing, the Stevens has an integrated seat-mast to show off and the Ridley has a Pressfit BB30 on their books.
Cannondale have moved the bulk of their ‘cross inventory over to discs as well, even managing to creep them on to a Tiagra level machine, but their star CX bike was a understated beauty. The SuperX Hi-MOD Disc Black Inc is the most advanced cyclocross bike ever made according to Cannondale, but they would say that. It's made from BallisTec Carbon with Speed Save seatstays to give a little micro-suspension to the rear end and a tapered head tube for rigidity up front. With a full colour co-ordinated SRAM RED 22 11-speed hydraulic disc groupset and Stan’s Alpha tubeless wheels 340 it ticks all the up-to-date boxes. And it looks elegantly efficient, mud and pain in a little black dress.
Kona have gone all disc on their familiar Major Jake, Jake the Snake and Jake trio of bikes, pitched to appeal to the hardcore racer with the full-carbon and Ultegra Major, the have-a-go weekend warrior alloy and 105/Ultegra Snake and the much loved £1,000 price-point Jake. And for the future they have the Jake 24 cyclo-cross bike, a race ready kids bike with a lightweight aluminum frame and fork, STI shifters for small hands and smaller 24-inch wheels. For the less racey and more robust long-distance drop-barred off-road bikes that Kona are now calling Freerange (just how many names can this new hardcore touring niche collect?) is the perennial darling Sutra, the Rove that now comes in a more pleasing Steely Blue over last year’s Kermit colour and the Rove Titanium frameset.
Surly and Salsa were showing their usual cyclo-cross-country collections, ploughing their usual nice and workmanlike furrow with some different colours. Still blurring the cross bike/touring bike edges they’re probably wondering what all the current fuss for Gravel Racing and dirt road smashing was all about because they’d been doing that sort of thing for years. And while we’re looking at American steel All-City had their Nature Boy, Macho Man and new Macho Man Disc, in a tasty orange.
Taking things in a completely different and unexpected direction was the Koga Beach Racer, a machine for a discipline you didn’t even know existed, or know you wanted to do. Designed for the quite specific task of racing on flat sandy beaches it is in essence a cyclo-cross frame, but one that’s been widened and the rear triangle has been stretched to fit fatter beach friendly tyres in. The alloy frame with carbon fork has quite a sand specific set-up with a 1x10 drivetrain and knobbly front and fat slick rear tyres, but with a tyre swap it could do a whole bunch of other stuff too, just for fun.
Merida had their efficiently named, if not very imaginatively done so Cyclo-Cross 3, 4 and 5 bikes (what happened to 1 and 2?) and after the indecision of previous years, were all disc.
While we’re on names the Swift T-War has to be up there with the best, or least politically correct one, depending on your humour. Standing for Trench War, which might rankle a few neck-hairs it’s nevertheless an apt description of ‘cross racing. As framesets go it screams agro based on their road framesets it’ll be ready for next year’s season and willing to accept either discs or cantilevers - and like the Giant TCX is another bike with through axles..
The real surprise of the show was Marin, much much better known for their mountainbikes, where they were one of the original mass manufacturers and have since had a varied history. The brand has just had a major revamp and now has three very tempting cyclo-cross models on display. The Cortina name spanned two of the bikes, featuring T3 Carbon frames with tapered head-tubes and Power Taper seat tubes, their 4-in-1 internal cable routing system that allows easy access holes for both electronic and mechanical drivetrains, cheeky hidden fender mounts, a full carbon fork and Press Fit 30 bottom bracket. The top level Cortina T3 CX PRO comes equipped with a 22-speed Ultegra Di2 drivetrain with hydraulic brakes, wheels were tubeless-ready Easton XD wheels with Ritchey WCS cockpit.
The next level Cortina T3 CX comes with the same frame but with a SRAM Rival drivetrain and TRP Spyre disc brakes, both were pretty good looking bikes. Finally the Lombard is Marin’s jack-of-all-trades crosser, tagged as happy to CX, gravel race or commute, all at a Ride-To-Work price. An alloy frame and carbon fork has a Shimano 105 drivetrain hung on it and Avid BB5 cable disc brakes. Of note for the hardened commuter are the black reflective decals adorning the bike to help keep you that little bit more visible while riding home at night.
Jamis, whilst they don’t have much of a presence in this country are pretty popular over the pond, having more than a few awards keeping the bike shed door ajar and their Supernova Team was a quiet track stopper, it just looked ‘Right’, and probably a good indication of what a lot of ‘cross bikes might look like in a few years time. A mix of high and mid modulus carbon fiber are blended into the frame, with formed down and top tubes for comfortable carrying, a tapered head tube, BB386 EVO bottom bracket, 135mm rear wheel spacing, internal cable routing for both Di2 wires or old-fashioned cables, post mount disc mounts and asymmetrical chainstays. Then there’s full hydraulic discs (SRAM Red here) stopping American Classic Tubeless disc wheels with wider than average Clement PDX 33c clinchers. When bikes somehow just look right. This.
Wandering around the halls it was good to see some old favourites hanging around, like they’d been packed away last year, unwrapped again and dusted off, they’re almost friends now. The Look CX disc bike that was quite the revelation a couple for years back was still there, still in the same place, unchanged and looking decidedly old hat now, the Guerciottis, especially the Lembeek Disc with the top-tube that looks like it’s been put on the wrong way up with the flattened shouldering section on the top. The Colnago ‘cross bikes with that still wonderful integrated shoulder brace, both sporting discs this year and the Bianchi Zurigo, the disc version of their Cavaria, a bike very seldom seen in the wilds on these shores.
Whilst looking at what the major manufacturers are doing is always exciting there’s a lot of fun to be had snooping around to see what some of the smaller players are up to. Tout-Terrain do a full range of well-equipped urban and touring bikes that are always bristling with nice touches that make you want to grow a beard and just head off for miles and miles, and their X-Over was no exception.
With Shimano Alfine Di2, belt-drive and integrated dynamo lights it looked spot on for the cyclist that has to keep going through winter and wants the minimum of maintenance, so most of us then. And it’s orange, orange is the best colour for cross bikes. If it didn’t have a belt drive and Alfine and was just a singlespeed I’d probably have one right now.
In a similar vein were Pelago Cycles from Finland who make a range of urban bikes and then the Stavanger Disc, a double-butted 4130 cr-mo frame with a singlespeed compatible dropout and studded tyres for the Scandinavian, and increasingly frequently ours, Winter. Just nice really. And a few steps up from them in the easily missed Small Stands Corner were the always lovely Firefly, Crema Cycles and really rather pretty Van Deyk, and then the Cielo bejeweled with all the Chris King bits that always gets the tummy a little fizzy. And that Moots. And the Ritchey Swiss Cross, which despite being in old fashioned skinny steel still manages to be dripping with “Thing”, which may be because it is handcrafted skinny steel, and something close to irresistible.
Despite the two S’s releasing the hydraulic brake systems that everyone’s been gagging for they weren’t appearing on that many bikes. At a guess most manufacturers were acknowledging the new technology and making frames to fit but sticking with cable discs in an attempt to keep the bike price down, and politely allowing the customer to foot the bill for new posh toys later on.
In the cable-disc arena the ubiquitous Avid BB7 now has strong competition (we’ll quietly ignore Shimano’s cable offering that’s was unfortunately and untimely voluntarily recalled the week before the show) in the shape of TRPs new HY/RD cable actuated hydraulic brake and Spyre cable caliper. In the wheels market disc compatible hoops from ENVE, Reynolds, DT-Swiss and Industry Nine made an appearance.
Lake were showing production version of their Lake MX331 cycloc-ross race shoe, which we get a walk through here. The upper is a supple kangaroo leather, like Lake use on their other shoes and it does up with a Boa dial. The heel cup is mouldable for a secure fit, but the real news is in the sole. It’s a very rigid carbon as it doesn’t need to be all-day comfortable, the tread on the bottom has been reduced to keep weight down and most interestingly it has a modular stud system so you can change your grip for specific course run-ups, which is something we’d never thought of. At £270 for a pair it’s lucky they’re in a bright orange just to let everyone else know just how committed you are to the sport.
Northwave were also debuting a shoe with cyclo-cross intentions, called the Hammer CX it comes with the same thermowelded unibody upper Northwave use on their other shoes, meaning it’s all one piece, getting rid of any stitching that could cause discomfort and there’s less venting than normal, as you’d want in a Winter sport shoe. The entire inside of the shoe is filled with a neoprene sock to keep your feet warm, and it extends out of the shoe and up the ankle to keep the crud out. It comes in Italian or Black and we were given a price of about 169€, convert as necessary.
So that’s that, cyclo-cross has split and diversified, and the arrival of decent discs, and more crucially, acceptance of them has exploded it into all sorts of directions. Admittedly a lot of them are directions we’ve been before but they’ve been given a shake-up and an update and a fat dose of marketing. Proper real serious racers look like they’ll stick to cantilevers for now, because, well, they’re racers and everyone else will just embrace the benefits of discs as the breed spreads and expands to ride for more than an hour round a field, and in doing so it will further and fudge into other bikes genres. Bikes like the Koga Beach Racer are edging towards a drop-barred 29er mountain-bike and the Specialized AWOL and Giant Revolt are very much like touring bikes on steroids but they still just about fit into the cyclo-cross box.
Now that discs are finally here, what’s going to happen next? Cross bikes for actual racing on are going to become the niche market once again and ‘cross bikes for doing all sorts of other fun things on like all-day rides and touring and ultra-cross and hardcore touring are going to inhabit the bulk of the market and these beefier bikes will borrow from the whole lexicon of mountainbike technology so expect to see more through-axles, mountainbike sized rear ends and slacker angles. And the Rough Stuff Fellowship seeing a sudden surge in membership.