Specialized's Crux Elite is a simply brilliant cyclo-cross bike that provides really good handling, bags of pace and all the benefits that disc brakes bring to the party, all wrapped up in a bold looking package. It's ready to race, but is equally at home blasting along bridleways and through the local woods for a couple of hours.
Frame and equipment
For 2016 Specialized UK is only bringing in a select number of the full Crux range, and it has clearly decided the majority of new customers for cyclo-cross bikes will want disc brakes, as the four models all sport them. At £2,500 the Crux Elite X1 is the most expensive build, and combines a FACT 10r carbon fibre frame and fork with a SRAM Rival 1 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes, with a full house of Specialized branded componentry.
What the Crux isn't is a versatile do-everything cyclo-cross bike. It's a race-focused bike. With the gravel/adventure category coming along in the last two years, Specialized has developed the Diverge, a bike intended to appeal to that cyclist seeking the big tyres and capability of a cyclo-crosser, but wrapped in a more suitable package, with plenty of rack, mudguard and water bottle mounts.
That leaves the Crux with a clearer purpose of intention. While mudguard and rack mounts are shunned, it retains two bottle cage mounts. It's ready to race, out of the box, but there's nothing to stop you sticking two bottles on and riding it all day on a variety of roads and paths. But it's most likely anyone buying the Crux is going to be looking at racing it.
The FACT 10r carbon fibre frame and fork are disc brake-specific. Specialized has used bolt-thru axles, which add extra stiffness and provide reassuring wheel security. There is currently no 'standard' thru-axle, though; Specialized has used a 100 x 12mm at the front and a 135 x 12mm out back.
That raises wheel compatibility concerns and makes it virtually impossible to source an aftermarket wheelset for this bike. It's a real shame Specialized didn't adopt the much more common 142 x 12mm rear axle standard as that would have provided the potential customer with a lot more wheel choice, and the option to use a 29er mountain bike wheelset in the bike.
Wheel compatibility will be a bigger concern for hardcore cyclo-cross racers who might want to have a fleet of spare wheels with different tyres, but probably less of an issue for the privateer racer. Even if you're not worried about having multiple wheelsets, it does limit the future upgrade potential. A real shame.
It's clear that despite the slow uptake of disc brakes on the professional cyclo-cross circuit, amateur 'cross racers and those new to the sport have been swayed by disc brakes. The handful of cyclo-cross races I've done recently offer enough evidence that disc brakes are in the ascendancy, particularly with people racing for fun and less worried about actually winning.
Tyre clearance is generous. There is tons of space around the 33mm tyres fitted, so going wider wouldn't be a problem and negates any worries about clogging on muddy courses.
Although this bike has no front derailleur there is a redundant front derailleur hanger, which is a bit of an eyesore and a missed opportunity to clean up the lines. There's also a redundant cable port on the down tube, but then this frame is used across a wide number of builds with regular drivetrains.
A full sweep of Specialized branded equipment is used for all the contact points. It's all good, solid stuff, if not particularly exciting in appearance. You get a 27.2mm aluminium seatpost and a 42cm-wide aluminium handlebar and 10cm stem on the size 56cm bike. The Romin saddle is a definite highlight, comfortable and firm. You could save a bit of weight with some carbon fibre parts, but at 8.8kg (19.4lb) for this 56cm bike it can hardly be labelled as heavy.
The Axis 4.0 Disc SCS wheels are Specialized's own product. The understated appearance hides a tubeless-ready rim with Centerlock compatible hubs. The wheels are a reasonable weight, at 1,625g, and stiffness is pretty good, but after three races the spokes in the rear wheel needed tightening, as they had loosened and were creaking a lot under power.
The Terra Pro tyres carry Specialized's tubeless-ready label, 2Bliss, so going tubeless would seem a sensible thing to do. So that's what I did after the first ride. The Terra Pros provide good grip on a range of surfaces and terrain, with good rolling resistance, though cornering traction could be enhanced with more aggressive shoulder blocks.
Going tubeless was easy. I simply removed the inner tubes, added a layer of Gorilla Tape, inserted a tubeless valve and a slug of sealant, and had the tyres inflated using just a track pump. I've done four races so far and the setup has been great, but all the races I've done have been dry, so I've not had to run low pressures. At around 30psi, though, I've not experienced any excessive tyre roll or burping (when the tyre momentarily breaks the tubeless seal with the rim and leaks sealant).
Most serious cyclo-cross racers are wedded to traditional tubular tyres, because you can run them at very low pressures and because of the weight benefits they offer. It's still early days for tubeless in cyclo-cross; there isn't a lot of tyre choice, but I can foresee a lot more amateur and privateer racers running tubeless in the future. It massively reduces the risk of puncturing and allows you to run lower pressures than you would want to with a clincher and inner tube setup.
Gearing – single ring simplicity
SRAM's new Rival 1 groupset ditches the front mech and combines a single ring, with specially shaped wide/narrow teeth to provide increased chain retention, with a wide-range 11-speed cassette. This bike pairs an 11-36t cassette with a 40t chainring. The bulky rear derailleur owes its appearance to a clutch mechanism inside that prevents chain slap over rough ground and minimises the chain dropping off the chainring.
The beauty of the drivetrain is the simplicity of use. Just one gear paddle using SRAM's DoubleTap concept moves the chain quickly across the cassette. It's a bit clunky; it doesn't have the lightness of a Shimano setup, but that's actually a benefit when riding off-road or in the red mist of a cyclo-cross race – you're left in no doubt that a gear change has occurred.
I've found the spread of gears very usable, enough for steep hills, and the ratios close enough together to never really find myself in completely the wrong sprocket. Because there's just the one chainring, I'm always near the right gear, whether approaching a climb or descent, and moving from one extreme to another is a quick process – none of that double shifting you have to do with two chainrings.
And so far, touch wood, I've not dropped a chain. I've not yet had a truly muddy race or ride to put the groupset through, but it has shown good signs of clearing easily on some of the mud that I have encountered this autumn. I'll update this review should any issues arise in the mud. And I will just say that I have been using SRAM's 1x11 drivetrain on a mountain bike for the past couple of winters and never had any issues.
Head to any local or regional cyclo-cross race and you'll see a lot of people on disc brake-equipped cyclo-cross bikes. Disc brakes are growing in popularity, despite a reluctance by most of the top world cup cyclo-cross racers to switch wholesale to them.
I can appreciate why the top level racers haven't adopted disc brakes, yet – the weight for starters – but away from the top ranks, amateur/privateer/have-a-go racers are clearly leaning towards them. Why? Well, personally I've found that disc brakes simply offer better and easier ability to control speed, whether it's minute adjustments through a fast, sweeping turn, or stopping abruptly for a tight hairpin. For me, the improved control outweighs the weight penalty.
The SRAM brakes are smooth and progressive with nice levers, and they're easy to reach whether in the drops or hoods. The large hoods aren't pretty, but they do provide good places to anchor your hands when descending or riding over rough ground.
Ride and handling
In the cut and thrust of a cyclo-cross race, the Crux is fast, stable and poised. The brakes inspire confidence – being able to brake late and hard into corners is addictive, and gentle adjustments for scrubbing speed through faster turns is a delight. The frame and fork show a high level of stiffness, allowing you to really muscle the bike through corners and over bumps and rocks, with no discernible flex or vagueness when climbing or sprinting out of the saddle.
The handling definitely leans more towards stability than agility, though. It can be a bit of a handful through a succession of really tight corners, but when the course opens up and the speed increases, the Crux really lights up, and you can gain back time lost through the tight stuff. The positive in its handling is how friendly it is if you're new to cyclo-cross; it's an easy bike to ride fast and deals with bumpy terrain extremely well.
The Crux won't win a weight contest, but on a flat and fast cyclo-cross course with a few short ramps, I haven't found its 8.8kg (19.4lb) a penalty at all. Yes it's heavier than a similarly specced cantilever version, but unless you're obsessed with weight it's not a deal-breaker. The Crux certainly feels fast. It accelerates out of corners swiftly, with the stiffness of the whole bike providing a reassuring snap as you get the power down.
The contact points all fall to place nicely, with the handlebar a good shape, the shallow drops not requiring superb flexibility. The bigger SRAM hoods might not be aesthetically pleasing, but on rufty tufty terrain they do provide a good place to firmly anchor your hands. And because the hydraulic brakes are so powerful, you can operate the levers from the hoods with a single finger.
Away from the confines of the course tape, the Crux is right at home on mixed terrain rides. The more-stable-than-agile handling is a bonus on faster and rougher tracks, where you're not sure what is around the next tree. And on the road it's fast, the tyres providing reasonably good rolling resistance so your pace isn't impeded too significantly.
On a variety of rooty singletrack in my local woods and knitting together bridleways, gravel paths and farm tracks, the Crux is fast paced and rarely gets out of its depth, provided you don't try to ride it like a fully suspended mountain bike on your favourite descent... If you want to explore local trails away from the busy roads but don't want to go down the mountain bike route, a cyclo-cross bike is a perfect way to mix it up and inject a bit of fun into your riding.
The Crux is a simply brilliant cyclo-cross bike that is ready to race but equally at home off the beaten path on longer adventure rides. Wheel compatibility issues will be a deal-breaker for some, but if you can overlook that and want a really sorted bike to race and ride through the winter, the Crux Elite X1 should be right near the top of your list.
A brilliant cyclo-cross bike that is fast and fun to ride and ideal for racing
Make and model: Specialized Crux Elite X1
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Specialized says: "The Specialized Crux Elite X1 takes a lightweight and responsive frame and combines it with a reliable, performance-driven build. And with the ease and efficiency of a SRAM Rival 1 one-by drivetrain, you get a bike that's going to take your riding to the next level"
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Specialized FACT 10r carbon frame combines all the lightweight responsiveness and rigidity of 11r with minimal weight gains.
The Specialized FACT carbon fork increases steering response and rider input for the tight turns and all-out efforts demanded in CX.
The SRAM Rival 1 one-by crankset takes shifting out of the equation, while offering a no-hassle, performance crankset.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
High quality carbon fibre frame and fork but would be nice to see a proper 1x11-specific frame with no front mech hanger and the redundant cable routing on the down tube removed.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Specialized FACT 10R carbon fibre.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
This 56cm has a 583mm stack, 384mm reach, 155mm head tube, 72 degree head angle, 425mm chainstays, 1022mm wheelbase and 69mm bottom bracket drop.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Really good fit.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Surprisingly comfortable over rough ground with quite a bit of compliance from the fork and stays.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
No lack of stiffness when sprinting up steep climbs.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Extremely well, you're only limited by available traction.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Stable, could be a bit more nimble for tight corners.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling errs on the side of stable and relaxed, which makes it a boon on fast courses, but through really tight corners it's not as nimble and agile as it could be.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
It's all good quality kit with tubeless-ready wheels and tyres and the SRAM Rival 1 groupset is fantastic for cyclo-cross racing.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The rear wheel spokes came loose after a couple of races, but otherwise have been tough and durable.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
I've only changed the stem to correct the fit, everything else is just fine, it all works out of the box.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
SRAM's Rival 1 works really well for cyclo-cross, with a good range of gear ratios, powerful brakes and very little to go wrong.
Wheels and tyres
Mostly good, but the rear wheel spokes did come loose after just a few races.
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
The wheels are adequate rather than stellar, but the rims are tubeless ready as are the tyres. It would be nice if Specialized included a tubeless kit including valves to make it an even easier upgrade.
The Romin saddle is very comfortable.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The Specialized contact points are all top notch stuff. The bar has a nice shape and good drop, and the saddle is comfortable even on longer rides.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
It's all above average, reliable kit that works well and good for the money.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
About the tester
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.