The Crux is a rare beast; a thousand pound cyclo-cross bike that's designed for actual cyclo-cross. It's not a jack-of-all-trades utility bike dressed up as a CX bike but a 'cross bike that's designed for what cyclo-cross really is - racing.
There are no eyelets for bolting things to so that it can be used as a tourer or commuting bike and it has cantilever brakes for basic slowing-down-a-bit in a race corner. There are no discs whether the UCI says you can have 'em or not; anyway cantis are lighter and if this is your first cross bike it's probably better to master the basics of slowing-down technique before you spoil yourself with discs.
Starting at the front the Crux has a tapered head tube with integrated 1 1/2" bearings at the bottom paired with 1 1/8" up top holding the chunky legged FACT carbon fork that makes for an extremely rigid and confident front end. There is absolutely no front end flex, almost to the detriment of your arms with steering free from any vagary. Hammering from a rutted trail doesn't noodle the bike and the traditional judder from a cantilever brake is something the Crux has only heard of in stories. The sloping top-tube gently morphs from being inversely triangular at the head-tube to being laterally flattened towards the seat-tube for comfort when shouldering. The down-tube bulges out to meet the head-tube and fattens up again at the bottom-bracket to an open cowl where the gear-cables emerge, a feature spotted on a top-of-the-range racing frame last year that has incredibly filtered down already to the less exclusive end of the market. Frame technology runs out of puff a bit towards the rear with straight seatstays while the chainstays are gently curved for heel clearance and crimped for tyre and mud room, although the chainstay brace clogs up the area quite well.
Wearing its price on its tubes against bikes where you'd expect to find these frame features the welding isn't the prettiest overall and in some places it would be polite to call it functional but the gear and rear brake cables do all run internally on the Crux, something usually reserved for more wallety bikes. The rear brake cable dives into the top-tube with the rear exit being through a removable cover, making cable changing easier and the gear cables swoop into the top of the down-tube and exit via that cowl by the bottom-bracket. The internal cable-routing has several upsides, keeping the cables away from the dirt, making the bike slipperier to shoulder with nothing to snag on the way up or down and cleaning after the race is less fiddly. Plus it makes for a smart, visually uncluttered machine.
The wheels are an obvious cost-cutter; the pay-off for all those nice frame details. The well known and respected Mavic CXP22 rims are matched to "we've seen these before and quickly destroyed them" no-name hubs to make a heavy pair of hoops. The wheels aren't up to much punishment and after only a few rides were showing signs of distress, especially the rear one, with a wibble encouraged by several tragically loose spokes. A quick going-over by someone who knows what they're doing before the bike leaves the shop might help here before the Crux is allowed to bounce around the fields.The wheels needed frequent truing although, to be fair, despite their al-dente spokes they didn't actually fall apart and if the Crux was to be your first exploration into CX then they're actually a good choice. It's beneficial to have a cheap pair of wheels to trash in your newbie season as you clatter clumsily over roots and get that barrier dismount a bit wrong all the while saving up for a better set for next winter when you catch the bug.
The Houffalize tyres are a great all-rounder CX tyre; not too draggy in the dry or on tarmac. They're not too chunky for racing on and sturdy enough for general trail and training use, good and predictable in a variety of off-road conditions only really over-awed when it gets really gloopy. Although make sure you don't lean the bike over far enough in a corner to ride the shoulder that's designed to squirt mud out the side away from the tread; it can make things interesting. This puncture-protection Flak Jacket variant of the tyre seems to live up to its name with the only punctures I had being finesse-free pinch flats.
The FSA Omega chainset is another weighty component but on the plus side it does have a 46 and 36 chainring pairing which is perfect for cyclocross and a welcome relief for muddy knees from the over-geared 50 tooth outer chainring that often accompanies 'cross bikes these days. It shows that someone at Specialized has experienced the odd hour of pain and isn't just picking bits from a parts catalogue.
Shimano Tiagra STIs do their usual predictably efficient job both in the braking and gear-shifting departments; the front changer having an extra click in it which is handy for trimming the Tiagra front mech. The 9spd cassette could be seen as a cheap downgrade option in this 10-speed world. Some would say 9 speeds are less likely to clog with mud, others would reply that the extra cog is welcome in the lanky 11-32 tooth spread. It's great for getting mere mortals up the sort of hills that you would otherwise pretty much have to get off and shoulder the bike over but there are some large gaps between the cogs. A swap to a more close-ratio cassette would be essential if the bike was to be used for serious round-a-playing-field racing.
The Shimano Deore LX long cage rear mech bolted on the replaceable derailleur hanger is a strange departure from the road gruppo and maybe there to lure the potential mountainbiker crossover from the other corner of the shop-floor. It works well providing a crisp light and clean shift that copes with the large-range rear cassette, although its long-arm combined with the light spring and too long a chain results in a lot of chainstay clatter.
The unbranded Tektro brakes work perfectly well for cantilevers; they're not quite up there with the best but certainly in the park and a change of pads would markedly improve performance, especially as the stock ones don't last too long when it's wet and gritty. The front brakes are Froggleg style sticky-outy for power whilst the rear pair are a more inboard design where less rim clamping and more heel clearance is needed, another nod to the Crux being specced by someone who knows about cyclocross.
The fork comes with a hanger bolted into it to further quell any chance of brake judder and has a cable adjuster threaded into it for on-the-fly cable tightening, a job done by an in-line cable adjuster for the rear brake. The seat clamp around the crap-avoiding, forward-facing slot in the seat-tube has an integral cable hanger on it; all neat and intelligent touches.
Specialzed own-brand parts fill in the details with the shallow-drop CX Comp bars a great and popular shape for 'cross with a short reach to the drops helping towards off-road confidence and the constant-curve bend allowing the hand to rest comfortably wherever it wants in contrast to 'ergo' bars that dictate position. There are gel pads under the tape on the tops and in the drops which help with off-road blister control. The Comp-Set alloy oversize stem is, um, a stem that keeps the bars in place but it tightens round an angled shim over the steerer allowing the stem to be quickly and easily changed to any one of four positions if you feel the need to have the stem at a casual angle for the week and flip it to attack position for the weekend. Most people will probably play around with it to get the position they prefer and just leave it where it us.
The Specialized Riva saddle, while well padded and comfy enough to take a lot of the ring-sting out of the trail feels far too Rubenesque for the bike and somewhat gets in the way of the Crux's abilities. Swapping to a more racey saddle would make the bike more manoeuvrable between the legs as well as shaving a good chunk of weight off the bike. If you wanted to trim more weight while the saddle is off for swapping, the Specialized Comp carbon seatpost could survive a good chop. At 350mm long, the bottom bit is somewhat redundant on a correctly sized 'cross bike and can be gleefully removed. The claimed benefit of the Zertz insert in the seatpost wasn't really felt.
Unashamedly race-bred - the only concession to riding anything longer than an hour being a 2 sets of bottle bosses - Specialized leave the more relaxed and workaday duties to their Tricross series while the Crux Elite is exactly how a cyclo-cross bike should be; frill free but thrill full, fast and just the right side of twitchy. With a weight of over 21lb it's certainly not race svelte but it definitely behaves like you'd want it to, with nippy race angles responding keenly to pushing on the pedals and doesn't go all wandery in the round and round and round of the race tape zig-zagging over the football pitch.
On more rugged terrain the oversize head-tube with corresponding fork and thick FACT fork blades make for a supremely confident front end, definitely noticeable over a standard set up, leading to the Crux being able to be pointed down trails that can make a mountainbike twitch, then again at greater speed just to see, and then again to find the bike's limit. In a race situation this means being more able to take the ballsy line and braking later without any fear of the front of the bike doing anything odd, both handy ways of making up places. On a more casual ride or hard training situation the Crux can be taken wherever you like as it's not going to be scared by the odd root or rut and can enjoy big days out in the hills without turning the rider into a flinching nervous wreck.
You could buy the Crux Elite on a Saturday teatime and happily - well, maybe not happily but certainly painfully - race it Sunday morning without changing a thing. Unlike some 'cross bikes that look like they've been cobbled together out of the parts bin to surf the current wave of popularity or others that have a road bias with gearing that's too harsh in the mud and tyres that are worse, and yet more "cross" bikes that are really hybrids with dropped bars, the Crux is built and designed for racing. And it's not so bad at mucking about off-road either; fast and unencumbered by paraphernalia.
The Crux has obviously been sketched out by someone who has actually ridden a 'cross race or two with the frame featuring design highlights that make sense. The race-fit of the bike is spot on and the finishing kit is well specced and does its job despite some compromises to meet its privateer price. The wheels are a bit of a disappointment for one but then they frequently are at this cost and some may see the see the 9 Tiagra speeds as a downgrade. But all these bits can be upgraded gradually as they wear out over a season to bring them in line with the the frame and fork which are both punching well above their thousand-pound price in terms of features and ride quality.
If you're thinking of dipping your muddy toe into the world of cyclo-cross racing then with the Crux Elite you've just run out of excuses.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized Crux Elite
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.
FRAME Specialized E5 aluminium, fully manipulated tubing, smooth weld, semi-compact race design, shaped TT, 1-1/2" lower bearing, internal cable routing, integrated headset, threaded BB
FORK S-Works FACT carbon legs, alloy crown and steerer, 1-1/2" lower bearing
HEADSET 1-1/8" upper and 1-1/5" lower Cr-Mo cartridge bearings integrated w/ headset, 8mm cone spacer with 20mm of spacers
STEM Specialized Comp-Set, 3D forged alloy, 4-position adjustable, 4-bolt 31.8mm clamp
HANDLEBARS Specialized CX Comp 6061 alloy, short drop
TAPE Specialized S-Wrap w/ 2.5 gel pads
FRONT BRAKE Tektro wide canti
REAR BRAKE Tektro narrow canti
FRONT DERAILLEUR Shimano Tiagra
REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano Deore LX
SHIFT LEVERS Shimano Tiagra STI
CASSETTE Shimano HG-50, 9-speed, 11-32t
CRANKSET FSA Omega
CHAINRINGS 46 x 36T
BOTTOM BRACKET With crankset
PEDALS Black cage, body & toe clips w/ strap
FRONT WHEEL N/A
REAR WHEEL N/A
RIMS Mavic CXP22
FRONT HUB Forged alloy Hub, sealed bearings, 32 hole, for J bend round spokes
REAR HUB Forged Alloy Hub, Sealed, 32 hole, for J Bend Round spokes, GCC
SPOKES Stainless 14g
FRONT TIRE Specialized Houffalize CX Sport, 700x32c, aramid bead, 60TPI, Dual Compound
REAR TIRE Specialized Houffalize CX Sport, 700x32c, aramid bead, 60TPI, Dual Compound
INNER TUBES Standard presta valve
SADDLE Body Geometry Riva Road, w/ steel rails
SEATPOST Specialized Comp, FACT carbon w/ Zertz insert, aluminium head, two-bolt clamp, 27.2mm
SEAT BINDER Forged alloy, 31.8mm
NOTES Chain stay protector, derailleur hanger, clear coat, owners manual
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 say the CruX Elite is a cross beast, with race-optimized geometry, tapered head tube, internal cable routing, and an outstanding stiffness-to-weight ratio to power through the nastiest courses. I'd agree with all of that, although have to give a black mark for making a predictable 'cross' quip.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Despite the 'smooth weld' claims some of the joins aren't the prettiest but the tapered head-tube, sturdy fork and hidden cable make up for it at this price.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Specialized E5 aluminium frame, fully manipulated tubing, smooth weld, semi-compact race design, shaped top-tube, 1-1/2" lower bearing, internal cable routing, integrated headset, fork has S-Works FACT carbon legs, alloy crown and steerer.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Specialized say that the Crux Elite has "race-optimized geometry" and these angles change according to frame size, the 56 size tested has a 73.25 seat and 72 head-tube angle with a 560mm effective top-tube.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
It was just about perfect for a bike designed for cyclo-cross racing.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
A cyclo-cross bike essentially isn't meant to be comfortable as, if we're going to be purist about it, it's only designed to be ridden for an hour or so in its specific arena but taking it out on longer rides the Crux was pleasantly direct rather than punishably harsh.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Thanks to its tapered headtube and fat fork blades the Crux didn't display any of the noodly traits of other 'cross bikes.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
For its job of going as fast as possible for an hour, yes.
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? Lively, but predictable.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling was right on the money for a racing CX bike, and the tapered head-tube paired with the FACT fork's chunky legs made the Crux Elite especially good over bumpy terrain.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The handlebars had padding under the tape where there needed to be padding and the saddle was large and comfortable; probably too large and comfortable for racing, though. The Houffalize tyres also add to the comfort of the bike, as do the baggy wheels.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? Would you recommend any changes?
The frame and fork are certainly taut and a set of tighter wheels would be a great improvement.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? Would you recommend any changes?
Nope, for the money it's all fine as it is.
It's a little bit heavy so takes time to punch it up to speed.
For a 'cross bike it's nippy enough so there are no excuses for losing the sprint for the line.
The frame and fork combo is a very confident beast.
As a race bike it's not actually mean to 'cruise' but it's fine at just noodling along.
We didn't go slow enough to comment.
It's a bit heavy so doesn't exactly spring, but then again it's no slouch. Nicer, lighter wheels might help here.
It all worked with that Shimano based efficiency; the only issue being a tight link in the chain that refused to go away.
Over the course of the test period there were no wear and tear issues.
The chainset is a bit chunky but it makes up for it by having 'cross-specific chainrings.
It's all workable kit for the money that doesn't need immediate upgrading to work.
Wheels and tyres
The wheels are cheap, nasty, needed constant looking after and would be the first upgrade. The tyres however are well worth holding onto.
From experience those hubs don't last long in the wet, and a going over by a decent wheel-builder could help the wheels no end.
They're heavy and let the bike down.
With soft-tensioned spokes the wheels soaked up a lot of any potential discomfort.
The wheels are an obvious cost cutter, worth it for riding and destroying if you're new to CX though and learning the craft.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
No complaints; it was all sensibly chosen parts for the bikes needs and price.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Definitely.
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun