Despite their all-conquering road and mountain bikes Trek have skulked somewhat in the shadows when it comes to cyclo-cross. They've had models kicking around but you'd be hard pushed to spot them either on the shop floor or the race course. The Cronus range could change all that.
Trek have come out their corner punching hard with four new 'cross bikes – a pair of alloy framed Ion monikered machines and two carbon-based life form Cronus models.
This Cronus CX Pro is the junior of the two carbon siblings, with the £3,000 Ultimate being the more expensive version, which isn't to say that the Cronus CX Pro has buck teeth and is dressed in hand-me-downs, it's actually a good looking high-class race-ready machine. It may say Trek in big letters on the downtube but it's part of the Gary Fisher Collection and has his signature on the top-tube to prove it while the bike is decorated with the full spread of Bontrager baubles.
While it has all the features you would expect of a top end frame it would also be safe and in no way impolite to say that the Cronus 500 Series OCLV frame is big-boned. The top-tube is wide enough to frequently conk your knees on. Aside from being wide the top tube features a flattened oval underneath to help make shouldering more comfortable. Fluted on the top side the tube flows either side of the seat-tube directly into the seat-stays that are dead straight, free of any fashionable bends, wiggles or kinks, a simple straight seatstay bridge has a mudguard mount hidden out back.
Moving past the replaceable derailleur hanger the chainstays elegantly curve in and swell up chunky chunky towards the oversize BB90 bottom-bracket with a little indent either side of the tyre for extra mud clearance, of which there's loads anyway. You could get a tractor pulling a trailer of manure through the gap between the tyre and bottom-bracket, something helped by the lack of a chainstay bridge because the stout stays don't need one.
The down-tube is vast, barely faltering from its impressive girth as it tapers only slightly from the full width of the bottom-bracket to the oversize 1.5in lower bearing of the head-tube, like the top-tube it's subtly fluted but both top and bottom and is slightly ovalised horizontally. In comparison the seat-tube looks almost weedy at the top where it flows from spanning the entire BB90 up to surround a 27.2 seatpost.
Keeping with the voluminous theme the front end is host to FCC, or Fisher Control Column. The Bontrager E2 fork tapers from a 1.5" lower bearing to a 1-1/8" upper which is nothing new nowadays, making sure the front end tracks solid and the fork ends are oversized to accept a FCC oversized front hub with 25mm end-caps, although the Bontrager Race wheels on this CX Pro have a standard sized hub so you're missing out a bit of integration there. A front-brake hanger bolted into the crown with a cable-adjuster in, thank you, effectively eliminates any brake-judder that might somehow find its way through that sturdy front end.
The rear brake cable runs internally, as do both gear cables which enter the downtube via ports near the head-tube and exit from a cowl just ahead of the bottom-bracket, it's a bit of a pain to replace cables because it's an unsleeved run, however because they are inside this should make this a less frequent occurrence as they're protected from gritty external influence, and it also keeps cables away from a shoulder flailing rider.
Should you be even more shy of water ingress there's also the option to run a full external gear cable thanks to stops underneath the right-hand chainstay. The front derailleur is direct mounted to the frame and has an in-line cable adjustment up by the bars, a feature shared by the front brake with its integral adjuster in the hanger, while they were thinking about it would have been nice for Trek to include something similar for the back brake for quick finger and thumb brake wear management, because they thought about the integrated seat-clamp and cable-stop, which is neat.
The Cronus isn't a 'cross purists racing frame with two bottle mounts and it gives a secret handshake to further usability with hidden mudguard mounts at the fork-ends and bottom of the seatstays; tiny 2.5mm bolt holes for mudguards adaptors to screw into should you need the bike for Pro-Commuter use on weekdays and something to race at the weekend. Other handy extras include nice thick chainstay protection strips top and bottom and thin metal chainsuck plates on the chainstay and downtube.
SRAM Rival 10 speed takes care of the gears, with SRAM S300 cranks paired with a cross useful 46/38 chainring duet connected to a 11-28 10 speed cassette out back so the bike has the legs for both racing and general mucking about off-road. Shifting is typically SRAM, worky but plasticky most of the time it all works just fine but on occassion the Rival front mech was almost a comical stereotype, some of the front shifts were awkward, especially under speedy panicky gritty load such as you might encounter on a muddy race course where sometimes it could be a lottery as to whether it would shift at all, shift when it wanted or just dump the chain. I'm not a fan of SRAM's front mechs. So it's easy to see why Trek stuck those protective plates behind the chainset, they're a good idea if you like your carbon unmashed.
As well as providing the go SRAM also supply the stop in the form of their Avid Shorty 6 cantilever brakes. They're pretty good for a cantilever fighting against the first wave of disc-brakes, being chunkily designed and flex free, although they do have the trademark Avid squeal so be prepared to tinker to shut that up.
You might look at the bladed spokes on the Bontrager Race wheels and wonder if you need aero spokes on a cyclo-cross bike. Laced 24 on the rear and radial 20 up front it didn't take long for them to be bounced out of whack, and they'll stay that way as the bladed spokes twisting tendencies make them a pain to tweak true for the home mechanic. Overall they're merely okay, they can get pretty chattery both audibly and in handling when being pushed hard down bumpy stuff and yet are flexy enough to induce brake rub when giving it your all back up the other side. The fitted Bontrager CX0 tyres are more capable than they might appear, a tread lite centre section is bolstered by hearty shoulder knobs definitely helping with the cornering ability without compromising straight line speed and making them less draggy and more spinny on road. Their 700x34c size makes them comfy and whoomphy too.
Bontrager's Race Lite Anatomic-C bars are a bit of a mixed blessing. Pleasingly wide at 44cm (c-to-c) at the hoods they easily spread to 48cm in the drops giving a reassuring amount of control when tackling anything a cross bike shouldn't really be riding down, which is great for those that like their riding somewhat rufty-tufty. Although that extra girth means that if you like riding tight and twisty then things need to be steered round rather than threaded through. Racier types might find that extra breadth annoying too as it takes the sharp edge off the steering and can feel a bit wide-mouth frog when descending or battling in the drops against a sticky headwind across the open tundra of a winter football field. Overall the bars don't help with the general 'rangey' character of the bike. But the width along the tops, especially since the bars take their time before they curve forwards makes cruising a joy, and the drop isn't too scary deep either and surprisingly the ergo wiggle in them actually feels comfortable in the hand.
The Bontrager Evoke 2 saddle seems out of place on a bike of this calibre as it's quite chunky. It's certainly not uncomfortable though, well padded with rear and central divots for those that worry about such things, it just looks a little pedestrian and cheap for the speedy possibilities and cost of the Pro, racier bottoms will probably swap this for their favourite perch anyway.
If you're changing the saddle you might want to throw out the Bontrager Race X Lite seatpost with it, actually don't think about it just do it because the clamp is a waste of metal. Or at least it was for me.
Less than a mile into its first ride the saddle clamp made a strange groink noise and slipped dramatically so the saddle nose was pointing at the sky. No amount of tightening the clamp or swearing at it would stop the saddle auto-adjusting whether that be by large amounts when a whump or bump in the road appeared or just gently adjusting by degrees over time. Even a liberal application of sticky carbon paste didn't help either, well it did a bit, in that the saddle would make a cracking noise and slip every ten minutes instead of every two. To be fair this isn't the first time this kind of problem has been experience with this clam shell design of seatpost though and it does seem to be that some people get on with them and others don't. I didn't.
I found that swapping the saddle for something less bossomy and a seatpost that doesn't threaten to shove that saddle up your jacksie every time you go over a bump totally transformed the feel of the bike, like putting a nasal-strip on it.
With all that oversized tubing going on plus the geometry used the Cronus looks a lot bigger, and feels a lot bigger in the saddle than its vital statistics might imply. The bottom-bracket is maybe a little higher than some are doing it these days, but still lower than other more traditional cross frames, the head tube is longer than usual for the size and the top-tube doesn't slope so much which makes the bike feel tall between the legs, but as the top tube is a little shorter than the norm it's not a correspondingly long bike. That high head-tube and short front end means whippety types might need to slam the stem out of necessity rather than any pro aspirations in order to both keep their position and the front end under control.
The consequence of the bike feeling big between your legs, (easy boys), is that the Cronus also feels a little more unwieldy and less chuckable than it could be. That's fine on tarmac and in straight lines but start throwing it around marker-taped bends and it doesn't feel particularly chipper compared to bikes in a similar size bracket, a characteristic somewhat encouraged by those wide bars. It's a shame because it's a light bike that's easy to pop and hop over stuff but it just seems reluctant to skip as it kinda gets in the way of itself.
Get over that though and be prepared to muscle it around more than you normally would and the Cronus will reward you by being an incredibly solid and reliable platform. That OCLV construction definitely takes the edge off everything bumpy while the oversized front end and cartoon down-tube combine to make it a very assertive beast.
The Cronus will always go where you point it, and at speed with the reassurance that it's not going to be bumped off line. Sometimes the Trek's ability to soften the staccato beneath you lulls you into a false sense of comfort, and flatters its own abilities, and once in a while the friendly compliance of the carbon will suddenly meet the forceful stoutness of the front end head on and stutter hard making for the odd wrist shattering moment. Thankfully the Cronus is solid enough to bounce you on through regardless, and it only happens on paths rough enough to make a mountain bike think a bit and where the Trek is being willfully inappropriate. Because it can be.
The Cronus isolates the trail so well and is so neutrally designed that it doesn't give too much away when it comes to feedback. Jump on the pedals and do your best to smash power through to the rear end and you don't get that instant feedback of snap and ping you might wish for. Of course there's no loss of power, the Cronus just has that somewhat intangible and unemotional transfer of power that carbon can do. If you want a bike that skips and jumps and makes you feel involved in the ride then the Trek might not be for you. If on the other hand you want something that will just keep calm and carry on whatever, forever, something that whatever happens will bring you limping home in one piece at the end of a shitty 60 minutes or some longer more fun hours in the hills - then look no further.
Push the bike hard and get the front end of the Cronus to slide out and it will do so with little drama and you'll be able to pull it back calmly without any histrionics or tell-tale girly squeals. It would be tempting to say that because it does its job so well it's a little boring but it's so much much better than that.
Sling a Trek Cronus CX Pro between your legs on a start line and you've instantly run out of excuses. Although maybe if you're stumping up over £2K for a carbon 'cross bike your results shouldn't need excuses. You're definitely paying for the frame here as there are a few component sacrifices, the saddle and the seatpost most obviously, with the wheels being a bit suspect but workable. Anyway, the Cronus is light enough to not hold you back and the kit on it is designed for going fast but with secret day-to-day persona possibilities, like a reverse Superman, with hidden fender mounts and twin bottle cages. That oversized frame engineering means all your power goes the right way but clever carbonyness ensures that you don't get rattled to death doing it. That comfort, the stoic front end and crucially the overly polite handling mean it isn't going to throw you off when you're tired although the short and tall cockpit might not suit every racer.
Weight - 834kg/18.5 lbs (56cm, without pedals)
road.cc test report
Make and model: Trek Cronus CX Pro
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 - 500 Series OCLV Carbon, E2, BB90, hidden fender mounts, cantilever brake bosses.
Fork - Bontrager Race X Lite Cross, E2
Wheels - Bontrager Race
Tyres - Bontrager CX0, 700x34c
Shifters - SRAM Rival, 10 speed
Front derailleur - SRAM Rival, braze-on
Rear derailleur - SRAM Rival
Crank - SRAM S300, 46/38
Cassette - SRAM PG-1050, 11-28, 10 speed
Saddle - Bontrager Evoke 2, chromoly rails
Seatpost - Bontrager Race X Lite ACC, 27.2mm, 20mm offset
Handlebar - Bontrager Race Lite Anatomic-C
Stem - Bontrager Race Lite, 7 degree, 31.8mm
Headset - Cane Creek IS-2, integrated, cartridge bearings, sealed, alloy, 1-1/8" top, 1.5" bottom
Brakeset - Avid Shorty 6 cantilever brakes
Grips - Bontrager gel cork
Extras - Fender mounts
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?
Trek say this bike changes the cyclocross landscape, exceeding expectations and delivering unexpected features. Lighter frame, exceptional stiffness, the best handling, and additional race utility.
Yeahhhhh, not so sure about changing the landscape hyperbole there and exceeding expectations might be pushing it a wee bit but it is a nice light bike that can flatter because of it, and it's stiff in that quiet way but not so rigid that it doesn't soften the dirt nicely. The best handling claim is a bold one, and fine if best means neutral and maybe a bit chunky between the thighs, and is 'Race Utility' possibly the new thing for 2012 and is it faster than 'Pro-Commuter'?
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The build, detailing and finish on the Cronus are excellent.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
500 Series OCLV Carbon frame with E2 headtube and BB90 bottom bracket. The Bontrager Race X Lite Cross fork has carbon legs and an alloy steerer.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Head angle of 72° and seat angle of 73.4° (on a 56, this changes with size) puts it in the same ballpark as everyone else, but the head tube is tall and the top-tube is short for the size.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
It was a bit shorter, taller and higher than other bikes in its peer group.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Comfortable in that it muted any bumps underneath it beautifully without being noodly because of it.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
With seemingly everything on the bike being oversized it was a very solid feeling ride, not rigid harsh stiff but confident stiff.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
It didn't feel hyper efficient thanks to the slightly subdued feel of its carbon, but you knew nothing was being wasted.
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? Neutral, but in a good way, probably encouraged by the wide wide bars.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The Cronus felt somewhat large and lazy, not necessarily bad but lacking cheeky pep.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The lovely wide bars definitely helped with control and comfort off-road and the ergo bend was even in the right place. The fat saddle and useless seatpost meant that the bike got off to a bad start, but once those were binned we got on just fine.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels were a little bit soft under power, but also chattery when challenged from below.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
No, it all worked well towards going forwards fast, swapping the saddle to something racier helped though, and some might want a less wind friendly bar.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
SRAM Rival is as SRAM Rival does, watch that front shift though, especially if the chain's loaded with gunk.
Wheels and tyres
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?
Aero spokes aren't necessarily the first choice for cyclo-cross and as such the wheels held up merely ok, succumbing to wibble pretty quickly. The tyres are great, and fast, in dry conditions and on tarmac, you'll be swapping them for something more mud-capable come the season.
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 here about the size and shape of the controls.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? No, just because the fit felt a bit weird for me. Others could find it just right though.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
Given the nature of cross riding and the fact that many riders and particularly racers have their own favourite set ups, it seems to me that Trek are missing a trick by not offering the Cronus as a frameset option in the UK too… oh, and a full build in Shimano Ultegra.
About the tester
Age: 42 Height: 180cm Weight: 73kg
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
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he’s not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he’s not doing either of those he’s pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he’s agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours doesn’t. He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.