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OPINION

If it's good enough for Vin Cox...

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My search for a bike as traditional, elegant, comfortable, understated and solid as I am.

Can there be many things in life that offer more satisfaction than getting a new bike and making it your own? I don’t think so.

I wanted something tough enough to take onto the Downs but quick enough to use for winter club rides. I wanted to be able to stick a rack on it if I ever get round to the touring I keep promising myself I’ll do. I wanted old man gearing, none of your 46/36 11-25 CX nonsense. Perhaps the deciding factor, although it took me a while to identify it, was that I wanted my new bike to be made of steel. Garish carbon CX racers are all wrong for me; I wanted something traditional, elegant, comfortable, understated and solid – a bit like my good self I suppose.

My search led me fairly quickly to the Genesis Croix de Fer 931, which I found on offer at Evans. Riding the Genesis after my Enigma Etape, the only sticking point was its weight, which weighed heavily on me for a few weeks before I took the plunge. My other choices – a Canyon, a Giant, a Rose, and a Kinesis – are all lighter, CX race-orientated machines that would undoubtedly have been nimbler and quicker than the Genesis. But my Enigma’s lighter and nimbler than the Genesis. That’s not what I needed, I told myself, repeating the old ‘it’s not a race’ mantra while every other cyclist on the road overtook me with depressingly little effort.

Weight aside, the Croix de Fer was remarkably comfortable straight out of the box. My Enigma was made for me and I’ve had four years to make marginal comfort gains on what was already a very plush ride, but there still wasn’t a huge gulf between that and the unadjusted Genesis.

But of course a bike’s not your bike until it’s been tweaked so I got tweaking pretty much straight away. First was the saddle. Out with the uninspiring Genesis perch and in with a beautiful, black, Ti-railed Brooks Swallow. It looked at home immediately.

Next were the tyres. Off came the wire-rimmed Conti CX Speeds, which seemed too smooth to be of much use off-road and too lardy to be any fun on the road. As it’s in winter trainer mode, I chose 28c Gatorskins, which brightened things up immediately (once I’d got the buggers onto the Alex rims, which nearly cost me my sanity and the use of my hands). I put some guards on too, to save that lovely saddle.

Then the bars: there was nothing inherently wrong with the own-brand bars it came with, so I could have left them well alone. But I spotted the Salsa Cowbell 2s at the London Bike Show and immediately knew they were for me. They’re shallower than the Genesis bars, with a smoother curve and a slight outward flare and that makes them super-comfortable. I can sit in those drops all day long – and I’m guessing it’ll be my position of choice when I take the bike off-road.

That left two obvious upgrade possibilities: the wheels and the fork. I turned to Strada for the wheels. I knew I wanted H Plus Son Archetype rims and the Strada team suggested Novatec hubs and Sapim D-Light spokes to build something strong, comfortable and not too expensive. They were right: the new wheels didn’t save much weight but the ride was clearly smoother and more comfortable straight away. And they do look the business!

And finally, the fork... My friend at the bike shop wants me to swap the functional chromoly Genesis fork for a carbon Kinesis CX alternative but I’m not sure I agree. It might save me half a kilo but I’m not sure carbon would be right on this bike. And anyway, who cares about half a kilo (he asks, through gritted teeth)?

Lifelong lover of most things cycling-related, from Moulton Mini adventures in the 70s to London bike messengering in the 80s, commuting in the 90s, mountain biking in the noughties and road cycling throughout. Editor of Simpson Magazine (www.simpsonmagazine.cc). 

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