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2013 Cyclocross bikes round-up: Still Standing At The Crossroads

VecchioJo watches the wheels of change turn on 'cross bikes.

You know that disc-brakes on cross bikes explosion that was supposed to happen last year but didn’t. Well it hasn’t happened. Again. That's not to say that there aren't more cross bikes with disc brakes just nowhere near as many as expected - more of a burp than an explosion.

For 2013 at least the much anticipated and actually pretty much expected arrival of a decent integrated road hydraulic disc system didn’t transpire although there was a lot of chatter about it actually existing, it just didn’t exist quite yet, even if everyone had seen pictures of it and it was specced on some of next years bikes in brochures. (While there may have been fewer cross bikes on display at Eurobike this year - that still amounts to a lot of bikes - enough for a second massive cyclocross bike gallery as well as the one up top - ed)

But as I said at the top that’s not to say disc brakes weren’t in evidence, their presence on cyclo-cross bikes, both everyday and noticeably performance oriented probably just, just, edging out cantilevers in popularity across the board. It’s just that all the discs were clunky cable, not posh hydraulic.

Judging by what we say at Eurobike for 2013 from the European brands at least the ‘cross presence is once again down on previous years, the next-big-thing bubble has truly burst in a muddy splat with a definite slimming down of most peoples ranges if they haven’t been disappeared altogether. Let’s not forget that the market is different in Europe. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the Euros generally use their cyclo-cross bikes for racing on, that’s it, there are other bikes more suited to the myriad of other uses us Brits subject ‘cross bikes to, no matter how uncoool they may look. If the Euros want a bike for commuting on they’ll probably use just-a-bike or an fashionable hybrid with useful racks and mudguards and lights, if they want a bike that will tackle a bit of gravel road they’ll still use their hybrid quite happily, for anything more serious they’ll use a mountainbike. The use of a cyclo-cross bike as a bit-of-everything race-at-the-weekend commute-during-the-week muck-about other times bike is a very English-speaking thing.

It’s obvious that CX bikes have very much stopped being the second, or third, bikes for hurtling about on in the Winter and have become performance bikes in their own right with technology and prices to rival the best road bikes. Carbon is commonplace now with aluminium mostly relegated to the second spot with Ti and steel nowhere much to be seen, apart from the always lovely steel Ritchey Swiss-Cross. Oh, and the Cielo. Or if you want a bike you can treat dirty and put away wet rather than endlessly save up for then polish and cuddle there’s the always useful selection of Genesis bikes and the new All City Macho Man, the geared version of their Nature Boy. As well as warming to the modern concept of discs cross bikes have finally embraced wholeheartedly the use of oversized headtubes for less noodly steering and a more confident front end over anything bumpity, and oversize BB-whatevers for rigidity down there, internal cable routing and sexy seatmasts are further cross-overs from the top tarmac world.

It’s always interesting to see what the race-bred brands are doing to get an advantage in the cut and thrust of a muddy Sunday rather than the thrust and parry of a rainy commute and it seems they’re mostly waiting for a decent set of discs to arrive, or at least see it as a viable competitive option. Stevens are a big name in CX racing on the Continent and their Prestige Disc has moved on from last year’s exciting prototype to a drooly production model, full carbon frame and fork with a seatmast and Di2 if you want. Yes, want. It also comes in a traditional canti version for the more ludditey. Their alloy Cyclo Cross is also available disc or canti while the Vapor is a disc only machine and the Team and Prestige rely on rim grabbers. Similarly race focused Ridley had their carbon X-Fire Disc on their stand, a model also available as a cantilever option, but the top of the range carbon and seatmasted X-Night was still cantilvered. Colnago had both their carbon Prestige and World Cup bikes in disc only, but using cables, which is a little odd as their C59 Disc road bike was on the other side of their stand with a full hydraulic system. Their Niels Albert edition still uses cantilevers though. All with that cute integrated shoulder-support.

Cannondale, who are also not shy of race tape have their SuperX in both brake variants, made from BallisTec carbon with SAVE chain and seat stays with flattened cross-sections to provide some trail absorption. A disc equipped Ultegra model also sits at the top of their alloy CAADX series, with the three bellow it being cantilever shod and 105, Tiagra, Sora endowed in descending order.

Specialized were just showing just three of their growing collection of popular race-ready Crux platformed crossers, the Expert, Comp and Elite, the first being a disc model and the latter pair being cantilever. The Expert and Comp have a very lovely swoopy flattened tube FACT carbon frame and fork while the Elite features a no less sweet but more blue-collar E5 alloy frameset. Whatever it’s made from the Crux struts a race-optimised geometry, tapered head tube and internal cable routing.

If you’re unsure as to what you want your cyclo-cross bike to do you could do worse than head to Kona for a one-stop cross shop. If you’re heavily into racing then the Major Jake is right up your grassy bank. Three grand’s worth of monocoque carbon fibre frame with a BB30, full carbon fork and 10 spd Ultegra. Want to race on a more privateer budget, but also commute, maybe train and do a bit of general mucking about then look at the Jake The Snake. An aluminium frame with a full carbon fork and an Ultegra/105 mix all wrapped up in a funky orange, which is the best colour for ‘cross bikes. Next down the line is the Jake with an alloy frame and fork but with mechanical discs for those that want year round reliability. A Tiagra 10spd drivetrain with a triple chainset and full rack mounts makes this a versatile beasty. Should your horizons extend further there’s the Kona Rove. Is it a Cyclocross bike, is it a Gravel Racer, is it a commuting machine, is it a rugged touring bike? A SRAM 2x10 Apex drivetrain with wide ranging 11-32 cassette and 36-46t front chainrings, Hayes discs, and with room for 700x40 tyres and mudguards the only limit is to what this bike can do looks to be you.

Similar to the Rove in the new niche of Gravel Racing - you didn’t know you needed one until a month ago did you - is the Salsa Warbird. You can see the Warbird’s DNA in Salsa’s Chili Con Crosso, La Cruz, and Vaya all mixed together to create a bike deigned for 100 mile gravel road races that are all the rage now in the States. Apparently. Available in Titanium or EV6 Xtrolite aluminum both with an envy inciting ENVE CX Disc fork it’s a bike designed to be quick but stable over hours of bumpy road with room for 38mm tyres and mud clearance. Full-cables are hidden under the top-tube suggesting that the bike isn’t meant for the shouldering of a traditional ‘cross race, as are the three water-bottle mounts. The Orange RX9 that we saw at Eurobike fits a similar brief, with more relaxed angles than your race CX bike and room for fatter tyres and mounts for racks and other useful stuff.

Focus have always been keen players in the hour of mud and had their usual large range, this might have something to do with the company being founded by three time cyclocross World Champion Mike Kluge and this year their CX roster is figureheaded by their tie-in with the USA based Rapha-Focus cyclocross team in the shape of the Mares CX 1, full carbon with SRAM Force and Avid Ultimate cantilevers. Like others the range was split between discs and cantilevers but probably of most interest to an UK cross utility bike audience might be the Mares AX 4.0 Disc, resplendently shy in Dreadnaught Grey it’s well hidden in the bike racks and disc brakes and colourmatched full mudguards make it a commuting king.

As an aside the shiny silver smooth cable outer on the Focus bikes that looked like stainless pipe was probably the best thing in the show. Is that wrong?

Merida have a trio of disc-brake crossers for 2013, last year they had a mix of both disc and cantis spread over a broader range, so culling the series and making it predominantly disc shows they’re committed. A quick browse through their catalogue shows that their collection of CX bikes are as nothing compared to their vast armada of hybrid bikes. 

There was some interesting stuff from brands you might not automatically associate with cyclocross. Norco are huuuuge in Canadia and have a dedicated following for their mountainbikes and it looks like their cross bikes might gain a few fans with their Threshold, three models each in both carbon and aluminium. The top of the range carbon Threshold comes with cantilevers, tellingly, and features swappable dropouts to make it a geared or singlespeed machine. All three alloy models come with discs and the threshold A1 looks a winner in stealth black, some funky frame profiling and an interesting rear dropout design incorporating rack mounts.

Fuji who are also not overly known for their cross pedigree have a new high bling carbon cyclocross bike with cable discs. The Altamira CX 1.3 has a C5 high-modulus carbon disc-only frame with BB86 bottom-bracket and carbon monocoque tapered steerer fork with carbon dropouts. The next bike down their list, the Altamira CX 2.1 features a carbon frame and fork with cantilevers and the model below that an alloy frame with discs in the Cross 1.1.

Felt is split 50/50 on the canti/disc issue, with their eye-wateringly spendy range topper F1x going for the latter, although that wasn’t there, maybe because the brochure says it comes with SRAM Red gears and hydraulic disc brakes that don’t exist yet. On show though was the three rungs down carbon F3x, it has discs as well and comes in fashionable black with bright green accents.

Component companies are gearing up for the ‘cross disc revolution, Reynolds are lacing together race-ready CX disc wheels and ENVE and Easton are making competitive disc ready forks. We we got excited about the Easton EC90XD fork already, it’s good to see people designing disc-specific components from the ground up rather than adapting what happened to be around in the shed at the time.

If you’re desperate for hydraulic discs and don’t want to wait you’ll need to use a converter. The usual triumvirate were there from TRP, Hope and Trickstuff with only TRP making subtle changes to theirs as it’s now available in white and the stack height on the steerer mount has been reduced. The Hope V-Twin is selling really quite well according to our brief chat with the boys from Barnoldswick so there’s definitely a keen market there for a decent hydraulic braking system.

Until that special hyraulic day arrives you’ll have to make do with cable discs, and you’ll have to content yourself with Avids new BB7 Road SL’s, essentially nothing new, just the standard BB7 polished up pretty and so it matches SRAMs road groupset better and with titanium hardware, saving a precious 25g per wheel.

For those that still prefer cantilevers there wasn’t much new to see apart from the new RevoX 'cross cantilever from TRP, a long-armed and low-profile brake in aluminum or carbon with independent spring adjustment. They also come in on-trend Neon Yellow.

The need for hydraulic disc brakes on cross bikes looks like one of the rare occasions where a groundswell of consumers is demanding something new from the manufacturers rather than the manufacturers forcing things onto the buyer, which means the bike business has been caught somewhat on the hop and is trying to catch up. There is absolutely no doubt that a quality integrated disc system is on it’s way for cyclo-cross bikes, efficient and predictable braking in shitty conditions and the ability to run lighter posher rims that aren’t going to wear away are race-winning positives that more than, um, out-weigh any weight penalties.

People have seen pictures of the hydraulic system and it’s mentioned in 2013 spec. lists, but bike companty are still being somewhat cagey and also frustrated about its appearance or lack of. The number of cross bikes built with discs in mind is significantly greater than ever before, all with cable discs bolted on, probably waiting for the move to hydraulic. So for now a road lever hydraulic disc brake system is a hushed four-letter word, something is coming just “not quite yet”.

Cross bikes with hydraulic disc will be all over the place next year then. Definitely. Maybe.

Want to see even more pics of next year's cyclocross bikes? There’s a whole other bunch of cyclo-cross pictures in another gallery here…

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 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 don'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.

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