Monday, August 12, 2013

Cyclocross Gear: Bikes

Cyclocross gear for 2013

Buying a bike:
You have numerous options to get a bike for the 2013 season.

Retrofit Something Old
If you are new to the sport and have never tried cross, I’d suggest borrowing a friend’s cross bike or use a mountain bike or hybrid. Get out to a cross practice or a race and give it shot. Wisconsin races now have a category 5 beginner’s class. Or if you’re older you can join in the masters category 4 race.
The biggest difference upgrade you can make will simply be the tires. If you can get some cyclocross knobby tires 32-33 mm wide, you’ll be fine for your first clinic or race. (See the tire section for choices.)

Buying Something New
If you’ve tried out cross and would like to buy a bike, again, you have several options. One of the awesome things about a cross bike is that you can use it for commuting and touring as well if you choose!
The first decision you make is frame material, and that decision really comes down to the money you want to spend. There are four basic kinds of frame materials:
- Steel: great feel, very comfortable and compliant. Can be heavy and not as stiff as other materials. Steel is usually reasonably priced.
- Aluminum: Lightweight, stiff. Lighter than steel but a less comfortable feel. Aluminum is typically fairly cheap.
- Titanium: Comfortable, stiff, Weighs about the same as aluminum. Fairly expensive.
- Carbon: Very lightweight, very stiff, comfortable ride. More expensive.

Aluminum/ Steel for Your First Bike
If this is your first cross bike, and you are working with a budget, I’d consider three different bikes from Ben’s:

1. The Milwaukee Bicycle Company cross bike. This is a ridiculously comfortable steel bike that corners like a dream. You can make it lighter by ordering lighter weight parts, but this will also drive up the price.
2. Specialized CruX alloy (aluminum). Many people will talk about the “geometry” of a cross bike. That essentially means how the builders use angles to put the frames together. Specialized got this dead-on right. The E5 alloy frame is responsive, fairly lightweight, and stiff. I use it also as my road bike!
3. Focus AX-1. Focus, a German manufacturer, redesigned the AX-1 this year. I rode these last year and really enjoyed the stiffness and the slightly more aggressive geometry, which means the head tube is a little shorter and you can dive into corners. Focus has not yet come out with the 2014 models, but Bens has several 2013 models available.

We can also order bikes from Surly, Salsa and some other manufacturers of reasonably-priced cross bikes.

Carbon: The Race Bike
The best all-out race bikes for cyclocross are made of carbon. While some may argue that steel is the ultimate frame material, carbon is lighter, stiffer, and more responsive. At Ben’s, we work primarily with three frame manufacturers: Specialized, Focus, and Foundry.

1. Specialized Carbon CruX. I’m building up mine now as we speak. It’s light, stiff, responsive. Great geometry that lends itself to great control going around corners and powering through straightaways. You can upgrade to the seriously stiff and light S-Works model.

2. Focus CX-1. Tight geometry. Light, incredibly stiff, and very responsive. I’ve ridden Focus CX and AX bikes, and they are incredibly responsive. They go exactly where you point them.

 3. Foundry Harrow and Auger. These two bikes are stealthy and beautiful. Foundry set out to make a no-nonsense carbon cross race bike in the Harrow and a solid cross bike in the Auger. Both have all the great characteristics of a race bikes. The Harrow frame is built up in the bottom bracket and front end to be stiffer and more responsive.

Components and Brakes
Two final decisions you will have to make for your cross rig are for parts and brakes.
1. Brakes: Traditionally cross bikes have always had center pull cantilever brakes for good stopping power in the mud. There are great options out there for you. TRP, Shimano, Avid, Paul, and other manufacturers all make great parts. Here is a Velonews review of canti brakes. If you buy a complete bike, obviously, brakes are standard.
In 2012, the UCI, the governing body of cycling, decided that cross bikes could have disc brakes. The advantages of discs are that you get much better stopping power in rain, mud, and snow. The downside is that they are heavier than cantis. While some companies like Avid have made discs for cross bikes for years, most manufacturers have released products this year for cross disc.
I chose to get disc brakes on my CruX bikes because of the control I get in wet conditions.
2. Components: You can spend as much as your heart desires on components. Again, complete bikes come with quality components. Shimano now has cyclocross-specific components as do many other companies. Since cross racing in tough conditions causes a lot of equipment failure, many cross racers - including me - go with less expensive but still good components, such as SRAM Force or Rival and Shimano Ultegra or 105 groups.

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