As most in the cycling world would know, cyclocross is huge here in Europe and none more so than in Belgium. It has become quite popular in the UK and even more popular in the US, and now the cross fever has finally hit the shores of the land Down Under. It took a while to catch on Down Under but there is at least now a racing season in place and from what I can see is growing more popular as the sport there develops.
I did plan to write a post on my cross bike not too long after purchasing it, I either didn't ride it enough to write about it or I rode it so much I didn't have the time to write about it, more likely the first reason. Then when the season starts... , well you know how frequent my posts are when the season is busy.
The bike I use is a Ridley X-Bow, and is Ridley's entry level frameset, and I use the words 'entry level' lightly. Ridley are what I believe the true leaders when it came to choosing a cross frame, many have now followed in their footprints. The X-Bow, is a 7005 aluminium frame that uses a 4ZA Zornyc fork that has carbon blades with an alloy crown and steerer. It's not exactly a lightweight throw it on your shoulder and run up a hill type of race bike, but it is for sure a good place to start out. Though this same frame did win two World Championships. The geometry on a cross bike differs slightly to a standard road frame, the most obvious is that the cross frame has more clearance in the wheel area to accommodate larger width tyres, has a higher bottom bracket and brake mounts for cantilever brakes. In other areas, some will vary how the cables are routed and how high the bottom bracket sits and so on. The choice on size can confuse some people and even had me thinking on it for some time. While some people can ride a cross bike the same size as their road frame, I had to go a size down on the Ridley. I normally ride a 54.5 top tube road bike but with the X-Bow I decided on a 52, based on the sizing chart by Ridley (no longer used) which measured the riders leg inseam. Plenty of people say, and I thought the same, you don't need to worry about stand over height, after all you don't ride your bike Fred Flinstone style. With that said, stand over height is still something to take into consideration when purchasing a cross bike as the whole bike does sit higher off the ground. I was hesitant about the 52 frame size as the top tube measures 53.5 compared to the 54 frame size that has a 54.5 top tube, which seemed the more logical choice. But as it turned out the 52 fits perfect. The 1cm shorter top tube is perfect when having to climb a hill, for the extra leverage, and the stand over was just clear of the family jewels. While this worked out well for me with the Ridley, other frame brands may be different. I'm just glad I did not go the 54 as that would of felt too big.
I purchased my X-Bow as a frameset and while there were some other brands to choose from, the Ridley favored my choice for a number of reasons, they were sponsor of the team but that had nothing to do with my choice. Free to choose whatever bike I wish, the Ridley stacked up the best for it was easily available as a frameset. Secondly the price of the X-Bow was in my planned budget, I didn't want to spend too much on my first cross bike given the amount of time it is ridden. Also was the fact that it had cables routed along the top tube and a traditional raked fork made the decision easier, just not a fan of straight forks. I was tempted to go the next model up in the X-Ride, a lighter frame but with straight forks and no way to mount a bidon cage, it was a true racers frame. Although my plan was to start racing, I wasn't exactly sure if that was going to happen (it's still a plan), so I opted to stay within budget and just go simple. The X-Bow can also make a great commuter or winter training bike as it does have bidon bosses and also the possibility to mount a pannier rack and mudguards.
As I purchased the frame in the Spring, my work load had me on the road quite often, so the frame stayed just a frame for a couple of months. Eventually I found the time to fit the Sram Rival groupset I had to use for the cross bike. Another few weeks went by and I managed to order the remaining parts I needed to complete the build. After a delivery of some cantilever brakes and some tyres, I was ready to roll. I immediately took it out for a spin in the local forest. The position didn't feel too much different than my road bike, I just had the bars and shifters sitting a touch higher on the cross bike, but it felt no where near like I was on a 52cm frame. It felt quite comfortable on the road, but when I hit the dirt, you really notice the difference compared to a mountian bike. For a entry level frame, the X-Bow performs exceptional on the trail, it moves on the single track with ease. The cross bike takes a little more control as it can easily throw you off your course compared to a mountain bike, something that takes a few rides to get used to, but it's so fun to ride, even a bike at this level. Ridley have the geometry of this frame just right to make a perfectly balanced bike to ride.
Up front I use a 4ZA Cirrus 120 stem (which in no way should be flipped upwards like seen on some cross bikes) with Pro Vibe 42cm alloy bars. I was using the 4ZA Cirrus classic bar but I put those on my road bike now because on that I was using a test bar from 4ZA. I like the shape of the Pro bars, the Vibe on top is the same thickness from the stem which makes it good to grip for larger hands. The reach is short but they have a long sweep so you don't hit your arms when in the drops sprinting. The drop is a nice open curve, the way classic bars should be. Then the long flat section when you want to sit in the drops and roll along. I actually got these bars from the Rabobank team. They remind me of the old Cinelli Criterium bars I once rode with.
My Sram kit is a tad old now but it still works really well, although not a huge fan of Sram. On this old version I don't find the shifters too comfortable for cross riding, I may change out the groupset one day but for now its ok.
The crankset is a compact, I did away with the standard 34-50 combo and purchased 38-46 Zephry rings from TA Specialties. The normal cross combo when you purchase a crankset or a bike is more like 36-46. I did think about the 36 but where I live it is quite flat so I find the 38 ok. Pro's like World Champion Niels Albert also use a 38-46 combo, where as Sven Nys uses 39-46 and on a spare bike even has 39-48 for a sprint finish. For the women, US racer Katie Crompton uses a 34-44 combo, which I think is about normal for the women.
Crank length can also be an issue, do you go shorter to spin and corner better or do you go longer for more leverage. For me, I just stuck with the crank I had planned to use which happens to be the same as my road bike, 172.5. Going shorter for more clearance I don't really believe because the ground clearance can vary with the terrain, it's not like your on a track or in a criterium where the surface is the same. But going longer I can understand for the extra leverage when climbing or for just putting down the power. I have 175 on my mountain bike which is the norm, even Lindsay has 175 on her small bike. Crank length, in a road bike situation, should really go on body height or foot length. At a height of 177cm and shoe size of 43, a crank length of 172.5 for me is ideal. Even Nys at around 182cm uses 172.5, whereas Crompton at 169cm uses 175. So looking at it that way it seems a little backwards, just use what your comfortable with but I really think your height and more so your shoe size play a big part in the correct crank length for an efficient pedalling technique.
The pedals I use are Shimano's PD M540, the Shimano pedals prove to be bomb proof even for this level of pedal.
While the chainrings are a little smaller compared to a road bike, on the rear the drivetrain is fairly much the same. Here I have the standard short cage Rival rear derailleur with a Shimano 5600 12-25 cassette and a 5701 chain. You will notice I have something wrapped around the chainstay. I use an old tube as a protector so all the whiplash from the chain doesn't chip the frame or make a noise when it does hit. I split the tube down the middle and then by starting at the bottom bracket wrap it around the chainstay keeping a firm tension, similar to wrapping bar tape. Then just finish it with a zip tie to keep it in place.
The brakes I decided to go for are Tektro's CR520, a rather cheap simple canti brake, but by gee they work well. really easy to set up and work very well with the STI road shifters. The CR520 comes with a basic pad which don't feel that great under load and wear quite quickly, but for the price their not bad. As you might see in the photo I have changed out the pads for a cartridge type pad which feel much better, So in the end the Tektro CR720 model brake might be a better purchase. I could have gone something ridiculous like TRP's EuroX carbons, but on this bike what would be the point. You probably noticed in the first photo I did have carbon bottle cages fitted which might seem as a bit over the top, but I have a reason. Normally in cross racing bottles are not used but at this moment I use mine sometimes more than the hour that a cross race would go for. It is not unusual that I sometimes go out for 50 or 60km on the cross bike, so it's nice to have a bottle with you. Also, the cages are some that I had being testing for 4ZA, which will now be a new cage in their line up for 2013.
The tyres, so many choices, well sometimes. I will start with the wheels. I had an extra set of wheels laying around so I thought they would be perfect for the cross bike. Some wheels by Real Design, which were old stock from my first team when we rode with Litespeed. The Real Design wheels were supplied by Litepseed and back then the riders seemed to break a few, but these ones seem to be holding up well and have done so for a few years now. Normally a cross bike would use a rim that is slightly wider, but I find these 19mm road rims to be working just fine with the 32mm tyre. I would prefer a slightly wider rim, which I might change to if or when I change out the groupset. Now while all the top riders use tubulars, there is still a good choice in clincher tyres. Tyre's from Continental, Challange or Michelin make a few varieties, but I opted to go the Schwalbe Smart Sam's, which I find to be a good all rounder. The benefit with tubulars is you can run much lower pressures without pinch flatting, and I mean low as in 2bar (30psi). A clincher you can not quite run that low, the Schwalbe tyres I use have a minimum pressure of 3.5bar (50psi) to a max of 6bar (85psi). I run them at around 4-4.5bar (60-65psi). If your doing alot of racing then yeah, tubulars are the go. But for someone just recreational or starting out, a clincher set up will be fine if you run the right pressure, which will depend on tyre choice. Too little and you risk pinch flatting, too much and you won't have any traction cornering. There is also a great deal of work in gluing a tubular for cross, as much as 6 or 7 coats of glue plus tubular tape such as Jantex is sometimes also used. Because of the lower pressures your tyre will easily roll off if not glued correctly. I actually have two pair of tubular wheelsets with Mavic Mach2 36h rims hanging in my workshop, but I think I would prefer a wider rim if using tubulars. I'm considering relacing one set of these wheels to some Mavic A319 rims for a stronger wheelset. The other set I already plan to relace to some Mavic Open Pro rims for my road bike.
There wasn't much on the bike to change. It came with Tektro safety stop brake levers which I initially removed because they didn't work so well with the Mini V-brakes the bike came with. In the end the Mini V-brakes didn't work that well at all. Repositioning the bars and shifters was the only other adjustments to make. The bike has Tiagra shifters with a Tiagra front derailleur and a 105 rear derailleur. The crank is a FSA Omega 172.5 that originally had a 50-34, but I've since replaced the 50 with a more suitable 44. On the rear a 12-25 does the job.
The Mini V-brakes were not doing the job, so they were next to go. I replaced these with a Shimano BRR550 canti brake set up. The set up of these were not as straight forward as my CR520's but I managed to get the right tension in them to work efficiently. To run the BRR550's I also had to change out the seat clamp for a version that had a integrated cable stop. This also was the case for the front brake cable. To run a system like I have on my Ridley would not work because of the lack of clearance under Lindsay's stem. So I purchased a Tektro fork mount cable stop from the US that works perfect. With the better brakes on I refitted the safety stop levers so Lindsay could try them, but she thinks she doesn't need them, not on the trail anyway.
So that is the cross bike. We find where we live they are a great bike to have. In an area surrounded by small forests and gravel paths there is a great amount of riding that suits the cross bike, as well as being quite a reasonable ride on the road. Lindsay will sometimes ride hers to work, and if she wants to take a scenic way home she can easily take a number of forest paths to get home. There is a great amount of fixed forest routes within a 30km radius of where we live, and we have many organised mountain bike tours in these forest that we do on the cross bike. We now leave the mountain bikes for extreme muddy conditions or very hilly terrain. We can easily take the cross bike out starting on the road and then decide to go off road, switching from the two in as little as a 30km ride. It's something that I think is rare in many other places, to have such a unique variety.
Thanks for reading.
seat tube c-c; 520 bar height; 570 (axle center to top of bar)
seat tube c-t; 560 reach; 560 (tip of saddle to center of bar)
top tube c-c; 535 saddle height; 750 (bb center to top of saddle)
head tube; 127 saddle set back; 80
seat angle 73.5 groupset; Sram Rival 2007
head angle; 72 saddle- Selle Italia Flite Genuine Gel
bottom bracket drop; 59 bike weight as is; 9.3kg
wheel base; 1007