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Cyclocross is Coming!

October 2, 2013

This weekend’s Bicycle Sport Shop Six Shooter marks the start of the Texas Cyclocross calendar and with a couple days left to pre-register, it looks like this may well be the biggest cross race Texas has ever seen! With fields for every level of rider, great prizes from Specialized, Enve Composites, Grease Monkey Wipes, Grimpeur Bros. Speciality Coffee, Thunderbird Energetica, and Epic Bar, and equal payouts for the men’s and women’s open races thanks to Udell Direct and River City Market–a first for Texas CX–it’s sure to be, well, epic! Add in the fun that Team Super Awesome brings to every cross race, a kid-specific course for the little ones, and our own cyclocross club, including reigning 50+ state champ Joey “the Cuban Missile” Machado, and it’s going to be a really great event!

Aside from partners like our generous race sponsors and the promotion crew behind the event, Capital City Racing, it takes a great bike to race cyclocross well. And our club members and staffers have overwhelmingly picked the Specialized Crux as their bike of choice for this year. Joey, myself, and the Lamar store’s Ray Frias sat down and talked about the Crux and some of the things you’ll see for 2014 in cyclocross bikes.

The Crux first appeared late Summer 2010 as a 2011 model. Then the bike was an aluminum-only offering, modeled on the prototypes that Specialized sponsored pros had been on the year prior. I rode that first consumer version during my first cross season and loved it. It felt every bit race bike—like a road bike even—in terms of handling, but was also quite surefooted thanks to a generous wheelbase and overall smart geometry. I have to think Specialized benefited not only from pro cross racer feedback on the design of first Crux, but from years of being in the MTB game.

The 2014 Crux models, which were released late Summer, are now actually a host of bikes reflecting Specialized’s commitment to cyclocross; two carbon frames—the S Works version and the “standard” carbon frame, both carry-overs from 2013—along with the original aluminum option, each offered with either traditional cantilever or disc brakes and each available in seven sizes. That’s 42 different frames, more than any other bike in the Specialized line-up and more cyclocross frames than probably any other maker.

Joey, Ray, and I are on various iterations of the Crux. After a year off Specialized I’m back on a 2013 carbon cantilever brake Crux, the Crux Pro, and am really impressed with the bike. Ray is riding the new 2014 Elite EVO Rival Disc model, and Joey, our e-Bay czar, is on the Pro Race Red Disc. There are a few other folks around the shop riding the Crux as well.

The three of us sat down recently to compare Crux notes and talk cross.

Joey, I’ve seen you at various cyclocross races over the last couple of years and heckled you mercilessly, and you’ve been featured as the in-house shop CX expert on this blog before. Ray, you’re kind of new to Austin. What’s your CX background? Is this your first CX bike?

Ray: This is my first cyclocross bike. I competed in two races a couple years ago but did it on a single speed mountain bike. Excited to do it on a bike that is built for cyclocross racing! 

Ray spins up South Congress on his Crux.

Ray spins up South Congress on his Crux.

Excellent. You’re going to be addicted for sure! Let’s get right to it with what many CX folks are talking about: brakes. Ray, you and Joey are on hydraulic discs. What are your thoughts so far? Do you have experience with MTB hydraulic discs?  

Ray:  My bike has SRAM S-700 hydraulic brakes with 10 speed shifters. I am still in awe with the performance difference from the brakes compared to rim brakes on a road bike. I have ridden mountain bikes with hydraulic brakes and feel there is no huge difference between those and the brakes on my Crux. The only draw back that I have seen so far is the added weight. Cantilever brakes are still much lighter and you have a larger choice of wheels to choose from right now.

Joey:  My first thoughts on the new SRAM Red hydraulic discs are “I don’t think I can go back to canti’s!” Yes, there is a weight penalty of roughly a pound, but the action is sooo good! On the hoods I can actually use one finger to scrub off speed, and if going down a steep or technical decent then 2 fingers…very similar to MTB disc brakes. Another perk is the consistency; whether you’ve just ridden through a sand pit or are bombing a fast decent you don’t have to guess or feel the brakes out before really breaking. Rather, the hydraulic brakes give you immediate feedback/modulation. Lastly, the larger SRAM hydraulic shifter hoods make for a more secure hand position. It’s comfy and keeps your hands in place when the terrain turns rough. 

Overall, how easy is disc set up? 

Ray:  So from the get go I ran into 2 issues, both a problem with the front brake. The brakes come pre-bled, which was great with the back brake being pre-installed and the rear wheel’s smaller 140 mm rotor being well protected in shipping. The front brake you have to install and align. But with it being bled without being setup on the bike meant the lever pulled all the way to the bar. So I had to bleed the brake a few times before I was happy with the modulation of the front lever. The second problem I had was likely due to shipping. The front rotor was pre-installed on the front wheel and came bent. I ordered a new rotor to resolve rubbing noise. Being that I upgraded the component, it also increased braking power. I’m considering upgrading the rear rotor as well now.

Joey:  Disc set up-oh, what a pain! Discs require a bit more time, patience, and experience! My mechanic too had to bleed the front brake and get it to match my rear. If you’re new to disc brake wheels be very careful when removing or installing them. The rotor itself can scrape the inside of your carbon frame or fork! Just take your time and always be looking at where the rotor is heading!

Sounds like the brakes feel great once set up, but that it takes some special attention to get it done. I’ll be curious to see how you guys handle wheel changes in the pits as races!

I’m loving the handling of my Crux—much like my Tarmac. What do you guys think of the Crux overall? How does it ride? 

Ray:  The easiest comparison I can make is to my old road bike also a Specialized Tarmac. The bikes feel similar at the front end. Both are very quick feeling and I had no adjustment period to learn the Crux’s handling. The feel and familiarity of the front end helps with how the bike maneuvers. It’s quick like a road bike.

Agreed! Aside from different pedals, it was almost like I was on the same bike. Although you can feel the overall weight difference on the Crux compared to a truly feathery light road bike.

Ray:  The added weight you find on a ‘cross bike, not just a disc equipped one, but the overall “burlier” build, makes climbing a little more challenging. I ride my Crux on the road and riding climbs I’ve done on my road bike I have found myself working harder to keep the same pace that I was used to on the Tarmac. The great thing is the lower gearing on the Crux. Coming from a 39 to a 34-tooth small chain ring helps relieve the effort and keeps my cadence higher, but I do loose some speed not being forced to turn the bigger gear.

Joey:  I’ve ridden both the S-Works Crux and the non S-Works model, and the ONLY difference I feel is when you weigh them or have to pay for them! The Crux frames do handle incredibly stable at top speeds and boy can they carve corners! Steering is precise and the race geometry adds to its great handling and climbing efficiency.

Joey shows of the 2014 Specialized Crux Pro Race Red Disc.

Joey shows of the 2014 Specialized Crux Pro Race Red Disc.

I’ve made some upgrades to my bike, mostly to lighten it up as I’m a weight weenie when it comes to my CX bike. Together my bike and I have lost about 10 pounds since last season! I’m also making the move to tubular wheels. Everyone tells me they provide better traction. Are you guys riding your bikes stock? What changes have you made, if any?

Ray:  Nearly stock. The aforementioned upgraded front brake rotor to Shimano XT IceTech in 160mm size. Also currently testing a Ergon SM3 mountain bike saddle. Surprisingly comfortable. The only other thing I will change are tires. My bike came stock with 38 mm Specialized Trigger tires, which seem designed for gravel roads. The larger tires are nice but the tread is not quite aggressive enough and probably won’t be as suitable for cyclocross terrain such as grass and sand. Plus, I want to make the move to tubeless.

Joey:  As with any race bike, I prefer a few mods. One is for fit, I usually run a zero offset seat post and a shorter stem length than what typically comes stock. As the stock parts are typically aluminum I replace them with carbon ones to shed a little weight while keeping or adding stiffness where you need it, like the cockpit. Wheels are another upgrade for me. The 2014 Pro Race Red Disc comes with a nice pair of carbon tubular wheels as well as aluminum clincher training hoops, but those aren’t tubeless compatible, a must in my book for serious CX use and I think tubeless-specific wheels are best when running a tubeless system/tires. This year I luckily found a few options that were tubeless, disc, and 11-speed, which is what I’m running this season. The real challenge was in finding a fully compatible AND affordable training wheelset. Next year though I’m sure there will be plenty more options.

I’m running my Ultegra tubeless wheels from last season for training and I have to say, tubeless seems to be the way to go—cost-effective, very puncture resistant when run with sealant, and they can be fairly light. I’ll have to tell you guys how the tubulars work out for me after the Six Shooter.

Races have yet to start. But I’ve seen you both out and about at Richard Moya Park. Where else are you riding your Crux to get ready?

Ray:  I have owned the bike for a few weeks now and have only done a few cyclocross type rides. Early on when I got the bike I was mostly ridding the road. I’m still pretty new to Austin so I’m not sure of every place to practice or where any long dirt roads are. I also understand where my fitness currently is and I am still building up some base miles. I’ve been doing a few of the local cyclocross practices and am really enjoying it. 

Joey:  When I ride my Crux I usually head East via the hike-n-bike trail. Other options for me include riding the hike-n-bike from Auditorium Shores through downtown over to Shoal Creek to Peace Park. There’s a great hike-n-bike path along Peace Park following Shoal Creek with a few dismount sections too. Of course, Northwest Park and Richard Moya Park are always great training grounds.

Riding at the "World Famous Sunday CX Practice" at Richard Moya Park.

Riding at the “World Famous Sunday CX Practice” at Richard Moya Park.

It’s hard to beat Northwest and Moya—two great places to practices. Goals for the 2013-14 CX season? Favorite races? I’m partial to the Six Shooter—the season opener is always a good time!

Ray:  This will be my first year racing and like most everyone I will be starting as a Cat 5. My major goal is to have fun and to finish every race strong. I am not worried with weight of my bike or who I will be competing with. I just want to be able to compare the first race and the last race I do and see an improvement throughout the season. If I am unable to compete let alone complete a race in the Cat 5 field I can only blame myself not the bike! I am looking forward to every race I can get to since each one will be a new experience.

Joey:  Goals? Go hard, push myself, and have fun while at it… and don’t get too distracted by the quality heckln’! My favorite races are Waco, Terra X, and Cycle Haus/Fredericksburg weekend. Really anything that’s technical or up and down with little recovery time…. Mo’ cowbell please!

Mo’ cowbell indeed! Thanks guys! See ya at the Six Shooter!

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