I’ve had the new bike for a few weeks now (as long as most magazines for complete ‘review’) and I am going to post a thorough breakdown of my first impressions.
First, a little info on where I am coming from: I am not a bike connoisseur. I know quite a lot about them, but have ridden very few, and even fewer for an extended period of time. I tend to hang on to my equipment for a while. My old CX bike (and my first ever) was a , a good entry level bike (MSRP: $900). I found it dependable and raceable, and it saw me through the Cat 3 ranks. I was surprised how long the Tiagra components lasted (never replaced), but was very disappointed with the brakes, (In fact, another owner who used one for commuting asked “Does yours stop? Mine doesn’t…”), and also the weight at around 21 lbs.
Some thoughts on the new bike:
Weight: Needless to say, the new bike is in a class of its own. It is a top of the line race bike. Out of the box with my heavy, low end Eggbeater pedals, it weighs 17.6 lbs. With carbon tubular race wheels (which I don’t think I’ll be using until next year), and lighter pedals the bike would be 16 lb easily.
SRAM Components: I had never ridden SRAM and bought the bike with a full Force groupo based on reviews from friends and teammates who all have been happy with it and found it easy to adapt to the slightly different shifting mechanism. I have to say I found it quite easy, but after two weeks still find myself pushing the wrong button when I am really gassed. The groupo is lightweight, and the shifting is accurate and crisp. Maybe too crisp and trending towards too loud and with too much of a heavy action. I am interested to see if SRAM Red is lighter/quieter, or if the shifters quiet/break in over time. Also the chain runs louder/rougher than my Dura Ace road bike, but shifts lightyears better under load, an important attribute for cyclocross. Overall I suspect I am happier than I would have been with the Ultegra build.
Gearing: The 12-27 cassette is a good choice. The standard compact 50-34 is suspect. In the 34 I find myself in the smallest gears on the cassette rather quickly with the chain rubbing on the front derailer and with very little chain tension. Most courses can be run in the 50, but I find myself cross chaining frequently to the 27, which runs a little rough. My old bike was a standard BCD 38-48 which I found more preferable, but stock SRAM Force does not include this gear choice. I will probably find some aftermarket chainrings, or possibly try a single ring setup.
Hardware: Stem, Handlebars: Nice, functional Blue house brand (Aerus) components. Nothing flashy, but I don’t see any need to replace them. Saddle: Again, works fine for me, but I am not too picky, especially for CX. It is not the world’s lightest at about 225g. Seatpost: A very nice woven carbon seatpost which came in lighter than my Thomson Elite of the same size. Sadly, I am not generally a fan of setback posts and replaced it for fit.
Tires/Wheels: I am very happy with the American Classic Hurricane wheels. They are light, feel very strong, and have been problem free after a few weeks of hard riding and racing. The tires perform quite well and despite their lower profile knobs, I found them workable on the greasy, slippery wet grass at Interlocken. The really excelled at Cross at the River’s dry, bumpy hardpack/gravelly course which is more common in Colorado. I have converted the wheels to tubeless with a Caffelatex kit and the setup is not ideal, but I found it to work well enough for last weekends races with no problems. Expect a detailed post on tubeless in the near future. One tire detail: They measure 37.5mm in width mounted on the wide rimmed wheels. The tires are listed as 34mm, which is still over the current 33mm UCI width limit, and as mounted are far beyond that and beyond the old 35mm limit. For a top tier race bike this may be a consideration, and I will be looking for different tires for a couple UCI Elite races this year.
Brakes: I have found the TRP EuroX brakes to be a substantial improvement over my previous brakes. However, they are not adjustable as I would like (the posts must be bent to toe the pads). They are working for now and I don’t think I need to replace them this season, but I’ve heard the Avid Shorty Ultimates are the only brakes for cyclocross.
Norcross SL Frameset: What can I say… This is a very serious racing frame. Incredibly lightweight, and monstrously stiff and responsive when pedaling. Every detail is covered from cable routing (all top tube) to mud clearance to shouldering comfort. The paint job is immaculate and appropriately flashy. Some purists find the water bottle mounts off putting, but I have used them already and don’t find them offensive in the least. My only complaint is the head tube, while taller than prior Blue frames, is still on the short side. Even with Jonathan Page’s signature on the bike, he seems to be running about an inch of .
Update: I figured out why the short head tube – With a non-sloping top tube, the short head tube allows for more standover clearance and a stiffer frame, yet still allowing a low position if needed. Standover is important for cyclocross, especially as this bike has a 1cm higher bottom bracket than a standard road frame.
Overall: So, how does it ride? The answer is: Very, very well. Again, I don’t have much experience on other top end bikes, but I can say without reservation that all of the mumbo-jumbo about modern bikes is not made up! This bike is really stiff, but rides smooth at the same time. My starts seem faster and more efficient, but the bumps no more harsh. I put my road wheels and tires on the bike at 110 psi, and could ride rough asphalt that I normally avoid on my road bike without any discomfort or annoyance. The bike’s cornering and overall performance on the cyclocross course is really a revelation for me. I find myself riding at a speed I had previously found elusive, but I now have the combination of power transfer, light weight, cornering ability, and stability to race consistently and confidently with the best in the region.