Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cyclocross gear review, 2010-2011 season

The cyclocross season has finally come to an end, so I've got a bit of time on my hands to do a post about some of the gear I've used on my Cannondales this year.
Cannondale CX9
 As always, click any of the images to see them at a higher resolution on flickr.

Strada Wheels — Velocity Major Toms
Strada Wheels comp
Back in December Jonathan Day from Strada Wheels emailed me and asked if I'd like to try out some of his wheels. To be honest, if they had been any old wheels, I probably wouldn't have bothered as the thought of gluing tubs on in January filled me with dread — I'd had enough of that game in the autumn.
The wheels Jonathan proposed to send me were interesting though: Velocity Major Tom rims on Hope hubs. Major Tom rims are approximately 4mm wider than a standard aluminium or carbon tub rim — 23mm vs 19mm — and the central well is shallower than standard, which all adds up to a GOOD thing because it allows wide cyclocross tubs to be glued perfectly across a big, broad area. What that means is a better connection, so less likelihood of your tyre rolling off at the silly low pressures we run in cross, and even at low pressures, that broader base will stop the tyre flopping from side to side in the corners, allowing you to ride more confidently.
In practice, I found the Major Toms really good. I'm not sure whether I could really tell the benefit of the wider rim, but without exhaustive back to back testing with the same tyres at the same pressure on different rims, it's hard to make any real conclusions. Did I notice any tyre flop though? No. And needless to say, I didn't roll a tub either.
What wasn't in doubt was the Strada Wheels' build quality. They came dead straight, and they remain dead straight, despite being raced around the boulder fields of Herne Hill.
The other application where I'd like to try the Major Tom's would be with some wider road tubs — 25mm+ — for events like the Tour of Flanders Sportif of the Tour of Dengie Marshes. I'd even like to try them at Crystal Palace crits. Imagine how good a super stable, grippy 25mm tub would feel round Palace's bends!
Unfortunately, these wheels are going from me straight up to Crossjunkie in the north of England, so no chance to test them on the road, but check with him in a few weeks — no doubt he'll give them a pounding over the Ronde Van Oost Lancashire cobbles.
More info at Strada Wheels.

TRP CX9 brakes
I persisted with TRP Euro-X's for most of the season, but when the opportunity to try out some TRP CX9 mini V-brakes came along, I jumped on them.
They really revolutionised the way I rode my cross bikes. At races like the Southampton National Trophy, which was icy, dry, fast, and had a tight corner every 50m, they were worth their weight in gold. The ability to sprint out of corners, safe in the knowledge that you WOULD be able to slow down in time for the next corner made a massive difference. With Euro-X's, there's always a feeling that you don't want to pick up too much speed incase you can't scrub it off again!
That said, the CX9's aren't without their downsides. You do have to set the pads up close to the rim, which means that you often end up with them rubbing, not enough to slow you down, but enough to be irritating, and the feeling is distinctly spongy when compared to Euro-X's. For me, that sponginess is preferable to the wooden feel of traditional cantis, but each to their own.
The front CX9 definitely feels better than the rear — the longer cable allowing for more sponginess — so I think for 2011-12, I'll use the CX9's on the front of both bikes, and use TRP CR950's on the back.
Using V-brakes has really opened up my mind to the effect disc brakes are likely to have on the cross market when the bikes start coming available. One thing my mind is made up on, is that good brakes are definitely worthwhile in cross.
TRP brakes are available in the UK through Upgrade.

Shimano XT shadow rear mech
XT cyclocross

I ripped an Ultegra rear mech off at a London League cross race back in November. It was the second time I'd snapped a mech in the same place, so rather than replace like for like and wait for the same thing to happen again, I thought I'd try something different.
Shimano's shadow rear mechs lack one of the hinges of a normal rear mech, eliminating what is the weak spot on an Ultegra rear mech. You can't use 10spd MTB stuff with 10spd road gear though, you need to use a 9spd MTB mech — when Shimano made their MTB stuff 10spd, they changed the cable pull ratio, just to confuse everyone and eliminate any backwards compatibility.
New MTB mechs don't have barrel adjusters, so I had to add one to the cable, which is in a pretty crappy position at the moment, but will be moved up the frame when I don the big off-season re-build in the next month or two.
Besides that though, the XT mech worked faultlessly. I suppose the shifting might not be quite as crisp as a short cage road mech (this is a medium cage XT mech, Shimano no longer make short cage MTB mechs in the XC ranges) but crisp shifting is something you only experience for the first few minutes of the first few races of the CX season anyway. After that it's graunchiness all the way through till February.
So, XT seems to work, the cable routing is pretty neat and out the way, and so far, in over two months of heavy racing use, it's not caused me any trouble. I'll be putting an XT mech on my second bike too ready for next season.
Want to use XT too? This is the mech you need.

Specialized Tracer tubs
Specialized Tracer tread
Specialized let me try out a couple of sets of Tracer tubs at the end of November and I've been using them regularly since.
The Tracer's are an all-conditions tub, based on the MTB tyre, the Renegade. To look at them you wouldn't think they'd be much good apart from in dry conditions, but I've actually found them really good, comparable to and in most cases better than, the ubiquitous Challenge Griffo.
They work great on playing field type terrain and the shoulder tread is surprisingly good on cambers but where they really excel is in the woods, on loamier terrain, like you find at lots of local league races and particularly at Foxhall Stadium in Ipswich (fave venue). 
Specialized's tub range should be on sale ready for the start of next season. If the prices are as good as they should be (if Specialized can't undercut Dugast, there's something wrong with the world) then Tracers and Terras should sell like hot cakes.

So that's it, what cross gear have you used this year that's blown your mind?


Bianchista said...

nowt more I love than a good gear review with some lovely pics to boot.... good work!

Unknown said...

Nice bike. I was looking at those this weekend at Frostbike and looking for a good excuse to order one myself.

Velocity Wheels Vw825

LiamHallam said...

Interesting stuff. Loving the arty images. I have a Planet X Uncle John myself and am in need of some new brakes for it as the frogs bollox that planet x spec are a little lacking on branking power. I actually tried to use a set of Deore V Brakes which worked but came up ultra spongey which seems to be a consistantly re-occurring issue. Tempted to look at disk options now as the Uncle John has so much scope for use that it will take disks even though i've now had it a few years!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post....nice pics

Custom Wheel Builds