It’s been a while since I blogged, but recently Alex Rankin came to visit and we did some filming on the local roads and trails with some friends. Check out this Video all about my bad self.
I’ve also spend a load of time in the shed, building and pimping cross bikes for the season, including this 2013 prototype with printed titanium dropouts. If you haven’t seen the video showing how its made check this video out
I thought I might share some things I’ve picked up about setting up a ‘cross bike if you’re thinking about racing for the first time. Lots of things are personal preference, but there are a few hints I’ve found invaluable and not seen written anywhere before.
It’s not a time trial bike, and there are no points for getting aero. Slamming your negative rise stem might look pimp, but falling off isn’t cool. Go a bit shorter and a bit higher than your road bike, and maybe even a couple of centimetres wider with your bars. Compact (ie short reach) and shallow drop bars mean you can spend more time with your hands on the brake hoods and, if you need to ride something technical, on the drops. PRO do a nice set of bars that won’t break the bank- look for PRO PLT Compact bars. Get your hoods and drops within reach and you’ll never need to think about sissy levers again.
There are only two things that are really specific to a cross bike (frame apart) – brakes and tyres, so choose wisely.. Bad brakes are bad for confidence, and you’ll be comfort braking into every corner. Canti brakes are generally accepted as being rubbish (no wonder there’s a clamour to get on discs), but necessary for the mud clearance needed in cross. The very best performing brakes apart from discs are Avid Shorty Ultimates, which are unparalled for power, control and clearance, though at a price. When combined with SRAM levers I’ve also found TRP brakes to be nearly as good. SRAM levers pull more cable under braking giving them more power and modulation, hence why they’re my favourites. Shifting may not be as refined, but I like this- there’s never any question whether you’ve shifted and there are minimal ghost shifts. When you’re knee deep, refined gear changes aren’t required. Cable routing on the front brake can be tricky, but I’ve found routing the cable over the bars works really nicely. I don’t know if anyone else does this but it works. Just move the hanger to the side slightly and it’s all good.
If you’re going to go down the tubular route, you don’t need to be sucked in by fancy 50mm carbon wheels. While they might be nice and light and cut through mud well, Mavic Reflexes have a lovely wide, light rim and will still allow you to brake when they get wet, unlike carbons. If you’re running 1 set of tubular tyres, get some all rounders with some decent tread. Continental have some new ones that look good-
Gearing is a strange one, it doesn’t seem you can buy and off the shelf chainset for racing cross (until recently-SRAM do a 38/46 which is nearly perfect). On a compact chainset the 34 tooth inner is generally too small (may as well be running), and the 50 outer is too big. If you’re new to racing or like spinny gears, go for a 36inner ring. Stronger riders will need a 38 or 39 inner (combine with a 12-27/28 cassette for a decent spread of gears). The outer ring on the cross bike makes less difference- fast course and strong riders may require a 46tooth, but on the whole a 42-44tooth outer is all that is required.
And lastly get a decent saddle that isn’t so hard it will ruin your undercarriage for ever. If you can sit and pedal through the bumpy stuff you won’t regret it and it’ll be faster. Charge do a nice one.