In late November two keen 'cross racers from the CW art desk, Simon Scarsbrook and Matt Levett were invited by one of Belgium's top bike manufacturers, Ridley Bikes, to preview and test ride their 2014 range of disc-brake equipped race bikes at the Gavere cyclo-cross course, Belgium.
Calling this a test ride would be an understatement.
We had the complete freedom of the Gavere cyclo-cross course, near Ghent, 24 hours before the ‘Superprestige' race event on November 17.
For a cycling fan, this is a bit like having a kick-around at Wembley the day before an international.
Ridley produce four cyclo-cross bikes, each with a disc-brake or cantilever option. With the ‘X-Bow' being their aluminium entry level bike, the disc option here would be ideal for on & off-road trail riding.
Brand new Ridley cyclo-cross bikes: just add mud
However we were to be riding the X-Fire 10 disc, one of the three carbon fibre models that head Ridley's list: the X-Ride, X-Fire and race proven X-Night.
Although I've raced cyclo-cross since the last century, there were three firsts here for myself: a carbon frame, disc brakes, and SRAM.
Responsive and nippy
For 2014 Ridley, with close consultation with their sponsored professional cyclo-cross teams (Fidea & Sunweb Napoleon Games) have tweaked the race geometry, lowering the bottom bracket & shortening the head-tube, promising a responsive & nippy ride.
An on-foot course recce in the morning showed that mud was to be order of the day. Mixed in with that would be a fair bit of running, a descent free of any ‘health & safety' ruling, and generally a course design that would have a few race commissaires I know wincing in disapproval.
Checking the Gavere course ahead of the ride
We couldn't wait to be let loose.
The bike looked the part perfectly, concealed cables for the (cable operated) brakes and clean sculpted lines that look as if they would glide through any conditions. We sprinted away down the starting straight, spectator free, apart from the odd heckle from the course builders.
We were very soon into the boggiest part of the course and jumping in and out of deep ruts. There seemed to be a great system in Gavere where a blind-eye is turned to youngsters riding the course, so we were soon amongst small groups of them, looking every bit professional, and fearless to boot.
The brakes came as a complete surprise; I thought there would be little modulation but was proved wrong immediately on the descents where there was no snatching at all, which helped enormously with the fact that front and rear were cabled up opposite to my own.
The the X-Fire was responsive; every twist and turn was dealt with confidently and the stiff frame came into its own on the long steady climb toward the end of the lap. My first time with SRAM ‘double-tap' was a bit hit and miss, mainly, I think through lack of experience.
Lap followed lap, including leaving a perfect upper body imprint in the deep mud of one descent. I kept thinking that maybe I should stop and inspect every minute detail of the X-Fire, but to be honest I was enjoying the ride far too much.
We had a final lap race as they were closing the course down (to get the rollers on it I suspect) ready for the stars of the Superprestige to put our meagre efforts to shame the following day. But with a well earned Leffe beer back at our base we didn't seem to mind.
I think we'll leave the cleaning to them...
Thanks to Ridley for the hospitality they showed us. You can view the full range of Ridley cyclo-cross bikes online here.
Wyman and Harris second and third in Gavere
Superprestige Gavere 2013: photo gallery
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Founded in 1891, Cycling Weekly and its team of expert journalists brings cyclists in-depth reviews, extensive coverage of both professional and domestic racing, as well as fitness advice and 'brew a cuppa and put your feet up' features. Cycling Weekly serves its audience across a range of platforms, from good old-fashioned print to online journalism, and video.