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Is it a gravel bike? Is it a cyclocross bike? Is it an endurance road bike? More importantly: who actually cares? Far too many words have been dedicated to picking apart the differences that go into pigeonholing bikes into neat categories to fulfil the needs of the online retail website builder.
According to the lengthy marketing material provided by Specialized, the US brand has reinvented the Crux cyclocross bike as a gravel bike. However, we'll be largely ignoring the buzz word laden explanation as to how and why, because the reality is that the Crux has just got more capable - regardless if you want to ride it fast over to your local gravel trails or race it between the tapes. And if you're more about going fully laden and taking in the views? Then the Diverge is probably more suited.
The new Specialized Crux boasts the lightest ever gravel frame, even in its lower grade '10R' carbon, which is surpassed once again by the '12R' S-Works model. In repositioning itself to the gravel end of the scale the Crux has also gained tyre clearance of up to 47mm with a 700c wheel; if you’re a ‘cross racer, that just gives you more room for mud.
The pricing is exactly what, I'm afraid to say, we've come to expect from Specialized: the top-of-the-line model comes in at $12,000/£10,750, but builds start from $4200/£4000.
Lighter is better
I think we can all agree that, so long as strength targets are met (and of course the Crux has passed the standards set out by the ISO), lighter is better when it comes to bike frames. Lighter bikes feel charged and ready to accelerate, and for once the ‘how many fingers does it take to pick it up’ test actually matters, since both gravel riders and ‘cross riders are required to shoulder the bike for one reason or another.
In designing the new Crux, Specialized borrowed notes from the design of its Aethos; the Aethos was released as the lightest ever disc brake frame, a feat made possible by the use of “longer, unbroken plies in more consistent positioning, require[ing] fewer stiffness layers [to] ensure every fiber is working to carry load.”
The S-Works Crux frame weighs in at 725g, whilst the lower grade carbon on other models weighs 825g, both in a size 56. The frames all use the same S-Works fork, which weighs ‘just under 400g’ with the steerer cut.
The 2018 Crux's frame weighed 950g, so there's a fair chunk cut off there.
Complete weights, in a size 56cm frame, are 7.25kg for the S-Works build, 7.6kg for the ‘Pro’, 8.1kg for the ‘Expert’ and 8.5kg for the ‘Comp’.
Wider is better
Cyclocross racing revolves around a 33mm tyre standard, so, the previous Crux could only accept up to a 37mm tyre. The new frame can handle a 47mm tyre, or a 2.1” if you use a 650b wheel.
If you’re a gravel rider seeking wide tyres for comfort and performance over varied terrain, that’s great news. If you’re a cyclocross racer, you’ve just gained a whole lot of mud clearance around your 33mm rubber.
And, Specialized hasn’t had to resort to any geometry impacting adjustments in order to provide this extra clearance.
At the rear end, brands have previously adopted tricks such as lengthening the chainstays or adopting asymmetrical chainstays - that’s not been necessary, thanks to the new outboard mounting of SRAM’s XPLR chainset. At the front end, the head angle remains identical to the former Crux.
We all know the rules at this point: cyclocross bikes have shorter wheelbases and more nippy handling, gravel bikes promote stability with longer wheelbases, etcetc.
The Crux has seen some minor tweaks to allow it to nestle more comfortably in the ‘gravel’ stable, but they’re not sweeping changes, and if you ask me (which Specialized did, by nature of sending a test bike), it’s still a cyclocross bike at heart.
The front centre has grown, in some cases this is paired with a shorter stem, the stack has been dropped and wheelbase has increased, marginally - though it's sub 1000mm in all cases. The chainstays remain at 425mm, so you'll still get that whippy responsive ride quality, and the head angle is similar.
The BB drop has increased, which might trouble cyclocross racers who need to clear obstacles - but again it's not a big change.
Here’s a comparison of the key numbers, I've compared a 56 and a 52 - because 56 is the most common size, but 52 is the size I'm testing.
Notably, Specialized does seem to have done away with the size 46, I'm very much 'average' in height for a UK female, yet sit between the 49 and 52 frames, it seems a shame if those much smaller than myself can't get a Crux.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Specialized Crux outgoing, 52||New Specialized Crux, 52||Specialized Crux outgoing, 56||New Specialized Crux, 56|
Standards and builds
Specialized has included a fun ‘clearance to weight’ table within its marketing material, joking that the industry needs more ‘standards’. Of course, it doesn’t, which is why a lot of the Crux’s componentry is about following industry norms - making replacements easier.
The seatpost measures 27.2mm, and is dropper compatible. The BB is threaded. The cables are external at the bar and the steerer is standard, with a round bar and stem.
In terms of carrying capacity, the new Crux has bottle cage mounts only. There's no mudguard or rack mounts, Specialized says you should be looking at the Diverge (a model that was launch as a gravel/bikepacking bike through and through) if that's what you want.
All of the new Crux bikes come with Specialized's Pathfinder 38c tyres. The Pathfinder is really more of a gravel tyre, those seeking muddy trails would do well to swap this out. The wheels are all tubeless ready, as are the tyres, but the bikes don't head out the door thus, largely - the brand says - because it places a duty on local bike shops to constantly replenish pressure in the tyres.
The S-Works build sports carbon Roval wheels and the Alpinist seatpost, this helps to get the weight down to that 7.25kg mark. However, the Expert, Pro and Comp models all wear the Terra seatpost, which though heavier, is tuned to add compliance, and is probably a smarter choice (even for S-Works riders).
All of the builds are SRAM, randing from SRAM Red eTap to SRAM Rival 1 mechanical - because "SRAM XPLR is new, and was available" according to the brand's rep, seemingly that latter element couldn't be applied to Shimano GRX. All builds use 1x gearing, but the frame can be set up as a 2x ride.
I headed out for a suitably wet and wild ride with Specialized before the launch of this bike. Sadly, I couldn't take the new Crux away with me, so I've only had 40km of Dorking (Surrey, UK) trails to formulate early opinions; stay tuned for a full review at a later date.
To look at, the new Crux looks like a hybrid between the cyclocross bike it always has been, and, well, the Aethos road bike. If you want one bike to perform both road and off-road duties (and you don't need rack and mudguard mounts) then surely - with a tyre swap - this is it.
Twiddling around the car park, the longer front centre was quite noticable, the reach here is actually longer than an Aethos in the same size, albeit the effective reach shorter by nature of the stubbier stem. I did initially feel quite stretched out, having just jumped off the 49cm gravel bike I'd used to commute to the start of the ride, but as is often the case when swapping between bikes this feeling dissipated early on.
Heading onto the trails, the Crux was as capable as it's ever been. Two days of near constant shifting between drizzle and downpour meant that the chalk and mud surfaces were suitably saturated. I'll admit that I lost the front wheel on one climb, and gave up to hike-a-bike on another, that's where perhaps a more stable and planted bike (like the Diverge) might have suited. On flat and fast trails, the Crux was grin inducing.
Our 40km ride included some techy descents, which the Crux absolutely nailed, as well as some great long stretches interspersed with the kind of puddles you can ride through, but probably shouldn't if you can avoid it. The result was a game of darting around the edge where possible, before plunging straight through the middle and hoping for the best where it was not possible. The whoops, wails and laughs travelled along the length of our widely spaced peloton.
The route included some stretches of boggy mud, and thick wet sand. In neither instance did the Pathfinder tyres excel, there is certainly rubber that's better suited - but they did cope, and tyre preference really does come down to intended ride terrain. On flinty hardpacked sections, the slicker rubber was at its best. We did hop over a few rooted areas, and the BB height didn't have any trouble - though bunny hopping barriers is quite a different proposition.
If Specialized had asked me, towards the end of a 'race season that hasn't really been', to ride out in the pouring rain for 90 minutes+ I'd probably have wanted to tell them to jog on. But out on the Crux, winding through the trails, I think it's fair to say we all had a lot of fun. Which, I think, is really what this bike is about.
And yes, when you pick it up to wade through a calf-high puddle, it feels feather-light, too.
Specifications and prices
Specialized S-Works Crux - $12,000 / £10,750
12r carbon frame and fork, Roval Terra carbon handlebars, S-Works SL alloy stem, Roval Alpinist Carbon Seatpot, SRAM Red eTap including power meter (40T and 10-44), Roval Terra CL wheels, Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready, Transparent Sidewall, 700x38 tyres, S-Works Power saddle, Supacaz Super Sticky Kush bar tape
Specialized Crux Pro - $8000 / £7000
10r carbon frame, 12r carbon fork, Roval Terra carbon handlebars, Specialized Pro SL alloy stem, Roval Terra Carbon Seat Post, 20mm Offset, SRAM Force eTap (40T and 10-44), Roval Terra CL Wheelset, Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready, Transparent Sidewall, 700x38 tyres, Specialized Power Pro saddle, Supacaz Super Sticky Kush bar tape
Specialized Curx Expert - $6000 / £5500
10r carbon frame, 12r carbon fork, Specialized Adventure Gear handlebars, Specialized Pro SL alloy stem, Roval Terra Carbon Seat Post, 20mm Offset, SRAM Rival eTap (40T and 10-44), Roval Terra C Wheelset, Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready, Transparent Sidewall, 700x38 tyres, Specialized Power Expert saddle, Supacaz Super Sticky Kush bar tape
Specialized Crux Comp - $4200 / £4000
10r carbon frame, 12r carbon fork, Specialized Adventure Gear handlebars, Specialized 3D alloy stem, Roval Terra Carbon Seat Post, 20mm Offset, SRAM Rival 1x (40T and 11-42), DT Swiss G540 Disc wheels, Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready, Transparent Sidewall, 700x38 tyres, Specialized Power Sport saddle, Supacaz Super Sticky Kush bar tape
S-Works Frameset - $5000 / £4000
10R Frameset - $3200
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
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