12th November 2010 Words: Derri Dunn Photos: Chris Catchpole
Cyclo-cross bikes might share plenty of characteristics with mountain bikes, but cross racing has been slow to adopt disc brakes, mostly because the sport’s governing body, the UCI, has banned them from its events — until now. As of this season, disc brakes are fair game on crossers.
However, in this respect, the quirky Croix de Fer is ahead of the game, as it has sported disc brakes since its first incarnation three years ago. Clearly, then, although the Croix de Fer can now legitimately attend cross races at the higher level, it has been designated from the start as more of a cross category rather than a pure cross racing bike.
There’s a classy pun hidden in the bike’s name — ‘Croix de Fer’ translates as ‘iron cross’ — and this Reynolds steel beauty is certainly a classy looking bike. Disc brakes, drop bars and knobbly tyres may be an avant garde combination, but this is no Frankenstein’s monster. The handsome matt white frame and honey leather style saddle and grips ooze cool.
Our main complaint, though is that for such an expensive bike, the finishing details left a bit to be desired. The ‘leatherette’ bar tape and saddle weren’t particularly expensive or hardwearing-looking up close and while we have no complaints about the workmanship on the frame, the cable guides had mini zip-ties securing the cables — they don’t look great, they’ll trap mud and there’s plenty of potential for things to work loose and rattle annoyingly.
Looks aside, though, the Croix de Fer is a pretty exciting prospect to get out onto the road — and off it. The Reynolds 725 frame and fork soaked up the bumps of tarmac and trail beautifully. We’d be happy enough to spend long days in the saddle on this one, and with its full complement of rack and mudguard eyes, it would make an eye-catching, fast and practical touring machine.
Yes, that’s right, fast. It’s the heaviest bike on test and it’s never going to keep up with the Specialized Crux on-road, but it thrums along nicely, particularly once you’re up to speed, and the frame’s so springy and compliant that this bike makes it about the journey, not the destination.
As for those disc brakes, while they’re miles more reliable than canti brakes, especially when the going gets soggy and muddy, they didn’t quite deliver the razor-sharp stopping performance we expected. They’re cable rather than hydraulic, so they can be married to the Tiagra STI shifters, but perhaps the pairing of these stoppers and levers was part of the issue.
We do feel, however, that we need to put the Croix de Fer under extra scrutiny for one massive reason: the £1,100 pricetag (although a few 2010 bikes are still knocking about for circa £900). It’s £100 over the premium-feeling Specialized and in a different galaxy to the bargain Kona; crucially it’s also £100 over the magic Cycle to Work budget which will put it out of reach for a huge segment of potential customers — after all, it would make a fabulous commuter.
The Shimano Tiagra and 105 gear spec is good, but there’s nothing quite special enough to command quite such a lofty budget that we can see. Nevertheless, it’s the whole package that makes the bike special — yes, it’s a lot of money for one bike, but more than either of the other two, it’s really more like owning many bikes.
This article first appeared in the November 2010 issue of Cycling Active magazine
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