group test: Cross Purposes

12th November 2010   Words: Derri Dunn   Photos: Chris Catchpole

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On road or off the beaten track, city bike or country cruiser; a cyclo-cross bike breaks all the genre rules — so go explore!

Cyclo-cross is one of the fastest-growing sectors of bike racing at the moment. This chaotic sport involves belting around a fairly compact off-road circuit — through mud, grass, trees, over jumps, running up slopes carrying your bike — to emerge at the finish line, lungs burning, caked in filth and giggling like a schoolgirl.

One of the reasons it’s so popular is its accessibility and sense of inclusiveness, so many people tackle their first cross event on board an old mountain bike they’ve hauled out the back of the shed. To keep up with the big boys, however, a cross bike is necessary.

A cyclo-cross bike, at first glance, resembles a road racing bike. Look closer, however, and you’ll notice a set of fat, knobbly tyres to provide grip on mud and grass, and cantilever brakes, which shed muck more easily than calipers. So that the bikes can be easily slung over the shoulder for running sections, cabling is carefully routed to allow for this. Compare cross frames and forks with those of a typical road bike and geometry differences are also apparent.

The bottom bracket is higher to make it easier to clear mud and obstacles, and the frame is often beefier and more durable. Sometimes there is some flattened shaping of the top tube for easier ‘shouldering’.

All this tailoring for brutal off-roading has also meant that cross bikes have become the natural choice for many as a winter commuter or training bike. Their appeal is in their versatility. Faster than a mountain bike on-road (especially if you swap the tyres for something racier), they often have more comfortable, relaxed geometry, good mud-shedding and durability in spades. The ability to be able to go from road to off-road at the drop of a hat just adds to their appeal.

We’ve picked three very different cyclo-cross bikes to examine. The Kona Jake is an incredibly popular enduring classic at a bargain price; the Specialized Crux, all new for 2011, is an out-and-out cross racer for those who want to take the sport seriously; while the Genesis Croix de Fer serves up a wholly different prospect for year-round bike riding — with a huge dollop of style.

Whether you’re after an all-seasons double-duty hack, fancy dipping your toe into cross racing but want a practical commuter bike too, or you’re serious about racing, this trio is as inclusive as cyclo-cross racing itself.

group test: Cross Purposes introduction
Kona Jake
Specialized Crux Elite
Genesis Croix de Fer
group test: Cross Purposes verdict

This article first appeared in the November 2010 issue of Cycling Active magazine