Specialized S-Works Crux review

Is it really a high performance gravel bike, or just a re-badged cyclocross one?

Specialized S-Works Crux review
(Image credit: Future)
Cycling Weekly Verdict

The Specialized S-Works Crux is excruciatingly perfect for the ride it has been designed to deliver. From the thin bar tape, to the sheer agileness of such a stable platform really is poetry in motion. The only thing stopping me parting with a large portion of my house deposit to buy one is that I know I’ll have to dull the ride in order to match it to UK terrain. If you're not in the UK, that's no bother. The Crux hasn't lost its cyclocross racing pedigree, either - though it might be advisable to opt for a lower specification - you could get a great bike, plus a spare for the pits for the same outlay as the S-Works version.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Exceptionally lightweight fully built

  • +

    Race ready - for luggage free gravel or cyclocross

  • +

    Power meter as standard

  • +

    Stable yet nimble geometry

  • +

    Dual wheel compatible

  • +

    Plenty of tyre clearance

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Need gravel on a grand scale to truly do it justice

  • -

    Obviously very expensive

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As a society, cyclists love to pigeon hole anything bike related: road vs off road, sprinter vs climber. So it’s no wonder that the whole gravel vs cyclocross bike categorization is currently a somewhat heated debate, with Specialized being one of a handful of brands to add fuel to the fire. 

Having spent its formative years firmly planted in the category of ‘cyclocross’, the Specialized S-Works Crux now has two family trees and its lineage can also be traced along the ‘gravel and adventure’ range of bikes too. 

While the cynics out there may suggest it’s merely a re-badging exercise by the brand, the truth is somewhat more complex. 

Construction and build of the Specialized S-Works Crux

A section of the Specialized S-Works Crux is shown which is looking down on the tyre clearance and the frame.

The newly remodelled Crux has greater tyre clearance than it's predecessor.  

(Image credit: Future)

The Crux is dead, long live the Crux.

Sort of. The previous 2018 Specialized Crux had nailed its colours to the cyclocross mast. As such it was only ever capable of running 37mm tyre max, the new Crux has been reworked and now can skip along with a pair of 47mm, or 2.1 if you pop in a 650b wheel. While this does align with other gravel/ adventure bike offerings, it belies the fact that the 2022 Crux is still very much a race weapon.

While this aligns the bike with other gravel offerings, it also gives a heck of a lot more clearance for a muddy day between the tapes in a playing field and running more aggressive 37mm mud tyres. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, this is by no means a redesign into expedition territory, think less Cougar and more Oshkosh (the new Humvee), for the Specialized Crux is still an out and out rapid race weapon. If you're after a gravel bike for multi-day tours and lugging luggage, the Specialized Diverge is really more appropriate. 

Specialized S-Works Crux Vs Aethos shot side by side.

The Specialized S-Works Crux (left) has used the same carbon layup and similar tubing profiles as the S-Works Aethos (left). 

(Image credit: Specialized )

The bike, especially the S-Works version with it’s 12R carbon, heavily borrows from the Specialized Aethos. Specialized says its fluid tubing shapes, which do away with angular butting and reinforced stiffness requirements, allow for longer carbon thread, less of it and less glue to hold it all together. As such, the S-Works Crux now boasts to be the lightest ever gravel frame at a crazy 725g for a size 56, even the lower 10R grade carbon on other models still only comes in at 100g more, and they all get to use the 400g S-Works fork.

To put that in context it’s 225g lighter than the 2018 iteration. The fully built S-Works model we had on test in a size 52 tipped our scales at 7.33kg (16.15lbs). This includes pedals, bottle cages etc. Stripped back to its out of the box state it’s exactly 6.9kg (16.21lbs) on the button.

Specialized says that the Crux has the best "clearance to weight ratio" of any bike on the market. It’s a pretty niche dataset to top, but a win’s a win. 

Specialized S-Works Crux section shown in the image is the Sram Red power meter chainset and cranksbetween the wheels

The Specialized S-Works Crux comes with SRAM Red eTap AXS x1, with Power Meter as standard.

(Image credit: Future)

The geometry has had a general sweep of tweeks, rather than a total rework, with key numbers for a size 56 on old vs new deliver a slightly lower stack (582 Vs 578), longer reach (388 Vs 397), lower bottom bracket (69 Vs 72) and ever so slightly longer wheelbase (1026 Vs 1033). It’s a gentle nudge in the direction of increased stability, but doesn’t lose its racing DNA. 

While the lightweight credentials of the Specialized Crux steal much of the limelight, what piqued my interest is the build. As you would expect on the range topper, there’s a plethora of carbon and titanium all over the bike. It comes with the brand’s own in-house Roval Terra CLX with tubeless ready 38c Pathfinder Pro, although our test rig came with inner tubes. 

What is less common is the wireless 12 speed SRAM Red eTap AXS x1, with Power Meter as standard. The 40T chainring is teamed with a 10-44 SRAM XPLOR cassette, and it’s a wild sight to behold, futuristic even, and the performance is insane. 

 The Ride 

On a scale of one to Utopia, the Specialized s-Works Crux needle points firmly 180degrees to the right. The balance of agility, stability and suppleness is sublime. It’s clearly not going to be a cushioned ride, you have the Specialized Diverge for that, but it’s far from bone rattling, even when riding on non-fire trail condition terrain. 

Riding alongside the Evil Chamois Hagar, the total opposite end of the gravel bike riding spectrum, the Crux is noticeably engineered specifically for PBs, KOMs and general ‘aving it. 

Starting test rides on the flattish, disused railway lines that on the edges of the Peak District, to more challenging routes that criss-cross the White and Dark Peaks, the Specialized Crux is furiously fast. The lightness of the bike is outrageous. It makes it unbelievably nimble, which when coupled with its sure footedness and fat tires covers up a fair amount of inept riding off-road skill. 

Specialized S-Works Crux image is the SRAM Red eTap cassette

Having a bigger sprocket than chain ring can take some getting used to. 

(Image credit: Future)

Ropy at manuals? No problem, the mere thinking of the process and the bike seems to elevate the front wheel for you to pop over the ridge, it's so light it's easy. Questionable line in the corner? Not an issue, the longish wheelbase and low bottom bracket got you. Out with mates who have been racing Zwift and road races all season? No worries, your VAM numbers will tower over theirs. Ok, so that last bit might not be exactly true, but the Crux will get you round a 40 mile off-road ride with 1500 meters of climbing with a notable injection of pace. 

The performance of the SRAM Red eTap is unrivalled. Even as an out and out Shimano fan girl, this groupset has totally stolen my heart. The ease of use, set up on the phone app and reaction speed is unprecedented. While I find mechanical SRAM needs to be coaxed gently into shifting, this was more of a bang and press on. It’s a faultless system, assuming that you’ve been fastidious in the initial set up.

The performance of the SRAM Red eTap is unrivalled. Even as an out and out Shimano fan girl, this groupset has totally stolen my heart. The 40x44 is a 24” gear. It’s looow and will get you up the steepest of climbs. Anyone concerned about the ability of the bike to shuffle along apace given the 40t chainring should be pacified by the 10t sprocket. For those used to old money it's approximately equivalent to a 50x12 or 53x13. If you can whip that gear over at any speed you’re travelling pretty fast.

While the horror of such big steps in the cassette might be alarming to some, out on the trails it’s ideal. The speed differences are much more distinctive off-road, you're not searching for incremental clicks as you do on the road. The bigger sprocket jumps are also at the top of the cassette, ideally positioned for answering your prayers for assistance to get over the sort of kicker that only an off-road ride can deliver. 

I can’t impress upon the total package performance with the Specialized Crux, it’s the little things that let you know that it’s in a class of its own, like the total silence, even when on rough terrain. No chain slap, clunks, squeaks, nothing. It’s what I imagine riding a bike in space would be like, it’s faultless. It does everything the bike is designed to do, the problem is finding somewhere to do it. 

Value - and tyre availability 

Up to this point I've avoided the proverbial elephant in the room that is the price tag. Paying the price of a car for a bike is always going to cause controversy. But one ride and you’ll realise that this is the haute couture of cycling and I figure if you’re seriously considering a bike at this level, you’ve already made peace with the fact it’s going to cost you. 

So with the price not being the big ‘but’, what is?

The issue is in order to get the most out of a gravel bike, you need some fast gravel, of which in the UK we have a distinct lack of. The bike’s raison d'être is for flying along off-road like some kind of Looney Tunes Road Runner being chased by Wile E. Coyte on the wide open dirt or fire roads of America, Australia, Africa.... Not trails on a small damp island with 10% forest cover, formed from mainly sedimentary rock. 

Even the best gravel ride I could find in the Peaks, it soon descended into rough and rocky terrain which isn’t what the Crux was ever made for.   

Any swap outs from the ‘as standard’ purchase to make it more UK friendly will be, quite frankly, substandard. The price tag tells you that absolutely everything has been optimised, there are no upgrades to be had. 

For the expert off-road riders amongst us, you’ll get away with a lot more of the UK terrain on the Pathfinder tyres, finding the sketchy loose moments add to the thrill of the ride. Although even that fun would soon wash out on a wet day. 

Once you're into the wet mud territory, then really you'll want a tyre designed to cut through the slop - and at the moment, most of those are still 33mm cyclocross race tyres. There are plently of 45-55mm tyres with a file tread designed for rocky, rooty, dry and dusty conditions - but nothing wide and mud ready, really. 

This lack of tyre availability leads most UK riders either downsizing to 650b wheels to have a wider choice of chunky tyres to choose from, or taking the Crux back to its cyclocross roots and pair with skinner cross tyres if you truly wish to remain upright for the duration of the whole ride.

The later choice wouldn’t be disingenuous, cyclocross is, after all, within its genetic makeup. Although there’s no ability to run a bigger chain ring, it will take a SRAM or Shimano GRX double chain ring, but none of the road cranksets as it won’t clear the chainstay.

But the thought of ragging one of these round the local Rec for the local cross league doesn’t appeal. The risk of a rear mech knot is too high, and I’m not convinced how far you would get before the narrow gap between the chainring and chainstay would be overcome with grassy mud. Besides even the mere thought of a jet wash going anywhere near one is unthinkable. Thoroughbred 'cross racers would do well to look to the Crux Comp or Crux Expert, where you could even get a spare bike for the pits for the price of the S-Works version. 

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