Sometimes you have good ideas. Asking to borrow Andy Blair’s Specialized Crux Expert Carbon Disc to review was one of them. There are bike reviews, profiles of pro bikes but rarely are there pro bike reviews. A freshly baked gluten free chocolate cake was all it took to convince Andy to hand over his bike whilst he was off racing MTB marathons. Over the course of the National Series Andy had mixed results on the bike thanks to some unfortunate mechanicals. However the season was capped off with a third place at the final National Series race of the season in Melbourne.
Specialized Crux Expert Carbon
Front end with internal cables
Massive clearance at the fork crown
The small valley for your fingers when carry the bike
Rear derailleur cable runs internally through the chain stay
Internal cabling made easy
Massive BB, chain catcher and DI2 ready ports
About the Bike
Specialized started the Crux lineup in aluminium before moving towards FACT carbon models in 2013. The pedigree of the frame is evident, with Zdenek Stybar racing the cantilever version last season. I was really impressed with how much thought has gone into the frame design.
Across the frame, the manipulation of the tube profiles was conducted with a specific awareness to the demands of racing cyclocross. The flattened top tube that makes shouldering the bike comfortable. Less obvious is the little valley in the down tube to give you fingers somewhere to grip.
The Specialized design team obviously considered mud clearance in the design phase. The seat stay junction at the bottom bracket has been sculpted without a flat surface for mud to accumulate. The clearance with UCI regulation tires was massive – the 2014 Crux line up includes a gravel racer that comes standard with 38cc tires.
With future trends in mind, the internal cable routing is designed to work for both cable and electronic drive trains. Rear brake housing runs internally and is sized to allow for upgrades to hydraulic lines.
There are no surprises with the American style geometry; with the Crux featuring a 69mm BB drop, 71.5 head angle and 1025mm wheelbase on the 56cm frame. This bike is suited to the rolling, twisty courses of the North American scene.
To put the 69mm bottom bracket (BB) drop of the Crux into perspective, a new-school Euro bike such as the Ridley X-Night has a 61mm BB drop, while a traditional bike (Ben Berden Raleigh for example) sports a 55mm BB drop. As the BB drop increases, it gets closer to the ground and thus the rider’s centre of gravity falls. The common opinions amongst riders and frame builders is that a bike with a lower BB is nicer to rider through tight corners. To learn more about geometry, here are two articles from CX Magazine and Cyclingtips.
In terms of the components, the bike features a SRAM Force groupset with Avid BB7 brakes. One of the nice touches is that the chain catcher comes as standard. The frame is wrapped in Frameskin from Andy’s personal sponsors. This has kept the bike in great condition, even after a season of pressure washes. The wheels are one of the standouts, having been upgraded to SRAM Rise 60 carbon 29er wheels with Specialized Tracer tyres. For a seasoned mountain bike racer like Andy, tubes in the tyres seemed strange but not when I consider the rims aren’t marketed as tubeless ready.
Riding the Bike
Very conveniently all I had to do was drop the saddle 10 mm to be perfectly fitted to Andy’s Crux. I didn’t even need a shorter stem which is a usual requirement. As soon as I jumped on the bike in the driveway I noticed that the shorter and higher position was nice for jumping obstacles and pulling wheelies. Normally I excel at neither but I did a pretty good job on the Crux.
The first ride on any new bike is the most important; this is when you will notice all the little differences. After some over night rain I was off for a ride on a mix of urban singletrack, fire roads, green space short-cuts and everything in between. On the first section of singletrack I was impressed with the agility of the bike. The twist and turns highlighted the nimble nature of the bike. The rider input required to chop and change direction felt natural.
It was a pleasantly surprised to see how stable the bike was at speed. With no hesitation I was ready push it fast on open sections of trail. The acceleration of the overall package was a stand out. The light frame and wheelset really encourages you to ride the bike fast and attack the climbs.
I played around on some very nice grassy slopes in Canberra’s parliamentary triangle to simulate a typical cyclocross course. As the off-camber switchbacks became steeper and tighter I still felt at ease. The flattened top tube made dismounts and run-ups easy. The valley on the down tube wasn’t a gimmick – my fingers naturally rested there with the bike on the shoulder.
Not wanting my impressions to be hindered by the expectations, I was very conscious of riding the bike before looking closely at the geometry of both the Crux and my every day ride. However I did notice the difference in geometry when compared to my traditionally designed cyclocross bike. It felt like the Crux required less effort to guide through the corners and was definitely more stable at speed.
Before picking the bike up from Andy we discussed its versatility. On face value the only improvement I would have suggested for the frame would be to include bosses to run mudguards. My argument was that for mere-mortals a ‘cross bikes make a great commuter. Andy strongly disagreed on the basis this was a race bike. After spending time on the Crux I have to agree that it has all the characteristics of a pure race bike.
In terms of component selections I really liked the super shallow bars. You could ride in the drops and didn’t have to crane your neck to see the terrain ahead. The SRAM Force groupset was flawless which wasn’t a surprise. The Avid BB7 brakes had bite which was noticed the first time I grabbed a handful of lever. The Specialized Tracer tyres exceeded my expectation based on experience with similar tread patterns. The tread cleared mud really quickly and hooked up nicely in a variety of conditions. Cameron Ivory who also also rides a Crux Expert, demonstrated the versatility of these tyres as he raced them onto the podium in the mud-fest that was Melbourne National Champs weekend.
If I were to make a criticism of the bike it would be that the brakes were difficult to adjust to run rub free. This is a common occurrence with with single piston cable disk brakes. Potential buyers of the bike should be aware that the factory wheelset is approximately 600g heavier than SRAM Rise wheelset that was ridden. This is a substantial difference, however the bike can easily be transformed on race day with a light set of hoops.
During the review period, the BB developed a creak, which was easily fixed with a clean and some grease. If you are a home mechanic you will probably need to invest in proper tooling for installation and removal of the internal bottom bracket bearings. The bearings were the only component on the bike that I noticed to have suffered from a season of racing.
The Specialized Crux was a really fun bike to ride. I say fun because it encourages you to ride fast and hard. After every ride I came home exhausted. The main problem I have with this bike is that without any hesitations I would walk into the shop today and buy one. I have ridden a large number of bike over the years but very few have been as flawless as this one – I simply struggle to find anything wrong with it.
The 2014 models have stepped up a notch by coming standard with SRAM hydraulic disc brakes. Continuing Specialized’s understanding of ‘cross, the high end models come with two sets of wheels – tubs for racing and clinchers for training.
Word and Photos – Paul Aubrey