it's just as well that the folks at 2pure have a better undestanding of the cyclocross bicycle than i have. prior to the departure of the ibis hakkalugi from edinburgh, i was asked what size of frame was required. i replied that i rode a 54cm colnago, but anything up to and including a 56cm frame would be just dandy. of course, cyclocross bicycles have more to contend with on the terrain front than the average road bike, and thus have a bottom bracket height to clear any obstacles that should venture too close. this in turn, since we measure from the centre of the bottom bracket shell, will raise the height comparable to a similarly measured road machine.
imagine the consternation when, after having writ the sizes above, the box delivered by barry from mundell's haulage was clearly marked 53cm. what would i do? should i phone and inform them of their mistake? thankfully i took the timid option and built the machine anyway, ultimately thankful that others have their heads well screwed on even if i don't.
it is rare if not altogether unheard of to receive a review bicycle in bits, and deliberately so. a quick scan across the ibis website will enlighten even the casual browser, that the hakkalugi is offered as a carbon frame with two build kit options; one using sram force, and the other based round shimano ultegra. it is eminently possible that you might simply avail yourself of the frame and fit whatever you like, but on the off-chance that this is but a step too far, the two options can be a safer part of the deal. i received the sram option.
the hakkalugi frame is of carbon monocoque construction smoothly rounded at all the joints and not entirely unsubstantial in girth. it would occur even if just visually, that such a chunky hunk of carbon might be a little troubling to the scales, but burly as mundell's barry is, he wasn't having too much trouble lifting the box from truck to front door. i had been informed several years hence, that a true cyclocross bike bore no bottle cage mounts, for in a race lasting at worst, one hour, with the possibility of a few bike swaps en-route, the need for liquid sustenance would be one of patience; drink all you want when you're finished racing. but on the premise that a cyclocross bike maybe required to demonstrate greater versatility, i would think that it's better to have and not need than the other way round.
the rear triangle starts life as a monostay leaving the seat-tube just below the seat-clamp. unlike its road-going counterpart, there is no brake bridge, since cantilevers simply laugh at the need for such. this leaves lashings of clearance for tyres greater than the road allows.
fine, if the intent is solely competitive, but the ibis had not just one set of bosses on the down tube, but a second set on the seat tube. better to need and not have would seem to be the applicable philosophy here. similarly, most of the cross peloton have fallen in with the knobbly tyre brigade and routed all cables along the top of the top tube, before carrying on to their respective mechanical homes. the hakkalugi, however, remains traditional to the last, with only the rear brake cable using the top tube while the gears route under the bottom bracket.
i asked scot nicol, founder of ibis bikes, why he dared differ from the majority; 'we've found that the underneath run shifts better, due to shorter length and less housing. and we have not found the shifting performance suffers due to mud in the bb cable guides. we also don't consider grabbing cables a detriment if you're doing a shoulder carry'
due to the customary large, smoothly sculpted bottom bracket shell, running the front gear mech cable up the back of the seat tube would have resulted in some tortuous routing, so the carbon molding incorporates a very small hole to bring the wire out at the appropriate position. this could have resulted in hours of endless pleasure as the hapless me tried manfully to find the other end of the cable after disappearing into a carbon pipe, but in fact the internal guide had it pop out just where required with no delay or consternation at all.
the hakkalugi arrives with the semi-integrated headset cups already in place, allowing, or perhaps needing, a substantial head tube to accommodate both. sliding into this location would be a pair of alpha carbon forks, almost something of a mainstay in the cross community. bizarrely the carbon steerer bore a sticker that claimed the warranty would be void if the sticker were to be removed, a detail that seemed not only unnecessary, but a bit pointlessly confusing, given that the sticker seemed to have no useful function other than to point this out.
the scary bit in any build is measuring and chopping the steerer to have it fit the frame and bar height desired. common practice dictates a measure three times, cut once philosophy, but i can assure you, i measured more than three times. fitting fork, bearings and cups in place before adding spacers and stem almost caught me out when i initially missed the front cantilever brake hanger from the equation.
that would have been embarrassing.
the agony of did i get it right? is made all the more painful by the method of aheadset centre-bolt retention on the cane creek headset. my carbon colnagos have used an expander bung that grips the inside of the steerer allowing tightening of that cap bolt. the alpha fork version, however, delivers an aluminium shim with a star-fangled nut already in place. once the steerer is cut to size, the shim is slathered with epoxy resin (supplied) and inserted into the top of the steerer to sit and harden for twenty-four hours.
that's a long time to wait if you think you may have got it all wrong.
thankfully, due to my effortless and thoroughly haphazard skills as a mechanic, the cut was good, and fitting ibis stem and bars the following day was a reasonably simple procedure. those sram force double-tap levers now had to be cabled up to a couple of pairs of trp eurox cantilevers; easy to fit and relatively simple to adjust the spring tension within pre-determined limits. there are two distinct planes of movement and adjustment on the trps; a 13mm nut clamps the pads in place, while a smaller allen key nut is the keeper of toe-in adjustment; all important on cantilever pads.
levers in place on the handlebars, cables and wires terminated at their respective scenes of employment, and the hakkalugi was beginning to look a bit more like the cross bike it was to become. cyclocross has just a touch of the irreverence often seen in mountain biking, and the hakkaluigi is no exception, given the provenance of its name and that little clenched fist on the rear monostay grasping the rear brake cable on its way to the canti hanger
2pure supplied a pair of options when it came to covering the black sram wires taped to the bars, both from the aptly named lizard skins. with a lime green bike, i figured i wouldn't get into any more trouble by fitting bright yellow bar tape, and the black alternative was left in the box for the time being. lizard skins, fulfil the same purpose as regular bar tape, with the added frisson of a more tactile surface and an uncanny knack of gripping really well, even on unmitted hands. given my complete lack of cyclocross skills, this seemed like a prudent gesture to maintain my wellbeing in the face of forthcoming adversity. the choice of yellow would hopefully aid the search and rescue helicopters to find me if i had to ditch in the sea.
the other specific item that has particular importance in the world of cyclocross is that of the saddle. i take nothing away from the importance of such a component in all other forms of cycling, but given the cyclocrosser's predilection for leaping aboard after running or climbing with the top tube across the right shoulder, i would imagine that a saddle with lashings of comfort, allied to a serious degree of robustness would be a pre-requisite for the genre. in the case of the ibis, a wilderness trail bike example with its advertised love channel offers all the qualities mentioned above, bolted to an ibis double-bolt aluminium seatpost.
a competent build-kit would be nothing without a pair of tyres capable of churning through gloopy mud, glancing off dry hardpack, and sprinting along shiny tarmac; a lot to ask. so, ready to attach to a pair of easton circuit wheels, were two 700 x 30c michelin crossmax jet clinchers. i am aware that the bona-fide cross racer would sell his/her grandmother for a pair of quality tubulars, but this distinct amateur in every sense of that word, was more than happy with tyres and tubes; far more easily repairable in my opinion. the tread pattern is light considering what is likely to be asked of them, with clear instructions on the sidewall to face the rear tread the wrong way to provide more traction. i'm guessing at inflation pressures, but i ran this pair at around 80psi.
the wheels can respectably be categorised as boutique, particularly in the way plain and black spoke nipples are alternated round that deep(ish) 28mm aluminium rim. the front wheel owns 24 straight, radially-laced spokes, while the rear has 28, built two cross on the drive side and radial on non-drive. the freehub had shimano style splines, accommodating the 11-28 sram cassette with ease.
while the gearing front and rear was supplied from sram's force groupset, the chainset broke the tradition being a cross specific example from italy's fsa. chainrings are 46/36 mated to aluminium alloy cranks, the left cranks fitting to the splined axle affixed to the right side crank via a pre-load bolt then clamped to the axle via two allen bolts, one top, one bottom. the chainset arrived with a compatible external fsa bottom bracket, but i opted to fit one from chris king because, well, because i could.
i like chris king bottom brackets.
road pedals don't make a lot of sense on a cross specific bike; it's very difficult to run through mud, grass or hardpack with the usual three point, triangular cleats that force most of us to walk ducklike across any surface. ibis distributors, 2pure, are also the uk importers of crank brothers pedals, and i was supplied two options: a pair of crank brothers eggbeaters, and candy pedals. both use basically the same mechanism, but the latter surrounds the eggbeater with a small platform to give the foot more support for those power down moments. tough and scary to the core, i bolted the eggbeaters in place for the first few outings; none of your namby pamby platforms for me.
cyclocross is not my forte, something that would be easy to tell from my having requested a frame that would have been far too big for the purpose. but part of the reason for requesting the hakkalugi in the first place was the chance to find out how well this sort of bike performs as a chunky road bike that's not scared to take on roads that are not roads. in terms of weight, this build would give a few thoroughbreds a bit of a scare, something that wasn't expected. the crankset, stem, bars, seatpost etc were hardly featherweight either in intent or indeed in reality. used for its true purpose, a cross racer has to allow for frequent shoulder lifts, and a heavy bike makes for a sore shoulder at the end of an hour's racing.
i did my level best to skitter about in the mud, grass and gravel for at least an hour, hoisting the bike shoulderwards with unfailing regularity. yes, ok, had you been watching, medical attention for splitting sides would have been highly necessary, but the principle remains; even for an incompetent like me, the hakkalugi was easily lifted. i did, however, have good cause to loathe those little tabs on the front fork dropouts when i suffered a front wheel puncture after only ten minutes of play in the woods. quick release, my ass.
when fitting the michelin crossmax tyres, the sidewall bore directions to fit the rear with the tread going the wrong way. granted, i didn't try it the right way, but it certainly gave substantial grip on wet grass and stodgy mud. the latter was expected, the former definitely not.
hanging on at the front end was, as they say, a piece of cake. the ibis bars are flattened slightly on the tops, and though this meant hands being slightly further from the brakes than was sometimes advisable, using the bike as a chunky, roadgoing vehicle, the tops were a bit of a boon. combine this with not only shallow drops that are incredibly adept and comfortable, and lizard skin tape that simply doesn't let go it's scary but comforting at the same time and in the correct proportions.
but to return to my earlier premise of riding the bike as the land rover of road bikes was a heck of a lot more successful than i'd anticipated. the colnago has 23mm mavics, the cielo 28mm continentals, so i'd kind of figured that 30mm semi-knobblies would make the ibis a bit of a liability when it came to tarmac. after all, cross races really only feature the black stuff along the start-finish straight, so it's hardly a prime concern, but i happily cycled home with a road-going compatriot without finding myself shelled out the back at any stage.
during a ride such as this, the bike really needs to exhibit similar tendencies to the skinny tyre world both when accelerating, or perhaps of more relevance, when attempting to climb. a good road bike frame pushes through the incline, encouraging more from the rider by a turbo feel from the chainstays and no untoward movement from the bottom bracket area. if you look at the pictures you'll see that the latter was most unlikely, but the existence of the former was a bit of a surprise.
cross bikes rarely have to climb anything approaching several kilometres of tarmac with a disadvantageous gradient. if the going gets that tough in a cross race, it's time to use the right shoulder and shanks's pony, so i'd be willing to state the obvious and attribute this to particularly efficient frame design.
islay, in common with many a rural retreat, has a number of previously owned roads, now inhabited by tractors, cattle and tons of gravel, most of which are scary for smooth and narrow tyres. it's why debbie sells puncture repair kits. but having climbed aboard the hakkalugi, with its cantilever brakes and chunkier tyres, brandishing a chuckability that wears a smile on its face, these roads and tracks were marvellous fun. the manoeuvrability of the bike meant that thundering down long forgotten highways, populated by moon-size craters were a form of excitement that should be captured and sold in cans.
my level of incompetence in such matters meant that far more emphasis was placed on component operation than would be the case for a smarmy expert. handfuls of brake were often needed unexpectedly, and the gestalt between the sram force levers and those trp cantilevers was a comfort best enjoyed after the event. gear changing too was often a less than pre-ordained reflex, and while the shifting of sram force is not in the same sphere as that of red, it'll do just nicely, even in the hands of the flailing amateur.
this notion of building boutique wheels with radial spokes, in the manner of the easton circuits fitted, often leads to a smidgeon of harshness. however, those 30c tyres pumped to 80psi may have taken the edge off any buzz; either way, the wheels contributed a lot to the sanctity of the ride, even though there was a bit of lateral squealing from the rear on tougher occasions. this stiffness imparted from the rotating bits has, however, tangible benefits when it comes to that chuckability. i have little wish to underline my ineptitude more often than is really necessary, but on several occasions, when thumping the ibis along grass-grown sand dunes, i had the distinct impression that the bike had a far better idea of how and where it was going than did its rider, a feature for which i am truly grateful.
one of the best bits of watching cyclocross is the way not only the top riders, but even some of the weekend players can leap astride the saddle when remounting even at speed. i can do a less than passing imitation of this manoeuvre in slow motion, but the harder part has always been trying to get cleats into pedals once aboard. there's pretty much no hope of this working on my road bikes (more's the pity), but the task is made four times easier on the ibis by my having fitted a pair of crank brothers' eggbeater pedals. despite the cleats being easy to lose in a packet of crisps, it's uncannily easy to plop them into place despite my lack of direction and co-ordination. while road pedals have to be the right way up, but usually aren't, the eggbeaters are always in the right position.
oh happy days.
and even more of a bonus, particularly when scrabbling through the undergrowth, it's darned easy to unclip in a hurry without those embarrassing moments of running forward still attached to one pedal. well, almost.
of course, prior to finding those pedals, the bum has to be firmly planted upon that wilderness trail bike rocket v saddle with its appropriately sculpted love channel. this is one of the most comfortable saddles i have ever had the privilege of sitting upon. it's well padded, but the padding isn't at all squiffy, so there's no untoward squirming about, and i have yet to experience even a moment's discomfort (other than the embarrassment of folks watching me leap tall buildings in a single bound). interestingly, this saddle is specified in the usa build kit, but replaced by a selle san marco zoncolan ti in the uk build. i haven't tried the latter i'm afraid.
overall, considering i was responsible for the build, the ibis has performed well above expectation, being forgiving enough to accommodate the fallability of a cross newbie, while being nippy and facile enough to emulate the road bike that i forgot to take with me. with britain's roads not looking like they will achieve billiard table smoothness anytime within the foreseeable future, perhaps we'll all be forced to consider cyclocross bikes such as the hakkalugi for sportives, the daily commute and the sacrosanct sunday ride. i'd certainly plump for this one, even resplendent in its radioactive green paint scheme; or maybe because of it.
the ibis hakkalugi frameset retails for £1550 and is currently available only in the phlegmish green. however, within the past month or so, ibis in the usa have released a black carbon version known as black lung. there is a choice of build kit available with either shimano ultegra or sram force (as tested) for a further £1550 making the cost of a complete bike £3100 if you take this option. of course, you can purchase the frame only and fit whatever your heart desires
posted tuesday 26 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................