the crux elite occupies second place in specialized's 2017 offering for the cyclocross fraternity, one step below the crux expert. my rationale in requesting this particular model for review pretty much centred around the fact that i felt i'd be particularly incapable of doing justice to anything with the word expert in the title. you know it to be true.
this particular model differs from the previous specialized 'cross bike i last had for review in several important ways, the most obvious being a carbon frame as opposed to shiny alloy. impressive as the aesthetics of the latter were, i can't deny a secret admiration for the combination of a very bright fluorescent red, matched to lime green edging at the dropouts. and that is where this bicycle once more differs from its alloy predecessor. instead of the usual dropouts that any of us would expect to hold our wheels in place, specialized have embraced modernity and opted for thru-axles both front and rear.
as a confirmed luddite, this presented one of those minor heart-stopping moments, but practically speaking, it's actually quite a slick means of fastening the wheels to the frame. rather than open alloy or carbon dropouts, each fork leg features a large diameter hole, the right-hand side of which, both front and rear, is threaded. it then becomes a simple matter of lining up the big hole in the hub with the two in the forks before inserting the thru-axle and doing what my neighbour always did with his quick-release; threading it in place. aside from any other benefit these may confer on the situation, it means there are no lawyer's lips with which to contend.
once these are securely in place, the lever is conveniently ratcheted, allowing it to be aligned with the fork leg, or whatever your particular proclivity demands. the front wheel is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, but the rear wheel is just a tad more of a faff, given the need to pull against the chain and derailleur tension. however, cyclocross is not a sport in which millisecond wheel changes are required, so all is well with the world.
in common with many a contemporary cyclocross machine, the crux elite features sram's single front chainring matched to an eleven-speed wide-range cassette at the rear. in this case, the groupset is sram rival, the lowest of the red/force/rival triumvirate. since the elite is also available as a frame only and thus subject to the particular requirements of its owner, the seat tube still features a braze-on bracket for a front gear mech along with internal routing for the associated cable.
the internal routing is aided and abetted by pre-fitted plastic tubes, prevented from disappearing inside by means of little bits of masking tape attached to each end. once the rear mech is cabled up (not as obvious at the mech as i'd thought), this can either be left in place, or removed. routing under the press-fit bottom bracket is simplicity itself before being protected by a bolt-on carbon plate. faff was the word furthest from my mind.
while we're on the subject of cables, the crux arrived with both hydraulic lines in place, the rear routed inside the curved carbon top tube and in a very welcome move, the front hydraulic line runs down the inside of the left fork leg. i say welcome, because the previous version gave me minor cause for concern as to how to properly route the hydraulic line to the front caliper; in front of the fork leg or behind or a bit of both. the rotors differed from the previous setup in that they are held on the hub by means of a lockring rather than a slew of separate bolts. the wheels are an impressive pair of dt swiss r460, a stylish and sober addition to the bicycle's fluorescent magnificence (gloss rocket red and monster green, as it happens)
fluorescent paint has an inherent tendency to fade in ultra-violet light, often resulting in a once sparkly bicycle becoming a less than attractive off-white. according to a hang-tag attached to the seatstays, this particular paint formulation is designed to degrade to what promises to be a particularly pleasant dark red. specialized deserve a few extra brownie points for thinking ahead.
up front, the integral headset grows from 1.125 at the top to 1.375 at the bottom where it meets that rather sturdy looking fork. bars and stem are both badged as in-house components, the stem featuring a seven degree rise and stretching to a very modest 100mm. the bars are wrapped in a gel tape and are home to a right-hand lever that takes care of gear-shifting duties by way of sram's tried and tested double-tap inner flip lever. with no front mech, the left lever has only need of containing some hydraulic fluid for the rear disc caliper as well as a lever to make it work.
the black alloy rival bb30 x-sync chainset has a single 40 tooth chainring driving the chain through an 11-32t eleven-speed cassette. the tyres are a vast improvement over those fitted to the last crux to visit the hebrides. once more, they're from the specialized wardrobe with a squarish profile and plenty of mud-releasing space between the small knobbly bits. according to the sidewall legend, these are 700x33c terra pro 2bliss ready, whatever that is intended to indicate.
for a bicycle sporting a big, thick, chunky downtube, it was a pleasant suprise to find the alloy seatpost to be of the one-time industry standard 27.2mm, topped by a specialized phenom comp saddle with cro-mo rails and the almost ubiquitous slot in the centre. as ever, the bicycle arrived without pedals, so i fitted my own crank bros. candy #7.
at the risk of sounding just a tad over the top, this is quite possibly the best bicycle i have ever ridden. not just the finest 'cross bike, but the finest bike. it's a bicycle with soul, from it's simply red curved top tube (which has the word specialized writ large underneath) to its al green fork ends, the crux elite was as funky as it gets. though i cyclocrossed my little legs off in all manner of terrain, i simply swapped the tyres for a pair of challenge strada bianche 33mm road tyres and took part in this year's ride of the falling rain. if the government ever instigates bicycle rationing and limits us to a single bike, this is the one to have.
taking it at its word, i frequented the undergrowth in nearby bridgend woods, where mud, grass, rock and gravel scarcely gave it cause for concern. i'm not really enough of an engineer to unequivocally place its chuckability at the door of those front and rear thru-axles, but it would be naive to think they've not got something to do with it. i have long trailed the directional qualities of colnago bicycles to be the bar by which most others are judged; this was/is every bit as good, if not better.
the final part of my usual scrabble around the woods involves my following the sheep tracks down uiskentuie dunes before depositing myself unceremoniously on a seat at debbie's. this almost always has involved a certain amount of lateral toing-and-froing off the grassy edges, but in the case of the crux elite, it was like riding a tram rail from beginning to end. even the sheep failed to scare it from its line.
just to provide the ultimate local trial for such a bright bicycle, i scrabbled my way along the gravel road leading to islay's sole wind turbine, a road additionally used for peat extraction and all the detritus which that involves. as if that were scarcely sufficient, i took a trip through ballygrant woods along its lengthy loose gravel track before switching onto the walkway installed by dunlossit estate some years ago to aid traffic-free walking from caol ila to ballygrant.
though the surface of the latter is ostensibly gravel, in point of fact, these are demonstrably large chunks of gravel and really not the sort of stuff you'd enjoy walking on. no doubt that explains the fact that i met not a single walker from end to end, despite it being a saturday morning. no matter the surface material or quality, the specilized cross tyres slipped not once, while the rival's gearchanging abilities are worth a round of applause all of their own.
saddles rarely give my posterior too much discomfort no matter the brand stamped underneath. the specialized phenom was no different, offering a fine topping to accompany the rest of the bicycle. i'm still of the opinion that disc brakes fall into the category of a solution looking for a problem, a bit like electronic gear systems, but it would be hard to deny that the sram rival calipers and rotors offered handfuls of braking power even in the hands of the occasionally inept. there was a smidgeon of screeching when wet, but generally speaking they were as silent as they were strong.
but leaving all the technicalities aside, i must once more return to my contention that the crux elite has soul. whether on-road or offroad, it was accompanied by an ear-to-ear smile, demonstrating the admirable trait of always wanting to go faster at whatever speed i happened to be cruising at the time. fitted with road tyres, albeit 33mm wide, it was comfort personified with seemingly little to slow it down when in a peloton of bona-fide road bikes. it's not the lightest on the market; that's something that might conceivably be remedied with the crux expert, but it's hardly a huge burden when the cross course takes a walk in the park, either recreationally or competitively.
additionally, though sram offer force and red groupsets above that of rival, specialized have chosen well in fitting rival, a groupset that really did have me wondering why i'd need either of its big brothers.
if you have room for only one really, really good bicycle in your life as well as a propensity to enjoy tarmac and gravel in equal measures, might i respectfully suggest that the crux elite should be occupying the top spot on your shopping list. if you intend racing, the switching of tyres ought to make it just ginger peachy for both competition and road training. at a retail price of £2300 this is music for the soul.
monday 29 august 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................