It’s been months in the making, but I’ve managed to get my first proper cyclocross ‘b-bike’ rolling, just in time for the ramp up of cyclocross training and the season opener on September 9th in Rochester, New York. I recently began doing 2-3 cyclocross sessions weekly, throwing myself down steep run-downs and run-ups, stairs, and powerclimbs on my ‘a-bike’, the Brodie Romax I’ve been using all year in gravel mode for a broad range of races and rides. I managed to misplace my rear disc brake adapter, which slowed progress on the b-bike build, but thanks to help from Steve Proulx and Iain Radford, I got a 140mm rotor set-up going, which allowed me to throw down the bike’s first ride and cx session on Wednesday night.
The Romax is an aluminum frame constructed from 7046-series material. I am a fan of aluminum for its value, particularly because I believe wheels and tires make more difference in terms of ride quaility than frame material. Yes, aluminum is heavier than carbon, but it is also generally half the price, often less. Since I set out to build two new cyclocross bikes for 2017, using new and used parts, the fact that I was able to get two framesets for less than many carbon framesets felt good. If I smash one in a race, destroying it, I’ll be able to afford to replace it. That feels good too; cyclocross is an abusive discipline, and I don’t want to ride and race worrying about breaking my frame.
The frame is sold with TRP’s high quality full-carbon fork, which allows for internal cable routing. It fits a 15mm thru-axle, while the back of the bike takes a 142x12mm hub and thru-axle. This means wheel alignment is always the same, and solid. I love this. The frame uses a 27.2 seatpost, a PF30 bottom bracket, has a sweet replaceable derailleur hanger, takes a front derailleur if desired, and fits a flat mount or post mount brake (140mm or 160mm) in the back (latter with adapter) and post mount 160mm in the front. Seat collar and headset are included with the frame and fork, and the bike is also sold complete. Two bottle mounts are at the ready, with hardware, which I removed. I’ve filled all holes in the frame with clear silicone to keep water out.
I’ll keep things fairly high-level for this post, and dig in as required further down the road. While I’ve made some changes with this build over what I’ve used previously for cyclocross, the biggest change isn’t frame material; it’s fit. Why?
I got my start in cyclocross in our excellent Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series. This is a development series, and the courses have never been particularly technically demanding for those coming from mountain bike backgrounds. There were lots of specific cx skills to learn, and I’m always learning more, but the courses didn’t really demand the sort of bike fit Tim Johnson has long recommended: shorter reach, higher bars, seat positioned a bit back from usual, a tad lower. This is all in relation to a road position. I mostly rode my bikes with positions similar to my road bike, and this seemed effective for fairly fast courses.
However, I finally was able to learn that I actually preferred a shorter, higher position on the second day of the 2016 Canadian Cyclocross Championships in Sherbrooke, QC. I had Jamie Pold’s Steelwool Truffle Pig with me as a b-bike, a size smaller than mine. In the mud I felt much more able on his bike, as I was switching between bikes each lap. This experience convinced me to finally follow Johnson’s advice and commit to riding a smaller size in 2017. Actually, 2 bikes in that size! So, I’d move from my 58cm size to a 56cm. I could tell the Brodie Romax would definitely allow me to get my bars low enough, so I was confident in my approach. The reach would be easier to tweak.
My stem is 3cm higher, and 1cm shorter on the b-bike than my a-bike. At present, my zero-offset 3T seatpost postions my saddle further forward than my a-bike, which is something I expect to rectify with another post; this requires some evaluation by swapping saddles/posts between bikes. The higher and shorter har position is slightly mitigated by the 44cm wide FSA bars I’m using on the b-bike versus the 42s on my a-bike. This spreads my hands wider, bringing my chest in a little. Note the svelte Absolute Black top cap below, easily the lightest I’ve ever seen!
Automatically, the front end of the bike is drastically easier to lift. This means it can be picked up and placed easier, and hopping is much easier. This positioning is all about compromise, as the higher the position is, the less weight there is on the front wheel – which makes hopping etc. easier – the harder it becomes to handle steep climbs (front wheel lift or wander), and the more likely one can be to encounter insufficient traction in turns. It’s a balancing act, literally; for example, bars too low can overload the front tire in turns, tear grass out, and and cause crashes. I like the position a lot, and feel certain I’ll be able to handle more technical courses better with my bikes set up this way.
I’m using some older parts on this bike, including 10-speed SRAM Force shift/brake levers, which have proven reliable over the years. What I’ve done that’s somewhat unusual here is mount a SRAM Force1 rear derailleur, which uses a clutch for chain tension. The great thing about SRAM is that all the 10-speed and 11-speed components are cross-compatible. So this derailleur, which is designed for an 11-speed group, also works perfectly with a 10-speed shifter and cassette! I’m using a SRAM PCX1 11-speed chain, which is a decent budget option. Make sure you clean off the stock grease after your first ride, that stuff is nasty!
At the moment I have a large cassette mounted, a Shimano 11-36 XT, but for racing I’ll generally use Shimano Ultegra 11-28 cassettes. As it is, the shifting is impeccable, aided by the fantastic alloy Kogel 12-tooth narrow-wide pulleys I’ve been using for a while on a few bikes, and have written about here. Crisp and light, the shifting action is the best of any bike I own, and I’ve opted to run full housing from shifter to derailleur, routed externally, to eliminate contamination. This is a change I’ll make to my a-bike when I change it over to cx mode. I’ve used two zip-ties to attach the housing to the downtube, and fixed the rest on under the tube with clear Gorilla tape. This keeps things clean and light, and also protects the paint a bit from flying rocks.
I’m stoked Absolute Black have provided me with their awesome narrow-wide oval direct mount traction rings for both bikes, and this one is a 42-tooth unit. As I’ve written elsewhere, the oval shape is great, improving climbing traction by smoothing out power delivery. Their narrow-wide profile works really well, evidenced by the single derailment I’ve experienced in a race over a year, which you can read more about here. The older SRAM Force crank I’m using allows for direct mounting of the ring, reducing weight.
Supporting smooth power transmission, thanks to my friends at Kogel, is their PF30 ceramic bottom bracket with ceramic bearings and cyclocross seals. I’m using these bottom brackets on both bikes, and have been impressed by their performance. I do prefer threaded bottom brackets in general, but for a press-fit, I’m happy and feel fortunate to be able to run such quality units from Kogel. Click here for another post on their bbs.
I’m on my trusted Shimano XT pedals, which I’ve used for ages. This generation clears mud pretty well, and they’re super reliable and easy to work on.
Since I’m using older Force levers, mechanical disc brakes are required. I’ve used this Avid BB-7 / SRAM combo for a while on a drop-bar 29er, so I know they work well. My set-up here isn’t quite what I want yet, as I still have to unearth the flat-to-post caliper adapter I have somewhere to switch to my preferred 160mm rotor. In the meantime, this 140mm rotor is working ok. Somewhat annoyingly, I have to space the rear rotor from the hub to align it with the caliper, which is a function of the adapter/caliper combination. My Force hydro caliper in flat mount format didnt’ require this on my a-bike.
I’m using the supremely good Yokozuna compressionless housing for my brakes, which is the best option I know of for ensuring long-lasting smooth and powerful braking performance. Yes, it requires more work to set-up (fitting ferrules), and doesn’t play with routing as nicely as normal housing, but it’s worth it.
The downside to the single-piston format mechanical disc brakes is pad wear. The pads I have here are robust, much more so than the organic pads that come in Force hydro brakes. However, pad wear during races is a real issue, so using full metallic ‘sintered’ pads will be the best approach. Hopefully, if mud is crazy I’ll be changing bikes in the pit, and a pit-helper will be able to adjust the pads after each lap if excessive wear occurs. Meanwhile, on my hydro brakes the pads will self adjust to maintain normal function. A better caliper set-up would be the TRP Spyre, which moves both pistons, meaning all that is required is cable tension adjustment to compensate for pad wear. Those could be in my future, time will tell. Another option would be the TRP mechanical to hydro calipers, which also self-adjust pads, but are sensitive to cold conditions.
I’ve got a pair of prototype Woven Precision Handbuilts 55mm wheels mounted are wider than our usual wheels, and utilize more of a ‘v’ profile. I don’t expect to race these, but they are serving well for the moment with a pair of tubeless Specialized Trigger tires in 38mm, tubeless. These are pretty ideal for training, especially while its dry. For tires that are somewhat robust, these roll really well.
My race set-up for the two bikes will consist of three pairs of wheels. I’ll have a pair of 35mm-deep Woven tubulars mounted with Dugast Small Bird tires, which will be for dry, fast courses, but not the rocky ones. I’ll use my existing 55mm-deep Woven climchers with three sets of tubeless tires: Compass Steilacoom for non-UCI-compliant races with rough courses, Specialized Terra for wet conditions, and Specialized Tracer for intermediate conditions. The Terras proved themselves as awesome mud tires last year, holding on the Woven rims tubeless extremely well. I expect to be changing tires a lot each week, which won’t be fun, but thankfully these tires mount well. My second pair of clinchers will be 45mm Wovens I’ll build up, as this depth works really well for cx, saving a little weight off the 55s while still providing great handling characteristics.
I’m looking forward to spending more time on the bike as we approach the first race, then putting it through the paces throughout the fall. Let me know if you have any questions or if I’ve missed anything!
Sincere thanks to the fine people at Brodie, Kogel, Compass, and Absolute Black for their generosity and support, without which I couldn’t have built my #dynamicdirtduo. Huge thanks to Kent Dougall of Woven Precision Handbuilts for dedicating a lot of time to making the decals for my bikes a reality, helping me source a whole lot of parts through Phat Moose Cycles, not to mention allowing me to use his shop tools to install my bottom brackets! If you’ve never been to the Moose, pay them a visit sometime, they are a fantastic bunch of guys who have mad wrenching and fabrication skills! If you are after a pair of wheels with a custom flair, visit Kent at the shop and ask him to show you his books of vinyl samples!
Behind the scenes, Giro, Silca, Mad Alchemy, Xact Nutrition, Vega, and Re:Form have been along for the ride too, and I’m thankful for all of their support. I encourage you to check out everyone’s fantastic Instagrammin’: