Cyclocross

We're so into Cyclocross that we made this special page for it. Also publish a Tumblr about Suffer Faces.

Uh-uh-uh UMLENKER!....Gesundheit! (a widget for your cyclocross bike)

Ti randonneur w/ disc & 26" wheels

Many cyclocross bikes route the derailleur cables along the top tube to get them out of the way of mud flung off the wheels and away from places the rider might grab during portaging. Since the front derailleur cable now leads down the seat tube and all road shifter compatible front derailleurs are bottom pull, the frame builder must incorporate some sort of cable pull reversing pulley on the back of the seat tube below the height of the front derailleur. This is unfortunate, because that pulley is now situated in one of the muddiest nooks of a cyclocross bike. A problem….that clearly needs some obsessive German tinkering!

Enter German company Speen. They manufacture tiny little doodads that they call Umlenker in a plethora of (very) minor variations to fit just about every front road derailleur currently made. The Umlenker bolts onto the cable fixing threads of the front derailleur, and then it presents a repositioned cable fixing point to accept a cable from above. I believe that Speen first started making these when elite XC mtn bikers started hotrodding their ultra light bikes with double rings and Dura Ace front derailleurs (i.e., before 2x10 drivetrains became a stock option from SRAM and Shimano). In the case of mtn bikes and road front derailleurs, the designated Umlenker for that situation also modifies the cable pull geometry to correctly mesh with the mtn shifter. On a cyclocross bike, the Umlenker is lighter and less of a mud collector than a pulley, though the cable run now sits a little outboard of the seat tube (see pix). Also, the Umlenker lacks a cable groove in clamping area, so tightening the fixing bolt is a little harsh on the cable itself.

You can buy these things direct from the Speen website, and they ship via international post, so the cost is reasonable. I bought a few of these recently, and the one for a customer’s titanium disc 26”-wheeled randonneur bike meshed perfect with the 5700 double front derailleur. I also had success with a Campy Centaur setup. Unfortunately, I inadvertently ordered an Umlenker for the wrong generation of SRAM Force derailleur, so I can’t test that situation out yet. The Umlenker is just a teensy, tiny bit off from fitting my later-gen Force derailleur, but judging by how subtle the differences are between any of the Umlenker models, I suspect that a little “off” may as well be a mile.

Byron is currently testing another CX bike that came with an Umlenker installed. In direct contrast with my experiences, that one shifts like ass. The pull ratio seems like it might be off, rendering the trim positions ineffective. Since I didn’t order or install that Umlenker and none of the Umlenkers have any identifying marks, I wonder if perhaps it is not the right model Umlenker for the shifter or derailleur.

Ti randonneur w/ disc & 26" wheels

It is worth mentioning here that Shimano is on the eve of delivering CX70 and CX50 front derailleurs, both of which will be available in top-pull options, thereby negating the need for an Umlenker or pulley for Shimano users (assuming they have 5700/6700/7900-gen shifters). Whether or not this will be a trend that SRAM follows is anyone’s guess, so the next time I get a cyclocross bike made, I will be planning on running it with an Umlenker for my SRAM drivetrain.

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Cyclocross: Amazing new products from Shimano (yawn)

I guess cyclocross has become big enough that both Shimano and Campagnolo decided to show up at the party at last. Well, for Shimano I can understand that they’ve gotten tired of losing OEM sales to FSA, SRAM, and the throngs of Asian OEM parts makers…after all, the offerings for complete cx bikes are more numerous than ever, and they go pretty upscale nowadays. There’s money buried in that mud. As for Campagnolo, who have all but given up entry- to mid-level OEM competitiveness…frankly I think their parts, particularly their 11-speed drivetrains and bottom bracket designs are so poorly suited to the filthy rigors of cx from the start. I don’t understand why they even bothered since their bits are inherently less versatile (e.g., dumb chainring standards), expensive for what they are, and hard to work on (e.g. anyone who says otherwise obviously hasn’t tried to service a Power-Torque crank).

Shimano is this huge juggernaut that must break free of immense inertia to get a product to market. The new CX70 cyclocross mini-group is slated to be available late fall this year….as an aftermarket offering. Because if they were going to be spec’ed on complete 2012 bikes, they would have needed to convince product managers last winter, during or before the Taipei Bike Show that units would be ready for deliver to assembly houses this summer….and clearly they didn’t/couldn’t. Part of this is because Shimano generally operates on a 3yr development cycle…but hell, Shimano first started floating rumors of CX-specific components to product managers a decade ago. Anyways, Shimano has a mini-group, here’s why you might care:

Crankset. Shimano is super obsessive on chainrings; the Dura Ace 7900 and 7950 big rings are perhaps the most sophisticated and best shifting rings ever created. During shifting the dramatic depth to the rings acts to make a shallower ramp up from the small ring, as well as aiding shifting by stiffening the ring as the front derailleur presses the chain against it. That’s the DA 7900/50 chainring (as well as the Ultegra 6700/6750)….these CX70 chainrings ain’t that sophisticated. The CX70 rings aren’t hollow and deep like the newer road rings…but they do have more shift pins and ramps to help shifting. All I can guess is that either Shimano making hollow rings for CX was too expensive for the price point , or they just decided that marketing a CX-specific was more advantageous. I have not had a chance to ride the CX70 crank, but I have no doubt that it shifts beautifully. However, one could argue that it’s all overkill since so many cross racers choose single ring setups.

And there are plenty of aftermarket CX rings that work quite well in Shimano drivetrains. Compared to the difficulties FSA and Campagnolo were having in making early 10sp compact road rings shift (a 16tooth jump from 34 to 50T), the 10 tooth jump from 36 to 46T just isn’t that hard to solve. Back then Shimano was slow to bring a compact road crank to market, but when they did they solved it by having the best chainrings on the market. Shimano had really set the standard and then upped it with the latest generation of DA and Ultegra, partially in anticipation of the needs of electronic Di2 front shifting. So after everyone else has already debuted CX-specific rings, it just seems like the CX70 rings are kinda halfway…lacking the first-level sophistication of the DA and Ultegra, they’re not really distinguishable from the industry pack.

Front dérailleurs. There are two significant features of the new CX70 front derailleurs. First, the cage curvature is optimized for smaller big rings (e.g., 46 tooth vs 50-53T of road rings) which should mean faster shifting and less chance of throwing the chain. Second, as unique amongst derailleurs that work with indexed front road shifters they are available in a top-pull cable configuration. Both top-pull and traditional, bottom-pull are available to fit clamp 31.8/28.6mm, clamp 34.9mm, and braze-on. The top-pull option is perhaps the most forward thinking aspect of the CX70 mini-group, as it will allow frame makers to run the derailleur cables on the top tube without the cable-reversing pulley. A pulley that invariably needs to be placed exactly were all the mud wants to cake, behind on the seat tube right above the BB shell.

New cantilever brakes. Well, the CX70 cantis are certainly unusual looking, and it seems reasonable to assume that the brakepad-on-a-stalk idea might discourage mud build-up. However, they don’t look like they offer versatility in set-up like the Avid Ultimate Shorty, nor the skeletal lightness of the reinvented Mafac legions (Spooky, TRP, etc). And as far are quality goes, I guess it was too much for me to expect sublime quality equal to the XTR V-brake. To my eye, these brakes will be more of an OEM thing, since Shimano cantis have traditionally been designed for ease of installation; in that light, the CX70’s lack of set-up versatility was doubtlessly a deliberate decision. Still, the product leaves me underwhelmed…after all, Shimano had plenty of time to come up with a badass brake.

So finally Shimano officially recognizes the value of cyclocross, and though consumers can be assured of dependable quality, the company have done little so far to raise the bar for CX components. However, if Shimano brings out a system of brake/shift lever integrated with hydraulic disc brakes, they can/will put everyone else on the back foot. But don’t look for that just yet…remember: 3-yr development cycle.

Racing Raleigh’s Midsummer Night’s Cyclocross

I’m racing Cross tomorrow night at Raleigh’s Midsummer Night’s Cyclocross. A night Cross race in July? What’s that all about? I asked Terry Buchanan, the race promoter, that same thing and he said

The race is part of Raleigh’s annual dealer new, model year event and is intended to get them excited abut Cross. They can watch, race, and soak in the atmosphere. Also ride demo bikes.

then Raleigh’s Sally called me and said,

The potential of Cyclocross is there and what we’re pushing. We want to show them dealers what a Cross race is all about.

As you’ve probably been reading, I’ve been at lots of media/dealer events so far this Summer. July is buying season in the bike business. After this event, I’m at Dealer Camp next week for more blogging and a MTB race (first in two decades).

Having never raced Cross in the Summer and just starting to train hard for the Fall, I’ve got no idea how I’ll feel. I’m in the Singlespeed category and racing the Hugga Hodala bike.

There’s also big money and a pro contract on the line at this race.

New Cross Wheels on Test

We’re getting ready for Cross season with new wheels to test from Cole

Cole Cross Wheels

and A-Class

Aclass Tubeless

Those are tubular and tubeless. As I said on our Facepage, we’re not running clinchers this season and we’ll have a stable of bikes too: single speed, custom carbon, and a new Ti bike.

Attack of the Affordable Cross Tubular

tubular

Cross riders looking to get more out of their hoops often think of turning to tubulars, but the price tag is usually too high for most to justify for performance that’s not as great as, say, buying a new frame. Specialized is rolling out a new set of tubular cross-specific wheels with a 290TPI count (that’s great) at a $100 price point (that’s fantastic). If you’re looking for a new set of tubulars to go with your disc-brake ‘cross bike this season, these are your new best friends.

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