Tech Tales From A Chilly ‘Cross Race
By Andrew Juskaitis
There’s a ton of product to talk about, but first things first:58 years ago, on the 25th of November 1945, was the first day ofwork for a young Ernesto Colnago at the Gloria factory in Milan. Now that’san anniversary worth celebrating.
On a more personal note: have spent a bit of time off the bike due toa bit of hardware removal surgery from my once-busted leg, but receiveda fine incentive last Friday to get off my butt and hit Boulder’s final‘cross race of the season. With any semblance of fitness long-gone, thelast thing I was looking to do was go head-to-head with the legion of Boulder’sway-too-fit Cat 3 ‘crossers, but a bike box from Specialized changed mymind. To my surprise company mouthpiece Kevin Franks had sent out a 2004S-Works version of Specialized’s much-ballyhooed Epic. Put down the remote-it’stime to race.
I built the sub-25 pound beast up (in XL) on a particularly snowy Saturdayevening, threw on a pair of new Time ATAC XS pedals (more on them later)and true to my SoCal roots, even threw on a front fender. Yes, a fenderfor cyclo-cross. You can send your harassing letters to our managing editor,Bryan Jew at firstname.lastname@example.org (Take yourtime sending letters, by the way. Bryan and his wife just became parentsfor the second time yesterday, so they’ll be tied up for a bit. Congratsto all of you!) The following morning the snow had ceased, but the articchill had firmly settled in offering temps in the teens for our pre-noonstart.
Picture a bundled horde of 28 Cat 3 ‘crossers shivering at a ice-encrustedstart line. Most with bona-fide ‘cross bikes, a few with single speed mountainbikes, and me with a never-been-ridden sparkling-new 27-speed, disc brakeequipped (no one protested) ’04 S Works Epic. Maybe not the premier weaponof choice for the course conditions, but certainly better than the guyI saw riding a “modified” road bike equipped with a pair of well worn ContinentalGrand Prix tires. Without going into a gory blow-by-blow race report ofthe ensuing snow-bound melee that was the Cat 3 race (and my more-thanembarrassing DFL placing), I will comment on the initial performance ofthe bike.
Last year’s Epic suspension design was controversial, to say the least.Some racers loved the auto-lockout of the Brain inertia valve, while otherriders pooh-poohed its inconsistent suspension performance. Personally,I raced the Epic a total of five times and found its slight weight penaltyand intermittent suspension “confusion” in rough terrain to be too muchof drawback to warrant its use for the rest of the season.
Specialized understood its initial design needed improvement and tookboth the weight and suspension efficiency complaints directly back to aclean drawing board. For 2004, the S-Works Epic frame sees 220 grams inweight savings over the ’03 version. Through a complete redesign of thetubeset and use of a carbon fiber linkage, the S-Works frame gets whittled-down1/2 a pound over the frame racers piloted last season.
More important than the weight savings is the ’04 Epic’s adjustableBrain shock. Whereas last year’s Brain only offered a fixed breakaway threshold(the suspension would only activate at a impact above 1.1 Newtons) the’04 Epic uses what Specialized calls a Brain Adjust IQ shock. With a quicktoggle of the switch, racers can now fine-tune the point at which the suspensionactivates-a critical feature.
No, a snowy Colorado cyclo-cross race is not the perfect test bed todetermine a full-suspension cross-country racing mountain bike’s performance,but it can provide some initial impressions. I set the Brain’s “IQ” atits lightest setting to provide the most suspension activity over the highfrequency stutters that lined the course. I found the ’04 suspension tobe much more active than the often-stuck-closed ’03 version. A promisinginitial ride, to say the least.
Only proper off-road riding/racing will unearth the true nature of thisupdated racer, but for 45 painful minutes on a snowy Colorado ‘cross course,the $5000 (yes, dollars) showed much-improved suspension performance. Lookfor a complete update later in the year.
If you haven’t received your latest issue of VeloNews (#20) be sureto swipe your buddy’s copy and read-up on our off-road pedal comparison.I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t read the report, but let’sjust say the new Time ATAC XS pedals take top honors (oops). Their goldmedal performance was again warranted through the horrendous freezing mudconditions we slogged through in Sunday’s race. While I noticed most ofmy fellow competitors furiously clawing at their pedals (older Time ATACsincluded) I was able to clip-in with only one or two quick mud-sheddingsmacks of the pedals. Thanks to their minimal but secure design, the ATACXS are the best clipless mud pedal I’ve ever ridden. Look for the fullreport in the print issue.
Just got in what initially appeared to be one of those components thatmakes you scratch your head and ask, “haven’t I seen this before?” Yep,it’s a remote controlled (cable activated) telescoping seatpost that allowsriders to drop their saddles 2.8 inches with a quick flick of the handlebarmounted switch. It’s called the Gravity Dropper and it retails for $250.Unlike the Hite Rites and PowerPost of the 80’s and 90’s, the Gravity Dropperis both easy to activate and relatively lightweight (470 grams). Usinga system of opposed magnets, the seatpost offers two positions, fully extendedand fully compressed-just right for those steep descents where a ridermight get hung-up on a fully extended saddle. Does it work? Tomorrow’sthe first ride, so we see. Check back soon for full report.