BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — Well, cyclocross season has begun, and I can tell by my sore adductors, hip flexors, and tibialis muscles from throwing my leg over the saddle and running. With so many people subjecting themselves to this bodily abuse, new bikes, tires and forks are appearing to satisfy their urges and requirements for the 2011-2012 season.
Ritchey’s modern steel
Tom Ritchey has gone back to building some cool, steel cyclocross bikes. He has re-introduced the Swiss Cross frame, which gained fame under Thomas Frischknecht and Henrik Djernis. Djernis, who won mountain bike world championship gold on Ritchey bikes in 1992, 1993, and 1994, won the world cyclocross championship on a Ritchey Swiss Cross in 1993, and two-time world mountain bike champion Frischknecht won the cyclocross worlds gold in 1992 (Djernis got silver) and in 1988 as a junior.
In the early 1990s, virtually all cyclocross bikes were either steel or lugged (bonded) aluminum, but now that is certainly not the case, and the new Swiss Cross has some special features to make it a competitive steel bike in this day of carbon and welded aluminum. Principal among the changes is an integrated headset, but a very different one than we’re used to seeing on carbon or aluminum bikes. In order to allow him to use a narrower, lighter head tube, Ritchey welds forged steel cups to either end that accept drop-in bearings. This integration also stiffens the frame torsionally by allowing greater separation between the down tube and top tube at the head tube. Ritchey uses this same head tube on his new P-29er mountain sliding-dropout hardtail, and Joe Breeze, another mountain-bike pioneer, is taking a similar tack on the head tube of his new top-end steel mountain hardtail.
The Swiss Cross is made of a new Tange-made Ritchey WCS Logic II tubeset with differential butting (think Columbus Genius). The pre-production sample in these photos was fillet-brazed personally by Tom Ritchey (my employer 30 years ago from whom I learned framebuilding and, specifically, fillet-brazing).
The Swiss Cross frame weighs in at under 3.9 pounds and sells for $1,300 with headset and Ritchey carbon fork painted to match.
Felt’s F2X and down-specced F3X and F4X ’cross bikes use the company’s “Inside-Out” molding technology, in which an inflatable bladder is blown up inside a soft mold to provide pressure against the inside walls of the frame during curing in a mold. The frame has a tapered head tube, BB30 bottom bracket shell, flat underside to the top tube for shouldering, double bottle bosses, forged aluminum dropouts and weighs 1,090 grams (2.4 pounds). The top-end F2X with Dura-Ace Di2 sells for $6,500 and will be raced this season by Ryan Trebon.
Specialized has stepped up its ’cross offerings with tubular tires and a carbon disc-brake fork. The company does not yet have a carbon cyclocross frame, but it wanted to have a viable disc-brake ’cross bike. Since it could find no forks for disc brakes that passed its internal testing, it made its own. The resulting carbon fork has a huge crown and upper blades, tapered head tube, and beefed-up area around the disc mounts. Engineer Mark Coté says, “This fork is so stiff and strong, no other ’cross fork we’ve ever tested even comes close.”
The new handmade Specialized cyclocross tubulars are all 700 X 33C and have a 290 thread-per-inch casing. The Trigger’s low file tread will roll fast on grass and hard surfaces. The Tracer has broad, square knobs for traction, yet they are low and have some space between them, so it should be a great all-around tubular. Finally, the Terra mud tire has staggered, widely-spaced triangular, and rhomboid knobs for traction and mud clearance.
With so many big companies stepping up their cyclocross offerings in response to the explosion in demand and participation, the future is bright for the sport.