Technical FAQ: Lennard’s ’cross setup, in detail

Lennard Zinn details his personal cyclocross setup and the painstaking detail he's followed in dropping four pounds of bike weight

Editor’s Note: Lennard Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.

Lennard’s ’cross bike build

Dear Lennard,
Congratulations on your win at the Smartwool Cup. I think that’s an amazing feat! I’m constantly amazed at how fast some of the, uh, more senior racers really are. How about giving the readership a run down on your personal cyclocross bike that you used in that race, with pictures? I know I’d be interested. I don’t expect I’ll ever ride at that level, but I can always tweak on my bike and dream.
— Matt

Dear Matt,
I waited well over a month (the Smartwool Cup USGP races were October 13-14) to answer your letter, as this inevitably will be a total geek-out, and I wondered how many of you would think I’m totally nuts. But here goes, since some of you may be as nuts as I am about bike stuff. You asked for it, after all!

See Lennard’s detailed bike gallery >>

I often have frustration with my OCD tendency to not stop with “good enough,” but rather to spend countless hours working on my bike to save a few grams, cut out some friction, or get slightly better braking or shifting or traction. I keep telling myself that I don’t have time for such nonsense, but it does no good; I just keep going until it’s the way I want it. I do recognize how extremely fortunate I am to be able to have such concerns and the time and opportunity to act on them, as I’m sure that cyclists in Syria, for instance, have had no such luxury for a long time now.

I will answer this as a photo gallery, since it’s the only way to do it properly. The below text is for those that are interested in a bit of the background.

The evolution of the bike that I rode at the Smartwool Cup has been gradual. I started racing ’cross in 2009 as a way to enter the cross-country ski racing season fitter, but in the last two seasons it has become an end in itself, and my bikes have become correspondingly lighter and more refined.

I built this red magnesium frame in 2008, and I’m just completing my fourth season on it. I built a mate to it at the time, a black bike, which I sold after two seasons and replaced with a white one because I was bored with the color. At first, both bikes were built up with a combination of parts I had lying around and the cheapest other parts I could find to complete them. They weighed about 21 pounds for the red one with a single 42-tooth chainring and over 22 pounds for the black one with a 39-46T double and secondary bar-top brake levers. Now the red one is four pounds lighter.

After the first two seasons, I abandoned the front derailleur and second chainring, because I found that I never used them during races; once I had gotten to a certain level of hypoxia, all I could deal with was one shifter. I never needed lower than a 39×25 or higher than a 39×12 in races, so I settled on a 39-tooth single ring on both bikes, and now I use a 40-tooth Rotor ring. I also junked the bar-top levers for the same reason; I never used them in races.

It was in my second season that I started using tubulars, and I bought a bunch of Challenge Fangos. Since “fango” means “mud” in Italian, I mistakenly assumed them to be mud tires, and I thought this was an event contested in the mud. Turns out that in Colorado, especially this season, mud is something we rarely see, and I was fortunate to have happened on such versatile tires as Fangos.

My obsession with low bike weight kicked in last season with my decision to race nationals. I still didn’t train for ’cross prior to the 2011-12 season, and I skied more than I rode once the snow fell, but I went the consumer way of getting faster by having lighter equipment.

I was inspired once I saw that the guys that won the 50-54 age group I was in and the 55-59 age group I would be moving into this season at both nationals and worlds were guys I used to race the road against over 30 years ago and had had success against back then. I realized I could be much faster at this sport with a little dedication and that being at the young end of 55+ is perhaps my best opportunity for results. No matter how old you get, 55+ is a category you never graduate from except in national and world championships, so I figure I might as well go for it when I’m one of the youngest guys in it. And hey, when else are the world championships going to be on American soil?

When I tore my right triceps muscle in the Finlandia and Vasaloppet ski marathons in Finland and Sweden, I ended my 2011-2012 ski season prematurely at the beginning of March and decided to start training for this ’cross season right then with the intention of winning at least one race and making the podium at the state championships, nationals and worlds in 55+. I built a base of long miles and did my first licensed road races in 30 years (three dirt road races and three hillclimbs). I have lost six or seven pounds and have made efforts to get my bikes lighter and smoother operating as well. I also began practicing cyclocross skills before the season started to narrow the vast experience deficit I have relative to my competitors that have raced cyclocross for decades. I hired a coach once ’cross season started and have followed his recommendations closely. I got dropped early in every 45+ road race I entered, and paying those dues and geeking out about many other details has paid off with a good cyclocross season so far. I’ve already exceeded my goal of winning a race, and I’m still hopeful of reaching my podium goals in the upcoming state, national and world championships. The USA Cycling rankings predict that I’m going to be far from the latter two podiums, but I’m ever hopeful.

The bikes, wheels, tires, and shoes are of course critical to success in the sport, and to not make them the best I can when I’ve trained so hard and sweated so many of the other details makes no sense to me. That’s why I have paid them the kind of attention that you’ll see in the photo gallery. That gallery is too long already to talk about tires and wheels, which are a huge consideration in cyclocross, from tread patterns to pressure to maintenance to braking to gluing (that I think we’ve covered thoroughly enough here). If you want more geek-out on tires and wheels, let me know.
― Lennard