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Before the ride
For this review, I enjoyed a full custom build courtesy of Campagnolo. Starting with a 2013 Crux Pro carbon frameset, an 11-speed Chorus groupset with Campy’s CX cantilever brakes and CX Power Torque carbon cranks were added with Bora Ultra 35 carbon tubulars. The remainder of the parts were supplied by Specialized, while the tyres were made by Challenge.
The Crux Pro frameset is constructed with Specialized’s FACT carbon. Specialized uses a range of carbon formulations that differ in weight and strength: 11r is the company’s highest modulus carbon reserved for their stiffest and lightest frames, such as the S-Works Venge, while entry-level versions of the Roubaix use 8r. The Crux Pro is made from 10r, a performance-oriented blend that is used for Specialized’s Pro and Expert level road bikes.
The Crux Pro features a tapered headtube and fork steerer (1.125-1.325 inches), and Specialized’s own OSBB standard bottom bracket. The latter closely resembles the Press Fit 30 standard and is compatible with many, but not all, cranksets.
The seat tube has a 27.2mm internal diameter and a cable guide for the rear brake is built into the seat post clamp. The gear cables and rear brake cable are internally routed and additional ports are supplied for electronic transmissions.
The Crux Pro is clearly designed for cyclocross. There is plenty of clearance for the wheels in the forks and stays and the top- and down-tubes have been shaped to make the bike more comfortable to carry on the shoulder. The geometry is characterised by a low bottom bracket (67-71mm drop) with a reasonably steep seat tube angle paired with a relaxed head tube angle. The size 54 used for this build had a 73.5 degree seat tube angle, 72 degree head angle, 64mm trail, 549mm top tube and 140mm head tube. For more detail on the geometry of the Crux Pro, which continues unchanged for 2014, visit the Specialized website.
For those unfamiliar with Campagnolo’s range of groupsets, Chorus occupies the third tier, slotting in below Super Record and Record. Chorus is designed with some concession to affordability but retains much of the performance and aesthetic of the higher groups (e.g. Chorus and Record levers share the same shifter assembly). Chorus can be considered the racer’s group, because it is a robust performer that isn’t too expensive to maintain or replace in the event of a crash.
The Chorus groupset is modified for the Crux Pro with the addition of Campy’s CX cantilever brakes and a CX-specific carbon crankset. There is a choice of 46/36T or 50/34T for the CX crankset, and in this instance, the 46/36T combination was chosen.
The CX crankset utilises Campagnolo’s Power Torque system that resembles other two-piece cranks, such as Shimano’s current Hollowtech II design. However, the left crank is pressed on to the axle rather than secured with a pinch bolt.
While the design makes for a stiff crankset that is easy to assemble, Campagnolo gave no consideration to its removal. The left crank arm can be removed with a modified bearing puller or a pricey extractor, though there remains a risk of the arm fusing to the axle if left neglected for too long after riding in harsh conditions (such as a muddy cyclocross race).
All three use the same tubular-specific carbon rims, stainless steel spokes and alloy nipples, G3 lacing pattern and hub dimensions. However, the Ultra 35 has carbon hub bodies, front flanges and ceramic bearings, while the alloy hubs used for CX version get extra bearing seals compared to the road-specific Bora One 35 wheelset. The variations mean the CX version weighs more than the Ultra (1,350g versus 1,215g) and the standard Bora One 35 (1,255g).
The wheels were glued with Grifo 33 tubulars from Challenge, an Italian company that has enjoyed a few CX world championships. The Grifo tread is designed for soft pack, a perfect match for the sandy conditions around Perth.
The remainder of the build used Specialized parts: FACT carbon seatpost with a two-bolt cradle; Toupe saddle with carbon rails; and Comp Multi alloy stem and Expert shallow bend bars. Total weight for the bike, sans pedals and bottle cages, was 7.48kg.
After the ride
I have a weakness for red bikes so I was looking forward to riding the Crux Pro: its flawless gloss red finish promised speed and performance. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Crux Pro is intended for serious CX racers with a ‘goashardasyoucanfor60minutes’ mindset. As such, the chassis is stiff and efficient with a dash of compliance to keep the chatter to a minimum. The Crux Pro felt alive and responsive on groomed trails and I was able to keep the bike on course with a minimum of effort.
Without any cyclocross courses on hand, I tested the Crux Pro on a rocky trail, and here, the bike was much less forgiving and more demanding to ride. I was in the realm of mountain biking though, where suspension is pre-requisite, so the results weren’t surprising, but the experience highlighted just how stiff the Crux Pro is.
The steering was very stable, and while it was slow, it helped to keep the bike on course without undermining its agility. With no rain in several months, I had to contend with a lot of sandy corners, but the front end never washed away. And the stiff chassis always responded immediately to my efforts to get the bike going again when exiting a corner.
The Crux Pro is a beautifully balanced bike allowing both wheels to grip firmly at all times. Such sure-footedness is a real asset when tackling a demanding course and it blends well with the bike’s stable handling and responsiveness.
I’ve not spent any time on Specialized’s Tarmac, but others have reported that the Crux Pro compares favourably. Indeed, swapping out the knobby-shod Boras for a set of alloys with road tyres revealed an impressive road bike. Smooth, quick, and efficient, the Crux Pro is as much fun to ride on asphalt as it is dirt and grass.
Campagnolo’s Chorus groupset was untroubled by all of my adventures. Every shift was clean and crisp, front and rear. The rear shift lever and thumb button allow multiple upshifts and downshifts, respectively, which are perfectly suited to the demands of riding unpredictable terrain. And I never suffered a dropped chain despite the lack of a chain guide.
The cantilever brakes provided adequate braking, even with the carbon Boras, but I would have preferred more immediacy. I found myself spending too much time on the brakes when entering a corner, so I had much less time to make the upshift for my exit. It also forced me to corner at higher speeds, making for some reckless riding (and inevitably, a crash). Having spent a couple of years racing off-road, I really missed the power and immediacy of hydraulic disk brakes while riding the Crux Pro.
I took immense delight in subjecting the Bora 35s to so much off-road riding. They ended up covered in a lot of dust, and despite some long rocky sections, they remained perfectly true. Weighing in just over 1,200g, the wheels were stiff and agile, complimenting the characteristics of the Crux Pro perfectly, but only dedicated racers would ever consider a high–end wheelset like the Boras for cyclocross.
Final thoughts and summary
As my time on the Crux Pro came to a close, I asked myself if I was riding a bike that was perfectly suited to my wide range of cycling interests. The Crux Pro was as well suited to the dirt as it was the road, and I never experienced an uneasy moment when making the transition from one to the other. I don’t think the Crux Pro was ever designed with such versatility in mind, but it emphasises how well Specialized have managed the handling of this bike. In short, it’s a stunner.
As a long-term Campy-user, the Chorus group met all my expectations. The CX crankset worked well, but I’d prefer one that was far easier to service. And I’d rather use a disk brake for more immediate braking, which raises the question, how far away is Campagnolo from unveiling its own hydraulic system?