2022 Specialized Crux shifts from CX to an ultralight gravel speedster

It’s basically a fat-tired Aethos — and I mean that in the best way possible.

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[ct_story_highlights]What it is:Specialized’s cyclocross race platform, reimagined as a light-and-fast gravel machine.||Frame features: Aethos-inspired ultralight carbon fiber construction, clearance for 700×47 mm or 650×2.1″ tires, English-threaded bottom bracket, hybrid gravel/cyclocross frame geometry.||Weight:725 g (claimed, 56 cm S-Works frame only); 825 g (claimed, 56 cm Pro/Expert/Comp frame only); 7.27 kg (16.03 lb, actual weight, 52 cm S-Works models, without pedals.) ||Price:US$12,000 / AU$18,000 / £10,750 / €12,200 (S-Works Crux).||Highs:Superb ride quality, supremely light, brilliant handling, excellent tire clearance, traditional aesthetics, non-proprietary components.||Lows:Offensive pricing, minimal mounts.[/ct_story_highlights]

The bare essentials

People have often asked why gravel bikes seem so heavy, and the engineers at Specialized have apparently been asking themselves the same question because the new Crux is anything but. Following in the footsteps of the Aethos family, the new carbon fiber Crux adopts many of those same design philosophies, including more traditional nominally round tube cross-sections, ultra-efficient use of material, and smooth intersections with no weird shaping to disrupt fiber load paths. 

As a result, the new Crux offers many of the same claimed benefits.

First and foremost, it’s staggeringly light, with a painted 56 cm S-Works Crux frame reportedly tipping the scales at just 725 g. There’s also a second-tier Pro/Expert/Comp-level frame that may be 100 g heavier, but is still dramatically lighter than most competitors’ flagship gravel models. According to Specialized, the more strategic placement of material also brings with it a livelier and more comfortable ride quality than usual, all while maintaining excellent pedaling and handling stiffness.

The new Crux is essentially an Aethos with more tire clearance, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Like the Aethos, there’s a refreshing lack of proprietary bits here, with a conventional tapered steerer and headset up front, a round 27.2 mm-diameter seatpost secured with an external aluminum clamp, an English-threaded bottom bracket down below, wholly normal handlebars and stems, and partially external and convertible cable routing that can accommodate a wide range of electronic and mechanical drivetrains. And since the Crux is designed for a 160 mm or 180 mm front rotor instead of the 140/160 mm configuration more often found on the road, it even ditches the Aethos’s custom front disc-brake caliper adapter in favor of a wholly standard one.

The tire clearance is impressive, too, with the Crux accepting the same 700×47 mm or 650×2.1″ tires as Specialized’s other gravel platform, the Diverge, but without having to resort to that model’s solid driveside chainstay section or any weirdly dropped/curved/pinched/massaged/butchered tubing. Keep in mind that the Crux is still the go-to option in the Specialized lineup if you want to do some cyclocross racing, so there’s also heaps of space for mud if you’re going to stick with 33 mm-wide rubber.

So what’s missing, you ask? 

Sorry, folks, there are no fender mounts to be found.

Well, just like the Aethos, the Crux makes zero attempt to cheat the wind, with a steadfast dedication to structural efficiency over aerodynamic gains. While the latest do-it-all road bikes like the latest Giant TCR SL, Trek Emonda SLR, and others — including Specialized’s own Tarmac SL7 — have demonstrated that you can make bikes exceptionally light and still incorporate some aero shaping, the Crux reverts back to more traditional performance targets that arguably make less sense on paper, but offer more visceral rewards.

Going along with that light-and-fast theme, there’s no Future Shock suspension cartridge or down tube storage compartment like on the Diverge, and the Crux goes without most of the accessory mounts you might expect to find on a modern gravel bike. You get three bottle mounts — two inside the main triangle, and one on the underside of the down tube — and that’s about it. There are no fender attachment points, no factory-supplied way to bolt on a rack (though you could always go with something like a Tailfin), or even holes for a top tube feed bag. Need to carry some extra food for a longer ride? Time to go back to jerseys with pockets instead of the t-shirts you’ve gotten used to wearing.

Blended geometry

The new Crux is an interesting hybrid of cyclocross, gravel, and road bike geometry. 

Reach dimensions are decidedly long and nearly identical to the Tarmac across the board, while the stack heights are expectedly taller and within a few millimeters of the Crux — and much lower than the Diverge. The 72-74 mm bottom bracket drop is also borrowed from the Tarmac, and while it’s a bit lower than the outgoing Crux, it’s 6-8 mm higher than the Diverge.

Interestingly, the trail dimension of the new Crux is slightly more on the stable side than the Diverge, and although the front center is longer than the old Crux, it’s still 13-20 mm shorter than the current Diverge. Chainstay length remains unchanged at 425 mm across the board. 

Taken in total, it seems like Specialized was trying to infuse a hint more gravel-like stability to the Crux while still retaining more agility than the Diverge, all with a fairly aggressive body position that seems more in keeping with shorter and faster rides instead of all-day adventuring.

Models and availability

Specialized is offering the new Crux in four complete builds.

The top-end S-Works Crux features the company’s flagship FACT 12r carbon construction and is built with a SRAM Red XPLR eTap AXS 1x wireless electronic power meter groupset and Roval Terra CLX carbon wheels. Claimed weight for a 56 cm complete bike without pedals is just 7.25 kg (15.98 lb), but retail price is an eye-watering US$12,000 / AU$18,000 / £10.750 / €12,200.

Other models are built with the second-tier FACT 10r frameset. 

The Crux Pro comes with a SRAM Force XPLR eTap AXS 1x wireless electronic groupset (without the power meter) and Roval Terra CL carbon wheels. Claimed weight is 7.6 kg (16.76 lb), and retail price is US$8,000 / AU$12,000 / £7,000 / €6,000.

Next up is the Crux Expert with a SRAM Rival XPLR eTap AXS 1x wireless electronic groupset and Terra C carbon wheels for a claimed weight of 8.1 kg (17.86 lb). Retail price is US$6,000 / AU$9,000 / £5,500 / €6,000.

Rounding out the range is the entry-level Crux Comp, featuring a SRAM Rival 1×11 mechanical groupset and DT Swiss aluminum wheels, with a claimed weight of 8.5 kg (18.73 lb). Retail price is US$4,200 / AU$6,300 / £4,000 / €4,000.

Both versions of the Crux will be offered as frameset-only, too, with the 12r halo model coming in at US$5,000 / AU$7,500 / £4,000 / €4,500, and the 10r one being somewhat more attainable at US$3,200 / AU$4,700 / €3,000 (sorry, UK residents, but it appears to be S-Works or nothing for you).

Ride report

Specialized supplied a top-shelf S-Works Crux loaner for test — of course it was the S-Works model — which I’ve been riding for the past couple of weeks, on-road and off, and with the stock wheel-and-tire setup and other ones to provide a more complete picture of what makes this bike ticks. In stock form in my 52 cm size, actual weight was a stunning 7.27 kg (16.03 lb) without pedals or accessories.

As for how it performs, I’m just going to come out and say this straight away: this is quite likely the best gravel bike I’ve ridden, and one of the best drop-bar bikes I’ve ridden of any sort. I realize this thing is obscenely expensive so it should be amazing, but allow me to explain nonetheless why it stands out in my mind.

Chainstays are visually slender, and the bike isn’t the stiffest I’ve ridden. But there’s a wonderfully rewarding flex pattern to how it behaves underneath you.

I’ve made it very clear at this point how much I like the Aethos. Sure, it’s supremely light and plenty stiff, but what impresses me the most about the Aethos is how it feels as it goes about its business, and it’s a similar situation with this new Crux. It’s not a numbers thing; it’s an emotional one for me. And in this case, those similar emotions are coupled with a heck of a lot more capability and versatility.

Often missing from even top-shelf carbon fiber bikes is a level of personality or feedback, and it’s here where the Crux delivers in spades. It’s teeming with liveliness, and it’s stout and efficient-feeling under power. But there’s also a flex characteristic that somehow makes the thing feel like you’re in a partnership with it instead of it being just a tool for a job. It speaks to you (or at least it does to me).

Some of this might be due to how wonderfully balanced it is front-to-back in terms of ride quality. All of that exposed seatpost on the Crux makes for a lengthy mast to bend underneath you on bumps, and it’s as comfy as you’d expect out back, particularly paired with the stock 38 mm-wide gravel tires at low pressure. However, that’s matched with an unusually similar feel up front. More typical these days is a somewhat lopsided feel, with the front end sometimes chattering over the rough stuff while the rear glides across. But on the Crux, the whole thing seems to almost hover across the ground in uniform fashion instead of physically rolling on top of it.

Balance is key.

Just to make sure the ride quality wasn’t due to the tires, I swapped to a set of Zipp 404 Firecrests with 28 mm-wide Zipp Tangente tubeless clinchers and stuck to the road. Although there were obvious differences in handling, the ride quality was just like what I experienced with the Aethos: taut yet comfortable, snappy and responsive, smooth yet communicative. It’s brilliant.

Interestingly, Specialized says the frame itself doesn’t actually measure all that differently on a bench test in terms of vertical compliance as compared to the Aethos — or even the Tarmac SL7 — but the gut impression on the dirt tells a different story.

“Crux, Aethos, and Tarmac SL7 are all pretty equivalent in frame compliance, actually,” explained Specialized road category leader Stewart Thompson. “When combined with the Roval Terra seatpost and wider tires, you can achieve a lot more compliance overall on the Crux if desired. Front-end comfort is difficult to directly measure as a system as frame, fork, steerer tube, stem, and bar all contribute. [It’s] more of an art than a science, so our focus is achieving a subjective balance in feel between front and rear end based on rider feedback.”

Handling is spot-on in my opinion, too. 

The top tube is straight and round.

Although Specialized is now billing the Crux as a lightweight gravel machine, its roots are still in cyclocross, and it shows in how it snakes its way through a section of dirt. It’s not as settled and stable in higher-speed situations as the Diverge as a result — it’s almost a hair nervous, in fact — but with more weight over the front wheel with that shorter front-center and longer stem, it feels more planted and less prone to wander at lower speeds, especially when climbing. It’s also more eager to quickly change direction and more responsive to inputs at the handlebar than the Diverge. 

Overall, the steering geometry feels more road-like to me, but without the toe overlap and more of the confidence on looser ground or steeper descents that you might expect from a modern gravel setup. This new Crux wouldn’t be my choice for an ultra-long ride where calmness might be a more highly prized trait, but then again, that’s not what the Crux is trying to be. 

Most of my rides these days are 1-3 hours on a roughly 70/30 mix of dirt and asphalt where I’m trying to cram in as much as possible in a short period of time, and this new Crux seems ideally suited for that task. It’s eerily coddling and yet slightly frenetic, all in a highly entertaining sort of way. 

Traditional shapes blended with more modern carbon fiber technology makes for one heck of a nice-riding bike.

Naturally, it’d be fair to question how durable a carbon frame this light can be in a gravel environment, and I had those same doubts pop into my head every time my front wheel kicked up a rock and tossed it straight into the bottom of the down tube. Specialized promises the Crux is just as durable as the Diverge.

“Strength, durability, and reliability are all on par with the Diverge and appropriate for the intended off-road gravel use case,” Thompson said. “The beauty of the Aethos shape learnings is that we can achieve an unheard-of weight without resorting to dangerously thin or brittle walls. The weight savings comes from not having thick walls at the tube junctions.”

Still, I wouldn’t mind a bit more protection on the frame. Specialized applies a strip of clear vinyl on the underside of the down tube, but if this were my personal bike, I’d be tempted to tack on another layer, or even something a little burlier like Effetto Mariposa’s Shelter multi-layer stuff.

Spec notes

This S-Works model didn’t spare much when it comes to the build kit, so it’s no surprise to hear that there’s not much to complain about. The SRAM Red XPLR eTap AXS 1x drivetrain shifts very well and offers ample range with that 10-44T 12-speed cassette, and it’s good to see the power meter included. The F1-style paddle shifting is particularly apt here since you can sloppily smack one lever for upshifts and the other lever for downshifts when you’re either bonking because you’ve gone too long or delirious because you’re going so hard. And as always, the hydraulic disc brakes offer plenty of power with excellent control, which is good given the limited traction on tap. 

Every complete build is outfitted with a SRAM 1x groupset, with only the entry-level Comp model going with a mechanical drivetrain.

The 38 mm-wide Pathfinder Pro tires are pretty versatile with their solid center tread, rolling reasonably well — and very quietly — on tarmac and proving quite tough on rocks with their somewhat stiffer casing. But at least for my local conditions, they’re a little too rounded with not enough shoulder tread when trying to corner on loose ground, and yet they’re not supple enough to be truly fast on the road. 

Tires are awfully region-specific, though, and while these aren’t my favorites, they’re a perfectly acceptable do-it-all option.

The Roval Terra CLX carbon clinchers on which they’re mounted were more convincing. The 25 mm internal width provides plenty of support for secure cornering at lower pressures (assuming adequate traction), they shrugged off multiple bottom-outs on sharp rocks, and they’re noticeably light. I’ve had zero issues on a long-term set I’ve been testing for the past several months, but the DT Swiss ratchet on this particular set let out the occasional pop and ping, which made me worry a bit about that new EXP driver mechanism

The Roval Terra CLX is one of my favorite high-end carbon wheels for gravel, but the DT Swiss Ratchet EXP driver gives me pause.

In terms of the finishing bits, my opinions are somewhat mixed. I love the Specialized Power saddle on the road, but I would’ve liked to see a full-length saddle here since I’m more likely to move around fore-aft when riding gravel; it’s otherwise perfectly comfy, as always. The Roval Terra carbon bar was definitely a hit with me, however, with an appropriately shallow drop and an excellent shape for my hands, and just the right amount of flare for my preferences. 

Final thoughts

Of all the bikes I’ve owned over the years, some of my fondest memories come from my old Cannondale SuperX Hi-Mod Disc. I raced the crap out of that bike, and at least by my modest standards, had my best results, too. It was light yet responsive, it rode pretty well, and the way I had it built up, it was silly-light and felt like it on the race course whenever I needed to accelerate or go uphill. This new Crux reminds me a lot of that trusty steed (which isn’t surprising since the same engineer, Peter Denk, is behind both bikes) but with all the good things turned up in every way.

I make my living poking holes in bike products, and it’s genuinely grating to me how much I’ve enjoyed this bike. I love riding it. It makes me want to go farther, more often, and harder than any other fat-tired drop-bar bike I’ve ridden in recent memory, and it brings a smile to my face every time I set out on it. Like the Aethos, it makes me feel fantastic when I’m on the thing, and it goads me into pretending to be a better rider than I actually am. It’s therapy on two wheels — or maybe more like a drug that I have zero interest in giving it up. 

It’s hard for me to say if the new Specialized S-Works Crux is the absolute best gravel bike I’ve ridden, but it’s certainly brought the biggest smile to my face of any gravel bike I’ve sampled in recent memory.

Then again, I also can’t remotely afford the thing, and I dare say that’s the case with the vast majority of people since — especially in S-Works form — it’s offensively expensive, particularly for a gravel bike that’s apt to see abuse day-in and day-out. Do I adore it? Yes. But do I also think it’s outrageously priced? Also yes.

If you’re looking for a go-fast gravel bike and have a healthy-but-not-ridiculous budget, here’s what I’d suggest. Start with the second-tier Pro/Expert/Comp frameset, slap on a Campagnolo Ekar 1×13 mechanical groupset, add some good aluminum wheels (like the DT Swiss GR 1600), and finish up with some smart cockpit components and tires. In the end, you’ll have something that’ll be a little heavier than the complete S-Works build and still a lot of money, but with nearly identical overall performance and literally half the cost. 

Or, just go ahead and be totally irresponsible, drain your kid’s college fund, and go hog-wild on one of the higher-end stock builds if you can manage to find one somewhere. Don’t count on somehow scoring a deal on a 52 cm media sample, though. This one may just go “missing”.

More information can be found at www.specialized.com.

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