aluminium is the middle child. hardly as revered as its elder brother steel and far more conservative than its futuristic sibling, carbon. in fact, in the professional peloton, aluminium had a reflectively short shelf life. if nothing else, i think we may squarely lay the blame for oversized downtubes at the feet of aluminium, for in metallurgical terms, it's lighter than steel, but substantially less rigid. in order to equal steel's framebuilding properties, it became necessary to increase the diameter of the tubing. and if you have a massively oversized downtube, the headtube is going to require similar treatment in order to weld the two together.
comcomitantly, that brought the need for larger headsets to the extent that fitting them inside the tube became the only practicable option. hence the integrated headset. that, however, is all prehistory; aluminium still offers a viable alternative to burnt plastic, though with the crux, specialized offer both carbon and aluminium. in the case of the e5 xi reviewed here it wears its naked glory with a polished shine. there is no hint of even a sable brush's worth of paint on the aluminium frame.
the polished frame features internally routed gear and hydraulic cables as well as particularly smooth welds. at one time, aluminium frame welding appeared to be a spare time activity for those formerly employed on the forth rail bridge. however the meld between top tube, downtube and headtube is, if not seamless, certainly highly aesthetically pleasing. similarly at the top of the seatpost juncture; only the bottom bracket welds display a hint of industrial rusticity, and who sees them anyway?
the shiny bits are interrupted up front by a very sturdy looking carbon fork, with forward facing dropouts to counteract the force exerted by the sram hydraulic disc caliper affixed to the left fork leg. my sole problem with this area of the bike, despite offering tyre clearance the likes of which you have scarcely seen before, was in the hydraulic cable routing. the top of the caliper leg features a carbon guide on which the cable ought to sit, held in place by a zip tie.
i confess i was a might surprised by the frequent use of zip ties in this fashion throughout, though i am possibly less than well-versed in the nature of cable retention these days. perhaps this is the modern way. however, if making use of this front mounted cable guide, the route to the caliper would require it snaking down the outside of the fork leg before pulling inwards to the caliper mount. to my mind, this looked less than ideal, and placed a bit of strain on the cable where it crossed the rear of the fork leg. running it down the inside of the fork brought it a tad too close to spinning spokes for my liking; i rather fancied the dot 5.1 fluid staying where it was meant to be.
my solution, for i could find no illustrations that might indicate otherwise, was to take the cable along the back of the fork leg, using the front mounted guide to hold the zip tie around its circumference. i added a second zip tie lower down the fork leg, though there was no braze-on for that. in practice, i believe specialized despatch all retail versions of their new bikes fully assembled, so this is a problem that shouldn't affect you. i have every faith that specialized uk have a far better idea of that they're doing than do i.
the oversized, tapered headtube is home to obe of the aforementioned integrated headset at 1/125" at the top expanding to 1.375" at the bottom. bars and stem were both specialized branded, the former neatly wrapped with black pro gel bar tape. the seatpost too continued the generic black theme of the componentry carried through to specialized's phenom comp saddle, with the almost obligatory slot in the middle and perched on cro-mo rails. the seatpost diameter was a roadie comforting 27.1mm, held in place by a separate clamp mounted atop the seat tube.
aside from the frame, the feature making this particular machine an intriguing review subject was the fitting of sram's rival cx-1 groupset. this replaces the more usual double chainset with a single chainring, matched to an eleven-speed 11-32 cassette to hopefully cover all offroad and on-road eventualities. the sram rival chainring in this instance bore 40 teeth, two less than we used to get as an inner standard on road bikes of yore. this offers a 95.7" gear at the small end of the cassette, eventually leading to a 32.9" gear on the dinner plate at the back.
due to this same frame also masquerading as the crux e5 which utilises an fsa double chainset, the lower portion of the seat tube still has a braze on front mech hanger and a cable guide behind the bottom bracket. both are surplus to requirements in this case. the chainset runs on a bb30 standard bottom bracket with press-fit bearings. oddly, the rear mech cable, routed inside the downtube, retains its outer cable all the way to the mech, once more held to the chainstay by means of the ubiquitous zip-ties.
with only one gear mech to contend with, the left hydraulic lever is bereft of the inner double-tap paddle. in practice, you'd need to be paying close attention to notice. previous disc braked cross and road bikes i have ridden have been fitted with 160mm rotors; the crux breaks that trend with 140mm rotors. worth noting if this is not the only disc equipped bicycle in the bike shed and on which you'd hoped to allow swapping of wheels.
the latter, badged as axis 2.0 rather obviously sport six-bolt disc hubs, are laced with 24 spokes up front and 28 at the rear. these were shod with specialized tracer sport 700c x 33mm wire beaded tyres. very oddly for a bicycle of itst stature, price (£1,800) and intended use, both wheels featured reflectors, items that i removed immediately. in my experience these are nothing but a nuisance, particularly in the light of intended hurtling through the undergrowth. contained within the box of bits and bobs that accompanies pretty much every bicycle at sometime in its life, was a pair of nylon pedals with rear reflectors and toe-clips and straps.
surely some mistake?
throughout the review period i had fitted a pair of crank brothers candy #6 pedals, still running as smoothly as when removed from the box at the other side of winter.
pure cyclocross bikes have no need of even one set of bottle cage bosses; the crux sports a set on both seat tube and downtube. this is principally because the marketing push behind 'cross bikes has changed somewhat of late, apparently coinciding with the arrival of disc brakes. rather than concentrate on the jeremy powers and sven nys's of the world, many are targetting their 'cross machines at those who fancy a wee bit of offroad of a weekend or perhaps even the commute to work come monday morning.
rather than see this as a backward step, i think it is one to be embraced and encouraged. cyclocross is a mere niche in the grand world of cycle sport, one that hardly encourages a wide range of bicycles being produced for the cognoscenti. but if the world's bicycle manufacturers can see several possibilities to be met with one frame type, why should even the hardcore complain? it's a simple matter to leave the bottle cage bolts unsullied; they scarcely constitute much of a weight penalty.
and talking of weight, the specialized crux offers a most favourable heft to its substance. throwing it over the right shoulder in order to navigate a hurdle, fallen tree or fence stile was rarely an unpleasant undertaking, even if effected in the rather slap-dash manner of yours truly.
what specialized ought to be taking a closer look at, in my humble opinion, are the tracer tyres supplied as original equipment. i achieved two punctures in one weekend; day one, i was actually cyclocrossing through ballygrant woods when the rear tyre went flat after only a few hundred metres into the shelter of the trees. on day two, i'd only just past the entrance to kilchoman distillery when the back tyre went once more. and this time i was on a tarmaced road.
to my mind, aside from the tyres featuring a wire bead as opposed to kevlar, they seem way too thin (both were impact punctures on well-inflated tubes) to offer the protection i'd expect from a cyclocross tyre. the tread is more reminiscent of a generic trail tyre than something specifically intended for cyclocross. in practice and in order not to suffer any further deflationary iniquities, i replaced the tracers with a pair of challenge baby limus.
as if to underline the efficacy of my tyre change, the handling of the bike saw an improvement almost overnight, turning it from a competent offroad bicycle (tyres excepted) into the sort of bicycle that has you saying 'wow' under your breath (or out loud if you more of an exhibitionist). i know all too well the level of competence i display on a 'cross bike; the crux superseded that by quite some margin.
the frame is beautifully balanced, with apparently volumes of room in which to shift in an effort to remain upright. add to that a detectable spring in the step when giving it some proper welly over a steep gravel-infested slope and there's little doubt that the whole is considerably greater than the sum of its parts. and that includes the rider.
i cannot deny that it took several kilometres to setup the front brake caliper. rubbing discs are an irritation i'd prefer to leave at home, so i packed a multi-tool in a back pocket for the first few rides. impressively, this is one of the few disc-equipped bikes on which the rotors did not squeal, even when wet. the brake modulation is pretty impressive all considered, not requiring handfuls of brake lever to bring a speeding bicycle to a halt. i must also pay tribute to the challenge tyres on retaining considerable grip on the sole occasion of my having to stop very, very quickly on a wet, loose gravel descent.
one of those situations when you discover adrenaline is brown.
i believe i may have now become a fan of sram's single chainwheel, even if it is of diminutive size. never once did it skip a beat, the chain has not left the teeth for even a brief period of time and it was embarrassingly comforting to have no need to concern oneself with a front gear mech. this sort of thing could catch on.
i figure it only right and proper that a cyclocross bicycle ought to be given as hard a time on less than pristime surfaces as the reviewer is capable of imposing. though the punctured ride through ballygrant woods was abandoned due to a lack of confidence in the tyres retaining their air, i tried the same route once more a few weeks later. this time, i made it all the way through the woods to the lily loch, branching across to join the laughingly named footpath paralleling the main road back to ballygrant.
this latter route was constructed half-heartedly many a long year ago and is scarcely used by human kind unless they're reviewing cyclocross bikes, wheels or tyres. the gravel used as surface material frequently resembles small boulders, several portions are now overgrown with grass and the dry stone wall separating it from the main port askaig road has collapsed onto the path at more than one loaction. add to that one or two remarkably steep, but mercifully short gradients and you can perhaps see why a quick hurtle southward along its length might test the mettle of any cyclocross bicycle.
the full course measures close to 15 kilometres, which is exactly how long my smile lasted. actually, taking into consideration the crux's perfromance on road (i was not once dropped by the sunday morning peloton) i probably appeared to be in possession of a permanent grin.
though it had proved necessary to change the tyres, the saddle was a truly unexpected source of comfort and still sits proudly atop that black seatpost. having covered several hundred kilometres on the crux, i'd be more than happy to cover several hundred more with this saddle under my padded shorts. the bar tape also proved to be more than up to the occasional battering at the hands of loose boulders near ballygrant. i was also more than enamoured with the shape of the sram hydraulic levers, the extra height to contain the hydraulic pistons was a more than welcome alternative hand position.
i don't race at all, but i'm pretty sure that the specialized crux e5 x1 would prove every bit as competitive as anything else in its price bracket, one that offers quite excellent value for money. however, if you opt to acquire one of these for your bike shed, be sure to budget a little extra for different tyres. as delivered, that's the crux's achilles heel and a somewhat disappointing one at this price. considering just how fabulous a bicycle hides behind such rubber, i really think specialized ought to look outside their own cupboard when speccing the crux's almost inevitable successor for 2017.
but please don't let that single factor put you off. the crux e5 is an excellent bike.
the specialized crux e5 x1 retails at £1,800 and is available in frame sizes 46, 49, 52, 54, 56 58 & 61cm. this model is only available in gloss silver (anodized aluminium) | specialized crux e5 x1
thursday 17 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................