Long Term Review: Specialized Crux Comp Disc Apex Cyclocross Bike

Specialized Crux Disc brake cyclocross bike review

We had the Specialized Crux Comp Disc Apex for six months spread amongst three riders. While I had the bike, I put in 2-5 rides per week ranging from short tabata interval workouts to indoor trainer riding to 5 hour endurance gravel road rides.  As a disclaimer, I work at a Specialized Dealer and built up and began racing on a standard Crux frame in late September – the Crux disc was a welcome change particularly when it came to riding in inclement conditions out at the park and when I managed to squeeze in a few gravel road epics.  Other than the obvious (braking), the frame is basically the same as my personal bike. To be fair, my comments here focus on the technical aspects, the other two reviewers provide more subjective comments.

Keep reading to for my thoughts, good and bad, about the bike along with comments from two of Bikerumor’s other testers that do not work at a Big S dealer…

I covered the basics in my earlier ‘Unboxed and weighed’ post, but here’s the scoop:  The Crux Comp Disc Apex is an ‘economical’ cyclocross bike ($2100 MSRP) built with a Sram Apex drivetrain and FSA Gossamer BB30 crank rounded out by Specialized brand cockpit and wheels.  I rode a 54cm which features a 54.9cm effective toptube and head/seat angles in line with other CX mainstays from industry leaders such as Ridley, Trek, Cannondale and Stevens.

I had the bike for the longest period, and to get it as close to my own Crux as possible, I swapped over a lot of parts. This provided a good apples-to-apples comparison and better simulates what most serious riders would do anyway. For the cockpit, I subbed in a Thomson Masterpiece setback seatpost (27.2mm size) topped with an old Fizik Arione Carbon.  I also swapped on a Ritchey Pro stem (110mm length) to achieve proper fit.  I have relatively low saddle height 71.5cm given my 5’9.5″ height, but ‘normal’ setback numbers so I end up with the saddle slammed back.  If I was going to keep this forever I would install a different handlebar – the stock Specialized CX Comp bars were my preferred width (42cm) but have a short drop of 75mm.  Some riders may enjoy the short drop, but I find that even with minimal saddle-to-bar drop while riding with hands in the drops the top of my wrists hit the underside of the bar.  I think this bar would be appropriate for the more relaxed riding Tricross, but maybe not as fitting on the racing oriented Crux.  My preferred bars have 135mm drop.

The SRAM Apex build was adjusted at the beginning of this review period and never needed any attention. The full length shift cable housings may be partially responsible but at the shop we also find that SRAM drivetrains, once properly adjusted, don’t really need adjusting very often, rainy rides and all.   I was impressed with the Apex; I didn’t really even miss the SRAM Red from my personal Crux.

Couple other changes I made to the stock bike: I mounted up the SRAM Quarq GXP crankset for power, sticking with the stock 36/46 rings…

…which required a Wheels Manufacturing BB30 adapter. A Bontrager crankarm magnet was held in place with a few rounds of electrical tape since the included Quarq magnets wouldn’t work so well with the BB30 adapters. And I didn’t want to ‘permanently’ install their individual magnet using adhesive putty.

I’m pretty sure the seat tube bottle cage braze-ons were a little sideways – I noticed that bottle sometimes clipping my left leg.  I’ve used these cages on plenty of bikes over the last 5+ years so I’m sure its the bottle cage braze-ons. In our experience as a dealer, Specialized would typically send a new frame or possibly a complete bike if this were on our shop floor or headed home with a customer.  For the racing season, I just pulled the cages and bolts off and cover them with electrical tape.

Specialized Crux Disc brake cyclocross bike review

The above photo was from on a public ‘road’ (4-wheeler path, off camber, with 2ft deep erosion down the middle) somewhere in Watauga County.  The disc brakes certainly allow a bit more confidence riding such ‘roads’, gravelly running paths or even light singletrack compared to my personal Crux.  I’ve ridden the above route now on four different cross bikes (an old Tricross, Cannondale CX9, my standard Crux, and the Crux Disc) and on steep, loose terrain I can definitively say the disc brakes allow riding at full speed and braking much later whereas the standard canti bikes require earlier braking and on the ‘road’ featured above even unclipping and foot dragging a la Fred Flintsone.

A lot of discussion around Disc equipped Cyclocross bikes addresses the current lack of true Hydraulic brake systems.  All of my mountain bikes since 2003 have used hydraulic brakes, and their advantages are clear – the key advantage being modulation.  When I discuss the difference between mechanical and hydraulic brakes at the shop, I try to describe the mechanical brakes feeling either ‘on’ or ‘off.’

Admittedly, with the late arrival/build I didn’t get to race this bike, but at slower speeds I did notice the mechanical brakes standard issue ‘on/off’ feel.  I didn’t really mind this on most of my cross ‘rides’ but in a few race-like training rides (tight corners, quick braking at slower speeds, singletrack at our local greenway, etc) I was a bit disappointed by the overall ‘feel’ of the braking.  The maximum braking power was great, but as expected the modulation wasn’t quite there.  In a full-on mud race you probably wouldn’t be going as fast to begin with and slowing down is much easier.  But imagine a slightly damp cross race, like many here in NC where we rarely get true mud races.  I feel many riders carrying plenty of speed (myself included) would try to use ‘just a little’ front brake along with lots of rear brake to slow down for a 90º-to-180º corner. Since the brake goes from not really doing anything to nearly locking up once it engages, these riders will likely lose front tire traction and either put a foot down or possibly even take a spill.  This may be remedied by running TRP Parabox or other such converter or simply putting a smaller 140mm rotor up front… until full hydraulic disc systems are available.

Specialized Crux Disc brake cyclocross bike review

The Specialized/DT Axis CXD wheels are visually appealing and look racy but left quite a bit to be desired.  They are built with sealed bearing disc hubs, quality spokes, and deep 23mm wide disc-specific rims – clearly with Cross in mind.  I understand that usually stock wheels are not the best, and also that most people buy bikes, then later buy wheels and throw the stock wheels in the garage or in a classified ad.  But I think they missed the mark though by using the relatively deep (heavy) rims and alloy nipples.

These wheels are very stiff vertically, noticeably stiffer than the 32h 3x Mavic Open Pro’s or Bontrager Race Lite’s I rode all season.  I agree that race wheels should be ‘light, stiff and fast’ but realistically these wheels bounced me around in grassy fields (where I do intervals on my personal Crux) or on some of the rougher gravel roads around the county.  Also, the alloy spoke nipples did not fare so well – we didn’t get much snow this year in the High Country but even with a small amount of road salt, winter weather and inclement riding the spoke nipples began corroding almost immediately.

I think potential buyers would be better served by a slightly heavier wheelset built with brass spoke nipples (after all CX is a winter sport right?), shallower rims, and more spokes allowing a slightly softer ride while yielding better durability.  The stock wheels wouldn’t look as cool but plenty of CX racers who ride mountain bikes already have racier wheels on their 29er’s.  Simply swap out to your favorite CX tire, swap rotor sizes if needed, mount them up and then put the stock wheels in the pit!  Since most 29ers produced up until this model year (and still many high end hardtails) feature the same size rim and 135mm rear hub spacing, there are already plenty of wheels to fit this bike.  As mentioned, I didn’t end up doing any CX racing on this bike, but if I did I would have mounted my Stan’s Crest wheels from my hardtail and dropped at least a pound from the bike.

Specialized Crux Disc brake cyclocross bike review

While this bike is intended for cyclocross racing it was great for winter cruising.  For riders not interested in racing, Specialized’s Tricross may be the better bike for mixed surface road riding, but the Crux handling isn’t so twitchy that I can’t go rip gravel roads.  Having cyclocross bikes in the winter has generally kept me from starting back on the road bike so early in the year – this year was no exception!  I kept riding this bike up until Daylight Saving Time started, and did plenty of short early morning interval ‘road’ rides preparing for the first few mountain bike races.  As I mentioned before, I didn’t really mind the mechanical brake feel during higher speed riding and the overall braking power made me rather ride this bike than my personal Crux which is significantly lighter, built with some SRAM Red and Tektro CR720 cantilever brakes.  Only when the group rides started did I swap my cranks back over to the road bike to get it up and running.

Specialized Crux Disc brake cyclocross bike review

This fall we’ll likely start seeing full hydraulic disc brake systems (integrated shift levers and all) available for CX or road applications and plenty of disc CX wheel options, clincher AND tubular.  A lot of racers will build their bike up from frameset, and a Crux disc frameset (frame, fork, headset, seatpost) comes in at $880. For a complete bike, many first time cyclocross bike buyers will be maxing out their budget at $2100 and buying different handlebars or wheels may tap out their otherwise empty cash reserves.  The $1800 Crux Comp Disc (10-speed Shimano Tiagra) may be a bit more affordable, but unless the potential buyer lives somewhere with consistent muddy races or they only want a ‘winter road bike’ with the occasional CX race thrown in, they may be better served by a Crux Comp Apex (non-disc) or another $1400-1800 ‘cross bike.

I could see myself using this as an ‘A’ bike in a true mud race, or with hydraulic brakes mounted (once they’re available) I would consider racing this in any conditions.  But with the current mechanical brakes I would keep using my personal Crux most of the time using the Crux Disc as a pit bike.  For those who already own a canti equipped cross bike, I’m not sure you need to go out and buy a disc bike right away.  For those who will only have one CX bike (most of the real world, right?), the Crux disc bike has a well designed frameset that’s race ready and worth upgrading as budget allows.

I had a great time using it as a ‘gravel road bike’ but one of our other writers broke it in for me at the Winston NCCX race last December:

Specialized Crux Disc brake cyclocross bike review

MATT’S REVIEW: I showed up in Winston for the NCCX #10 event and snagged the bike from Joseph.  Bike was fully stock, as it had come from Specialized. Only sizing adjustments were made to get the fit right.

Like everyone with everything, first impressions are based on looks, and they are good: simple clean lines and color scheme. For a pure race bike, it was a bit on the heavy side, but it was a muddy day and I was looking forward to having the added stopping power of the disc, a good compromise for the day.  Plus, it wasn’t any more bulky than any other CX bike I’d been on.

The bike performed well in the race, it handled well, it dug in and I had no issues with stopping ability.  The thing I noticed, and liked, the most about the Crux was how stable and steady the bike felt.  I never felt any flex or give and every bit of input I gave the bike it seemed to respond like I was expecting it would.  The weight was never an issue, the bike rode lighter than it is. It’s a well built, economical disc option in the CX world.  Discs being relatively new to the world of cross, this frame would be a great foundation to build up a lighter bike in years to come if you were just getting in the scene.

ROB’S REVIEW:

Handling: The low American-style bottom bracket (69mm drop) helped keep this bike nice and stable over the rough sections on the somewhat technical and fast courses of both North Carolina and Georgia. However, if you plan on racing somewhere like Belgium with its deep rutted sections pedal striked could become an issue. This coupled with the tapered steerer tube on the massive FACT carbon and 1.5″ lower bearing helped make the bike very predictable. A nice touch was the forward facing drop outs on the fork to help counteract the forces present with the disc brakes. Also, since the bike has 135mm spacing on the rear dropouts I was able to use some of my Stan’s ZTR wheels from my 29er as a pit set.

Ride: Weighing only 155 pounds, the bike initially felt very stiff and harsh due to the aluminium frame, deep dish aluminum wheels and tires with very stiff side walls. After switching out the wheels for some Reynolds Assault carbon Tubulars with Griffo tires the ride became a little more forgiving. Swapping the stock post and saddle for my familiar Fizik saddle and Easton carbon post brought even more comfort. The geometry was dialed and the ultra stiff front end made this bike really feel like it was a point and shoot weapon. I was able to drive it harder into the bumpy corners in dry conditions and in the wet the bike provided even more control. Only on the smooth and fast courses did I really feel the two pound weight difference as a disadvantage.

Final Verdict: After considerable time aboard this bike I can say Specialized has a winner on their hands. If you live in an area with a wet climate like either the Northeast or the Pacific Northwest then this bike would be awesome for someone just getting into the sport and can be upgraded over time as component manufactures begin to offer ever lighter disc options. It would also be a worthy consideration for someone wanting to add another bike to their arsenal for cyclocross racing. However, if you live in a prodominently dry area like we do in the Southeast then you’d be just as well off with the weight savings of the non-disc Crux for your first cyclocross bike.

Comments

Zap? - 05/07/12 - 2:44pm

Can’t believe that Matt showed up at a race with shorts and a jersey that didn’t match his bike. You’re almost a roadie on a Cylocross bike, so start dressing like one!

Toodle-Ooo - 08/08/13 - 5:48pm

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