I’ve been playing with the dark side lately. Cyclocross is a road-meets-off-road hybrid that is considered by many a roadie/mountain biker to be an illegitimate child best forgotten. Drop handlebars, nobbly tyres – a dirty mix? Well – yes, a muddy one.
I’ve been CXing a whole 5 times now. Initially, I was riding a Pinnacle Arkose Two unisex bike. I blogged about it here. The bike and I had an excellent few rides – but a week ago I was offered the Arkoses’ fairer half to try – a brand new Women’s Pinnacle Arkose One. I said I’d certainly give her a whirl.
I also decided to make the big step and try riding clipped whilst I was at it. I’ve been riding road bikes clipped for three years, the second time I ever used them was in a triathlon – I’ve never felt that nervous. But off-road there are more instances when one needs to quickly eject a foot and I was a bit apprehensive. More on that later.
What of the bike?
The women’s Arkose One 2014 (rrp £850) is a step down on the unisex Arkose Two 2013 (rrp £900) in price range and spec. The main difference is the Sora groupset vs Tiagra, but for a ‘beginner’ to CX just enjoying a bit of off-season-giggle-riding this wasn’t major for me. What does matter is fit, which provides confidence.
When adjusting from unisex to ladies, it’s the contact points that change – handlebars and saddle.
The unisex Arkose Two had notably wider handlebars at 440mm compared to 400mm on the women’s bike. Off-road, that felt quite comforting initially, but really it did make me feel a bit like I was driving a Monster Truck. For a nervous beginner, quite good – but not very nimble. The lady-like narrow front end on the women’s version felt quicker.
The saddle on the unisex bike is an FWE Sport MTB men’s. The women’s bike uses an FWE Women’s race saddle. To be honest, for CX riding both have been fine for me – I wouldn’t spend hours in the saddle riding off-road, and you’re generally shifting your weight a lot. If I were to use the bike as a winter road bike (which many people do, with different tyres) – I’d obviously prefer a women’s saddle, but as I discussed in a recent saddle blog - bums are like snowflakes so I’d change it anyway.
Off-road, the bike performed smashingly.
I felt happy sloshing through the mud and wriggling through the forest. It seems quite a confident bike – pretty strong, and to use that ever famous adjective, ‘stiff’. It’s a bit like a bull – hard and durable, which is what you need for a sport that’s a bit rough and tumble. The trade off is that there’s not a gazelle like sprint in the frame that I could detect.
The route we took today involved quite a bit of jumping over fallen trees, and lifting the bike over gates (shh..). This is where weight is important. I’ll admit that both Arkose bikes I’ve tried have been quite beefy compared to my boyfriend’s Trek Ion CX.
I got on the scales to check. Now – bear in mind this is a non-scientific test (me standing on scales holding bike minus my weight), so I don’t want any bike companies suing me – but I got 9kg for the Trek Ion (in a 56), and 11kg for the Pinnacle Arkose (a size medium). This being said, the Trek has rim brakes, whilst the Pinnacle has discs, and the price difference is in the region of £800. As an entry into CX I think the Arkose is good value and wouldn’t be a major drawback for some fun weekend racing.
Braking was quick and effective on the AVID BB7 cable discs and they could be a handy (pretty fashionable!) edition on a winter road bike with slick tyres. However, as I mentioned reviewing the Pinnacle Arkose Two, I’d be tempted to look for a bike with rim brakes so I could swap my Powertap onto my winter bike. I’d need to test rim breaks off-road to know how they ran, but they seemed alright on the Trek.
On the road?
I struggled to keep up a decent speed, I’ll admit. However, I don’t think I’ve given this a fair test, because this was the day before the great predicted 80mph gale force storm. The wind was picking up and any bike would have felt hard on the way out. On the way back, the handling felt great, descending was good fun and with slick tyres and a more favourable breeze I think this would make a good solid commuter or winter bike.
I’m a girl, so we have to talk about the colour. It’s yellow. So yellow. And you know what? I like it. Maybe if I was a ‘serious’ CX athlete it might not be my deal, but in the cold winter months, when I’m riding for a giggle to test out falling over – it’s good fun:
There are some awesome CXing women out there – and it’s great to see a bike that will get more of us girls to join their ranks.
And the clipped pedals?
Remarkably, really kind of ok. I will admit I had my first off-road crash – or more of a low speed fall. After a stop at the bottom of the hill (deciding on direction) – I soon found I just could not clip in at the bottom. I tried one, twice.. then a third time, at which point I just fell on my arse. But you know what? It didn’t hurt – and now I can say I’ve got a new skill.
I wasn’t as confident over the first couple of miles as I have been on flats, but I felt I had so much more grip and power going up hill, I’d say the trade off was more than worth it, and the confidence will return after a couple of rides.
I had considered entering a race, but if I’m going to do something, I like to do it properly – and I want to get some extra practice in before I pin a number on, so I can at least be not-laughable.
Racing or not, CX riding has been awesome fun so far and it’s wonderful to find a whole new game within a sport I already loved.