Cross is coming whether you are ready or not. I know I am not ready. But missing out on a CX season is a mortal sin to those who worship upon Cross's altar. It is not unlike how Catholics feel about Mass. Cycling itself is an oddball cult/religion in and of itself. Cross gets into the realm of the illuminati in a blink of an eye. Each September we as the faithful servants of CX have a reunion. It doesn't happen in a Church but on the fields of farms, ski hills, and parks. To the uninitiated it appears equal parts LARPing, equal parts Chaos. It is such an oddball sport and I think that is why people fall in love with it. It requires so many weird subtle skills and a fitness level that certainly favors those with power but a good runner or cagey bike handler can out fox a pure power rider on any given Sunday.
This post is equal parts homage to my one true love in the bike game. I came to CX in an odd way. Moved to Norcal in the late '80s. Got a job at a regional cycling rag. Worked my way up to editor. Made some great friends. And those friends gave me a quick introduction to cycling. Road cycling led me to MTB, MTB led me to CX. And once I tried CX I got hooked. My first real CX bike was a too big for me Rock Lobster. But it was a BALLER frame. School bus yellow. One of a kind. I rode that thing everywhere. Til it got stolen. I have ridden steel and alloy CX bikes ever since. I have never owned a carbon bike. Until this season. Call it a mid-life crisis. Call it always wanting a Santa Cruz. You can take the boy out of Norcal but you cannot take Norcal out of the boy. Honestly, for better or worse those 13 years in the SF Bay Area made me who I am today. This bike is sort of a way to tap back into that energy. Rekindle my love for CX. Oddly it is also the best Gravel Bike I have ever owned. I am not a very good bike "reviewer." I like what I like. You may not like what I like. I never could lie about bike stuff.
So what we have here is a Santa Cruz Stigmata. With NEXT carbon RULE wheels. With GOLD nipples. I moved most of my tried and true parts over from my Zank. I have settled on a Shimano/TRP Hylex Di2 set up. I have gone through so many group sets. I was a HUGE Campy fan. Then had a brief SRAM dalliance. That didn't last long. Shimano to me is it. Bomb proof. Reliable. They never rush out new tech just to appease the masses. And I love the zip zip of Di2. Electronic shifting is awesome. I am sorry if that sounds elitist. But the biggest issue with cable shifting is friction. And contamination. Di2 is effortless. With the TRP Hylex levers you can put a shimano climbing lever into a port on the inside of the level. Hylex levers are technically SS levers. Which is on brand and is on my SS. I prefer the feel of the hoods and the action of the braking. And yes, the climbing button tucked on the inside of the lever feels like the old Campy thumb shifter. I swear I still have a callous on my palm from those Campy shifters.
I go 1x not because it is cool or anything but because it is simple. I like simple. It is what I like most about SSCX. I have eyeballed the new Shimano levers and do like the look of them. I could go 2x at some point. God knows the new Ultegra clutch mech is CXy as hell. It may be in my future. So it is a simple midlife crisis bike. I know that sounds weird. Ok so how does it ride. First MAJOR kudos to my mechanic and good friend Scott Novick at Landry's in Natick. He and I have been good friends for a decade. We have done so many rad adventure rides. And he is as PRO as they come. I at times can be a pain I am sure but he never gets too mad at me about my crazy ass bike projects. He has built up and serviced my bikes for as long as I have been on the east coast. So suffice it to say my bikes are dialed. He built this up and on my first ride I literally changed nothing. I mean I don't know about you but I am a CX diva. I fidget and mess around with my bike constantly. 1 mm adjustments here and there constantly. And I swear I can feel the difference. Tire pressure is a constant fixation. I swear I can feel a 2-5 psi change in pressure. So the fact that I didn't have to adjust a thing speaks volumes to what Scott does as a craft and profession.
So on to the good stuff. How does it ride? Amazing. I see why people love carbon now. And as much as I am super nervous about it. I am babying this bike like no other bike I have ever owned FYI. The bike is just rock solid. The first thing I noticed is it is just plain fast. Climbs effortlessly. And I am a horrible climber. And is smooth in a subtle way. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves the bike is also very spirited. I wouldn't call it twitchy. But it is not as stable as my steel and alloy bikes. Maybe that is the weight or something else. It has taken me a few rides to get used to it. But you can throw the bike around very easily. But I haven't crashed. Which is amazing. I hit something. Maybe a root or a rock. The rear end deflected up and out. It felt like the rear end was parallel to the ground. But somehow I was able to get it back under me and not crash. That is huge. A good CX bike (or gravel bike) has to have that ability. Quick and nimble, but when it gets bounced out can recover.
I have taken it on my usual crazy loops. And have taken it far afield. I WISH I had taken it to VT Overland. But it was not meant to be. I may just do a bike-cation to VT this Fall. Or maybe Western Mass. This bike needs to be ridden all day. Again I feel like this is a great CX race bike but also a workhorse gravel bike. I know some people want their gravel bikes to be super stable. And I get it kind of. I have ridden long gravel bikes and they are nice on straight bombed out fire roads. But I need a bike that talks to me. Gives me feedback. And if the shit hits the fan it will get me out of trouble. A stable bike will not do that. You have to be able to flick the bike across a trail with your thighs. Or hop some bombed out crater or rut that comes up on you super fast. A low BB long Gravel bike can't do that. Give me a CX bike. That is where I feel at home.
What else can I say? I love it. The more I ride it the more I love it. I do want to race it this year. I know I race SSCX mainly but it is fun to race a sweet geared bike in a CX race. Don't be shocked if I line up in the geared race with this mid-life crisis bike. In other news the Zank SSCX series kicks off next weekend at Kalon Cross. My good friends have been hard at work dialing it in. It will be amazing. And the Zank crew has some surprises for you. This season is going be so rad!