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First time off-road with my 'crosser - wow! (long)(18 posts)

First time off-road with my 'crosser - wow! (long)GlowBoy
Jun 3, 2002 1:36 PM
Last Fall I bought a Bianchi Volpe, primarily for pavement riding - weekend training and event rides, and a pretty rough commute. I'm very far from being any kind of racer, and I already have a mountain bike ... so while I was intrigued by the idea of taking the Volpe off-road, it was a low priority.

Then finally on Sunday (after doing an organized Century on Saturday!) I swapped out my commuter slicks for the original All Terrainasauruses, pumped them up to 55/65 front/rear (I'm 175 lb) and went out on some desert doubletrack. Varying terrain, including a fair amount of deep sand and rocky climbs, and a 30-yard stream crossing. I figured this would be a big challenge of the bike's capabilities and that I'd be doing a lot of walking. But it tackled everything except for one steep, brushy rock garden I couldn't have done on my mountain bike. Observations:

1. Terrain. I was really impressed how well it rolled right over big rocks and other obstacles. I didn't think a 2" difference in diameter would make much of a difference, but it does! I now understand why there's so much interest in 29" mountain bikes (though at 5'7" I may be too short to take part in this phenomenon). Rocks up to 4-6" were at least as easy, if not easier, to take than on my rigid MTB with 2" low-pressure fatties. Not as good as my MTB on bigger stuff, of course, and certainly not as smooth as a bike with suspension.

2. Ride. Surprisingly good. Not as smooth as a mountain bike, but the Bianchi steel frame and big wheels smooth things out more than I expected.

3. Climbing. The Volpe is about 5 pounds lighter than my MTB, which no doubt helps. But in some ways climbing traction actually seems a little better. I could climb up steeper grades standing up, without spinning out the rear wheel, than on my mountain bike. Those skinny knobbies really dig in!

4. Speed. Slower than the mountain bike on the more technical stuff, but not by a whole lot. (Admittedly my mountain bike and its rider are slow by modern suspension-bike standards, but speed isn't the highest priority for me). And of course the Volpe was somewhat faster on the less technical patches.

5. Stability. The tires wandered around quite a bit more in the stretches of deep sand than my MTB's Alligator 2.0s, but it was always controllable and I didn't feel like I was going to wipe out. I didn't get much chance to ride in mud, but of course CX bikes' mud capabilities are well known, so I'm pretty confident in this area. I was also surprised how secure I felt riding off-road on drop bars (especially going downhill in the drops). Of course with the higher standover height, the consequences of a poor dismount were foremost in my mind so I was probably being extra careful.

6. Off the bike. Sure, I might have to dismount for some stretches that I could ride through on a mountain bike, but it's much easier to walk or carry than a mountain bike.

Bottom line: pleasantly surprised. The entire time I found myself saying "I can't believe I can do this on the same ROAD BIKE I used on yesterday's road ride!" It's definitely NOT a mountain bike and I won't be taking it on any highly technical singletrack anytime soon, but then again I don't usually do that with my mountain bike either. Sure, some of the observations above are the same rationalizations I use to keep riding my 10 year old rigid MTB instead of something with suspension, but so what? The bike's technical capabilities ARE up to the level of most of the trails I ride, and I definitely plan on including it in many of my future off-road rides.

- Dan
re: First time off-road with my 'crosser - wow! (long)peter in NVA
Jun 3, 2002 2:53 PM
Had the same experience here in VA yesterday, but one step more retro since I used my road bike with 700x23 Mich Axial Pros. My cx rear brake spring failed last week and it wasn't fixed yet. I read that in the old Tour de France and other races it was not unusal to have gravel/dirt sections in the mountains.
We are still in a drought so the trail was abnormally dry and easy, but as soon as I hit the one mud hole and got nowhere with side pull brakes and slicks I knew what my cx bike was for!
also tire question - puncture resistance?GlowBoy
Jun 3, 2002 3:53 PM
While I'm on the subject, once I got back home last night I noticed that the rear tire had gone flat. D8mn goat heads! Oh well, not a particular weakness of CX bikes - I've gotten flats on mountain tires from those things too. I read muncher's post below about Schwalbe tires, but I need something skinnier. In back, I don't think can run anything wider than 35mm and still have enough mud clearance on the non-drive side. Questions:

Anyone know of any Kevlar-belted CX tires that might fit the bill? Continental's site is down right now - do they offer a ProTection version of the Twister?

Or might I be better off with a touring style tire like Muncher is doing? Wouldn't be hard to find something in Kevlar, but I'm wondering about weight and grip with something like that.

Or should I just bite the bullet and get Mr Tuffys (ick) or SpinSkins? Advice?

- Dan
also tire question - puncture resistance?peter in NVA
Jun 4, 2002 3:07 AM
Almost all the flats I ever got were pinch flats from too low air pressure. In 10 years I've only had a few from thorns. I wouldn't go for the extra weight of those "armored" tires.
also tire question - puncture resistance?buffalosorrow
Jun 5, 2002 3:00 PM
Some little trick I found, is to run a tight inner tube.
i.e. on my vittoria 27cc tigre cross tyre I will us a 23-25cc tube, on my vittoria techno twins 25cc, I use a 20-23cc tube.
I would think the tube stretches to form the tire tighter. I also coat the tube with talcum powder.
Tufo Sealanttriangleforge
Jun 4, 2002 6:34 AM
You can also use the Tufo sealant (which seems to be mostly liquid latex), which works very, very well for me to stop leaks from pinch flats & punctures up to about 1/8". I use 10-20 grams of it in all of my tubulars ('cross & road) with excellent results, and in the one clincher tube (a Continental) I've got that has a removeable valve core.

You can get it online from cyclocrossworld.com; you'll also need to track down tubes in 'cross tire widths with removeable cores. Cyclocrossworld.com may sell them, and if not, there's a guy on Ebay who almost always sells them in packs of four -- they always seem to show up whenever I search for "Cyclocross" there.

Cheers!
also tire question - puncture resistance?jrm
Jun 4, 2002 10:58 AM
The 30/32 bontrager CX AC's have been working well for me. Especially in the pinch flat dept.
also tire question - puncture resistance?GlowBoy
Jun 4, 2002 12:59 PM
Well, I checked Continental's website - the 26" Twisters are available in the ProTection version, but the 700s are NOT. They do claim to have an "additional puncture resistance layer" (but not the ProTection level of puncture resistance) so maybe I'll give them a try.

Triangleforge, does the Tufo sealant work any better than Slime? I used to use Slime for mountain biking but it was more hassle than it was worth, and it added as much weight as a Kevlar belt anyway. I must admit I'm skeptical of the stuff: having completely eliminated glass flats on my commute by using Specialized Armadillos, I'm a big believer in keeping the sharp stuff from ever contacting the tube in the first place.

- Dan
also tire question - puncture resistance?triangleforge
Jun 5, 2002 7:25 AM
I've never used Slime, so can't compare directly, but the Tufo stuff appears to be (and smells like) liquid latex. It's thinner & runnier than Slime, and I get the impression that you use a whole lot less of it -- about one third to half a tube, which I'd guess to be about 2-4 tablespoons. The directions say use "ten grams."

I'm really happy with the way it's worked on cyclocross & road tubulars (Tufo 'cross, Continental & Vittoria road so far, and next season I think I'm going to set up a set of race wheels with Clement Grifo Neve cross tires). It's a minimal hassle, and (knock wood) I've yet to flat a tire that has the stuff in it. I've never experienced any of the things people complain about with Slime, with it oozing out of punctures & failing to seal properly, nor have I (yet) had it plug up a valve, but I've heard other 'crossers complain about that. I've got very limited experience with it in clincher tires, since it's becoming so hard to find tubes with removeable valve cores.

Cheers!
You're not too short for 29"! (join www.communityzero.com/29er )Jan Gerrit Klok
Jun 5, 2002 9:32 AM
Gary Fisher makes them way small enough for you, I'm sure. Tire- and wheel manufacturers are working on lighter parts to make 29" even more tempting to featherweights, the future is looking BIG!

Also join www.communityzero.com/29er , the only 29" wheeled webcommunity in existence.
How strong is a Cyclocross Bike - and some other dumb questionsBriano
Jun 6, 2002 9:14 AM
I just bought a 2001 Bianchi Axis. I live in Chicago and use it primarily for commuting, and weekend road rides. I'd like to take it off-road on some singletrack, and my friends think I'm crazy. I am new to cyclocross and have never seen what that type of riding is like. Is my assumption correct that you can basically do anything with these bikes? Is it going to break if I take it on some really rough stuff (I weigh 210 pounds)? How does its strength compare to that of a true mountain bike? Also, are there any cyclocross races in the midwest? Thanks!!!
see the "need honest opinions" thread belowGlowBoy
Jun 6, 2002 12:05 PM
I think the consensus - and my limited experience - is that you can ride a surprising range of off-road terrain on a CX bike, including some fairly technical stuff, but you can't just "do anything" on these bikes.

If you're going to be riding on reasonably moderate terrain you'll probably be amazing your MTB buddies. But as things get more technical you WILL be slower than them, and there will may be sections you can't ride. No North Shore style drops or boulder gardens for you. On the other hand, you'll always have an excuse for being slower or not being able to ride through a difficult section, and a CX bike is a lot easier to walk or carry!

- Dan
see the "need honest opinions" thread belowpeter in NVA
Jun 6, 2002 3:10 PM
I think "Mtbs are stronger than road bikes" is a myth for most riders. Its the bigger tires that protect the rims, and possibly the suspension that saves the headset. I can't imagine a cx frame going before the wheels. I think the build quality of the frame is more important than the type.

I was amusing myself re-reading some old Mtb bike mags I have circa 1989. They brag about racers going down the Kamakaze at 60 mph - and those bikes are totally rigid looking like a cx bike except with fatter tires.
How strong is a Cyclocross Bike - and some other dumb questionsThe Walrus
Jun 6, 2002 4:03 PM
I've got about 20 pounds on you, and my Axis is holding up just fine. I've done fireroads, singletrack and the pothole farms that pass for streets in L.A. without any damage. Picking a good line is a lot more critical, both for keeping control and avoiding wheel damage. The only drawback I see to doing singletrack on your bike is the tires--those Kendas are not very aggressive, and tend to break loose easily on any kind of sketchy terrain. Get out there and do it! It'll be good...
How strong is a Cyclocross Bike - and some other dumb questionsBriano
Jun 7, 2002 3:42 AM
Thanks for the responses and for directing me to the previous discussion thread. I'm going for it! Can anyone point me in the right direction for finding places to ride, cylocross races, people to ride with around the Chicago area?
How strong is a Cyclocross Bike - and some other dumb questionspeter in NVA
Jun 7, 2002 5:28 AM
I remember about 12 years ago riding up the Mt Wilson Toll Road outside LA (4500 vertical feet in 8.5 miles) on my new mt bike thinking I was really cranking. Halfway up someone on a real old "10- speed" with thin tires blew right past me! He beat me to the top by 30 minutes. (Still don't know how he did it.)
How strong? Check out these picts!Steve_O
Jun 7, 2002 10:09 AM
I think their probably stronger then we give them credit for! These first two picts are from some winter riding I did with a friend along the Des Plaines River Trail.

Winter riding log jump


CX Air


Adam Craig at the Buena Vista CX Race


Same race, different rider, Surly CrossCheck with flat bar
Update and more observations - 53 miles off-road (long)GlowBoy
Jun 24, 2002 1:01 PM
Whee! OK, this thread is nearly buried so not many people will see it, but here's a follow-up. I subjected the Volpe (and it subjected me) to another 53 miles of off-roading this weekend in Central Oregon. Nearly all of it was singletrack, though not extremely technical. Since the last post, I've put a 38mm Ritchey Mount Cross on the front and a 32mm Continental Twister on the back.

For comparison, I even did back-to-back runs on the same stretch of moderately hilly, technical trail using both this bike and my mountain bike. Despite turning in nearly identical (!) times on the course, the bikes FELT very different.

It's like the difference between a Subaru rally car and an SUV. The CX bike felt like it was really connected to the ground - and to me - while the MTB felt like it was floating above the ground and I was leisurely piloting it. I've already pointed out that the CX bike tackles technical terrain surprisingly well, though not as quickly as the MTB, but here are some new observations:

1. Acceleration. The ability to put on a quick burst of speed at will, on smooth stretches or when attacking hills, compensated for the Volpe's slowness through rough terrain and made it much more exciting to ride.

2. Climbing. I mentioned this in my original post and chalked much of it up to traction. But this weekend I found that even where traction wasn't the limiting factor, the Volpe climbed better than the mountain bike - despite having a granny gear 14% taller. I think this shows how much more effective the "road" position is than the upright MTB position, in getting power to the wheels.

3. Cornering. The cyclocross bike puts my center of gravity MUCH lower (easily by several inches) than on the mountain bike. The Volpe could dig in and rip through tight corners at speeds that I couldn't even dream of, way up in the air on the mountain bike.

4. Stability. Although the Volpe's steering seems darty and twitchy at first, it becomes quite forgiving as you push it to its limits. It often maintained its composure in situations where the mountain bike would easily have wiped out and sent me into the shrubbery.

5. Those drop bars. I didn't commute with the Volpe this winter because I wasn't confident on drop handlebars in less than ideal conditions. But riding this bike OFF road has done wonders for my bike-handling abilities, and now I feel able to ride this bike through just about anything.

6. Deep sand. Central Oregon is notorious for this, and it keeps many mountain bikers off certain trails entirely for the summer. Trails that were annoyingly loose for a mountain bike were downright unpleasant on the Volpe, as you would expect with 32mm tires. Fortunately deep sand can mostly be avoided if you know where to go.

Overall, in anything but extreme conditions the Volpe was a lot more engaging - a total blast to ride. I won't be getting rid of my mountain bike because I DO sometimes ride in extreme conditions, and for those times I'd rather drive the Jeep than the rally car. But for most of the cross-country riding that I do, I'll take the Subaru - er, Volpe.

- Dan