Test Ride – Specialized Crux

After testing a dozen different hybrid bicycles over a number of different visits to several bike shops, I still found myself looking for something more. While all of the hybrids I tested were solid and I assume reliable bikes only one, the Jamis Allegro, really felt fun or exciting. Based on this, my decision was to keep looking. One thought that remained in the back of my head was the idea that I would like to be able to take longer rides as my fitness improves. Everyone seems to recommend drop bars with their multiple hand positions over flat or riser bars for longer rides. Here’s a photo of a typical drop style handlebar.

Typical Drop Bars

 

To put it very simply, flat bars are those typically found on mountain and hybrid bikes and drop or road bars are typically found on road bikes. If you’re not familiar with the many different types of handlebars you might find on a bicycle, I found a good article on the subject over at Urban Cyclist.

While I was testing hybrid bikes I did test ride one road bike, the Specialized Allez Compact, an entry level aluminum road bike. I didn’t care for the bike. The short wheelbase, narrow 23c high pressure tires, and overall geometry simply isn’t my style. I was uncomfortable in the riding position and felt like I would fall if I wasn’t devoting all my attention to riding the bike. That test ride turned me off to the idea of a road bike but not to the idea of a bike with drop bars.

Back at my computer, I continued to research bikes and brands online. I stumbled on to an article at Urban Velo on cyclocross bikes for commuting. While the post is a bit dated, it turned me on to the idea of riding a cyclocross style bike. One of the bikes mentioned in the post on Urban Velo is the Specialized Tricross, a bike that’s at home on the pavement, on dirt or perhaps even on some light single track. A few weeks back, I had an opportunity to check out some more bike shops. At on of the shops I visited that day, I met a very experienced salesman and long time bike industry professional. Mike, the salesman, really took the time to explain a lot of things to me about bikes. The information he gave me has really been a great help in narrowing down my choices for a bike. While we were talking, Mike did mention the Tricross but the shop didn’t have any in stock. After a long conversation, I decided to test ride the Specialized Sirrus, a bike I had already tested at a different shop. Not much had changed from my first test ride, the Sirrus is a comfortable, solid and stable bike. Still, it just isn’t all that exciting to me.

2011 Specialized Crux Comp

While I was out testing the Sirrus, my salesman setup a 2011 Specialized Crux Comp, the closest thing they had in stock to the Tricross. Before I headed out Mike, told me there was “something special” about riding a bike with geometry like the Crux.

Before I continue, I want to take a moment to talk about the equipment found on the Crux. The Crux Comp comes with SRAM Apex equipment and shifters. Operating the SRAM shifters is different than operating the shifters on the Allez I had rode weeks before. The Allez I tested was equipped with Shimano Sora shifters which I really didn’t like all that much. The Sora combination brake lever / shifters or “brifters” pull inward like you would expect to apply the brakes. The brake lever also pivots inward to shift up to the next larger cog or chainring. Shifting to a smaller cog with the Sora shifters requires your hands to be placed “on the hoods” so you can reach a small tab with either thumb to click down to a smaller gear. I don’t like how you’re required to move to the hoods to shift down nor do I like how the brake levers pivot to shift up. The SRAM Apex “double-tap” shifters have you pivot a smaller lever behind the brake lever to change gears. Pressing the lever a bit inward will drop you down to a smaller cog, pushing the lever further will move the chain up to a larger cog. After riding the Crux, I decided I liked the SRAM setup better than the Shimano Sora shifters. I feel more confident knowing that the SRAM brake levers only serve one function and I like how you can shift up or down while your “riding the hoods” or “the drops.”

Okay, now back to the test ride. I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go. My last test ride on a bike with drop bars wasn’t my favorite. The Crux, while similar to the Tricross, is a full on Cyclocross racing bike. I also wasn’t quite sure what to make of the salesman’s comment that there was something special about riding a bike like the Crux.

I started my test ride in a empty part of a parking lot behind a supermarket. As I began to ride the Crux up and down the parking lot past the grocery store loading docks I started to get comfortable with the bike. Once I got comfortable, I started pedaling faster and began making gear changes. After only a few shifts I knew I liked the SRAM Apex group better than the Shimano Sora group that was installed on the Allez. After bit of riding, I noticed that my hands were more comfortable on the Crux as well. When I rode the Allez my hands started hurting even after only riding a few blocks. This could be attributed to any number of things, the adjustment and placement of the bars, my seating position, the differences in geometry between the two bikes, or even just the handlebar tape. I really didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing it, I just noticed that I was comfortable riding the hoods and didn’t feel like I needed to move my hands to different positions on the bars to maintain comfort.

After playing with the shifters and the brake levers, I started to focus just on the ride. The ride was firm but compliant. I began to feel comfortable and confident riding the Crux. I started to make some more aggressive turns and the Crux delivered. My skill level is admittedly low but nevertheless, I felt assured riding the drop bars of the Crux. This led me to test the handling of the bike. I began to look for the rough spots in the pavement, the bumps and ridges between cement and asphalt sections of the parking lot and I pointed the Crux right at them. Over the rough spots the Crux maintained it’s composure much like my old mountain bike.

After all that, I began to notice the sensation of speed. The Crux feels quick and nimble. You point it in the direction you want to go, pedal and you’re there. From a stop it doesn’t seem like it takes much effort to motivate the Crux. I felt like this bike had faster acceleration with minimal effort compared to just about all the other bikes I have tested. As I started pedaling it seemed like I was speeding along at a rapid pace even after only a few revolutions of the pedals. This is a fantastic sensation. It was almost as if the Crux was a sports car and all the hybrids I’d been riding were SUVs. The only other bike that gave me a similar sensation of speed was the Jamis Allegro. I won’t pretend to know all the reasons why the Crux feels quicker than the other bikes I’ve tested. I just know that I like it.

I kept riding the Crux for and expanded my test ride beyond the parking lot before returning to the shop. As I rolled in at the shop, my salesman, Mike was coming out the door. One thing was different about this test ride, as I got off the bike and started talking to Mike, I was smiling the entire time. My grin is what’s been missing in all the other test rides I’ve taken. Mike was right, there was something special about riding the Crux.

Though I would have liked to, I didn’t take the Crux home with me. I figured it would be best to test more cyclocross or cyclocross style bikes before making a decision. While the Crux was a blast, it’s a racing bike. I don’t have any aspirations of racing cyclocross, at least not yet. The Specialized Tricross with it’s ability to mount fenders and racks would probably be a better choice for my needs. The Crux however, would become the new basis for comparison. Any bike I would test ride from that point forward would be compared to the Crux.

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Test Ride Report – The Hybrids

Before I started working on the video for the Foundry Tradesman contest, I was spending time visiting a number of local bike shops to test ride bikes. I believe the only way to really know if you are going to like a bike, is to ride it yourself. Reading reviews and checking all the different manufacturers websites is fine and it can certainly help you narrow your search but, reading alone isn’t going to tell the whole story. I personally won’t buy any bike that I can’t first test ride.

It’s been a long time since I’ve really spent a lot of time riding a bike and I’ve never purchased one myself. The only bikes I’ve ever owned were either purchased by my parents when I was a kid or in the case of my current bike, something I inherited. When I started thinking about buying a new bike, I did some looking online to see what style bike would be best for me. After spending some time reading, I decided that a Hybrid bike would be the best choice for me. I came to that conclusion based on this reasoning.

1. I’ve only ever rode BMX or Mountain Bikes.
2. I’ve never rode a street bike with drop bars.
3. While Mountain Bikes are cool, I realize that 90% of my riding will be on pavement.

Since I’ve never purchased a bike for myself, I wanted to try out a lot of different bikes. I visited 6 different shops and tested 12 different bikes before I took time off to work on the Foundry video. Since I had already decided a Hybrid bike would be my best choice, I told the bike shops that while I wasn’t certain what I wanted, I was basically looking for a Hybrid. I also decided to keep notes about each bike I test rode, something I recommend you try to do as well. After riding a number of bikes they start to run together in your head. I didn’t spend a bunch of time taking notes, I just jotted down a few things after each ride. What I liked, what I didn’t like and how the bike made me feel. I just tried to think of some adjectives that would describe the bike best and wrote those down.

So here’s a look at all the different hybrid bikes I’ve tested to this point. If you’re new to riding or just getting back into it again, then perhaps this list will give you some ideas about which bikes or brands to consider. If you see something here that you like, find a local bike shop that carries the brand, visit the store and take it for a test ride.

Jamis Bicycles – Allegro Sport

The Allegro Sport from Jamis Bicycles was the first bike I test rode when I started shopping for new bikes. The reason I happened to ride the Allegro first is because the shop that’s geographically closest to my house carries Jamis bikes. When I walked into the store, I really had no idea what kind of bike I wanted other than I figured it would be a hybrid. Jamis sells a number of different variations on the Allegro. There are three different versions of the Allegro each with different components. The Sport is the base model for the Allegro line followed by the Comp and then the Elite. Moving up from the Sport model get’s you better equipment and increases the cost.

Just about every major bike manufacturer offers a few different grades with each model they sell. In addition to the three Allegro models I mentioned there are also three levels of the Allegro available for women.  The “Femme” versions of the Allegro are designed slightly different to better match a woman’s body. Finally, Jamis offers the Allegro X, a variant of the Allegro that swings a little more towards the dirt side of hybrid bikes. It features a suspension front fork to soak up the bumps of either rougher paths or terrible pavement.

The notes I made about the Allegro were that it felt fast, fun and a bit twitchy. When I say twitchy, I mean that the steering felt quick and nimble, a quality that also demands you pay more attention to where you’re pointing the bike. All of my feelings about the bike probably have something to do with the geometry designed into the bike’s frame by Jamis. If you’re  used to riding street bikes with narrow tires and shorter wheelbases, then the Allegro might feel different to you. You’ll have to try it for yourself to know for sure. The other notes I have on the Allegro are that the handlebar height is adjustable. By removing spacers you can lower the bars a little bit. The saddle was comfortable and a little squishy.

My final note is that the shifters, while completely functional, felt cheap. Moving up from the Sport to the Comp or the Elite models would most likely upgrade you to different trigger shifters. Of all the hybrids I’ve tested so far, the Allegro is the one that intrigues me the most.

Trek FX 7.3 and FX 7.4

Trek 7.3 FX  Trek 7.4 FX

I rode the Trek FX 7.3 and FX 7.4 back-to-back. There are 20 different variants of the FX in both men’s and women’s specific models. That’s enough to make you’re head spin. The FX must be a popular bike for Trek. The biggest upgrade the 7.4 has over the 7.3 is the addition of carbon fiber forks. Carbon fiber forks are known to soak up the bumps of rough surfaces better than standard aluminum forks. On this test ride, even over a hard packed gravel, I personally couldn’t tell much difference in the ride quality. I imagine over a longer ride the benefits of a carbon fork would become more evident.

I noted that I liked the ergonomic grips on the FX but wished the bars were a bit wider. Overall, I felt that the ride was a little rough but this probably comes from the fact that I’m used to riding a mountain bike which has fatter tires. Finally, I noticed that the seat was firm and hard.

Bianchi Iseo

Bianchi Iseo

The Bianchi Iseo has a certain coolness factor. Iseo is the name of a town and a lake in Northern Italy. The Iseo along with several of Bianchi’s bikes have a classic retro feel. While I appreciate retro styling, the look of the Iseo didn’t do much for me. I did however note that the Iseo was smooth and compliant. It also had a bit more of an aggressive forward lean to the bars than the other bikes I’d tested up to that point. The seat was comfortable and softer than many of the hybrids I’ve tested.

Specialized Sirrus Sport

Specialized Sirrus Sport

The Specialized Sirrus is also offered in a few different variations. The Sirrus Sport is one step up from the base model. The Sirrius, like most of the Specialized bikes, is offered in variations that range drastically in price. The MSRP for the Sirrus ranges from $500 for the base model all the way up to $2100 for the Limited version. That’s quite a swing in pricing. Here the Limited version has a carbon fiber frame but even the step down model, the Sirrus Pro with it’s aluminum frame is priced at $1450. The Pro is nearly three times more expensive than the base model. Personally, I question whether the components on the Pro model are warranted for this style bike. The Sirrus Sport I rode felt very solid. The grips had a good feel to them. I found Specialized’s Body Geometry saddle to be very firm. It felt like they had stretched a piece of leather over a brick. While a hard saddle may seem like it would be uncomfortable that’s actually not the case for longer rides. I’m not going to get into saddle technology in this post but I did feel I should mention this. Finally, I liked the styling of the Sirrus, it’s a very modern look, which is in stark contrast to the Bianchi Iseo.

Giant Escape 1

Giant Escape 1

Giant builds a road hybrid called the Escape. I tested the Escape 1 which is just one step up from the base model known as the Escape 2. Giant really mixes it up with the components on this bike. SRAM, Shimano and Tektro are all mixed in on this bike. There wasn’t anything about this bike that really stood out for me. I felt like the brake lever pull was too long but a simple adjustment might be enough to fix that issue. I wasn’t a fan of the SRAM X4 push/push shifter setup.

Raleigh Cadent FT3

Raleigh Cadent FT3

The Raleigh performance hybrid lineup includes six Cadent models for men and four Alysa models for women. The Cadent FT3 is the top of the traditionally geared models. My test ride on the Cadent was brief and limited to bike shop’s rather small parking lot. I did like the Cadent but I noticed that my toe rubbed on the front wheel a couple times while peddling and turning at the same time. I wish I had more to say about the Cadent but that would require a longer test ride. It’s a bike that I think would be worth a second look.

Scott Metrix 30

Scott Metrix 30

The Metrix lineup from Scott includes four models. The Metrix 30 is one step up from the base model in the range. I had a limited test ride on the Metrix. Nothing really stood out but, I would really need a longer test ride to get a better feel for the bike. Moving up the range to the Metrix 10 get’s you a pretty nice mix of components but of course that will also increase the price. While the Metrix doesn’t have a suspension fork, I felt like it was a little more mountain oriented than some of the other hybrids I’ve tested.

Cannondale Quick 4 and Quick 5

Cannondale Quick 4  Cannondale Quick 5

I tested Cannondale Quick 4 and Quick 5 back-to-back. The Quick 5 is the base model in the lineup with a reasonable MSRP of $550. The Quick 4 adds carbon forks and a number of other upgrades, pushing the MSRP to $700. I like the Quick, it seemed like a very solid bike and I enjoyed the ride. When I tested the Trek FX with and without a carbon fork, I didn’t notice much of a difference in the ride quality over rougher surfaces. On the Cannondale Quick however, I found the carbon fork on the Quick 4 to be a worthwhile upgrade that produced a bit smoother and more compliant ride.

Focus Cariboo Peak

Focus Cariboo Peak

The Focus Cariboo Peak that I test rode was a 2011 model. Cariboo Peak certainly seems like a funny name for a bicycle and I’m not really sure if the name is in reference to anything. The Cariboo Peak is one of two hybrids, I tested with front suspension forks. I was able to take a nice extended test ride on the Cariboo Peak. I found this Focus bike at shop located just about a block away from the American River bike trail. On my test ride, I was able to test both paved and dirt surfaces. I was also able to test the bike with the front suspension fork free and locked out. Switching the fork lockout effectively disables the front suspension or in the case of some suspension forks reduces the range of fork travel in steps. When you’re riding on smooth paved surfaces, locking out the fork will firm up the chassis and allow more of your energy to be transferred to the rear wheel. When the front suspension flexes some of your energy is lost. The suspension fork on the Cariboo did a nice job soaking up the bumps over the rough stuff though I’m not sure I would really need it for the type of riding, I expect to be doing. The Caiboo has a unique matte red power coat finish that I found quite attractive. In person the color was darker than it appears in the photo. I also liked hydraulic disc brakes on the Cariboo. They were both strong and the levers offer a good feel.

GT Transeo 3.0

GT Transeo 3.0

The GT Transeo 3.0, like the Focus Cariboo Peak also includes a suspension fork. While I felt that the Focus Caiboo Peak had a nicer feel overall, the GT is available at a lower price point. I wasn’t particularly fond of the grips on the Transeo but replacing grips is pretty easy and they don’t cost very much. One other thing I didn’t like on the Transeo were the rather short brake levers. This is something else you could replace without too much effort or cost. Moving up from the GT 3.0 to the 2.0 not only upgrades the mechanical disc brakes to hydraulic but you also get nicer brake levers.

Well there you have it, a dozen different hybrid bikes tested. Riding a number of different bikes has given me a much better idea of what I want on new bike. There are a few more bikes that I have tested and I will cover those in a follow up post along with some information on how I am narrowing my choices to find the best bike for my needs and my style. Have you recently purchased a hybrid style bicycle? Share what you like about it by posting a comment.