The Litespeed CX is a beautifully built and looking cyclocross racer that doesn’t really care how versatile it is. But despite this high priced arrogance its ride performance lives up to the titanium hype and it is a pleasure to ride on any surface for any purpose.
This bike is built for attacking muddy fields, slimy tracks and sand pits at racing speed, and that’s where it excels. If cross racing is your passion and your pockets are deep then this is the bike for you.
- Frame and fork: Without doubt this is some beautifully shaped and welded oversize tubing. The Reynolds full carbon fork used here gives the frame the precision, strength and light weight it deserve.
- Handling: Light and accurate, the CX’s ride is alive with feedback and will beat anything off the line into the first corner.
- Equipment: Chris King, Ritchey, Reynolds… It’s a kit list so exclusive the Shimano Ultegra SL groupset looks a little disappointing; this deserves Dura-Ace.
- Wheels: You might know Mavic Ksyrium SSC SL as a top road wheel, but it’s easily stiff, light and strong enough for off-road use too.
Tightly focused on racing…
Straight out of the box the CX is clearly built for off road competitive riding, and the first surprise is how light the oversize shaped titanium tubed bike actually is – 8.2kg complete, built around a 1.4kg frame. Litespeed’s US factory is again showing off its titanium tube forming prowess, as all the tubes change shape along their length except for the seat-tube.
The top-tube has a flattened underside so it doesn’t cut into you when you’re shouldering the bike for the infamous Three Peaks race, or climbing over stiles on your local bridleway – and it doesn’t. In terms of frame quality, according to our workshop manager George, titanium welding doesn’t get better than this – America: 1, Russia and China: zero.
This racing machine isn’t interested in versatility if it comes with a weight or speed penalty. This is no do-it-all overbuilt jack of all rides and surfaces. Don’t expect to find fixing points for mudguards or racks – even the tyre choice betrays its cyclocross racing intentions as the 35mm wide Maxxis Locust tyres only inflate to 75psi.
Despite this they still roll well – riding the few road miles of black top to our local trails confirms that – so the rolling strip in the middle of the tyre made up of ‘six-pack’ blocks must be doing its job. We’re cautious on the greasy roads with knobbly tyres, but there are no surprises and the Locusts seem to love hardpacked surfaces, even when loose and dry on top. But in a mud fest like many UK cyclocross races, you’d be advised to fit a more aggressively knobbly ’cross tyre.
… but a bundle of trail fun too
Once in the local woods the CX is perfect for darting through tight and twisty singletrack among the slimy leaves and tricky roots. The steering is precise and predictable, though there was a teeth-chattering brake squeal from the Avid Shorty 6 centre pull cantilevers when braking long and hard.
But we’re sure this could be silenced by toeing in the pads. There’s no fork dive from the Reynolds carbon fork – and though we haven’t tested it yet, we expect that the top-end Easton EC90 carbon ’cross fork that the CX will be available with in Europe will be equally good.
Under a test rider weighing about 80kg there was almost no frame flex, only a lively and exciting ride, with a rewardingly efficient power transfer which eggs you into diving into and powering out of gullies.
The Litespeed might not be built with versatility in mind, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t anyway. It’s built out of titanium for starters – possibly the ultimate rough riding frame material. Strong and light, it won’t chip like carbon, and won’t corrode anywhere near as easily as aluminium or steel – no white ‘death powder’ or rust bubbles here.
Over the seasons the brushed metal tubing and the vivid orange front of the bike will inevitably pick up scratches and small dings. But these won’t turn into corrosion hot spots, and in a few years you can always treat the bike to a respray, new stickers and a rebrushing. Sticker sets cost about £50 which is just as well, as our bike’s downtube logo started showing wear and tear after only a few weeks.
Sweet spec headed by Shimano Ultegra
UK Litespeed distributor Paligap can supply a groupset and finishing kit, but it’s encouraging people to build and finish the bikes with the help of their dealers. That’s fair enough, as this level of bike is not really something you’d expect to buy complete ‘off the shelf’.
Our test bike came with Ultegra SL shifters and drivetrain which, happily, operate as well as we’ve come to expect, even when covered in dirt. The chainset is an FSA carbon compact double, as often found on cyclocross bikes, with a 50-tooth big ring and a 34-tooth small ring, giving you a wider range of lower gears for short, steep sprints and energy-sapping grinds through muddy fields.
Our bike’s finishing kit continues the Americana theme with excellent, light, and high-end Ritchey components, though our Ultegra-equipped bike features slightly modest matt black alloy Ritchey Pro bar and stem, but a deservedly shiny carbon oversize Ritchey WCS seatpost.
All of this makes for a super-light and efficient ride with razor sharp handling. The only flex when ‘honking’ out of the saddle up climbs is a slight bobbing from ‘give’ in the lower pressure tyres.
Tough Mavic wheels withstand accidental crash-test
The wheels on our test bike are tried, trusted and reassuringly expensive Mavic Ksyrium SSC SLs, which are light, laterally very stiff and reliable. Their aero spokes might not be a huge advantage for plugging through muddy fields, but they do still look good.
We proved how strong these spokes were when the rear mech glanced a stump in a powerslide, bending it into the wheel– which promptly then bent the whole mech up and over the dropout, twisting the hanger section of the dropout in the process.
Had there been a sacrificial mech hanger as found on all the aluminium frames in this test, this would have failed, protecting the frame, as would a breakaway bolt if one had been fitted. The great thing about titanium though is that like steel – and unlike aluminium – it can withstand a little ‘cold forging’ or bending.
Bending bits of bikes at this price point is for the professional, and brave, bike mechanic but if it doesn’t work you’ll be pleased to know that Litespeed will replace the dropout for about £150.