Cyclo-cross is as Belgian as Stella Artois, Tintin, and chips with mayonnaise, and if you’re testing ’cross bikes you need one with a healthy dose of Belgian heritage. Step forward Ridley’s Crossbow. It comes with the world champion’s stripes in ﬁve places, marking the number of times a Ridley have won the cyclo-cross world championships since 2002.
Ride & handling: Rock solid and stable; climbs and descends with aplomb
Descending at 30mph, we were happy enough with the Ridley’s rock-solid handling to ﬁsh for energy gels in jersey pockets; not something our health and safety bods would recommend, but it was testament to the Crossbow’s frame that there were no wobbles, and in fact all the testers were happy to ride it no-handed.
This stability proved no handicap when it came to tackling singletrack, where there was no hint of sluggishness, the bike proving a joy to chuck around. The tyres are the same as they were on last year’s Crossbow, Vittoria’s XG Pro – and they’re still a compromise. They’re not quite aggressively treaded enough for really muddy trails, but they’re more than adequate on road and loose surfaces.
Pumped up to the maximum 85psi, the tyres made for an incredibly harsh on-road ride, perhaps not helped by the unforgiving-looking large diameter seatpost. If we were running the Crossbow mostly as a road-going winter trainer we’d seriously consider a post with a bit more ﬂex – either by shimming out a 27.2mm post or using a more forgiving carbon post. Dropping the tyre pressures to 60psi provided a whole world of extra comfort without dramatically impacting on rolling resistance or acceleration.
Chassis: Stiff in all the right places, with a shoulder-friendly top tube and plenty of clearance
It's clear this isn't a road bike – there’s much greater clearance under the fork crown, behind the bottom bracket and under the seatstay bridge, while the cables – even the front mech’s – run along the top of the top tube away from the mud. The top tube is also ﬂattened for easier shouldering when you have to get off the bike and carry it.
An issue that can occur on cyclo-cross bikes with carbon forks and cantilever brakes is judder when you use the front brakes, accompanied by brake squeal. Despite front brake squeal setting in after a couple of muddy rides, the Crossbow was a judder-free zone. Whether this is thanks to the stiff, overbuilt carbon-legged Zornyc fork with its beefy 1.5in (38.1mm) alloy crown, or the equally wide 1.5in head tube, we’re not sure – but it works.
Equipment: Quality wheels and finishing kit, but tyres and 38/46 chainset limit performance
Brake performance is good on and off road – though as with all cantis, setup is crucial, and pad alignment, yoke positioning and toe-in can make a massive difference to how effectively your brakes work. Toeing-in canti brakes, so the front of the brake block hits the rim ﬁrst, is particularly important. If squealing and/or juddering is a problem, it might also be worth experimenting with the length of the straddle cable and trying brake blocks with different compounds.
One area where some ’cross bikes don’t score well for versatility is the gearing, because they're designed for mostly flat races. Two similarly sized chainrings mean you get lots of quite close-ratio gears in the middle, but neither short nor tall enough gearing for spinning up and down big hills. And this is true of the Ridley, with a 38/46 standard chainring and 12-25 cassette.
The narrow gearing is not a problem if you're using the Crossbow for its intended purpose, but it also hits the target successfully elsewhere. Its frame is aimed not just at novice racers but those who want a second bike for any other kind of riding. We found all the contact points comfortable, while the ﬁxing points for racks and ’guards on the seatstays and front and rear dropouts mean the Crossbow would make an excellent winter trainer, fast tourer, ﬂashy commuter or even shopper.