At first glance the Specialized TriCross Carbon appears too beautiful to be taken off road. And yet, the engineers in Morgan Hill, California would be heartbroken if their 17-pound (7.7kg), top-of-the-line cyclo-cross jewel were not thoroughly thrashed on dirt and grass, through mud and sand, and shouldered over staggered obstacles and fallen competitors.
In this age of carbon fibre, where strength and light weight speak directly to most wallets, Specialized has few peers. The S-Works division prides itself on developing new frames and components made from the mouldable black stuff every year, and the TriCross Carbon is decked out in carbon from stem to stern. The US$6,000 flagship model uses every trick in Specialized's book, and the end result is wonderful. This, mind you, from a rider most accustomed to lightweight steel.
The oversized headtube and ovalized top and down tubes are married in a flow of carbon similar that's similar to what you might find in other brands. But being based in the `cross crazy Northern California region, Specialized have stepped it up a notch (or three). They have actually added material where needed for stiffness and snap (oversized and quite bulbous bottom bracket juncture), and removed any unnecessary material to save weight and pack a punch for sprinting and climbing. The top tube will rest smoothly on your shoulder for run-ups, while the down tube is easy to grab for quick, explosive barrier hops.
The curious Zertz inserts are supposed to dampen the road buzz typically felt with a stiff, oversized carbon frameset and Specialized uses them in the seat stays, fork blades and seatpost.
It's hard to find fault with the choice of Shimano Dura-Ace, for the shifter/brake levers, front and rear derailleurs, and chain. Further smart component selection comes in the form of Shimano R550 cantilever brakes, the best way to stop with integrated shift/brake levers. The bountiful Specialized-branded carbon bits (stem, bars, seatpost, crankset) up the marquee value of this particular TriCross model, as do the Specialized Toupe saddle and top-mounted interrupter brakes.
The 48/34T front chainrings are ideal for most `cross courses, and proved excellent for road riding as well. The 12-27T Dura-Ace 10-speed cassette handled the full range of climbing on and off road, and although I'm accustomed to pushing at least a 50T on the road, the 48 felt good to spin on familiar pavement. For off-road riding, I used the Crank Brothers Candy pedals; for road, the 2008 Shimano Ultegra SL pedals.
Specialized has specced the Roval Classique Pavé SL wheelset (a housebrand), with 700x32c S-Works Houffalize CX tyres. There's still ample mud clearance in the fork and rear triangle. The semi old-school high-flange hubs, mated to standard fare alloy deep-section double wall rims/welded joint/machined sidewalls, use 20 DT stainless 14g butted spokes at the front and 24 at the back.
Most true cyclo-cross bikes are best for the race courses only. The TriCross Carbon somehow manages to perform admirably on technical singletrack and twisty, rolling pavement. The cockpit is longish, which will suit for serious roadies and racers. The longer head tube and higher handlebar position, coupled with the top-bar mounted brake levers, make it much easier to control and finesse the bike in tight situations. Quick acceleration was effortless thanks to the oversize tubing, bottom bracket shell, and Roval wheels. Climbing, especially on steep dirt trails, was made easier by the short-reach anatomic drop bars and it was also a joy to ride a bike 10 to 15 pounds lighter than my fat-tyre riding mates for a change.
Yes, US$6,000 is a lot to spend on a niche machine. For those like Chris, one of our test riders, who are newer to road riding but familiar with the dirt, choosing a bike like the TriCross Carbon isn't that much of a stretch if it gets double duty on the road as well. Specialized knows pavement, it knows dirt, and it knows how to innovate. The TriCross Carbon did not disappoint; in fact, it impressed even hard-nosed purists to a man. Chalk up another victory for Specialized.
© BikeRadar 2007