In terms of technology, the 2013/2014 cyclocross season is shaping up to be quite interesting, with SRAM first unleashing a torrent of hydraulic disc brakes and then recalling them at the end of 2013. Here are the professional cyclocross racers we’ve profiled so far.
- Jonathan Page's Fuji Altamira CX 1.1
- Jeremy Powers' Focus Mares CX Disc
- Katie Compton's Trek Crockett Disc
- Ryan Trebon's custom Cannondale SuperX Hi-Mod Disc
- Ben Berden’s Raleigh RXC Pro Disc
- Elle Anderson's Specialized CruX Pro Race
- Nichole Duke’s Marin Cortina T3 CX Pro
- Joachim Parbo's Cielo Cross Racer
Disc brake domination
Most of the racers who made the switch to disc brakes for the 2012/2013 season did so on a hodge-podge of parts. Many raced cable-actuated disc brake calipers such as Avid’s BB7 Road SL brakes. Others relied on cable/hydraulic hybrid braking systems such as TRP’s Parabox. Most disc-equipped bikes were kitted out with custom wheelsets built using hubs from wheel sponsor’s mountain bike line laced to carbon tubular rims.
At the start of the season, the technology appeared more polished. SRAM-sponsored racers who began last season on cable-actuated discs made the leap to the flagship Red 22 with hydraulic disc brakes. But late last year cyclocross racers began to experience a loss of braking power while racing in sub-freezing conditions. SRAM has since issued a recall of all of its hydraulic road brakes. Many SRAM-sponsored racers have switched back to cable-actuated discs for the time being.
Wheels have become refined as more companies are bringing road/cyclocross disc wheelsets to market.
While disc brakes are steadily gaining ground in cyclocross, they come with a new set of challenges that may take another season to iron out.
Katie Compton has a quiver of disc and cantilever-equipped bikes. "Right now we're running disc bikes on the US side of things and in Europe we're going with cantilevers," said her coach, mechanic and husband, Mark Legg-Compton.
"We have a disc bike as an option [in Europe] to test out because we just don't have any information on racing European-style races where the conditions are so much more challenging for the brakes. What little we saw of disc brakes before – obviously, they were mechanical – were issues with brake pad wear and so we want to take more of a measured approach to this and go with what we know works, and then introduce something and test it out when we're ready without going full hog."
The exception to the trend toward disc brakes is reigning US national cyclocross champion Jonathan Powers. Powers, who spends the majority of his season racing in Europe, still prefers to use cantilever brakes. The 2014 Fuji Altamira CX lineup features only disc-specific frames, so Fuji borrowed the carbon composite construction of its current flagship cyclocross frame and applied it to the older, cantilever-specific mold.
Other racers, particularly those with a strong mountain bike background such as Ryan Trebon, have no plans to use cantilever brakes again. “Even with some of the wear issues I still would always ride disc – the braking performance and control in all conditions is vastly superior,” Trebon said.
11-speed across the board
Regardless of whether their bikes are decked out in SRAM or Shimano, most pros have made the switch to the latest 11-speed offerings. Team mechanics we spoke with noted that performance in the worst conditions is no worse than with 10-speed drivetrains. (Though it’s worth noting that these racers only have to put up with a mud-clogged drivetrain for a single lap.)
Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting also appears to be capable of withstanding muddy courses and repeated power washings.
Of the five cyclocross racers we’ve profiled this season, two are on custom framesets. Katie Compton is a woman who knows exactly what she wants in a ‘cross bike. Her desire for a more aggressive, forward position via a steeper seat tube angle combined with a slacker head angle was incorporated into the production Crocket. Compared to Trek's carbon Cronus CX, the Crockett has shorter chainstays, a slacker head angle and a steeper seat tube.
Ryan Trebon is no stranger to custom frames either. At 1.96m / 6ft 5in tall, he towers over Cannondale’s largest production SuperX Hi-Mod Disc. The geometry of Trebon’s custom frameset remains unchanged from last season. Compared to the largest production SuperX Hi-Mod Disc (a 58cm frame), Trebon’s bike has an effective top tube that's approximately 20mm longer, a 0.5-degree slacker seat tube, and a 9.3mm taller head tube.
Trebon's race bike is massive, though quite light at 7.65kg (16.86lb). Note this photo was taken before the Hydro recall
Subtle details can be found throughout the top ranks of the sport. Ben Berden runs a 1x11 Shimano Ultegra Di2 setup with both the right and left STI levers programmed to operate the rear derailleur. Katie Compton’s Red 22 HRD DoubleTap levers are coated in a thin film of glue and sand for better grip in wet conditions.