Specialized gave the carbon models within the CruX family a subtle yet significant makeover for 2016 model year. The CruX Elite X1 boasts front and rear thru-axles and a solid component spec, but it also comes with significant compatibility issues.
Built for speed and precision
In its stock form, the CruX Elite X1 has the potential to be a potent weapon for recreational racers
The CruX typifies North American cyclocross frame design, with a low bottom bracket to carve through corners and a relatively slack head angle that gives the rider confidence at speed. Its handling is not as intuitive through tight, low-speed turns as some European cyclocross bikes with high and tight geometry, but it doesn’t require an excessive amount of rider input, either. If, like me, you approach cyclocross from a mountain bike background, you’ll appreciate the dogged handling of the CruX.
The original design brief for this cyclocross racer was to build a ‘Tarmac for dirt’ and this still rings true. The CruX is stiff, with nary a hint of flex when sprinting out of the saddle. There are more comfortable options out there, such as the silky smooth Trek Boone, but the CruX is far from punishing.
That's a lot of bottle mounts! Not useful for cyclocross racing, but the SWAT storage system is useful for carrying essentials on longer rides
The full carbon fork is appreciably forgiving, thanks to a tapered steerer that only increases in diameter to 1 3/8in at the crown, rather than a full 1 1/2in. This bit of engineered flex helps front end track well through hard-packed bumpy courses and aids in reducing high frequency buzz through the handlebar.
All in all, the CruX provides a confident ride and ensures that every last watt propels the rider as far along the path to the finish line as possible.
Sorted frame design with unsupported ‘standards’
Plenty of clearance for mud or larger treads on the CruX
The CruX Elite X1 cuts a clean silhouette. Its full carbon frame has internal routing for the shift cables and rear brake line through the down tube. Even the front brake line is routed internally through the left fork leg.
Clean lines, yes, but this also means that maintenance could get a bit more involved when working on the hydraulic brakes. Thankfully, Specialized had the foresight to include SRAM’s Connectamajig couplings, which will reduce maintenance headaches, should you need to lengthen or shorten the brake lines.
The rear shift housing exits cleanly through at the junction of the seat- and chainstays. This small detail keeps the loop of housing leading to the rear derailleur in line with the frame, rather than sticking out in harm's way. It’s a small but thoughtful detail that should reduce the likelihood of snagging and prevent the cable from rattling against the stays.
Very clean routing for the rear derailleur
While we're on the subject of rattling, the CruX Elite X1 is the quietest cyclocross bike I’ve raced. The internal routing completely prevents cables from banging against each other and the clutch-equipped SRAM 1x11 drivetrain makes chain slap nearly non-existent.
Cyclocross is a painful sport, so creature comforts such as an easy-to-shoulder arched top tube and the ‘love handle’ indention on the underside of the down tube for grab-and-go maneuvers make run-ups and transitions that much more bearable.
So there’s a lot to appreciate in the details that go into the CruX’s carbon frame – but axle standards are not among them. I use the term 'standard' loosely in describing the thru-axle system Specialized choose for the CruX.
The 135x12mm rear thru-axle standard isn't widely used, yet
Front and rear thru-axles have become commonplace on most model year 2016 cyclocross bikes. What hasn’t been settled just yet is what, exactly, the thru-axle standards will be. Specialized opted to go with a 100x12mm thru-axle for the fork and a 135x12mm rear thru-axle.
The 142x12mm standard is well-established mountain bikes and is the predominant rear thru-axle standard for road and cyclocross.This 135x12mm spacing is unique to Specialized.
Specialized notes, that the absence of a single dominant axle standard lead the company to optimize this design for the CruX and that this is an open standard that other manufacturers are free to use. To date though, there are no aftermarket options available for the 2016 CruX that don’t require significant modifications.
We may see wider wheel availability next year. For now, the lack of aftermarket wheel options is a factor that riders accustomed to swapping multiple wheelsets to match course conditions should weigh very carefully.
Solid equipment for the amateur racer
In its stock form, the CruX Elite X1 is a very capable platform for privateer racers.
SRAM’s Rival 1 group fires off shifts with precision. The single 40t chainring mated to the 11-32t cassette provided all the range needed for most ’cross courses.
SRAM’s hydraulic brakes have abundant stopping power, but more importantly, their modulation is quite good — they make it easy to balance on that delicate line between scrubbing speed through and breaking traction.
SRAM's Rival X1 group performed flawlessly
The alloy-rimmed Axis 4.0 SCS wheelset is tubeless compatible as are the grippy Specialized Terra Pro treads. The dearth of wheel compatibility is slightly offset by the fact that a backup Axis 4.0 SCS wheelset can be had for just $250, which isn’t bad for a tubeless-compatible wheelset that weighs in at 1,625g. They’re reasonably stiff, although freehub engagement could be quicker.
The tubeless-ready Specialized Terra Pros are well suited to loose or muddy courses
The total weight for the 52cm bike tested here is a very respectable 8.5kg / 18.7lb. Going tubeless and swapping the alloy house-branded stem, seatpost and handlebar for lighter bits will get the CruX Elite X1 down a fighting weight well below 8.2kg / 18lb while still leaving enough money in your wallet to pay for a season’s worth of post-race beer and waffles.
To put it bluntly, the 2016 CruX doesn’t play well with others. If you’re a weekend warrior and plan to race the CruX Elite X1 in its stock form, then it’s a solid contender. The frame is stiff but not punishing, the geometry is designed for speed, and the kit is a good value for the money. If, however, you have been or are looking to invest in a quiver of tubular wheelsets then this bike is a poor choice.