Van Nicholas has made a success of offering reasonably priced titanium-framed bikes, and the Amazon is one of its popular longstanding models. This is the new spin-off, the Amazon Cross, set up for a life off the tarmac.
Elegant Ti frameset
The aerospace-grade titanium frame is created from round tubes – save for an ovalised top tube and chainstays, and the lengthy, flared head tube. The stays are S-shaped to improve tyre and heel clearance, and the chainstays are double crimped on the drive side for added chainring room, but a chainstay bridge does cut into the already slightly limited rubber room.
The seatstays retain the cantilever brake mounts of the normal Amazon model, which is strange since you’d need a fork swap to run an equivalent brake up front – and we’re not sure who would want to revert from discs to cantis. Equally curious is the fact that the fork includes mudguard/fender fittings, even though the frame itself doesn’t.
External routing easier makes life easier for the home mechanic
Van Nicholas’s rear dropouts are laser-cut from chunky 7mm titanium plate, with extensive cutouts that incorporate an elegant ‘V’ shape, along with the disc caliper mount. They’re each welded to the stays with short step-down tube sections that blend them together well, and the welding throughout the frame is perfectly neat.
The rear brake hose and single gear cable run via the top tube and seatstays, with exposed gear cable between stops on each tube. For longevity, added weatherproofing and reduced frame-scratching, we’d rather see complete outer casing from shifter to derailleur.
With our frame’s 103cm wheelbase, we found the Amazon Cross extremely stable, with good road manners and reasonably crisp handling off road, but a surprisingly firm feel.
With 40psi on the gauge, the 33mm ’cross rubber was expectedly squashy on tarmac, but on a fire road the ride became very harsh, most noticeably at the front, although the rear was hardly floaty either. Maybe the straight fork blades, alloy steerer and fairly ordinary alloy finishing kit contributed heavily to the ride feel, but it was far from plush.
The Amazon Cross has a great drivetrain, with a complete SRAM Force 1 set-up, but as supplied it’s over-geared. Out on the road, the heavy-duty tyres and other cyclocross features ensured we never got close to the 11-tooth sprocket – even when descending – and at average road-riding speeds, we barely used the outer half of the cassette.
When playing in the Van Nic’s designated terrain, it’s the lower end of the gearing range that’s most important, and it’s here where the ratios let the bike down. The company’s retail model does allow for individual gearing selection, so we’d advise you to carefully consider the kind of riding you’ll be doing before buying.
In this spec, the 42x28 lowest gear was limiting on long or steep climbs, and on sticky, technical trails we found ourselves only ever using the three largest sprockets.
The Van Nic handles well off-road, but the ride is on the harsh side
For the average rider looking to use the Amazon Cross as intended, we’d definitely recommend opting for a 38- or 40-tooth chainring instead, paired with a 11-32t cassette for improved versatility.
It’s undoubtedly great-looking and beautifully made, but the Amazon Cross gives off mixed messages, as although it’s quite capable off-road, it doesn’t feel quite at home there.