Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Cross Review


Here's a nice ride report from Varun, who rode a Bruce Gordon Team Cyclocross bike (pictured above) in a few East Coast races over the winter:

"A while back when I was working with Bruce, he had asked me to ride and race a cross frame from his collection.  I was pleased to be asked to do so and he sent the frame to me.  All I needed to provide were a set of wheels, which worked out fine since I recently had acquired an extra wheelset for cross use. 

I quickly built the bike up as a 1x9 with Bruce's cantilever brakes.  The bike looked great put together and stood out among other cross bikes you see around today.  As Bruce kept telling me, "this is how we used to build cross bikes when tires weren't much bigger than 30mm."  The "team" Pepto-pink color drew a lot of attention from other riders and their eyes couldn't help but find the subtle gold and blue logo script and comment, "Oh, so that's what a Bruce Gordon frame looks like up close."

Surely the bike looks great as you would expect from a master builder with nearly 40 years experience.  I had been used to riding my other cross bike, also custom and also made out of steel, but designed more like a mountain bike with a short seat and head tubes and long top-tube.  That bike fits me well and surely whips around quickly, but greatly pales in comparison to the Bruce Gordon Team Cyclocross frame.  Bruce's bike is stiffer in the rear triangle and more supple up front, which is surely helped by the longer seat and head tubes respectively.  The frame measures about 60cm for the seat tube center-to-top and 58.5cm for the top tube center-to-center and works perfectly for my 6'2" frame.  I'm not exactly a heavyweight rider at a smudge under 160 pounds, but I can surely get my other cross frame to flex more than the Bruce Gordon.  I attribute most of that to the geometry.  In comparison, my Colnago Master road frame is a stiff race bike and can surely take the torque needed when putting the power down in a sprint.  However, the Colnago lacks a certain refinement that the Bruce Gordon frame has despite having a higher bottom bracket height needed for cross.  I'm not sure I can do it justice in words, but I'll try. 

The Bruce Gordon frame seems to directly translate each of my body's actions into a wonderful riding experience.  When pedaling hard, the stiffness of the frame concentrates that power directly to forward motion.  This bike feels as quick at accelerating as my Cannondale CAAD4 does and that is a stiff aluminum frame with a huge down tube.  While riding the Pittsburgh Roubaix in December, I thoroughly enjoyed climbing each hill in the cold and wet.  Some of the hills are featured on the annual Dirty Dozen race, but Canton Avenue, the argued steepest street in the world at 38% was not in the Roubaix.  A lot of the climbs and descents were on cobblestone roads and there's just no comparison to a steel frame when it comes to taking that kind of road shock.  The bike was comfortable throughout all 40 miles of the race.  Unfortunately, I lost the pack I was riding with when I slipped going up Buena Vista Avenue as the previous week's snow and ice were still lingering on the cobbles.  By losing the group I was with, I also lost my navigation as I hadn't checked the cue sheet prior to the race and worked out a route.  So, I did the last few hills I could remember before taking a nice long way to the finish at the Washington Boulevard Oval.  I hit some long descents on the route to the finish and this bike coasted like a dream at my top speed of nearly 35 mph.  And, I have to stay, the bike has Bruce's cantilever brakes on it, and those things stop better than any other brake I've used.  I find them to have very good modulation and a ton of stopping power.  They're as easy to set up as Paul Component brakes and stop just as well if not better.  I surely like them more than my TRP and Shimano brakes and the brakeset just looks so damn good!

A week later I headed across the state to Philadelphia hitching a ride with a friend's band, Secret Tombs.  They let me toss my bike in their van and we headed east.  I was going to race the Bilenky Junkyard Cross race.  This race has gained some East Coast infamy over the past five years of being hard, cold, often icy, and having some ridiculous technical sections.  Last year it snowed a lot before the race and the course was covered in inches of snow.  This year, there wasn't much snow but it was cold and windy as one would expect for December in Pennsylvania.  I woke up the morning of the race feeling pretty lousy, but I figured it was just my nervousness.  I had been told by a friend who raced in a previous year's race to watch out for slick ramps leading to high platforms.

I got to the race with my small cheering section consisting of my mom and a good friend who were wonderful sports for bearing the cold.  I rode a quick lap to get familiar with the course, and let me tell you, it was a really quick lap.  I rode the first switch back section from the start and over the hurdles to the staging area where all spectators were standing near the taco truck.  To go from this area to the single track and the rest of the course, one had to ride or run up to the top of a 15-plus-foot platform and run or ride down the other end.  I watched a lot of people run up and slip so I figured I'd just ride up it.  This wouldn't have been a bad call for me, but it wasn't executed exactly right.  I pre-selected my gear, and to be honest, I was in my lowest gear, and rode up the first ramp to the platform.  As my front wheel began to turn over the top onto the platform, I noticed I had no forward momentum and felt like I was about to start spinning.  Sure enough, my chain had dropped.  I looked down in time to see it slip off my chainring and I took a big fall as I slid down the ramp falling off.  I got up and dusted myself off and needed to stretch my legs so my shins didn't start to cramp.  It was a pretty rough fall so I wanted to make sure I wasn't really hurt. 

I waited as the junior's and women's race happened and hopped on for the B-race.  As luck would have it, my chain was problematic for the rest of the day.  It fell off a couple more times during my first lap until it finally split when a rivet popped out.  I had known before the race that I should replace it, but I guess I just thought I would be able to get a couple more rides out of it before really needing to.

I'm glad I went to the race.  As it turns out, I wasn't just feeling nervous in the morning.  I found out the hard way soon after the race that I had a stomach flu, which lasted until after the holidays were over. 

Thanks Bruce for sending me this bike!  It's honestly one of my favorite bikes and has become my go-to bike."

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