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Crossing the Line in to the Dark Side… Or More Aptly Put “I’ve Only Gone and Bought Myself a Shiny New Cyclo-Cross Bike!”

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For the last 4-5 years my trusty downhill/freeride/dirt-jump/trail centre/ hard-tail has been ferrying me back and forth from my places of work. Each day I cycle my 2 * 10 mile journey, trying (usually in vain) to keep up with the sensible folk on their fast road bikes. When I first started commuting on the hard-tail I got a bit of a kick out of the fact that it was so much fun riding a bike built for anything other than road-riding on the road. I could hop obstacles, manual over sleeping policemen and do massive stoppies in to the bike boxes at lights. Plus having a whopping 200mm disk on the front gave me bundles of confidence that I could stop in no time when bus or taxi drivers pull their seemingly obligatory crazy daily manoeuvres.

There’s always been one thing which I’ve found difficult though - getting good road speed. At first I didn’t really care as I was having so much fun, but over the years I guess my base level of fitness has improved and I’ve started trying to keep pace with the faster bikes on the road. This is when I realised that riding a heavy mountain bike with 2.4” dirt jump tyres, a chain device and lots of heavy components does not make for an easy time trying to break the london-commute-speed-record! And so over the years I’ve felt the gentle yet persistent tug from the dark side, that all mountain bikers fear… that’s right, I’ve started to want a road bike!

Ok, so I’m being dramatic, there is no “dark side”, I’m sure road bikes are ace, it’s just I’ve never ridden one before. Also given my limited distance of ~100 miles a week I wasn’t sure a full-on road bike was what I wanted (lots of roadies I know regularly do 100 miles in a day!).

So what then?

I’ve been hearing more and more about a discipline called Cyclo-cross recently and after chatting to a few mates who have some experience I decided it definitely sounded like something I should find out about. Cyclo-Cross is a mixture of on and off road riding on what is ostensibly a souped up road-bike (i.e. slightly different geometry, disk brakes (usually) and thin but treaded tyres for off-road). The folks who do it seem to be of fine fettle and essentially like throwing themselves down slippery trails on fairly inappropriate bikes (hang on I’m sensing a theme emriding tree roots on narrow tyres with drop bars seem like a good example here!). After watching a few YouTube entries my decision had been made - I needed a Cyclo-cross bike!

Fast forward through lots of internet research to last weekend when I picked up shiny new bike from BonVelo (who are lovely, friendly and generally awesome by the way), a Kinesis Crosslight Pro6… and it’s beauuuutiful!:

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Riding the thing

This Monday was my first commute on the Kinesis. I didn’t have much time to fettle over the weekend in preparation so I took a few tools in case I needed to make any adjustments en-route.

Things I thought would be scary:

  • SPDs: I was a bit nervous of riding SPDs as I’ve never used them before but after slightly slackening the cleats off from their default position I found that they were pretty easy to clip in and out of. On Monday I made sure to clip out uber early when approaching lights but on Tuesday I did a bit of trackstand practise and found that I could still trackstand easily enough on the new bike so as not to need to unclip at lights.

Things I didn’t think would be scary that are:

  • General balance: I’m used to riding my Easton MonkeyLites which are nice and wide, in contrast the bars on the Kinesis are so narrow and consequentially the bike feels massively unstable which makes me feel vulnerable to traffic.
  • Brakes don’t work very well (yet): Again being used to Avid Elixirs with a 200m disc my mechanical 160mm bb7’s feel somewhat lacking by comparison. They seem so be getting more grippy as they bed in though so should be easy enough to get used to.
  • Trying to stand up and pedal hard and nearly catapulting myself diagonally over the bars. This is getting easier each day as I get use to the bike but I think I could benefit from improving my core + upper body strength.
  • Cornering on those tiny little tyres: The road/tyre contact patch is literally tiny! Definitely an opportunity to improve my cornering skills!
  • General riding position: It’s mental, I’m hunched over like Quasimodo!
  • How in the name of all things sane am I supposed to ride this thing offroad?! Actually I’m quite looking forward to figuring this out so am going to try out for the London Cyclo-Cross Summer Series which looks like a noob friendly way of getting some off-road practise done just down the road in Herne Hill.

Things that are ace:

  • It is SO fast!
  • It it SO light!
  • Bunny Hops really easily

What next?

I’m enjoying riding the Kinesis more and more every day, so I think next steps are just to continue to get more familiar with the bike and then see if I can get some of that all important road speed I was after. Actually I can see that happening already, in the last few days I have started to consistently take 3 minutes out of my 35 minute to-work journey and 5 minutes off my 38 minute return journey. Something must be going right there!

I’m also really looking forwards to riding the bike offroad at the summer-series, that’s going to be quite a different kettle of fish to riding downhill I bet!

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