by Dave Anderson
September 9, 2011
Sim's been over to the side of the skinny knobbly tyres with the bargain spec bike. Cross? No, he's liked it
Cube X-Race Pro
If you talk to cyclocross racers they’d have you believe that if you’re not racing then there’s no point in owning a cyclocross bike. They’ll tell you this whilst heading off to do hill-reps with the bike on their backs and a heart rate monitor strap proudly showing through their white faux-Belgian race jersey.
I have zero competitive spirit, an aversion to group participation events and have never done a tabata session in my life and don’t intend to. I think this makes me a normal rider, so I was curious to how I’d get on with a ‘cross bike.
I’ve always had a fascination with what is over the next hill, it’s the reason I started to ride bikes; to find out what’s over the next hill, and the hill beyond that and be back in time for tea. It’s also the thing that keeps me riding bikes; sure the thrill of a corner well turned or a rocky descent cleaned with speed gives me a thrill and a smile but it’s still be that idea of exploring that really keeps me riding bikes.
The Cube X-Race Pro has been something of a revelation in this respect, my circle of trail knowledge has expanded by at least a good 10 miles. Trails you look at on a map but write-off as they involve prolonged tarmac-bashing can be quickly and painlessly reached and ridden, allowing you to decide whether it’s worth bring the mountain bike along next time. Go for a road ride and spot a trail off into the distance? Just turn off the black stuff and go have a look. The opportunity to ride more trails more is an exciting one.
Cube have a knack for putting together a top spec bike for a reasonable sum of money that also looks good too. At £1399 the X-Race Pro is great value for money, and a looker to boot. It’s cheaper Shimano 105 equipped brother the X-Race Comp is £999, dropping it nicely into Cycle to Work attainability.
The frame is triple-butted aluminium, which in these carbon fibre times can seem a bit ‘last century’, but there are plenty of really nice details that let you know that someone has really sweated over the design of this frame. Things like the externally butted BB shell, the chain guard below the front mech, helicopter tape on the chain stays and downtube, the slightly flared hydroformed top tube to increase weld area at the top head tube, seamless welding on some tubes and a lustrous white paint job with tasteful graphics. The inclusion of bottle bosses will get some ‘cross purists tutting but it does make the bike a versatile beast that’s game for all day rides picking its way across OS maps.
The frame is nice but the amazing thing is the components you get for your money. For a start you get a full Ultegra drivetrain (for those who don’t speak roadie Ultegra is XT level), minus the more ‘cross specific FSA Energy crankset, even the usual suspects of stealth downgrading the chain and cassette are Ultegra. As you’d expect from Shimano it all works flawlessly with the customary smooth transition between gears. The brake callipers are Avid Shortys and provide enough power to slow you down, but I’m assured cross bikes aren’t supposed to have powerful brakes, they just, well, slow you down. Racer talk again… Forks are the quite posh carbon bladed Easton EC70Xs.
Riding a bike that seems patently unsuitable for it’s purpose is always silly fun. Skinny tyres and drop handlebars just seem like a daft idea for riding off-road but once you get into the spirit of things they are daft in the best possible way. Descents that you normally barrel down on a 5″ travel mountain bike become testing sketch-a-thons when you’re in the drops with your bum way above your head. Trails you’ve never really considered as worth bothering with become all-time favourites and you don’t mind riding over sodden moors looking for sheep tracks to fly along.
the contact points put me in a position that didn’t scare the crap out of me and actually made me attempt a lot of trails I thought were off-limits to all but mountain bikes.
Having no experience with other ‘cross bikes at all I was slightly apprehensive of what to expect. The X-Race was like a firm yet fair guiding hand. For a start the 56cm frame tested was a comfortable fit and all the contact points put me in a position that didn’t scare the crap out of me and actually made me attempt a lot of trails I thought were off-limits to all but mountain bikes. The brakes and gears never complained about being coated in grit and seldom cleaned, the bike almost seemed to wear its wear with pride, a proper workhorse.
The 20.5lbs weight certainly makes a change from a 30lbs suspension bike off road and the fat tyres and more upright position make for a comfier ride on road than a dedicated road bike. Jack of all trades? I guess, but that’s kind of my riding style too so I figure we’re a good fit for each other.
I’d often find myself grabbing the Cube for quick after-work rides. Or quick Sunday rides. Or riding to the park. Or for commuting on. It became my default bike being left at home only when I knew it would be out of its depth and a mountain bike was the tool for the job. For sheer ground covering ability and for squeezing in rides that would otherwise have been stolen by the internet or TV the X-Race has won me over.
For 2012 Cube have tweaked the name slightly to Cross Race and made a few spec changes but it should offer the same performance and smile factor.