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Custom or Production 'Cross bikes: What's in your future?

So Scott, a reader of mine from DC, sends me this simple question:

Ok, Greg, my Redline Team has done 2 years and is a bit dinged up, so, for the uber cross racing bike, why Rock Lobster? as opposed to, I don't know, something carbon (not that I'm keen on the idea of a carbon cross bike that might get broken).

Thanks for your thoughts.

Scott has started a religious debate, methinks. To which I responded with the following. I have received the question quite a few times, so I figured I'd broadcast the answer.

Hey Scott!

Thanks for the note, man. You have asked a very religious question! for me, its sort of a confluence of materials, custom sizing/geometry and finally 'cult' status. I've raced a variety of off the shelf bikes from Kelly (a production/non custom steel frame), Felt and Scott and of course my various Rock Lobsters. Let me net it out this way:

a) Scandium rocks: The material of choice for me is scandium. It's SUPER light, SUPER strong and has a variety of characteristics I like that frame builders can literally 'tune' the design to how you want it to ride. As an example, I had Rocklobster's Paul Sadoff give me super rigid chain stays (for power transmission) yet the scandium down stays provide some level of flex for comfort. I get exactly what I want in a 3.0 pound frame that is roughly a 59cm (so that light in a larger frame size). Carbon's good, do not get me wrong, but it has limits (for me) on sizing, geometry, colors, et al (see b. next).

b) Custom sizing/geometry: A lot of these off the shelf manufacturers think that sloping top tubes and lower bottom brackets are 'cross' geometry. It's MARKETING geometry. They wouldn't know a cross bike and how it should ride from a commuter bike with 700c tires and cantilever brakes. A horizontal top tube and high BB are CORE cross with near road geometry...albeit just ever so slightly slacker. I personally think Ridley and Colnago have it nailed on the production side (wonder why the best teams ride these frames in Belgium?)...the latter requiring a double mortgage on your house to afford. Paul has built cross bikes for 20+ years....for many national champions and Europeans. His geometry stands the test of time. I have one special requirement though on my frames he builds.....OK 2: First, I run double chain guides with a single ring. I have him specifically crimp the right chain stay to allow for this clearance AND ensuring I can fit a 34 tubular in the stays with appropriate mud clearance. He nailed that. The second thing is that if I want to run a double ring up front, I would (personally) ask him to route my f. der. cable on the top tube. He likes the down tube routing. This may have no bearing on your tastes/desire though.

c) Cult: Support your local frame builder! OK, Paul's in Santa Cruz....but he WAS local to me when I lived there! Ha! I have an affinity for the hard working manufacturers of the sport...who are artists in all senses of the definition. Paul is an artist to me before he is a bike frame builder.

Hope this helps you! In fact, I may post this as it is a question I get often!

Finally Scott, just LOOK at how beautiful they are!!! Mmmmm. You know you want one.

Reader Comments (28)

Scott might fly to the East Coast to sell the idea to his wife...and to glue his tubulars for him. ;-)

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChris

If you're not riding custom, then you are just riding someone else's bike!

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNowork

Hey Greg...How do you like the switch from the arione to concor?

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdaveo


S-I-C-K. OK, I do like the Arione, but the Concor is a TOTALLY different feel that I am gel-ing with at the moment. It's got this feel that helps push me forward into the hoods (see how I have my seat positioned) yet does not affect me when re-mounting, etc. It's SUPER comfy for my ass. There ya have it.

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Those are awesome bikes. The red is sick. I love the look and function of cross bikes. Although I prefer my steel bianchi cross in Celeste. Steel is Real :)~

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRobert (xcskimt)

Super biased opinion/shameless plug - Ti baby! The lifetime frame - ride characteristics and comfort of steel, weight of Aluminum, highest fatigue life of bike frame metals, repairable, etc. Did I mention Moots does stock or custom?

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterG-Unit

why, why would you ever go alu... Inferior fatigue strength, not a smooth ride at all, and list goes on. Going custom, you have three realistic choices, Ti, steel or stainless steel. Ti you can get a super smooth riding and handling bike with large diameter tubes. Steel is so sexy and offer a more stiffer ride than Ti. Stainless is the marriage of all the attributes a crosser could ever want in a dent/ scratch resistant package that will long out last any beer can bike.

You made a mistake asking Greg, as a rider, and mind you biased one, is fixated on alu. Respectfully I disagree with his arguments for alu (having a large tube diameter to grab onto and power transfer) because you can have those benefits out of other materials and so much more. What I agree with is working with a local builder (or shop)who can provide you with a proper fitting, select various tubesets to tune your ride in specifically for you, and find one who just isn't a me too when it comes to cross. IF, Eriksen, Sycip, Speedwagen (if you can get on the list next year) are just a few of many.

Do your own research and check out some different rides for yourself.

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKen Bloomer

After working in shops for the better part of 8 years I'd been convinced of the ideology that anyone could be "fit" onto a bike, but after getting on a bike that is built around my own body as well as the parts I want to ride (i.e. stem length) I instantly understood what all the fuss was about.

I personally chose Primus Mootry and would do it again, and recommend them to ANYONE looking for a cross specific builder.

As for material? I say the stiffness and responsiveness of aluminum is unmatched in a 60 minute, high wattage event like a cross race. I'll save the ti for when I'm 60 and doing Ride the Rockies.

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCorey Carlson

Bloomer, stainless does make sense for CX if nothing else than its corrosion resistance. But I have to agree with Greg on this one. Scandium/Aluminum is the real deal for CX. Just the right mix of stiffness to accelerate hard out of turns & it handles like a dream in the turns. Lets face it CX races in the US have become dirt crits so you need to be riding a crit style bike. The BB height is a separate argument in its self. I ride a Ridley & love the high BB. If I were to get a custom CX machine I'd start with the Ridley base geometry & tweak the top tube length to make it a hair longer & shorten up the chain stays just a bit since I run 32mm & mud clearance isn't really an issue in the Midwest.

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScottyD

So I guess I am a little bias as well, but agree with Greg. I ride steel bikes on the road and trail and will never change that, but when I need to go as fast as I can for an hour and need the second matching frame to swap onto during the race, Aluminum is the way to go. Sure you can buy two Ti frames (or SS) but the cost behind that is sort of unrealistic. When I toe the line, I want three things from my bike, to fit, be Lite and super stiff. Because really I am only on it for an hour.

And although I think Paul is one of two guys in this country who have the best history of building cross frames for cross racers, there are a whole lot of other guys out. But, Paul is priced pretty damn competitively and hardly has a wait list, as compared to some other guys...

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Then again, maybe the key to Jon C's unbelievably fast legs is his Moots! (or maybe it's his mitochondria...). Regardless, the" REL="nofollow">Pyschlo-X is reborn

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Ken speaks about Greg's bias as a rider, yet fails to disclose his own. He's employed by IF, a company that only builds in steel, SS and Ti.

This anonymous vote is for aluminum, since scandium is so scarce to small domestic builders these days.

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Hey do you have any photos of you'r Kelly built up? If so could you post them? What size did you ride?

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersabikes


I actually DID find some old photos from circa 2002 of me on that old green Kelly of mine! See them" REL="nofollow">HERE on my photobucket site.

It was a True Temper OX steel frame, 59cm. Heavy but a fun bike! Sold to my bud here n Boulder who is still beating the snot out of it!

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Thank you

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersabikes

Are you still running a 59 TT and are you like 6'1" or 6’2"? I am like 6'1" and I run a 100mm stem how was yours set up? Did you have fun on the Kelly? How did you have you rear break set up with out a stop? Thanks for your time.

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersabikes

Yup, 6'2" and yes, my RL's are a custom, TT but roughly a 59. I run a 120mm stem however with a position designed to push me forward.

Nice observation on the Kelly. Indeed my frame was literally designed for V brakes! So I attached this little custom cable hosing stop off the seat post...much like the ones you use for your front brake off the steerer tube of your fork or off or stem.

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Cool thank you
I am using a cable stop that you would use on your fork around my seat post it is pretty stiff

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersabikes

Ok one more question do you think that the Kelly sets you more towards the back of the bike that is why it seems so long?

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersabikes

Indeed the seat tube angle was more slack than when I had my Rock Lobster's made. Bot sure of Chris' intent with that design but it wasn't all bad. I just prefer forward-leaning.

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Per Cody's comments, this is an endorsement for Joe DePaemelaere and "Primus Mootry" out of Longmont, CO. Simply put, Joe is a class act who goes to extraordinary lengths to make sure you get the custom build you are looking for (even for beginner cross enthusiasts like myself). He has a tremendous amount of cross experience as a rider and frame builder and this shows up in all of his bikes.

Here is a bike that he just built up for me that is likely far faster than I am:

I liked the idea of scandium as well, but as another reader mentioned, it's hard to come by for small builders. The lightweight aluminum worked out great, very stiff - even for a big rider.

Thanks for your great blog, Greg!

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjulian

Joe at Primus Mootry understands cross. The man works the pits for his racers, just like Paul Sadoff. They both have frames under the top butts in the country. Rick Hunter's another badass. I see him racing his frames regularly out here in California.

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter-p

Good discussion! I will concede that at the same stiffness, an Al bike may be about 0.1 lbs lighter than Ti. However, a Ti bike will stay that same stiffness longer than an Al bike, which becomes noticeably "softer" after time. The Ti is much less susceptible to denting (i.e. handlebar when you overcook a barrier), and is repairable should anything severe happen to it. My point here really is that the ride quality and stiffness are there, and while more expensive initially you are way more likely to be on that same rig 5 years from now. I would also like to say that Ti in 2008 is much different than in the pre-carbon days, and frames can be made as stiff as you want - take a spin on Corey, Jon, or Glen's bike and compare in the real world, not from old material stereotypes and articles. Either way, one of the fun things about cross is that every rider has their set-up, feel, and geometry preference - there is no accepted standard. Because of that we can geek out every year about these topics - gotta love it!

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterG-Unit

thanks anon, but anyone who reads this blog knows that I do not work for IF, I run my distributorship in Germany and we represent IF. With that said, I did mention other builders... Anyway, what is more 'core' than steel, those were the original cross bikes. Just ask Tim Johnson on what bike he got his first stars and stripes?

Good point g-unit, alu does 'break down' over time where steel and Ti have an much higher fatigue strength. My whole point is the beating you take on an alu bike. Granted races are only an hour, but I would rather save my back, and fatigue for a bike that is slightly more forgiving and better handling over the rough stuff.

But we all know about opinions...

November 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKen Bloomer

What version of the Dugast tires, are on the white RockLobster?

November 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterG-Love

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