Specialized’s long awaited carbon fiber CruX builds upon the lessons learned from the alloy version, with new-school, low-slung geometry well suited to North American courses.
That it’s lighter and more responsive than the alloy CruX is no surprise, but what we didn’t expect was the impressive smoothness. The only things keeping this from being a top-shelf package right out of the gate are the so-so wheels and disappointingly narrow tires.
Ride & handling: Light, snappy, and quick handling but comfortable
Specialized’s aim for the carbon CruX was to build a ‘Tarmac for the dirt’, and based on our experiences with the most recent SL4 flagship, that’s a heady goal. That said, our time spent on the new CruX Pro Carbon cyclo-cross flagship suggests the aim has been met.
One defining characteristic of the Tarmac is its fantastic chassis stiffness, and the new carbon CruX certainly doesn’t disappoint with its incredibly rigid front triangle and wonderfully stout rear end. The CruX Pro Carbon delivers outstanding pedaling efficiency and power transfer, and is extremely responsive to steering inputs.
We’re well accustomed to the subtle difference in timing that’s often required even on top-end ‘cross machines, with just that slight delay between input and reaction. However, with the CruX there’s a more immediate response to fierce stabs at the pedals or a quick flick of the bars.
It’s brilliantly fast under power, with lots of liveliness and snap, and there’s even a similar riding position, meaning current Specialized road bike owners will instantly find themselves right at home.
Just like on the Tarmac, comfort isn’t exactly the CruX’s strong suit, with the stout rear end flexing much less than many lightweight aluminum chassis or our current favorite ‘cross cushion, the Cannondale SuperX Hi-Mod.
However, Specialized has done a wonderful job of damping vibrations and smaller bumps, as well as imparting a very balanced feel front-to-rear. You still feel impacts and bumps but it’s almost as though the peaks are sliced off with the Specialized’s carbon fiber sword. This was a welcome surprise, especially given how substantial the seat stays are here, and racers who put a higher priority on efficiency than comfort will find a lot to like.
The CruX’s handling falls firmly in the new-world school of thought, with a very low bottom bracket – 71mm of drop for our 52cm tester – and steep seat tube angle but an otherwise neutral front end. The low center of gravity makes for extra stability in fast and slippery corners as well as quicker transitions from edge to edge – not to mention a lower leap when remounting after barriers and run-ups.
The slightly more forward saddle position puts you in a prime attacking stance for quickly getting on the gas, too, and we found the middle-of-the-road handling more than willing to confidently drift through the snowy and icy corners of a late Colorado winter. That low bottom bracket isn’t as well suited for especially deep sand and mud, though, so keep your local conditions in mind.
Specialized – and its factory racers – have a solid record in ‘cross racing so we also weren’t surprised to find that all the discipline-specific features have been well addressed.
Tire clearance is generous all round, with a finger’s worth of space through the wide-stance fork crown, seat stays, and chain stays, plus no shelf behind the bottom bracket shell on which mud can accumulate. The curved top tube is very flat on its underside, too, making it comfortable on your shoulder (or, rather, as comfortable as resting a rigid tube against your bare collarbone can be).
The CruX Pro Carbon’s compact front triangle and an enormous down tube would normally preclude lifting the bike up and hefting it onto your shoulder but Specialized has made good adaptations here as well. The so-called ‘Love Handle’ indentation beneath the down tube genuinely does make for an easier grip (especially for riders with small or medium-sized hands) while the top tube’s slight arc creates a bit more room in the front triangle without resorting to a level top tube – clever on both counts.
Cables are well protected to, with fully internal and carefully planned routing throughout. The derailleur and rear brake line both enter the frame just behind the head tube, the front derailleur exit point is covered with a rubber sheath, and the rear derailleur cable doesn’t poke out until just above the rear dropout.
Cable replacements are expectedly tricky if you don’t take care to feed a liner through as a guide first, but on the plus side there’s a removable hatch on the underside of the bottom bracket shell to ease the pain. Moreover, the effectively weatherproof setup means you shouldn’t have to do it as often.
And yes, as you would expect, the CruX Pro Carbon is light. Total weight on our 52cm tester is 7.72kg (17.0lb) – and that’s with the mediocre stock aluminum clinchers (more on those in a bit).
Frame: Tarmac SL4 repurposed for the mud
Specialized really has done an admirable job of translating much of the Tarmac SL4′s design language to the new carbon CruX. The down tube is similarly bulbous, the top tube boasts a comparable arc and shaping, and the seat tube similarly starts out round up top before transitioning to a rectangular profile down at the OSBB (Specialized’s version of PF30) bottom bracket shell.
Just as on the Tarmac, the bottom bracket shell is molded in one piece with the very tall, asymmetrical chain stays – supposedly to increase drivetrain stiffness, which seems to work. And the tapered head tube is also slightly downsized to 1 1/8 to 1 3/8in to improve the ride quality over the standard 1 1/2in lower steerer diameter.
The seat stays have, of course, been beefed up relative to the Tarmac SL4′s rather spindly pipes, and they’re rather widely spaced in order to gain that precious mud clearance. That Specialized was able to wring such a composed ride quality out of the back is even more impressive when you note just how big those stays are.
Actual weight for our bare 52cm frame is 1,230g with rear derailleur hanger, water bottle bolts, and seatpost collar – 310g heavier than the similarly sized, S-Works level Tarmac SL4 we tested last January.
Likewise, the matching carbon CruX fork is far burlier than the one on the Tarmac, sporting the requisite increases in crown-to-axle length and tire clearance but also very deep, straight-bladed legs anchored in a monstrous carbon crown. Actual weight with a 190mm steerer tube is 480g. More at Specialized CruX Pro Carbon review