This year I’m taking ’cross seriously. It’s not that I haven’t in the past but the last couple of years I’ve not really been taking it as seriously as it deserves. Obviously, this means it’s new bike time - but what to go for? Whilst others look to the latest frame innovations, I’m all about the rider weight limits, I’ve managed to break the frames of my last two “good” ’cross frames so titanium and carbon are out.
I was tempted with a steel Ritchey Swiss Cross but they’re just too dear and I know I’d end up putting lots of even more expensive boutique parts on it. I want this bike to be an out and out ’cross racer with no dual-use compromise, I’m not looking for bottle cages, a good winter commuter back up, a gravel grinder, a pseudo mountain bike or rough stuff tourer. Even more than this, I’m not looking for excuses for still being at the back of the field - this bike has to be a value-for-money all out cross racing machine.
When you load this all into the “what bike” algorithm, out pops the Kinesis CX Race. It’s a scandium/aluminium full-on race frame with an impressive carbon fork that can be set up for canti’s or disks and has a tartan top tube. Once I checked the rider weight limit (there isn’t one) I knew I was getting one.
Walkers Cycling stock Kinesis so I gave Neil a call and bought the frame and matching carbon fork but left it in his shop. I then started a lengthy process of buying the components for it one piece at a time as I was fairly skint and had to shift a track bike to fund the project. It wasn’t until early August that I had amassed all the components to actually put the bike together. Neil invited me down to his shop in Kilmaurs to do a guided build and we thought we would record the process.
I’ve never heard of a guided build before but Neil tells me he’s done a fair few and customers with a bit of time appreciate being taken through the process, learning how the bike goes together and then gaining the capacity to fix it later themselves. I’m a teacher and July and August afford me a fair amount of free time - I was dead happy to drive down and spend a morning putting the bike together.
Over the months since I bought the frame, I’d made the component choices and sorted out which components I could recycle and which I would need to buy. When it came down to it, I bought almost all new components except the saddle, an old Fizik cx.
First up, wheels: I’ve rolled tubs, pinch-flatted clinchers and burped tubeless. In this race-only bike, I reckoned it would have to be tubs but proper cross rims not re-purposed road rims with the tiny glue contact patch I’d been trying to use before. I bought a pair of wide-rimmed Velocity Major Tom aluminium rims from Brick Lane Cycles after getting a few recommendations and then asked Dave Martin at the Bicycleworks to build them up on Hope hubs and glue on the Challenge Limus tyres. Hope make nice anodised parts and the blue rims match the blue frame - lovely.
Next, bars, stem and seat post. This is easy - if my name was Deda I would get Deda parts by I’m called Easton and I always use the family firm - EC70 carbon seat post to take a bit of the harshness out of the aluminium frame and EA70 aluminium stem and bars. The bars were the right choice as they have a very short reach to the bend and this is important as the Shimano 105 hydraulic shifters I spec’ed have a long reach to accommodate the hydraulic gubbins.
I picked the Praxis Zayante double chainset as it just looked a bit exotic. I did no research on it and wasn’t sure if Neil could get one but he could and he endorsed my choice. It seems the cranks are bang on for the big power that gets put through them in ’ cross. The centre axle is tapered allowing a much bigger set of bearings on the non-drive side where the biggest stresses are. They are also about the stiffest chainset on the market and as I’m a fairly big unit I like the lack of flex.
At Rouken Glen last year, I was over the handlebars about 14 times and through the tapes every lap on the steep descent. I vowed then to get decent brakes and so saved up my marking money for the 105 hydraulic groupset. The shifters are huge and take a bit of getting used to both aesthetically and practically but I’m there now and I like them a lot.
The first job was fitting the forks and cutting them to size. This is high-stakes stuff and has to be done right first time. Handlebar height has to be exact and needs to be tried out so before the fork steerer is to be cut, the wheels need to go on and the seat post, saddle, stem and bars need to be fitted. Fitting the saddle, seatpost and bars was easy but cutting the fork steerer isn’t and I really appreciated Neil’s experience and tools for this. Once Neil and I had thought about the reach and height and tried the bike for size, I measured the fork steerer twice, got out the special carbon hacksaw and mitre and cut it. I banged in the crown race with a soft hammer and a special tool for this that looked like a bit of pipe then fitted the headset and loosely fitted the stem and bars to hold it in place.
Fitting the hydraulic brake calliper so was a less fraught affair, I just screwed them on to the brake bosses and left them approximately in the right place ready for the hoses. The Praxis chainset needs its own special bottom bracket and this has its own tool. Its essentially like fitting a Shimano Hollowtech BB and looks like one except the right bearing has a much bigger diameter than the left non-drive side. With the chainset in place, I then put the front derailleur on. Shimano include a wee orange widget to help you fit this and its a dawdle when you have both Neil and this widget to help you. Throughout, I used Neil’s fancy torque wrench to tighten to the recommended values.
Fitting the shifters on the bars was a little trickier as its never easy to get the shifter angle right without a bit of on-and-off the bike to try it. I like the transition from the bars onto the shifter to be as flat as possible and once the position was agreed on, the white positional marks on the bars makes a symmetrical left/right set up quite easy.
Cabling and hoses next. The frame is optimised for electronic shifting and a 1x11 set up but I was going mechanical 105 with a 2x11 set up. This frame design meant that the front derailleur cable couldn’t run along the top tube and descend to the front mech but had to run down the down tube and pull the derailleur from below. We had to fit a cable stop at the top of the down tube but the cable ended up routed along the frame rubbing on the paint. This didn’t seem to effect the smooth gear changing but did look as if the paint would soon be scratched. A big patch of helicopter tape will protect the frame and I’m not that worried about this, I’m a wee bit more worried about the screw-in cable stop which looks vulnerable. Cabling up the rear mech was completely straightforward with full outers from shifter to derailleur and neat cable guides bolted on the top tube.
Fitting the hoses onto the shifters and then onto the brakes was far easier than I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a right footer but the right tools and a wee bit of guidance from Neil and it was done quickly and neatly. The bleeding of the brakes and setting up of the calipers was also straightforward and anybody with experience of bleeding Shimano MTB disc brakes will be able to bleed these with no problems.
All that was left to do was choose the bar tape and put this on. I went for Lizard Skins - that’s the dear stuff. Its easy to put on and so far has been pretty good.
Building up the bike was a pleasure. Neil’s shop is quite busy and there’s plenty of chat and coffee in between fitting bits. In total, it took about three and half hours of quite leisurely work. Neil himself is great to work with as he knows this frame well and has sussed out what works best with the frameset. I’ve been riding it a fair bit since then. My initial impressions are that its the stiffest bike I’ve ever ridden and the lightest cross bike I’ve had. I particularly like the brakes and the chainset which doesn’t flex at all. We’ll see how it goes at Callendar Park on Sunday.