Well if a new bike isn’t the perfect excuse for a new blog I don’t know what it…or was it a new blog was the perfect excuse for a new bike? No, that would be frivolous. Whichever way round it goes, what better way to start a new blog than with a post about my shiney new bike! Well actually, it’s not technically shiney, it’s matt in a rather fetching greyish colour called “Riverstone” but I digress…
Presenting the Cannondale CAADX SRAM Rival Disc Cyclocross Bike 2015
This isn’t going to be a proper review, mainly because I don’t know too much about bicycles, other than I like to ride them, and I don’t want to come across all silly by pretending to know things I don’t. That wouldn’t make a good first impression. So there won’t be any pronouncements regarding subtleties of geometries, thoughts on forks and certainly no aggressive bottom brackets. What I will tell you is my reasoning for buying one and what it is feels like to ride.
First, some history. As a kid I always rode mountain bikes so after almost a decade long hiatus and my first foray into bicycle buying for at least 15 years, I instantly gravitated to the mountain bike section of my local bike store. A mean looking monochrome machine caught my eye and after sitting on it once I made my purchase of a Scott Reflex 10. I took it out on probably no more than twenty or so rides before I gave up. At the time I couldn’t pinpoint why I didn’t enjoy it, but for some reason or the other it just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t until I tried to keep up with my partner on his Pinnacle cross country mountain bike that I realised that riding my Scott Reflex 10 was akin to swimming through treacle. I just wasn’t getting anywhere fast. Now in the Scott’s defence, the reason for this was it just wasn’t designed for the type of riding I was doing, consisting of mainly road and gravel cycle tracks. This was my dawn of realisation that different bikes were built for different pursuits and my “ooh I like the colours of that one” approach was the first cardinal sin of bicycle buying, quickly followed by the “can I get a leg over on this bike whilst stationary in the showroom” method of trying it out.
If I were to get any joy out of cycling then I needed to rethink and research and go for something that suited the sort of riding I was doing. After toying with the notion of a hybred, I dismissed it after reading many reviews along the lines of jack of all trades, master of none, and settled for a 29’er mountain bike with cross country geometry, the Cube Acid (blue/green). Admittedly I was still rather drawn to the colour but at least this time it was designed for the type of riding I was doing and I even tried it out properly, meaning using the pedals outside, before buying it.
Oh the difference! On the gravel tracks it was much faster and the cross country geometry provided a more upright position which was much more comfortable for long rides. On the tarmac it was better than the Scott but the treacle was still there, but perhaps maybe melted slightly. At the time I assumed this was fine as I did far more cycle track compared to road anyway. It wasn’t until a year later and going up and down the same dam cycle track had become tedious, to say the least, that I realised that branching out in different directions from where I live was inevitably going to involve more tarmac and treacle. Hmm, with those 29 inch mountain bike tyres resisting all the way, I had gone back to cycling being unpleasant.
I’ve never particularly enjoyed cycling on the road, mostly due to other road users rather than the surface itself, so I knew that branching out would ideally have to lead to somewhere pleasantly off road, once the necessary tarmac bit was finished. With that in mind, a pure road bike didn’t seem like the most suitable investment. This is when I discovered Cyclocross.
Originally designed as a winter training bike for roadies, the Cyclocross bike has also been referred to as a “gravel grinder”. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a road bike, think drop handle bars and racey geometry, but is a bit more robust, think wider gripier tyres and optional disc brakes. This gives you the best of both worlds; shoot across both tarmac, gravel and other mild cross country terrain like a whippet.
I did my research and decided to first try out the Pinnacle Women’s Arkose One. My first reaction was “oh God, get me off this thing” as the drop handle bars felt horribly precarious. After realising the saddle was infact way too high and readjusting it, the handle bar situation improved dramatically. Comfy fit, crap brakes. Being used to hydraulic disc brakes on my various mountain bikes, plain ol’ disc brakes just weren’t going to cut the mustard, or perhaps treacle in this case. At the time of buying, Pinnacle only offered the Arkose One in a women’s specific frame, which is the lowest end of the Arkose spectrum. Now I don’t have any particular preference for female frames, on the contrary, all my other bikes have been male specific, admittedly on the account that I usually prefer the colour options but also due to hating the aesthetic of the drop frame. Seeing as the drop frame geometry doesn’t actually exist in Cyclocross, I thought I would give the female specific offering a try. Fit wise, it was actually great and the colour was super too (I know, I know but the colour is important too!). Just the pesky brakes that well, er, put the brakes on that purchase.
To get the hydraulics I had to go male and up the spec to the Pinnacle Arkose Four. Great brakes, crap fit. Even the Small had me stretched out like I was riding some kind medieval rack on wheels. Unfortunately this pretty much meant Pinnacle were out the running (or is that cycling?). This lead me to trying out the Cannondale CAADX SRAM Rival Disc. Now I will admit that it was the colour that first attracted me (I don’t think this is a habit I’m ever going to break). Fortunately though the CAADX geometry suited my frame much better. I’m 5′ 6″ with a 78cm inseam so went with the 51cm frame size. Apparently some people with my stats prefer a 48cm, but I think that’s just a personal preference as the top tube is naturally higher on a cyclocross bike (so you can sling the bike across your shoulder easier when racing) and some may not like the feeling of the bar so close to their crotch.
So what’s it like to ride? Well it’s a darn sight quicker on the tarmac than the 29er mountain bike that’s for sure. I would now even go as far as saying I find cycling on the road enjoyable (lunatic drivers aside). On the gravel tracks the bike is still fast, but it can be a little like riding a pneumatic drill compared to the 29er mountain bike. I guess this is the trade off – wanna go fast? Well you have to lose the front suspension and the bump absorbing mountain bike tyres then. In terms of the mechanics, then it all feels like a quality set up – the brakes are sharp and the gear changes are precise. I use the word precise rather than smooth due to the way the SRAM Rival 22 shifters operate. There is one “shifting lever” to move the gears both up and down the crankset, rather than two levers (which I believe is common with Shimano shifters). If you take the shifter on the right handlebar, you push the lever slightly to make it harder to pedal and push the lever fully to make it easier to pedal (see I told you I wasn’t technical but hopefully I’m explaining this in a way that anyone will understand). To let you know that you have “pushed slightly” the gear makes a single click, to let you know you have pushed all the way the gear clicks again – this is how you know whether you have moved the gear up or down and hence why I say precise rather than smooth. The slight pause in movement you get when you get a click seems to warrant that description. I hadn’t used SRAM shifters before and was a little apprehensive after reading reviews by some people that had found them hard to get used to, or didn’t like the click and preferred the smooth transition of Shimano shifters. I like smooth as much as the next gal, but I also used to find Shimano shifters harder to tell if you had achieved the gear, so the SRAM click method works well for me. I actually found it incredibly easy to get used to the single lever to move both up and down the gears as well.
In terms of stability then I have to say I did feel somewhat more sturdy on my mountain bike, but I think that is to be expected. A part of that I will attribute to not being entirely used to the more aggressive riding position that drop handlebars frames require but I think mostly it’s down to my skinny new wheels. On the 29er MB I could pretty much roll over anything that got in my way without really noticing but with the Cyclocross there have been one or two hairy moments when I’ve hit an unsuspecting rock. I haven’t gone flying yet but you definitely have to consciously maintain your course and balance a little more. That being said, it has nimbly raced across all terrain I’ve thrown at it so far, which admittedly has only been tarmac, gravel and grass but the wheels and tyres are surprisingly tough.
All in all the Cannondale CAADX Rival Disc 22 is great fun to ride as you can build up some serious speed over a good variety of terrain. I still find the ride position something I don’t really fancy getting stuck in all day, but for my current purposes it work well (go, fast, fun and full throttle to get as much done within an hour as possible as my baby son will only tolerate sitting on Daddy for 60 minutes max). Last summer we did a lot of family bike rides with my then 18 month old daughter and when the son is old enough to join us in the Spring I think I will still get the 29er MB out as it definitely feels sturdier to transport a baby on board. But until I have to be sensible, I’m sticking with the Cyclocross.