Random Thoughts on Potential CX Bikes

While I have constantly made of point of espousing the many virtues of my Tricross, it’s getting long in the tooth and is definitely showing many signs of wear and tear.  I got it in 2008 and have ridden it tens of thousands of miles.  I’ve put on a half-dozen new cassettes and chains, replaced a front derailleur,  replaced the chainrings at least twice, rewrapped the bar tape a half-dozen times, warrantied a shifter, gone through three wheelsets and more tires than I can count.  In fairness, there are still a lot of original parts too: the bottom bracket, crank arms, rear shifter, rear derailleur and miscellaneous parts like the stem, bars and seatpost.

But given the riding that I do these days, having a good ‘cross bike is more important to me than any other kind of bike.  I only did 3 mountain bike races — and did that many ‘cross races in one weekend this fall.  I did almost that many roadie-type races — the Flèche du Nord and the Sturgeon 100.  I did a lot more 40-50 mile road rides too.  Clearly, my interest and passion is dirt and gravel and terrible roads on a drop-bar bike.

So I’ve been looking into bikes and have really narrowed it down to three.  I also have a thing for the Trek Crockett Disc, the Raleigh RX 2.0 and the Kona Rove, but the ones pictured below are the ones I’m looking at most seriously:

The Jamis Nova Pro:

14_novapro_bk

The Kona Jake the Snake:

jake_the_snake

And the Spot Rallye:

Spot_Bikes_RALLYE_600x400

So this post isn’t so much about, “Hey, look at me buying a new bike!”, but rather an opportunity for me to think “out loud” (as it were) about these three bikes and their relative merits.

The Jamis Nova Pro

The Nova Pro is Jamis’ top of the line aluminum ‘cross bike.  It comes with a bunch of SRAM shifty bits, Ritchey cockpit and seatpost, TRP HYRD hydraulic disc brakes and Alex tubeless wheels.  It’s a black bike with some bright blue highlights.  The frame is the “Kinesium” alloy that Jamis loves to use.  What’s to like?

  • I have gotten to a point where I much prefer the shape of the SRAM brake hoods on my Dark Horse to the old Shimano 105 hoods on the Tricross. As mentioned, the Nova Pro comes with SRAM drivetrain components.
  • The black and blue color scheme is pretty timeless.
  • The TRP brakes are my preferred option for ‘cross.
  • White hoods and saddle look great, even if they’ll get filthy during ‘cross season.
  • Tubeless wheels out of the box?  Yes, please.
  • Stupid Reason #1: My son has a Jamis too, which is fun.
  • Stupid Reason #2: Jamis is a very underrepresented brand in this neck of the woods and I like having something unique.
  • Stupid Reason #3: The wheels are even co-branded with Jamis, which seems cool even though it’s really just a sticker.

What’s not to like?

  • While I have really liked SRAM components, the guys at the shop vastly prefer Shimano for reliability.
  • Jamis is, to me, a big unknown in terms of the quality of frames.  It seems as though they manage to put the same (or better) components on their bikes and sell them cheaper.  How can they do that unless the frame isn’t as good?
  • Maybe there’s a reason very few people ride Jamis ‘cross bikes.  Maybe they’re not all that great.
  • The rear brake cable routing looks like it could be really goofy, swooping way under the BB shell, which is just asking for problems.

The Kona Jake the Snake

The JtS is also the top of Kona’s aluminum lineup.  It has the same frame as the cheaper Jake, but the nicer carbon fork of the Major Jake.  The spec is mostly Shimano 105 stuff, with an Ultegra rear derailleur.  Braking is handled by Hayes CX5 brakes and it’s finished off with a bunch of in-house components.  The wheels are Alex CXD7, which Kona calls tubeless for the Rove, but for some reason, not on the JtS.  Plusses:

  • The lime green color is one I’ve been hooked on for about a year now.
  • The Kona MTB I have at home has been very robust and a blast to ride, also being made of the same aluminum.
  • The Shimano drivetrain is exactly the same combination I had on my Tricross, which performed wonderfully for many years.  I’m familiar with the Shimano style of shifting (as opposed to SRAM DoubleTap shifting).  The guys at the shop like Shimano reliability and performance.
  • Internal cable routing for some of the cables is a great idea for ‘cross.
  • It’s a new frame design that is supposed to be stiff without beating you up and the reliable geometry of years of high-level Kona ‘cross racing.
  • Lots of local Cat A racers are on Konas these days, which suggests they’re decent bikes.
  • Stupid Reason #1: I have a really cool Kona bag.
  • Stupid Reason #2: Helen Wyman rides a Kona and she wins a lot.  She is also funny on Twitter.  I also learned a ton about ‘cross racing strategy from one video I watched her in.
  • Stupid Reason #3: I love being internally consistent.  Having a Kona MTB and a Kona CX bike makes me feel consistent.  Then I could get a Kona Wo when I eventually succumb to the fat bike thing.  And when I need a proper road bike, I get a Zone.

Concerns:

  • I like the lime green color now, but will I like it in another 4-5 years?
  • The Hayes CX brakes are an unknown to me.  I’ve had nothing but Avid and TRP brakes… well, ever.  I can’t say they’re good brakes or bad brakes  or anything.
  • Stupid WTB saddle.  (As an aside, the other day my son asked me what brand in cycling I liked the least.  This question required no thought: WTB.  I simply despise the idea of paying money for anything with the WTB logo on it.)
  • Rear brake cable routing looks pretty half-baked.  (To be fair, I can’t find a good picture of the routing Jamis uses.)
  • Internal cable routing can be a pain sometimes.
  • Are the CXD7 wheels tubeless or not?  If they are, are they worth it?  Would I want to immediately replace them? Does anybody in the world besides Kona use these wheels?
  • Stupid Reason #1: There’s a lot more Konas on the start line than I would like to see.

 

Spot Rallye

Even if you’ve heard of Jamis and Kona, you probably haven’t ever heard of Spot Brand bikes.  They’re a small company from Colorado that’s got a partnership with Gates, the company behind the Carbon Drive belt-based drivetrain.  The Rallye is the only ‘cross bike Spot makes and slots in nicely with the Jake and Nova as being an aluminum frame with an in-house carbon fork.  There’s a lot more forming of the tubes apparent on the Rallye and it comes in an amazingly bright yellow color.  It’s hard to talk about the parts on the basic Rallye because it comes as a frameset or a much more expensive complete bike — $1000 more than either of the other two.   What’s to love about the Rallye?

  • First and foremost: Gates Carbon Drive.  I have had such an incredible blast racing my Dark Horse with the belt drive.  Cyclocross is the perfect application of singlespeed, between the muck that you ride through and the fact that you simply run up the stuff that’s really steep.  The preconfigured Rallye comes set up with a belt drive.
  • The color.  Oh my, that’s a beautiful yellow.  As much as I’ve liked a lime green color for the last year, I’ve liked yellow for much longer.
  • I love the tube shapes, right down to the cutout on the seat tube.
  • If I bought the frameset, I could pick and choose the parts that I like — the TRP brakes, the SRAM levers and so on.
  • It can be setup geared if you want.
  • The internal cable routing, especially to the rear brake, is so elegant.

BUT…

  • My ‘cross bike is also my road/gravel/winter trainer bike.  I can’t ride a belt-drive singlespeed on the road and do my normal intervals.  There are hills around here I can climb easily on my geared bike that I have to walk up with the singlespeed.
  • The price.  I was able to outfit my Dark Horse pretty cheap because of a wheelset and other parts I had hanging around the house.  I don’t have a set of 700c disc wheels just hanging around or the $400 to get the Gates Carbon Drive parts.  Then there’s brakes and … and … and…
  • I can’t get the Spot from my local shop, which makes it comparatively even more expensive and violates a desire I have to buy local as much as possible.
  • I already have a singlespeed cross bike.  Do I really need another?

 

Conclusions?

I really need to stop loading up Spot’s website and ogling the Rallye, because it doesn’t make any kind of rational sense.  That being said, it’s the bike I lust after the most.  The Jamis and the Kona are both decent options that cost almost the same amount of money.  Looking at the lists, I have a lot more passion on both sides about the Kona.  But the purpose of this long post wasn’t to come to a conclusion.  Rather, it was about organizing my thoughts and putting them all down in one place.  I guess we’ll see what happens!

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7 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on Potential CX Bikes”

  1. I’m going to let my biases hang out and throw in for Jamis. I’ve been riding a Nova for years (a 2007, last of the Jamis steel-framed crossers) and it’s been a joy. Like your Tricross I’ve pretty much replaced everything at least once if not multiple times (shifters are still original FWIW). It’s been a fun, reliable, comfortable, and solid crosser/commuter/gravel grinder/road machine. Go test ride one–it will not disappoint.

    1. It’s nice to hear from someone who’s actually ridden a Jamis and even had it last. The only bummer is that the only Nova they have at the shop is the super-basic Nova Sport, which has almost nothing in common with the Nova Pro.

  2. I’ve been racing a Jamis 2013 Nova Race for the last year, and have been really happy with it. The rear brake cable routes down the left side of the rear triangle and has never given me trouble; the lower routing of the Kona seems riskier. I also can’t tell if the Nova Pro definitely has the same routing, though–weird. I only test-rode a Nova Sport before ordering my Nova Race, and the Jamis geometry and sizing felt true from the Sport to the Race. Mine’s been a great workhorse.

    1. It’s very cool that you’ve enjoyed your Nova Race. The ardent support of Jamis riders along with the superior parts spec makes me lean pretty heavily towards the Nova Pro. Thanks!

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