Exploring the Versatility of the Cyclocross Bike in the Verdugo Mountains

With the advent of the 1x drivetrain, be it SRAM (who arguably brought the technology to the cycling industry), Race Face, Wolf Tooth or the hundreds of other options, the ‘cross bike lost a bit of its versatility, when compared to having a 34t inner ring. For racing, a 40t front and 11-28t cassette may be fine, but add in a substantial amount of climbing, on dirt roads exceeding 12%, for miles, and you’ll find yourself a bit “knackered” as our British comrades say.

My decision to drop the front derailleur on the Geekhouse came after a few misguided chains that cost me precious placing in a race. Truth: I was already ready for a 1x setup. So I went with a CX1 rear mech and the CX1 11-32t cassette.

The rear range is crucial. Especially when compared to the standard 28t cassette. SRAM’s CX1 made it easy with its 32t cassette and in January, the 36t cassette will be available. Now let me preface this by saying, I’m well-aware that most of you find CX1 sacrilegious due to its pricepoint or whatever, but let’s not steer off path just yet.

My bike feels great with a 40t front and 32t rear in racing, but riding fire roads, not so much. The 40t front ring and 32t max cassette had my legs burning on the first pitch, especially with 40mm tires. Remember, the larger your wheel’s diameter, the longer your gear inches. I couldn’t imagine an 8+ hour ride with the current setup. Maybe a 38t front would help?

After a few jaunts on familiar ground in LA, Sean and Moi offered to take me up into the Verdugos. A mountain range that sits across from the Western ridges in Santa Monica, and only a quick jaunt from South Pasadena, where Sean lives. My decision to carry my camera was the right move, after we crossed the gate. It’s really strikingly beautiful up there.

The plan was to climb up the fire road and bomb the singletrack down, then ascend once again in the dark to take yet another bit of doubletrack down, at night.

Plans < Photos

We were fucking about for hours up there and before we knew it, it was pitch black, save for the glow of the city lights. We all brought lamps and layers, ideal for descending down one track and avoiding rocks on the climbs but that doesn't mean we weren't ready for dinner.

The whole time, I kept thinking I'd love to have a 38t on the front of my drivetrain, as I began tick-tacking up the dirt. 40t x 32t with 40mm tires is no joke on a 15% grade. Especially when you're lugging a DSLR on your back. What doesn't kill you...

Still, at the end of the day, we surpassed expectations of the versatility of these “race bikes”, bombed plenty of steep, rain-rutted tracks, saw a bobcat – Sean freaked out, ate pizza, drank beer and proceeded to be enamored with just how rad cyclocross bikes are.

Now, where is that 38t Wolf Tooth ring I bought at the beginning of the season?

  • Eric Baumann

    great shots as always john, looks like some awesome terrain. curious to hear about your experiences with your enve post off-road, as the few times I used one on my cx bike I could not keep the clamp from slipping so i swapped the thomson back in. numerous other friends have had similar troubles. you using any grip paste in there?

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      You have to use grip paste and torque to 12nm. Once you do that, it won’t slip. Mine only slips at the seatpost collar, because the “right” size collar is slightly too big and the size down is too small.

      • Eric Baumann

        i had a feeling, been meaning to try some paste in there just havent gotten around to it yet. I had all kinds of problems with my post slipping in the collar at the beginning of this season, using a shim in a 31.8 ST and the thomson collar just wasnt clamping down hard enough. switched to a salsa collar and it seems to have solved the problem.

        • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

          Good to know. The Stinner needs a 30.2 to 27.2 shim, so I’ll try the Salsa clamp.

          • Jeff Haye

            The Salsa clamp solved my slippage after initially trying a Thomson collar.
            Looking at new wheels…Merry Christmas to me…how do you like that Belgium / Nano combo?

          • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

            So good. My favorite so far. I’m trying the Pacenti SL23 on the Mudfoot Stinner though!

          • Chris Valente

            Just did my first ride on the Nano’s and man are they sweet. Looking at a wheel build for my Christmas present to myself and trying to decide if the extra cash for the Belgium’s are worth it over the Pacenti’s. Not sure the 1mm makes that much difference….

          • Morgan Taylor

            Go for a long, ano black shim like Cane Creek.

          • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

            That’s what I got :-)

    • carl bradtmiller
      • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

        HA! Yeah, I was actually just thinking of doing that this weekend. So good!

  • Kerry Nordstrom

    42 x 42…best decision I made on the build spec for my Seven.

  • GioFio

    I’ve been riding a 38t Wolftooth with a 10-speed Force 11-32 with for the past year almost (with the Nano 40C’s for around six-months). It seems to be just fine for the most part riding in Central Oregon and on the Diablo Range when i’m at home in the Bay Area. Granted, there’s always a few sections when I find myself really struggling when the climb gets above 14-15%. There’s something to be said about running a 2×10/11, but it’s hard to pass up the simplicity of a single-ring front.
    As always, great post and photos!

  • kyle von Hoetzendorff

    This is the best! All the shredding is so good. Foot out partying!

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      Thanks homie!

  • http://www.championdontstop.com geoff mcfetridge

    Bummed I did not ride with you when you were in town. Next time!

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      You’ll have to build that bike up! I’ll be back in February.

  • iplus51

    So a 38t Wolf Tooth (with a current SRAM 10-sp) is all one would need for a 1x setup? I want the simplicity on my CX rig as well. Thanks John for the great photos & write-ups.

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      38t front with an 11-28 would still be pretty tough for fire roads. I have a CX1 rear mech and the 32t cassette. Once CX season is over, I’ll swap the front from a 40t to a 38t and it’ll be good to go.

    • Morgan Taylor

      In order to keep the chain on up front, you need a “Type 2″ clutch rear derailleur, which is either a CX1 or a current-gen mountain derailleur like X9 etc.

      • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

        Not true, I ran a narrow wide front with a standard Force mech and never dropped a chain.

        • Morgan Taylor

          True: depending on the setup – how old the derailleur is, how much extra chain you’ve got, etc – it does work sometimes. I wouldn’t call it surefire, though.

        • boomforeal
          • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

            That’s in regards to a downhill bike. This is a cross bike. Sorry bro, ain’t taking shuttle runs in Whistler on my crossie.

          • boomforeal

            horses for courses, of course: the modern dh bike has suspension to help keep things orderly, which a cross bike does not, so it is possible to push both to the limit on different types of terrain and degrees of tech

            chains fall off, it happens. suggesting they don’t is silly; suggesting they don’t with a certain configuration because it hasn’t happend to you is confusing correlation with causation

            what i think sponsel is saying (i’ll try to paraphrase nicely) is that the “you don’t need X because i don’t have it and i never Y” line:

            1) isn’t helpful as advice, because there are lots of other variables other than the presence/absence of X (i.e. chainline, drive train wear, rider skill, terrain, etc.) that will determine how well a chain is retained on a given drive train (ok he wasn’t saying that, but it’s true), and

            2) shouldn’t be said/construed as a brag, because it kinda suggests you suck

          • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

            Oh, I get it and I understand. I shouldn’t have said “never”. In fact, as soon as it posted, I cringed, knowing you or someone else would pick up on it, but I was on my mobile at the time and editing is a pain.

            All I was stating was the fact that a non-clutch derailleur worked for me. I definitely wasn’t bragging but I should have explained myself better.

  • Ian Stone

    How are those Nano’s wearing for you?

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      Evenly. This is the second pair. I have a Knard on the front this round.

  • Nick Valdes

    Simply curious but are the geometries on your mudville and the new Stinner identical? I’m curious if you plan to set one up as the dirt road and travel bike and another as the ‘race bike.’

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      Identical geometries. I thought about lowering the BB a hair on the Stinner, but I want to race it still and prefer a higher BB for racing.

      • Nick Valdes

        I’ve never been a sram road group fan but the CX1 group changed my mind…now I just need a third cx bike. I can’t imagine giving up the double up front for long dirt rides.

  • tony365

    I love taking my cross bike up there! thanks for the photos mr Watson and yeah some of those grades are insanely steep. cheers.

  • https://twitter.com/heartattackride eric r

    I need to stop complaining about the stand over on my mountain bike…doesn’t look like you guys are hurt by a tall S.O. of CX’s.

  • multisportscott

    Hallelujah, cyclocross bikes are RAD!

  • Carl Anderson

    Great post and photos John! The one after dark with the city lights in the background is my fav. You are right on about the versatility of cross bikes and the application of 1x drive trains.

    I’ve looked in to going 1x, but I don’t race, and the limited gears on both ends has me content with 2×10. (I’m 1×9 all day on the mtb though)

    I love eh possibilities that a cross bike has opened up. I have explored more new terrain and singletrack this year than in my previous 10 living in Boise because cross bike > mtb with 2.4s!

  • Scott Tuers

    what jersey is sean wearing??thx…great pics!!

  • Luke

    Not sure how you went with the bent hanger but as a tip for next time the derailleur mount is M10 and so are most rear wheel axles. Remove the derailleur, borrow a mate’s rear wheel and screw it in, then align the new wheel with the rear wheel that’s still in the bike and presto, straightened hanger. Unless of course it’s aluminium and snaps off.

  • http://pablofrompuebla.tumblr.com Pablo Matus

    I run a single chainring on my Campy cranks with an 11-36 SRAM cassette on the back and a XT RD on my AC Nature Boy. After doing miles and miles of techy singletrack( I live in LA), solo brovets (fully loaded) up and down Gibraltar and such, I’ve found thats the golden ratio.
    I can race, do road rides and tour with the same set up all year long. Just wait till you wear out that cassette and stick a mtb cassette.

    • http://pablofrompuebla.tumblr.com Pablo Matus

      BTW, I did basically that same ride the day after you went. Did you stop at the Nature Center? You can put a turtle shell on as a hat.

    • Nagesh Seethiah

      How many teeth on your chainring on the front? I’ve just invested in a compact Campy crankset and want to go down a similar route.

      • http://pablofrompuebla.tumblr.com Pablo Matus

        Ups, 40t. Record cranks.

    • HH

      sorry if I’m missing something, but how are you running an RD on a Nature Boy?

      • http://pablofrompuebla.tumblr.com Pablo Matus

        I used a horizontal dropout adapter. A bit difficult to setnup at first but it works quite well.

  • david__g

    Where is Sean’s jersey from? I love it.

  • Sean Talkington

    Moi is the best dude! Hope you had a nice trip in LA John…

  • Danny B

    I’ve been running a poor mans CX1 for a year now (10 speed Rival with a X9 type2 RD). I have a 11-36 which serves me well for riding singletrack and long days riding up big hills. As for racing, 12-27 is my bag – any wider and the gaps just shit me. Again running a 40T Raceface NW ring up front, guideless – no drops either.

    While the CX1 RD is way nicer, 10-speed Rival-Force-Red works perfectly with 10-speed Sram MTB RDs (I’ve been running them like that for the past 4 years, both clutched and unclutched versions).

  • recurrecur

    #37 is a gorgeous shot, even if there’s no bikes in it…
    Tools of the trade?

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      Canon 5D Mkiii and the 24-70 mkii

  • Mark Hespenheide

    Nice! That’s some pretty serious shredding on ‘cross bikes — seems like there’s a full continuum between ‘cross, monstercross, and fully-rigid mountain bikes. I’ve got an old-school fully-rigid Ritchey that I need to put some drop-bars on and get out there…

  • hans

    love it up there, great shots dude

  • http://www.facebook.com/edITmusic edIT

    You guys are champs for riding the Verdugo pump track and La Tuna Single track on cross bikes. Kudos

  • Carl Anderson

    Which tires suck less on the pavement? Knards or nanos? Im wearing through my Clement MSOs and am thinking of getting something more aggressive for my next set of tires…

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      I don’t honestly notice a difference. The Knard’s tread pattern isn’t as aggressive, so I’d say they’re probably better.

  • Justin Kee

    What light are you using. Like it? In search of one. Thinking about the serfas 1000.

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      This is a NiteRider.