Wiggle CX Century – Preparing the Bike
Ok, let’s get this out of the way straight off, yes the most efficient and comfortable way to ride one hundred miles off road, is with an MTB. Huge tyres, full suspension and disc brakes will get you there, no worries. So why ride the CX Century on a cyclo-cross bike? They have skinny tyres, cantilever brakes – generally – and absolutely no suspension.
A ‘cross bike is a road bike adapted to thrash around a muddy field for an hour, surely that means it isn’t going to be at home on ‘proper’ off road territory? Well yes and no. While an MTB can certainly travel faster over rocks and roots, using it’s suspension to absorb the shocks that would slow a ‘cross bike down, a ‘cross bike ridden well can deal with quite a lot of off-road gnarliness.
And while a modern MTB is designed to travel at speed over tricky, technical terrain, smoothing out the hits and bumps that would wear a rider down – or just throw them off! – it means that a route like the South Downs Way becomes slightly less of a challenge. All that technology has made it, well not easy, but certainly a lot easier than it was when I first rode it back in the late 80’s. Using a ‘cross bike on the South Downs Way brings the challenge of the CX Century back to one of rider versus the route, rather than rider+technology versus the route.
My choice of ride for the CX Century is my team Handsling CXC. This my first ‘proper’ ‘cross bike that is truly mine. It’s light, stiff, climbs like a goat – when I have my goat legs on – and looks stunning, I think, in orange and blue, what more could I ask? I’ve added a few comfort touches for the ride that are a little different from my usual set-up.
First and, in my opinion, biggest game changing alteration for the CXC is a set of 40mm wide Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres. I’m running these bouncy bad boys tubeless. Now Smart Sam’s are not officially tubeless ready tyres, but they can be quite easily run as tubeless with a wide rimmed wheel, an old inner tube, some sealant and tubeless valves. In fact I can’t believe how easy it was after reading so many horror stories!
So why bother with tubeless on a ‘cross bike? I usually ride clinchers on my ‘cross bike. It’s a cost thing and that means having to run them a lot harder than you can tubulars, as you are always worried about pinch punctures. Taking out the tubes and running tubeless has meant I can now run my tyres as low as 30psi and sometimes lower, without worrying about the dreaded snakebite. This means I get the benefits of better grip and comfort that I was missing out on with clinchers.
I first tried my tubeless set up on the Surrey Gravel Cross Sportive and found that I could ride the bike in a completely different way. Not having to worry about flatting after crashing over rocks and roots, meant I could now go a lot faster. It also gave me more options when picking my line. Added to this is improved climbing ability; lower pressures let you climb better. I presume this is down to the lower pressure allowing the tyre carcass to spread out more. More grip to the rear means no more spinning out and more of your effort goes to getting you up that climb.
Schwalbe’s Smart Sam also had another plus in their favour, they come in a posterior pleasing 40mm size. That means a larger volume of air to cushion my tush! I plumped for the lighter, though less protected, standard Smart Sam rather than the ‘Plus’ version. The Plus tyre has an extra 3mm of protection under the tread, as well as Schwalbe’s Snakeskin sidewall protection. The latter can be very useful on the flint studded trails of Sussex but the weight difference is about 300g per tyre. Smart Sam’s retail for under £20, which is a great price for an amazing tyre.
The wheels for this attempt aren’t tubeless specific in any way. They are some unbranded touring wheels, tough but light. Their main attraction was a wide rim that would allow me to work some DIY tubeless magic. So far they have proved reliable, fairly smooth and haven’t held me back on any of the climbs.
I’ll be running SRAM’s CX1 set up, with a 40t chainring and 12-36 cassette. The simplicity of the set-up in the winter, with less places for the mud to lodge, also means a lighter bike. The super wide range of teeth on the cassette have been fine on my South Downs Way training loops, getting me up a couple of short steep climbs after Black Cap, and winching me up and over Windover Hill…
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