Handsling Bikes CXD
Handsling Bikes CXD
Words by Alan Dorrington and John Veness
Handsling Bikes CXD Cyclo-Cross Disc Frame Review
Alan Dorrington, long-time front runner in British cyclocross, previously aka Cross Junkie and founder of Fluent in Cross, and John Veness, by comparison a relative cross novice, not having raced it for 10 years, but with plenty of off-road race experience having been twice National British Veteran MTB Champ, both recently built up Handsling Bikes CXD cross frames. Here they discuss their approach to the build and their initial ride impressions…
The arrival of my new Handsling Bikes CXD frameset opened up the opportunity to build myself a race-specific bike to a chosen spec, with the parts that I wanted, rather than run with a manufacturer specced bike where inevitably some compromises would have been made for cost and ready availability of components.
So, in building up the CXD, each individual part could be chosen for either durability, weight, performance or a combination of all three. The CXD frame itself is strikingly finished in Handsling livery and combines practical solutions to the usual cyclo-cross conundrums of cable routing, clearance, carrying practicality and pleasing aesthetics. A huge bottom bracket shell promises stiffness, but without the shelf at the rear between downtube and rear tyre where mud can often collect unhelpfully.
Cable routing is internalised along much of the frame tubes meaning the top tube and down tube are ‘clean’ from cable interference, aiding carrying greatly. Clearance around the fork crown is more than ample and at the rear a wishbone arrangement again offers good clearance, particularly on the sidewalls of the tyres where mud tends to accumulate. Overall then, it appears really well thought out, rather than being a road frame ‘crossed up’ with little care or attention to the specific demands of the discipline.
As indicated, I tend to prefer an eclectic mix of components, partly out of practicality in use and partly for durability or ease of service during wet and muddy racing seasons. Single ring set-ups, with a thick-thin chain retention system, are increasingly popular and I have been running this on my ‘cross bikes for some time now. It saves weight, money and increases clearance with very few downsides.
Braking options for disc adopters were previously thin on the ground, but have now increased substantially though the choice is still mostly between simple mechanical, cable actuated set ups and full hydraulic systems. I still prefer the old-school BB7 cable set up – it is simple to use, very robust, doesn’t present odd pad wear dilemmas and is cheap to buy and install. Full hydraulic versions clearly give better feel but in pure 1 hour cyclocross races, braking is not usually the most important aspect of a lap and the BB7s do the job.
Bars and stem are simple, light alloy jobs for durability, with a concession made to a carbon seatpost to add a bit of comfort in the relatively rare event of the ground actually being anything less than soft and mud laden.
Where I do go for the best available is in tyres – tubulars to be precise. Artisan tubs are to be fair as much a fetish item for the keen crosser as a performance choice, but nevertheless a choice where significant gains in performance can be made from using a really high quality handmade (preferably in Brittany, France) tubular, lovingly glued to a light wheelset.
Handsling CXD XL frame and fork
Planet X Team Superlight bars and stem
FSA Carbon seatpost with Fizik Tundra K’ium saddle
SRAM Rival shifters (cheap to replace if damaged)
SRAM Red chainset (GXP bb) with absoluteBlack single ring 38 tooth
SRAM Red mech (stiff spring tension to retain chain on single ring)
Avid BB7 disc calipers
Various carbon disc wheelsets with tubulars according to ground conditions from FMB (Slalom, SuperMud, custom made Green Michelin Mud treads), Challenge (Grifo, Chicane) and Dugast (Small Bird).
I’ve been hammering around the streets of London for over 20 years now and especially during the winter I’ve long considered what would be the ideal bike configuration for reliability, simplicity and functionality for training and commuting over the harshest months from November to February.
As a long time mountain biker many of the properties’ of MTBs lend themselves to this task, such as sealed brake systems in the form of hydraulic disc brakes. But then there’s the application of slick tyres for road use and the swapping out suspension forks for rigid, all of which I’ve played around with over the years. The small wheels of a 26’ MTB and the off-road biased gearing always made things hard work especially if like me you’re not that keen or able to spin furiously. I also dabbled with fixed wheel bikes for a few years which was hard work over the 60 mile commute I used to undertake daily. This provided a very simple and cheap drive-train, but the usual issues with rain, salt and dirt penetrating the brake cables was always present.
Spending 3 hours a day getting to and from work gave me plenty of time to put together a wish list of what would constitute the perfect winter commuting/training bike. It basically looked like this: based on a road bike for large wheels, simplified gearing, sealed hydraulic disc brakes, reasonably light and fun to ride, comfortable. Technology has gradually caught up with what I wanted to do, disk brakes appeared on hybrid and cross bikes, initially mechanical cable operated, followed by an interim step of cable from the STI levers into a hydraulic actuator located on the stem or steerer tube. Finally, a couple of years ago, Shimano and SRAM perfected the design of a fully hydraulic STI lever with master cylinder and gear actuation in the same unit.
Initial prices were inevitably high for this new technology, so I’ve had to be patient before getting my hands on something suitable. SRAM have been a major player in driving innovation over the last few years. I’m fan of their engineering approach and quality of the products. I switched over from Shimano on my MTB and then road bike a few years ago, and have been super happy with the longevity and faultless gear shifting ever since. This helped my decision as to which system to use and over the last 6 months the occasional set of either Shimano or Sram has popped up for sale on eBay. I finally managed to purchase a used set of SRAM Force 1×11 hydroR levers a couple of months ago for £260. With these in the bag I knew which direction to go for the rest of the build.
I’ve had a Handsling Bikes carbon cyclocross disc frame and Handsling carbon tubeless disc wheels in storage for about 18-months waiting for the right components to mature and now is the moment to get them built up. I’ve developed a bit of a formula for my Handsling builds since completing a Handsling 29er and RR1 road bike. One of my old sponsors was Ritchey, so I always like to use them for bars, seatposts and saddles. Superstar components have some great kit for sale at competitive prices; I use their Zephir stem pimped with some black Ti bolts and orange face plate. I also purchased a 2nd set of wheels to be used for road or running off-road tubeless – a Stans NoTubes Grail wheelset – plus disc rotors and lightweight QR skewers. I decided to spec the Sram XD Driver hub on these which allows a very wide ratio cassette down to a 10T giving enough top end inches to keep up with guys on a road bike winter training run. This is required due to the single ring 44T narrow wide chainring I went with on the front.
Cranks are Force CX1 which now come with an improved bearing loading device in place of the wavey washer. The grey plastic spacer shown below winds out an inner section as its turned filling any gaps, reducing play and enabling just the right amount of pressure to be applied to the BB30 pressfit bearings. Just nip up with the allen bolt when correct.
Thanks to my previous experience of internally routed frame builds, I’ve learnt that it’s a good idea to get all the cables through before you start blocking up the frame orifices with headsets/forks, bottom brackets and seatposts. This makes access much easier if you need to find a cable end and assist its journey out of the frame through the correct cable stop. These frames come with two cable stop types which can be unscrewed and swapped for conventional cables or pass through for hydraulic hoses. There is also provision for electronic gear connection wires. The SRAM hydro hoses I’ve used come fitted with what they call a ‘Connectamajig’ which is a neat device to allow separation of the hose without brake fluid leak. It uses a sprung bearing to seal the line as the connectors are unscrewed and also means that you can very easily switch right hand lever to actuate the front or rear brake. The alloy end passes through the frame; its fractionally larger diameter than the hose, so a little filing of the frame stops was required to get it through.
The only other issue I had with the cable routing was over the bottom bracket guides, the rear mech cable was trapped with the plastic guide in place against the frame, it just needed removal and the groove filing a little deeper to free it up.
Everything else went together really well, finished off with some Thomson carbon CX bars, KMC X11SL chain, Xpedo Ti MTB pedals. The Vittoria off-road race tyres in the pics have been swapped for FBM Super Muds; road tyres are the Clement Strada 25mm LGG reviewed on Cycletechreview last year.
I’ve been riding it on the streets of London this week and enjoyed every second. Next I’ll be swapping out the roads wheels for the cyclocross carbons and heading off to Kent for my first cross race in ten years. Looking out of the window now at the rain makes me glad I went with the FMB Super Muds..!
First ride impressions can be mercurial things, with positive impressions taking more than one ride to filter into one’s consciousness, and often only becoming truly apparent under race conditions. However, the CXD stood out immediately in a number of areas – stiffness, stability and chuckability. Oh, and weight.
It rides like a full on race bike – accelerating with a vivid quality under power, cruising at speed over challenging terrain and feeling delightfully light and comfortable when picking up or shouldering. Interestingly, it also passed the stability under dismount test with flying colours, giving a planted feeling when coasting at speed into barriers or before a run up.
More riding and racing will reveal how the CXD handles in more challenging conditions, but for now I am more than happy with the chuckability, apparent raceability and startling lightness this frame gives.
First event on the spanking new machine proved to be a muddy one. Great course for me, basically a small mountain bike lap – zig-zagging down a hill, fast slippy section along the bottom, boggy technical climb before the final fire road section back to the top.
The night before I was having concerns about the one layer of tub tape I’d used to ‘stick’ on the tyres with. Just to check how well they were attached, I tried to roll one with my thumbs; it came right off. Front and rear were equally poor. In desperation I pulled off the tyres and added a second layer of tape to pad the rim out. This made quite a lot of difference and they seemed much firmer once re-stuck.
With this in mind I was slightly concerned as was my fellow team mate Rob, who kindly gave me a lift down, proffered technical advice regarding gluing tubs and the superiority of this method over tape…
We managed a couple of practice laps of the circuit before our race, the Masters 40+. The bike was awesome, drifting around the corners, FMB’s biting in through the gloop, so much fun, and so easy to handle. I was chucking it all over the place instantly, very light and responsive. Great traction on the climb, and I was just OK with the gearing of 44 front and 28 max rear. Tyres held on fine so all good to go for the start.
My first race, so right at the back of the grid with plenty of work to do passing riders ahead. Fortunately they moved us away from the start area, down the hill on the fire road, so I had some time and space to pass as many as possible before the first corner. I made good ground and carried on working up through riders on every section. By the start of the 4th lap, I had made it up to 3rd place and passed another teammate Paul in the 50+ cat; nice to get some encouragement on the way through! Then carved into a fairly fast left-hand hairpin, tyres finding grip somewhere for a while, until the front let go dumping me on the ground. Well that’s what I hoped. Unfortunately, the inevitable had happened and the tub had rolled off the rim. The end of my race. Real shame with a strong finish on the cards.
So off to purchase some tub glue and psych myself up ready for the next round in two weeks…
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