I recently tried out the Handsling CEXevo cyclo-cross bike at a couple of pre-season summer races. So how did it handle?
The Handsling CEXevo is the first Handsling frame to be designed “in-house”, though the evo in the name is derived from the fact that it’s a mould evolution of their “race and championship winning CEX frame“; a Handsling won the SE Regional Junior cyclocross championship.
First off you may be asking, “Who are Handsling?” Now based in the leafy cycling haven of Hampshire, Handsling was born out of a small London based race team. When the time came to look for a new bike supplier, the team made the decision to source their own bespoke frames from the Far East. After a while other riders started to ask whether they could get one of the frames and so a business was born.
A little history…
This all happened back in 2015 and since then Handsling have gone on to produce a range of road, cyclocross and track frames. Riders on Handsling bikes have won over twenty UK national championships in various disciplines, which is a great endorsement. They also produce their own carbon wheels, all hand-built by master wheel builder, Ian Lynch. A pair of early models were on the test bike.
How does the CEXevo differ from it’s predecessor?
So how do you go about improving on an already successful bike? Handsling decided to look at five areas. These were frame material, weight, stiffness, mud clearance and comfort.
Carbon Fibre Choice
The first change was to the material the CEXevo was made from. Handsling chose Toray 800 series fibre to reduce weight and increase stiffness. T800 carbon fibre is used to make a lighter frame than the previously used T700, whilst still retaining stiffness and durability; very handy for a bike that will spend a lot of time in the muck, taking knocks.
The change to T800 meant less carbon-fibre was needed in the frame. Less carbon-fibre meant the CEXevo was able to shed a little weight, while still retaining similar stiffness. According to Handsling a 52cm frame tips the scales at 870g, while the fork is 370g. Less weight means those run-ups and hurdles should be that little bit easier over an hour.
How does fibre lay up and direction help?
Race bikes need to be stiff, you don’t want all that power you’re producing wasted by a floppy frame. Although there is less carbon in the CEXevo, T800’s properties still produce a stiff frame. Another advantage of using carbon-fibre is that engineers can add or remove material where it’s needed. So high stress areas can have extra fibre added, while low stress ones get less.
As well as adding material, the direction of the fibres has a big effect on the frames properties. Clever orientation of the fibres can add or remove flex. Handsling’s engineers worked through all this, with the frames being tested to destruction at the factory. All this means I can happily throw the end result around without having to worry about breakages.
It’s not just the frame material that has helped reduce un-wanted flex. The CEXevo uses 15mm front and 12mm rear thru axles. These help minimise the twisting forces the fork suffers when braking. They also ensure your discs slot into position every time, eliminating any brake rub.
The next area Handsling looked at was mud clearance. Mud, to some it’s an essential part of ‘cross racing. For me? It’s a massive pain! If you’re lucky enough to have two bikes and pit monkeys to clean them between laps, great. For the rest of us having a bike that can keep going despite the gunk is a major asset.
To aid in the battle against the brown stuff, Handsling removed the rear brake bridge, not needed now thanks to disc brakes. With clearance for tyres up to 45mm, there’s plenty of room when running normal 33mm cyclo-cross tyres. So you should be ok in all but the claggy-est of bogs.
The CEXevo has some rear flex available; can you say vertical compliance? While not a major issue in most ‘cross races, comfort becomes a factor in longer gravel type events. If you’re riding something like the CX Century anything that keeps you going is a bonus. Handsling also claim that this vertical compliance helps the rear end stay in contact on rough ground. That’s something that will come in handy on dry summer ‘cross races.
Time to get dirty with the Handsling CEXevo.
So enough of the facts, what’ the CEXevo like to ride? I had a CEXevo to play with for a couple of summer cyclo-cross races, the best place to test out a race orientated bike. While there wasn’t any mud, there was plenty of sweat and effort.
The 52cm model was the first pre-production bike fitted with Shimano Ultegra Di2 and used for testing. It was the same size as my own Handsling CXC, with some subtle differences. Among these are a lowered bottom-bracket which adds stability and improves cornering. Another change is the top-tube which has been lengthened, while the wheel base has shortened. Head and seat tube angles have been slackened by half a degree.
My first ride on any new cyclo-cross bike involves a quick blast around the local recreation ground. Dodging around the trees and sprinting up the little slope gives me a rough idea on how the bike handles. This one was a well used bike with an extra aggressive set-up – slammed stem!
It took a little while for me to adapt to the new geometry and set-up. The steering felt quicker despite the slack angles and extreme stem position. I found I was having to adjust my braking to avoid the front end tucking in. After half an hour of playing slalom around the trees, I felt a lot better.
Practising fast ‘cross starts was a joy. The CEXevo came equipped with Crank Bros Candy pedals, which made clipping in simple. I run their Eggbeaters myself, but hadn’t tried the Candys. The large platform made clipping in fast and while I’m not sure how they’d handle a really muddy race, they were perfect for the summer.
Once you’re clipped in and accelerating away the Shimano Di2 Ultegra shifting is spot on. On dry, fast courses you cannot beat electronic shifting. My only worry is that on double ring set-ups like this, the front mech can be a bit of a mud magnet. Easily solved by running a single of course, so maybe worth looking at.
Of course with all that added stiffness, you can relax knowing that the designers have done everything they can to make sure your effort is rewarded. The CEXevo rockets away and compared to my CXC the rear end stayed planted without me having to think about it. Whether this is down to those compliant seat-stays or the overall geometry I couldn’t say, but it works.
The stiffness and compliant rear end came in handy on one long gravelly climb, allowing me to smash my personal best. However, I had to work hard…
When reviewing bikes, you don’t often get a chance to specify your particular set-up. Often stems, saddles, bars, even frame size will be not exactly what you want. In this case the CEXevo was close to what I normally ride, apart from the gearing. While the 46-36 chainrings are standard for ‘cross, the 11-25 on the back was not my first choice!
So while others were able to sit and spin up the hill, I was out of the saddle and pumping. Much to my delight, the changes meant the rear wheel stayed in contact with the bumpy surface. Normally I would expect some rear wheel spin from the torque and lack of weight over the rear. Instead the CEXevo kept in contact with the gravel and I was even able to pass some of the youngsters!
Handling through the twisty sections was good, although I would prefer a couple of spacers under the stem as the low set-up did leave me feeling a little heavy on the front, but that’s easily cured by raising the stem from it’s slammed ‘road’ set-up.
Handsling Tubeless Wheelset
A quick word on the wheels used in this test, which use Handsling’s own rims, matched to DT Swiss hubs – tubeless, of course! They easily handled the infamous, bike eating course that is Frylands.
Frylands is a nightmare in the wet, with mud and leaves locking up bikes and often ripping off mechs. Come the summer the rock hard flint, rubble and nail strewn tracks eat tyres and wheels. Many a rider has DNF’ed here; some have never completed it!
So it’s a no small feat to report that the the Handsling wheels – shod with Schwalbe X-One All Round tyres – completed the race. No punctures, burps or cracked rims, all things that happen on this course. The 40mm deep rims are wide at 30mm, with 23mm internal width. The profile makes for an improved aero profile when paired with 25-28mm road tyes. Off road aero isn’t as important; here I’m more concerned that they handle the rough surfaces, while being light enough to handle the sudden accelerations typical of ‘cross. The internal width gives a really good seat for tubeless tyres and allows them to take on a broad shape, aiding traction and resilience.
Part of the wheel’s success is down to how they are built. They are produced in-house by Handsling’s own ‘master wheel-builder’, Ian Lynch. In my mind you cannot beat hand-built wheels. Being able to specify exactly what type of wheel you want is one of life’s joys. Although building by hand sounds low-tech, Ian is anything but, and has developed his own software that records every detail of each wheel, details like individual spoke tension. These details can be recovered later by checking the serial number embedded in the carbon.
While the CEXevo is available as a frame only option, Handsling do offer various builds and finishing kits. Handsling also offer a custom paint option when buying one of their bikes. Looking around I see that most of their customers go for this, so would I. The chance to get a bike specced how I want and in my colours? Yes please!
Handsling CEXevo G-Spec
Interestingly Handsling also offer the CEXevo in a gravel option, the G-Spec. With a few small changes you can go from weekday commuter to weekend warrior. The G-Spec set-up would make for a great fast do-it-all bike. Fatter road tyres allow you to tackle rough tracks, without feeling slow. The G-spec would be perfect for a gravel sportive, or tackling anything with cobbles.
The CEXevo proved itself to be an excellent cyclo-cross race machine. I was lucky enough to have it for two races, where it out performed my own Handsling CXC, not a surprise as it is an evolution of the first models. Handsling have listened to their team riders and made small changes that improve on a race-winning design.
In my opinion, if you had to buy just one race orientated bike, you couldn’t go wrong with the CEXevo. And once the cyclo-cross season is over, you’ll find that a fast ‘cross bike converts to a fast road bike.