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XLS Vs Dirty Disco

Cyclocross racing is still quite niche here in the UK, but it's been around for almost as long as cycling itself and is a way of life for many on the Continent. Once a purely winter pastime, cyclocross is now a year-round pursuit - even here in the UK - as sponsored rider Dave Haygarth tells us in his recent article on Summer Cross.

Whatever time of year you do it, cyclocross is hard and it is dirty. It is largely off road, around tight circuits designed to force riders to jump off and run with their bikes at regular intervals with short, steep climbs and descents, obstacles and hairpin corners. Riders often have to push their bikes even on the straights because the mud often gets so thick. With hundreds of riders passing dozens of times through a tight circuit, the ground soon gets churned up into a morass that clogs up wheels and chains and brings bikes to a grinding halt. The more technically proficient riders can last longer on the bike, but sooner or later everyone will be pushing on certain sections!

Cyclocross bikes are highly specialised to deal with the unique challenges of these races. The primary difference with standard road bikes is the tyres. Cyclocross bikes have much wider tyres - sometimes up to 40mm - and are kept at a lower pressure to maintain traction in the mud and prevent the bike from simply sinking into the sludge and stopping dead. Larger tyres also help soak up the uneven offroad terrain. Because of all that mud, cyclocross frames are designed with clearance not just for bigger tyres but also the vast amount of earth that will inevitably be stuck to them. Calliper brakes are eschewed in favour of disc and cantilever brakes and extra mud clearance is also provided around the chainset for the same reason. Geometry is less aggressive than a standard road bike with a more upright rider position that makes it easier to tackle the more technical circuits.

While designed for a very specific form of racing, these features actually make cyclocross bikes great all-rounders. They maintain enough features of standard road bikes to still be very capable on the tarmac, but are unafraid of venturing off it when required. Wider tyres are more comfortable whatever terrain you are riding on and here in Yorkshire the roads aren't often that much better than the trails anyway! The more upright geometry is well-suited for longer excursions or relaxed leisure riding. With the proliferation of disc brakes on cross bikes in recent years, they can now offer much better wet-weather braking than most road bikes with much less maintenance. As such, they're great for winter trainers or commuters. In fact, our sponsored cyclcross racer Alan Dorrington enjoys riding his bike on the road just as much as in the mud!

We have two cyclocross bikes, the Planet X XLS and the On-One Dirty Disco. Both feature carbon fibre frames, but the similarities end there and there are some significant differences between the two, befitting of the different brands...

Planet X XLS Shimano 105 Cyclocross Bike

Simply put, the XLS is the racer's choice. The full carbon monocoque frame and forks have been designed with stiffness at the front of our minds so that every possible watt that leaves your legs comes out in forward motion. The last thing you want when you've got mud bogging you down is for your frame to be soaking up energy as well. This stiffness translates to agility in technical terrain as well, allowing you to punch up hills on the bike when riders on lesser frames might be getting off to push. Accelerating off the start line to get the all-important front-of-the-pack position is a breeze, as is getting back to speed after a tricky slower section.

Adorning this frame is a Shimano 105 groupset with Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes and Shimano's cross-specific 46/36T FC-CX50 chainset. Along with an 11-28T cassette at the back, that gives you all the right gears for slogging through the bog and sprinting to the finish alike. The Shimano WH-RX05 wheelset is shod with Continental CycloX-King tyres, designed specifically for cyclocross racing with a fast, grippy tread pattern.

On-One Dirty Disco Carbon Cyclocross Bike

The Dirty Disco is designed with more of an emphasis on comfort in rough terrain. The carbon fibre in the frame is laid up to allow for more compliance, so less of the jolts hitting your wheels make it through into your handlebars and saddle. There is slightly more clearance for even bigger tyres (or even more mud!), again aiding performance in the rough stuff. It's still an accomplished racer, but with a less aggressive rider position.

The frame is built up with SRAM Rival shifting, which is a favourite amongst cyclocross racers for its light weight and reliability in poor conditions. A 50/34T compact chainset boosts road performance for those looking for a commuter or winter trainer, and the On-One Reet'ard Wheelset is incredibly durable whatever the bike is used for.

 

Conclusion

Alan Dorrington has ridden both these bikes from the top flights of the UK cyclocross race scene to winter road training and simple trail bashing. Here's what he had to say:

"The design, angles and tube profile of the XLS combined with its relatively short headtube lends itself better to flat out, punching-in-and-out of corners 'cross racing. The Disco also races well for sure, but for me is perhaps the more accomplished all-rounder. If I was to choose the better winter trainer it might be the Disco, as it is that little bit more comfortable with a more compliant back end than the tight and stiffer XLS."

We're not going to argue with a professional with Alan's experience, but we think he's bang on the money anyway!

4 August 2014