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OPINION

If it's good enough for Vin Cox...

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My search for a bike as traditional, elegant, comfortable, understated and solid as I am.

Can there be many things in life that offer more satisfaction than getting a new bike and making it your own? I don’t think so.

I wanted something tough enough to take onto the Downs but quick enough to use for winter club rides. I wanted to be able to stick a rack on it if I ever get round to the touring I keep promising myself I’ll do. I wanted old man gearing, none of your 46/36 11-25 CX nonsense. Perhaps the deciding factor, although it took me a while to identify it, was that I wanted my new bike to be made of steel. Garish carbon CX racers are all wrong for me; I wanted something traditional, elegant, comfortable, understated and solid – a bit like my good self I suppose.

My search led me fairly quickly to the Genesis Croix de Fer 931, which I found on offer at Evans. Riding the Genesis after my Enigma Etape, the only sticking point was its weight, which weighed heavily on me for a few weeks before I took the plunge. My other choices – a Canyon, a Giant, a Rose, and a Kinesis – are all lighter, CX race-orientated machines that would undoubtedly have been nimbler and quicker than the Genesis. But my Enigma’s lighter and nimbler than the Genesis. That’s not what I needed, I told myself, repeating the old ‘it’s not a race’ mantra while every other cyclist on the road overtook me with depressingly little effort.

Weight aside, the Croix de Fer was remarkably comfortable straight out of the box. My Enigma was made for me and I’ve had four years to make marginal comfort gains on what was already a very plush ride, but there still wasn’t a huge gulf between that and the unadjusted Genesis.

But of course a bike’s not your bike until it’s been tweaked so I got tweaking pretty much straight away. First was the saddle. Out with the uninspiring Genesis perch and in with a beautiful, black, Ti-railed Brooks Swallow. It looked at home immediately.

Next were the tyres. Off came the wire-rimmed Conti CX Speeds, which seemed too smooth to be of much use off-road and too lardy to be any fun on the road. As it’s in winter trainer mode, I chose 28c Gatorskins, which brightened things up immediately (once I’d got the buggers onto the Alex rims, which nearly cost me my sanity and the use of my hands). I put some guards on too, to save that lovely saddle.

Then the bars: there was nothing inherently wrong with the own-brand bars it came with, so I could have left them well alone. But I spotted the Salsa Cowbell 2s at the London Bike Show and immediately knew they were for me. They’re shallower than the Genesis bars, with a smoother curve and a slight outward flare and that makes them super-comfortable. I can sit in those drops all day long – and I’m guessing it’ll be my position of choice when I take the bike off-road.

That left two obvious upgrade possibilities: the wheels and the fork. I turned to Strada for the wheels. I knew I wanted H Plus Son Archetype rims and the Strada team suggested Novatec hubs and Sapim D-Light spokes to build something strong, comfortable and not too expensive. They were right: the new wheels didn’t save much weight but the ride was clearly smoother and more comfortable straight away. And they do look the business!

And finally, the fork... My friend at the bike shop wants me to swap the functional chromoly Genesis fork for a carbon Kinesis CX alternative but I’m not sure I agree. It might save me half a kilo but I’m not sure carbon would be right on this bike. And anyway, who cares about half a kilo (he asks, through gritted teeth)?

Lifelong lover of most things cycling-related, from Moulton Mini adventures in the 70s to London bike messengering in the 80s, commuting in the 90s, mountain biking in the noughties and road cycling throughout. Editor of Simpson Magazine (www.simpsonmagazine.cc). 

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33 comments

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snifter83 | 9 years ago
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Lovely looking bike. I've had the standard, black Croix de Fer for about 18 months and have really been enjoying it. Yes, its a bit heavy, but its so versatile. I'm able to keep up on the intermediate level club runs and I'm sure the extra weight is good for my fitness - I'm continually telling myself that it'll pay dividends when I buy a lightweight racer.....we'll see about that.

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Choco | 9 years ago
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Nice, I thought you'd stolen a picture of my own steed for a second. A well thought out ride, just missing a neat dynamo setup.

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kcr | 9 years ago
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Never heard of a croix de fer rusting like that before.

There's another one parked in the racks at work, and it's rusting in the same places, so doesn't seem to be unique to me.

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jellysticks | 9 years ago
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That is a fantastic looking bike Mr Thomas.

I'd absolutely love a bike like that - I'm sure carbon/hydroformed alloy is very good/light/stiff etc. for racing but it is so incredibly ugly, especially with massive blocky logos and acronyms all over it. This Genesis is gorgeous - sleek, classy and understated. It would suit the riding I do - different types over different terrains at a mid-to-reasonable pace (I'm too lazy to get involved in any racing).

I'd also love to do a massive tour somewhere. Some day...

My one reservation about the bike would be the bottle cages...different colours and look a bit race/weight weenie to me. But then it's not my bike.

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Birney29 | 9 years ago
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Never heard of a croix de fer rusting like that before.

What sort of warranty do Genesis offer on their frames? Can't find anything on the website.

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kcr | 9 years ago
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I've got a Croix de Fer frame for my commuting bike. As a disc equipped utility frame, it is well designed, but the paint work quality isn't great. Mine is less than two years old and it is rusting all over the place; around welding holes, cable mounts, joint welds, etc. It's a work bike, so I can live with the fact that that it looks really tatty, but if you're the sort of person who worries about how your bike looks, and you are going to be using it a lot, beware!

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Martin Thomas replied to kcr | 9 years ago
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kcr wrote:

I've got a Croix de Fer frame for my commuting bike[...]and it is rusting all over the place [...] if you're the sort of person who worries about how your bike looks, and you are going to be using it a lot, beware!

That's not good. Mine's 931 though so it should be much more resistant to rust. Here's hoping...

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psychonabike | 9 years ago
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Lovely looking bike, big fan. I bought a second hand Croix last year, so it's the old white one. I've been treating it to new bits and pieces- saddle, post that sort of thing. I replaced the rear mech for a long cage 105 so could run a 32 big sprocket at the back which really helps for touring. My big splurge though was some new wheels- Hope Pro2 hubs with Mavic open pros, which have made it so much more responsive and comfortable than the stock wheels. If I was starting again (and had some money!) I'd go the 931 frame, same wheels but a triple up front- then it'd do anything!

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Butros | 9 years ago
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General question for you knowledgable types; I have some schwalbe durrano 700x28c tyres, will they fit the h-plus archetype rims? I would have thought so

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Vin Cox replied to Butros | 9 years ago
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I had 28c Schwalbe Durranos in the Criox De Fer I broke the around-the-world Record on. I think they'll be okay in a newer model too.
BTW, they last a long time. One set got me to Singapore from the UK!

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Martin Thomas replied to Vin Cox | 9 years ago
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Vin Cox wrote:

I had 28c Schwalbe Durranos in the Criox De Fer I broke the around-the-world Record on. I think they'll be okay in a newer model too.
BTW, they last a long time. One set got me to Singapore from the UK!

Nice to see your name pop up here Vin. Having used my Croix de Fer for an overnight ride from London to the Essex coast and back last weekend, I am even more full of admiration for your round-the-world feat than I was before - which is saying something! Hats off to you  1

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Martin Thomas replied to Butros | 9 years ago
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Butros wrote:

General question for you knowledgable types; I have some schwalbe durrano 700x28c tyres, will they fit the h-plus archetype rims? I would have thought so

Don't see why not.

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124g | 9 years ago
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This is a lovely looking cycle, I have the boardman CX which I have to say is a lovely do anything piece of kit. I looked at the genesis as a possible but couldn't get a ride on one to compare.

Have you ridden the board man if so how did it compare? I find myself thinking that I should sell the mtn bike and the boardman and get myself something like this, I do enjoy off roading though so would fit wider tyres. But the ability to have a rack for touring is a must.

Lastly how much did the build cost you if you don't mind me asking ?

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Martin Thomas replied to 124g | 9 years ago
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124g wrote:

Have you ridden the board man if so how did it compare? I find myself thinking that I should sell the mtn bike and the boardman and get myself something like this, I do enjoy off roading though so would fit wider tyres. But the ability to have a rack for touring is a must.

Lastly how much did the build cost you if you don't mind me asking ?

The only other bike I tested before buying this was a Kinesis Decade Tripster ATR, which was completely gorgeous and would have been my 1st choice if only my boiler hadn't exploded and thus punched a big hole in the new bike fund.

All in, this cost me around £2.2k I think - but the saddle was a gift (would normally cost a stonking £250 on its own) and the bike was on offer at Evans. £1.8k instead of £2k. Not cheap - but then it will hopefully last a bit  1

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RW replied to Martin Thomas | 8 years ago
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Hi Martin, I'm considering a Tripster ATR build myself but am in Australia so can't test one. How did it compare to your Etape In terms of nimbleness and speed?

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Martin Thomas replied to RW | 8 years ago
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RW wrote:

Hi Martin, I'm considering a Tripster ATR build myself but am in Australia so can't test one. How did it compare to your Etape In terms of nimbleness and speed?

I loved the Tripster ATR. If I'd had the money I might well have gone for it over the Genesis. But I didn't have the money - and it was too similar to the Enigma to make much sense really - and the gearing was wrong for me too. Directly comparing it to the Enigma: it felt more solid (and heavier). A little slower but pretty similar handling, i.e. nimble enough for me (although I'm not sure I really understood what nimble felt like until I got my SuperSix) and lots of fun. I can't remember smiling quite as much as I did when I took the ATR into the woods for a bit of muddy singletrack action on my test ride. Overall, incredibly versatile, really nicely put together and hugely appealing. I totally get why it was road.cc's bike of the year.

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Iwein Dekoninck | 9 years ago
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The Kinesis fork will give you loads more clearance (though with 28s under the guards, you probably have enough with the Genesis fork), as well as weight saving.

Brake judder: check that your headset is as tight as it could be. That fixed it for me.

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KiwiMike | 9 years ago
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Nice writeup. I recently did almost exactly this for my wife's new ride:

Genesis CdF
Conti GP 4 Seasons
SKS Raceblade Long's (note custom-tuned front LHS stay  3 )
Specialized womens saddle
Bontrager narrow bar / shorter stem (after having bikefit done)
Tektro RL721 topmount brake levers
Shimano Deore CS-HG-61-9 12-36T cogset
Shimano Deore RDM-592 rear mech, capable of 36T
Shimano A530 touring pedals

Certainly not the lightest bike out there - but we know it fits her perfectly, has bomb- and weather-proof brakes, rattle-free quick-release full mudguards, can climb up anything, and the whole package was under £1000.

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Butros | 9 years ago
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That bike looks awesome

I have just fitted a kinesis cx fork on my Equilibrium disk, purely cos I had one for another build (tinkering for tinkering's sake), a lot lighter and looks ok but think there is a bit of juddering under hard braking.. May swap it out again, or just tinker some more

What guards are they?

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Martin Thomas replied to Butros | 9 years ago
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Butros wrote:

That bike looks awesome

I have just fitted a kinesis cx fork on my Equilibrium disk, purely cos I had one for another build (tinkering for tinkering's sake), a lot lighter and looks ok but think there is a bit of juddering under hard braking.. May swap it out again, or just tinker some more

What guards are they?

Interesting that you're getting juddery braking with the carbon fork. I wonder if you still would if you went for a more exotic fork. Did you really notice/appreciate the weight saving?

The guards are regular SKS Chromoplastics, good for up to 28c tyres. Bit tight, but no rubbing.
http://www.sks-germany.com/?l=en&a=product&r=mudguards&i=999999999&CHROM...

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Butros replied to Martin Thomas | 9 years ago
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Martin Thomas wrote:
Butros wrote:

That bike looks awesome

I have just fitted a kinesis cx fork on my Equilibrium disk, purely cos I had one for another build (tinkering for tinkering's sake), a lot lighter and looks ok but think there is a bit of juddering under hard braking.. May swap it out again, or just tinker some more

What guards are they?

Interesting that you're getting juddery braking with the carbon fork. I wonder if you still would if you went for a more exotic fork. Did you really notice/appreciate the weight saving?

The guards are regular SKS Chromoplastics, good for up to 28c tyres. Bit tight, but no rubbing.
http://www.sks-germany.com/?l=en&a=product&r=mudguards&i=999999999&CHROM...

It's very faint juddering, could be down to my lousy fitting (not convinced the crown race my LBS put on, but that could be lack of knowledge on my part), it's first attempt at fork change. Also I wasn't aware it was a possibily until I read about it the other day so maybe I'm looking for it.
I have noticed a handling difference, could be down to subtle reduction in wheelbase? Feels lighter anyway.

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notfastenough replied to Butros | 9 years ago
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Butros wrote:
Martin Thomas wrote:
Butros wrote:

That bike looks awesome

I have just fitted a kinesis cx fork on my Equilibrium disk, purely cos I had one for another build (tinkering for tinkering's sake), a lot lighter and looks ok but think there is a bit of juddering under hard braking.. May swap it out again, or just tinker some more

What guards are they?

Interesting that you're getting juddery braking with the carbon fork. I wonder if you still would if you went for a more exotic fork. Did you really notice/appreciate the weight saving?

The guards are regular SKS Chromoplastics, good for up to 28c tyres. Bit tight, but no rubbing.
http://www.sks-germany.com/?l=en&a=product&r=mudguards&i=999999999&CHROM...

It's very faint juddering, could be down to my lousy fitting (not convinced the crown race my LBS put on, but that could be lack of knowledge on my part), it's first attempt at fork change. Also I wasn't aware it was a possibily until I read about it the other day so maybe I'm looking for it.
I have noticed a handling difference, could be down to subtle reduction in wheelbase? Feels lighter anyway.

Could the shift in weight distribution be to blame? Not enough weight on the front end relative to the weight of the rest of the bike...

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n1cko | 9 years ago
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why has the Day One Alfine 11 never been reviewed? this being THE Vin Cox bike.

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richcc | 9 years ago
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I've just bought the vanilla Croix de Fer and am really enjoying it. Using it for my commute at the moment. Was thinking about the bike on the ride in - there's almost a perverse illogic to it but in a way it's a bike that I didn't know how much I needed until I bought it.

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wrevilo | 9 years ago
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The newest Kinesis CXDISC wheels look good...

http://www.kinesisbikes.co.uk/products/wheels/crosslight-cxdisc

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flandrianbest | 9 years ago
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Looks like you did a pretty good job of fitting those guards. I hear discs are pretty difficult to negotiate.

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Martin Thomas replied to flandrianbest | 9 years ago
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I wish I could claim credit for the guard fitting. It's a beautiful job - but it was the very skilful Paul at Rule 5 Bikes in Brighton who did it. I have enough trouble fitting them to the other bike...wasn't going to get into bending struts etc.

And yeah those Kinesis wheels look good - but I don't know how much lighter they'd be once you factor in the discs.

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vw_mtbiker | 9 years ago
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If you were after weight saving on the wheels what would you have chosen?

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Martin Thomas replied to vw_mtbiker | 9 years ago
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To be honest I'm not sure. I don't really know my CX wheels - which I think is what I'd want to feel safe off road. I'd have asked the chaps at Strada for their advice I guess. But I imagine it would cost a fair bit to achieve the same kind of strength while losing any appreciable weight.

BTW, thanks to MNgraveur for not taking the piss out of me for calling the bars Cowhorns  1

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MNgraveur replied to Martin Thomas | 9 years ago
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Martin Thomas wrote:

To be honest I'm not sure. I don't really know my CX wheels - which I think is what I'd want to feel safe off road. I'd have asked the chaps at Strada for their advice I guess. But I imagine it would cost a fair bit to achieve the same kind of strength while losing any appreciable weight.

BTW, thanks to MNgraveur for not taking the piss out of me for calling the bars Cowhorns  1

We're very nice here in MN, USA.

I've got HED Belgium wheels btw. Like them a lot. But I don't obsess over wheels that much, so what do I know?

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