It’s 2010, we’re in Milton Keynes (no, don’t nod off yet), and Gary Fisher, The Father of Mountain Biking*, has made foray into road bikes with the Cronus Ultimate.
Here’s the deal: in 2010, Trek found itself with a quirky road range helmed by innovative cycling legend Gary Fisher, Greg Lemond having left the building in a flurry of lawsuits.
Luckily for Trek, its 1990s strategy of hoovering up brands started by innovative cycling legends means it still has a couple knocking about the place. Okay, they’re all mountain biking legends and Gary Klein has fallen by wayside, but Keith Bontrager has already become Trek’s wheels and components guru across road and mountain bike so why can’t Gary Fisher launch a road range? He’s defo an innovator. Not only has he fathered mountain biking, he’s also been right there at the birth of the 29er**, a mountain bike with road bike-sized wheels… so he’s halfway there already.
It depends on your definition of 'disaster'. Gary Fisher road bikes didn’t sell in any great numbers – not over here in the UK, anyway – and there wasn’t a 2011 Gary Fisher road bike range.
To be fair, there wasn’t a Gary Fisher mountain bike range either as Trek announced it was “absorbing” the Gary Fisher brand not long after the launch of the Cronus, but this platform had a lot to offer.
Gary Fisher knew his stuff – he still does – and the Cronus was an interesting bike and one which would leave its mark on many of the road bikes we now ride and stop them leaving a mark on their riders.
For starters, the Gary Fisher Cronus was one bike in a category of one – a category that Trek called ‘Race Utility’. The idea was that you got a high-end bike you could train on all week and race at the weekend. It was a tough performance bike with some built in comfort – but very definitely a performance machine.
Fisher rightly saw that if you were riding a carbon bike – oh yes, the Cronus was carbon – there was no need to put it away for the winter. Carbon doesn’t rust and by 2010 top-end components were both reliable and durable enough to be ridden all year round.
But that’s not the bit of the Cronus that lives on today. Bike shops aren't full of £4k race utility machines.
The frame weighed a claimed 900g - very respectable for 2010 - and was at the very least on trend for the time, although it would be wrong to claim it was revolutionary.
The tall head tube was designed to give a stiff, point-and-shoot front end with the option of a more comfortable upright position on non-race days without the need for a stack of spacers. Fisher called this the 'Fisher Control Column' (I love this shit) but, in truth, you’d find something very similar on the 2010 Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL2.
Things started to get interesting with the frame when the mighty down tube – at the time the widest diameter carbon tube Trek had ever produced – morphed into a really wide bottom bracket. You certainly had a stiff pedalling platform, a beefed up chainstay on the non-drive side helped that further. But none of that was the Cronus’s gift to cycling posterity.
Back in 2010, the things that really caught our eye about the Cronus were the wheels and fork. Now they were different. Here’s what I said about ‘em back then…
“What really sets this bike apart is the front fork and wheel, designed to strengthen and stiffen the front end of the bike. Gary Fisher is claiming it is 27 per cent stiffer laterally than the current class-leading machine.
“To achieve this he's made the flange on the front wheel larger – having the immediate effect of making the spokes shorter and stiffer – the wheel uses outboard j-bend spokes.
“To compensate for the wider flange, Fisher has made the fork legs slightly wider apart. For good measure he has made the fork ends larger too. This makes for a larger contact area between the fork and the hub and again adds strength and stiffness, says Fisher.
“The only downside in a race situation is that while you could take a wheel from someone else, they couldn't use your wheel with a standard fork – not unless they wanted that flange to saw through it, which seems unlikely.”
Gary was onto something with spoke lengths, cos they have got shorter on a lot of top-end performance bike wheels, but that’s down to deeper modern rims. You could also say that some of the thinking behind that fork would show up in road disc forks a few years later. Well, you could argue that.
The snippet of Cronus DNA that was to enter the cycling gene pool relates to a small but oh so user-friendly detail that Fisher added to his bike. The Cronus was the first road bike I can think of – certainly the first carbon bike – with hidden mudguard mounts and a very neat threaded screw on the brake bridge so when you fitted mudguards you could do it without taking the brakes off. You got nice clean lines for raceday, nice clean you on winter training rides.
I don’t know for certain if hidden mudguard mounts had been around before (most things have in cycling) and Fisher simply knew a good idea when he saw one, or if he actually came up with the concept. Google ‘hidden mudguard mount’ and his name is prominently to the fore, so chapeau, Gary! Your road bikes may not have lasted but your hidden mudguard mounts live on to this day, liberally sprinkled through Trek’s road range, and indeed on endurance and gravel bikes from loads of other manufacturers too.
It could well be that on some rainy day in the last decade Gary Fisher and his short-lived Cronus have saved your arse – and mine, and countless others across the world – from a nasty, gritty soaking. Thanks Gary.
There's lots more about Gary Fisher here. A cool bloke.
**success has many fathers, just like mountain biking.
road.cc's founder and first editor, nowadays to be found riding a spreadsheet. Tony's journey in cycling media started in 1997 as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - finally handing on the reins in 2021 to Jack Sexty. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes, though he'd like to own a carbon bike one day.