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versatility on the road - audax or cyclocross?

minus9ineminus9ine Posts: 13
edited April 2009 in Road beginners
I'm driving myself slightly batty here, going round in circles trying to figure out the way to go, so I'm going to throw myself on the tender mercies of the bikeradar hive mind:

I've commuted by bike for a couple of years and this year want to get more serious and ride more. I'm looking for one or two bikes that will cover the following uses (in no particular order):

1) 50-100 mile audax/sportives a few times a year
2) 2-3 hour rides most weekends
3) short flat commutes, 5-8 miles round trip, daily
4) off-road cycle routes (I'm in Norfolk, so we're talking sustrans routes rather than ascending mountains, but may include trips to south wales or the lake district once or twice a year)
5) family rides with a currently 18-month old toddler (so needs a child seat fitted)

My current thinking is to get a £300-500 mountain bike to do 4) and 5), and then get one bike to cover 1) to 3). This road bike will be bought via the cycle2work scheme so max. £1K.

I'm old and beardy enough that the bike must take mudguards and a rack, and I'm not particularly attracted to carbon bikes (which don't take guards and a rack anyway)

So, to cut to the chase it seems to me I'm looking at Audax or cyclocross bikes. Locally in terms of Audax bikes I can get a Kinesis Racelight T or a non-branded reynolds 531 steel frame built up to a nice spec (I've been suggested SRAM Rival or Campag Veloce/Centaur) for £1K, or maybe I could go to London and get the Condor Fratello with Sora or Tiagra. All sounds good, but I won't be able to try any of these out before buying. The only bikes I could try are cyclocrossers, specifically a Specialized Tricross, Voodoo Limba or Genesis Croix-de-fer.

My question, then (are you still with me?) is what should I look for in a test-ride of the cyclocross bikes, and what would I expect to see improved by going with one of the Audax builds? And which of the above to people think sound the most suitable or unsuitable for my proposed uses?

Sorry for the essay-length question, and thanks for any suggestions...


  • i'd go for the steel frame or the Condor any day! both would be excellent bikes, i wouldn' t get the kinesis becuase the aluminium frame is a) not as strong, b) much harsher ride and if you want to be going off road it will kill your back/censored no matter what saddle you have etc, within a short space of time, either get a dedicated cross bike, or a good steel framed tourer, or consider a thorn sherpa, 26" wheels so MTB tyres fit and thinner slicks for the road, and the frame is unbreakable, good range of hard wearing componnents, or the club tour, 700c wheels but clearance for 40c tyres and gaurds so at least 42c cross tyres would fit without mudgaurds because you dont want them off road, good for sportives, excellent frame, well built and excellent value for money, but you might not be able to get them on the cycle to work scheme.
    Carbon fibre, it's all nonsense. Drink beer. Ride a steel bike. Don't be a ponce.
  • I'm in the process of getting a cyclocross bike for the kind of riding you want, but it will be my do all bike, inc 4 above (no need for 5).

    I wanted a Kona Jake, but am ending up with a Jake the Snake (long story).

    I would imagine the major difference between the audax and the cyclocross will be a slightly longer wheelbase on the audax, so may be more stable with panniers/child seat.

    The CX bike can take bigger tyres so will be better off road.

    If I were you (which I kind of am), I'd get a CX bike and then a set of road wheels and tyres. Use them for the road stuff, and the knobblies for the off road.


    If you are defo getting an MTB for 4 and 5, why even consider a CX bike? If you are riding purely on the road surely it's a no brainer to get an audax bike? The CX doesn't offer you anything the audax bike won't, and will be a bit heavier.

    Lastly, if you are still looking at CX bikes, the Voodoo has no lugs for guards and a rack. You need to be looking at the Tricross Sport, Kona Jake or Jake the Snake. The Genesis does, but also has disc brakes so you have make sure your rack and panniers and seat can fit round them.

    For £1000 I'm sure you could easily get a nice Audax put together. Take a look at Bob Jackson cycles for builds.

    where there's two wheels, there's a way....
  • carefulcareful Posts: 720
    I wouldn't be put off the Kinesis on grounds of strength or comfort. The T or Tk are not a harsh ride and are not easily damaged. The Fratello would also be good but may not feel quite so responsive. I Use aTk as a winter, commuting, light touring and all round hack. It is a great bike and comfy all day long.
  • Thanks for the comments guys, helps me definitively to rule out the cyclocross option. The range of things I want to do with a bike is too wide for just one bike, so I'll get the mtb and for the other it's down to the kinesis vs steel, whether condor or another built-up frame.

    The problem remains though, that unlike the cyclocrosses I can't try these before buying. I am attracted to the responsiveness the kinesis is reputed to offer over a steel frame, but will the promises of the 'steel is real' brigade leave me thinking I should have opted for that? I don't think I can get the Thorn on a cycle2 work scheme, and I want something sleeker than the sherpa (I don't expect to do much if any proper touring, due mostly to lack of time than inclination). The condor looks nice and I hear very good things about it, but I'm still not clear what the extra £200 or so the frameset costs gives me over the other choices available, plus I'd prefer to support a local shop.

    Without trying them, do I just go with my spidey senses? Would testing steel vs aluminium cyclocross bikes tell me something about the differences between steel and aluminium audaxes, or does geometry have more to do with it? More to ponder...
  • PHcpPHcp Posts: 2,748
    I have a Racelight T and a Hewitt steel tourer (amongst others :D ) For rides up to around 50 miles on reasonable roads the Racelight is simply more fun. It isn't harsh or uncomfortable on longer rides, but doesn't offer the same plush feel as a decent steel frame. My Racelight was well under your budget, the TK is meant to have a smoother ride and probably still under £1,000.
    Is the generic steel frame your LBS can get the Arvis one? If not they could probably get it. It has a good reputation, sold as the Aravis from Byercycle or the Chiltern from Hewitts and different names from others. The frames are all finished in the UK and the paint quality is first class. It won't be as responsive as the Racelight, but with a carbon fork, decent wheels and the right components there won't be much in it. As an all rounder it'd probably be my choice. ... R1008.html ... G_0062.jpg

    I wouldn't worry too much about a test ride, it always takes me a couple of weeks to get used to a new bike anyway. I'd have rejected at least one of my bikes on the basis of first impressions...
    As long as you get a good fit (down to the expertise of the LBS) the worst thaat can happen is you don't like the frame and swapping frames only costs a fraction of a bike price.
  • A couple of years ago I bought my Tricross Sport having been through much the same sort of thought processes as you. A tthe time I wasn't sure what type of cyclist I would become so I wanted 1 do it all type bike and since have ridden exclusively on road and particpate in Audax events, charity rides etc. It has never let me down and done everyting I have asked of it. I have to admit, though, that knowing the type of riding I do now, a steel framed audax type (Fratello, Kaffenback or even a custom through Thorn, Byer Cycles etc) would be high on my agenda if I was going through the thought processes again. Just remember many audax type frames only have clearance for up to 28mm or maybe 32mm tyres, which may or may not be a consideration.

    I won't be disposing of the Tricross, though!!!!.

  • balthazarbalthazar Posts: 1,566
    Between bikes of similar styles, I don't think test rides reveal anything very useful. A lot of stuff is said about 'riding characteristics' of different frame materials and so on. Words like "responsive" often crop up. I respectfully suggest that you - ignore it!

    It is riding position, tyre volume and saddle type that dictate your comfort, and so on. You probably know what riding position suits you by now, at least closely enough that it is within range of a bike's adjustments. A road bike with space for bigger tyres will give you the option of riding on unmetalled roads and more, and can still be equipped with narrow tyres if you prefer, for road use. That said, I've taken off road excursions on 23mm slicks plenty of times without particular problems.

    If you could combine your budgets, a bespoke frame by, for example, Roberts, would be in range. An all round Audax style bike, perhaps with larger tyre clearance. Such a bike will have a lifetime warranty and will last practically for ever. Given your requirements, I can't imagine anything more perfect.
  • minus9ineminus9ine Posts: 13
    Thanks all for the really useful views!

    PHcp and balthazar - interesting, and rarely expressed, views on testing bikes, yet they chime with my feelings pretty well (after all, I test rode my current bike, but it was the first bike I'd ridden in 10 years and I got completely the wrong size).

    The lbs that offers the steel frame (which I think/assume is the hewitt/byercycles one) is a bit iffy about doing the cycle2work scheme (they, quite reasonably, don't like the 10% surcharge), so if I can't get them to do it then I'll go with the other shop offering the kinesis build. It sounds like I could be happy with either. Offroad-wise I've found a good deal on a 2008 genesis altitude mtb - this has mounts for a rack and will cover all my offroad needs. I've got a busy couple of weeks at work then I'll be placing my order for whichever roadbike I go for.
  • keef66keef66 Posts: 13,286
    I wanted an exciting but do it all bike and after months of reading, an immense spreadsheet, and a few test rides I went ror the Racelight TK with 105 kit, mudguards and Conti 4 seasons 25c tyres. Very light and zippy. Wouldn't describe it as harsh even on the Suffolk lanes.

    Very happy bunny.

    Don't know where you are in Norfolk, but if you're in the Newmarket area you're welcome to pop in and have a look
  • star_roverstar_rover Posts: 318
    I wouldn't buy a cyclocross bike unless you a) plan to race cyclocross or b) don't mind spending hours being frustrated by cantilever brakes . . .
    Sounds like you need an audax bike and an MTB. Condor Fratello would be my choice for the audaxer.
  • minus9ineminus9ine Posts: 13
    More support for the racelights I see...

    Unfortunately our car decided to give up the ghost sunday so any spending plans, even on the cyclescheme, are on hold for a few months at least! gah!

    So I'll have to spend the summer on my too-big sirrus and use the time to get to the point where my ability on the bike justifies a shiny new toy later in the year or early next.

    keef, thanks v much for the offer. I'm in Norwich so a bit of a trek away. I've signed up for the 50-mile route of the Suffolk Sunrise in May though, so maybe see you there?

  • keef66keef66 Posts: 13,286
    Well I haven't signed up, but it sounds like a good idea. I'll let you know!
  • acorn_useracorn_user Posts: 1,137
    Dual pivot caliper brakes are easier to work on then cantis atmo. I think I would be inclined towards a well fitted steel audax bike, but I certainly would consider the Kinesis frame too. Of course, if someone is making a frame for you, you can't test ride it, so you have to trust the builder and fitter to get it right :)
  • minus9ineminus9ine Posts: 13
    Thought I'd update this post now that I've made a decision, thanks for everyone's thoughts upthread...

    In the end the choice came down to what I could get from a cycle-to-work shop. I emailed Condor and got a phonecall back within minutes - they were great, very helpful about several things I'd asked, but when it came to the crunch they wouldn't have been able to accept my voucher (despite what it says on their website).

    If I'd wanted one of their builds off the peg I could have got it via Cycle Republic in Norwich but this would mean that (a) I wouldn't have been able to go over the £1000 to get a 10-speed groupset and (b) I wouldn't have got the fitting that was a big part of my attraction to the fratello.

    The lbs offering the steel frame weren't all that keen on doing cycle-to-work, so I was left with my first option, a Racelight Kinesis T built up with last year's SRAM Rival and Mavic Aksium wheels. I'm now in the process of ordering a nice shiny white one, having had some advice on sizing from Dom at Kinesis.

    In a straight choice, I might well have plumped for the Condor Fratello and added £100 for Veloce or Rival but given the strictures of the cycle to work scheme it wasn't possible (and fair enough really, I'm not complaining).

    If it turns out that I don't get on with the Kinesis (and I hope and expect that I will) then in a year's time I could go and buy (for example) the Fratello frameset and transfer the wheels and groupset on to it, for only a little more than it'd cost to buy the Fratello now without the cycle scheme, so I don't lose out all that much either way.

    looking forward to a new bike now!
  • star_roverstar_rover Posts: 318
    Good choice. I'm sure you'll be happy with the Kinesis.
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