Are Cantilevers Dead for Cyclocross?
August 1st, 2016
August 1st, 2016
Anna is a jack-of-all-bikes, and has been riding and racing in a myriad of genres for over seven years; from World Cup level cross-country, to grass roots coaching kids on the road.
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After refreshing our Buyers' Guide to Cyclocross Race Bikes, it was very apparent that most of the industry, even those with huge buying power, global presence, and a deep history in cyclocross racing, have turned their backs on cantilevers for cyclocross. This is revolutionary. It is as big as the demise of the 26" wheel in cross-country mountain biking, only this time I'm not sure it's for the best.
What Do The Pros Favour?
Trek are one of the larger players still offering the cantilever option. For 2016/17 they have named it the Boone Shop Race Limited, which may indicate its availability, but it is currently being sold widely in the UK. Speaking with Trek Bikes in the UK, they explained that their professional race teams get the choice of both disc and cantilever bikes, but the majority of them choose cantilever. US National Champ, Katie 'KFC' Compton, and more than 50 times World Cup winning machine, Sven Nys, both ride for Trek and they have both been seen to use both braking options on different occasions. Team Kinesis UK sponsors our British World Cup rider, Hannah Payton, as well as local board-hopping hero and Kinesis Brand Manager, Bruce Dalton. Bruce is a big fan of the control of discs and says "it's the future of cyclocross", where Hannah is pro-canti and continues to race with cantilevers. It seems they are the perfect mix for one of few brands not only offering both brake options, but offering both options on the same frame; the CXRace.
But not every team has the luxury of choosing, so it's hard to see what the pros favour. British National Champion, Ian Field, has historically been using cantilevers to claim his titles with Hargroves RT and Ridley Bikes. Judging by the new X-Night SL, we're sure that discs won't give Ian much of a weight penalty, but it will be interesting to see if this advancement filters down to the rest of the team. Manager and cyclocross racer, Andy Hargroves, says "the drive for disc has definitely come from the suppliers and the US, but most European riders are still keen to ride cantilever. It’s like everything; people are sceptical to begin with and as they see the product succeed they will change their thoughts. I’m sure we will see more disc use in the coming season". Either way, most of us will never afford the kit the pros have at hand, so it's a bit of a useless exercise copying them unless you have wads of cash. And who's to say the pros would still choose cantilevers anyway if they had the choice?
Weight vs Stopping Power
Being an avid cyclocross racer for the past few years, I know how valuable a lightweight cyclocross bike can be when racing; be that for shouldering the bike numerous times in a race, or simply for out right speed on hills and flat sections. The heavier the bike is, the harder you have to work to get it round the course. This is, after all, the main reason why most racers who can afford two bikes will swap them around as often as they can on mucky courses to ensure they shave precious pounds of mud washed off of their bike. That and keeping the bike running smoothly of course. It is for this reason that I, and many of my racing compadres, have always chosen a cantilever bike over disc.
The advantage is clear, even if we forget the weight saving to your wallet.
To put things into context, the Trek Boone Race Shop Limited weighs 7.66kg, where as the Boone 9 with the same groupset, but with adjustments for the disc brakes, weighs 8.41kg. That's almost a whole kilo difference. And get this, the cantilever option is way over £1k (and $1k) cheaper. A kilo might not sound like a lot, but have you ever added a kilo to your weights in the gym and noticed your body fade quicker?Imagine carrying a large bag of sugar around for the entirety of a race, and not being able to wash it off in the pits. The advantage is clear, even if we forget the weight saving to your wallet.
There are a few bikes out there that can give you the best of both worlds, for example, the Scott Addict boasts one of the lightest disc brake compatible frames on the planet, and offers a fully built package weighing in at around 7.6kg. This means that the top spec disc model Scott weighs about the same as Trek's Race Shop Limited, which is a carbon cantilever model. This is all well and good if you have the budget for it though, as at just shy of £5k, the Addict is over £1.5k more expensive than the Boone. Is this cost worth it for the braking power?
the Addict is over £1.5k more expensive than the Boone. Is this cost worth it for the braking power?
Disc brakes on cyclocross bikes are a revelation, don't get me wrong. The stopping power, even on some budget mechanical disc brakes can far outweigh the stopping power of a cantilever system. Previously, some old-school racers would have to swap one of their cantilevers for a more modern v-brake or rim brake just to get control on sharp corners and slippery banks. The argument for discs in races mainly cites the ability to stop faster, which means you can ride at things faster. I get this, I really do, but a brief season on a disc brake bike saw me lose my finesse round corners; something cantilevers force you to have, as you are required to slow down slowly and take corners smoothly, which is actually faster than barrelling into a corner all brakes blazing.
Ok, so I could have slowed down and taken corners smoothly with the disc brake bike, but, having discs meant I couldn't afford new wheels, which meant no tubular tyres, which meant speed was hampered by lack of traction and increased rolling resistance from the less supple clinchers. At one particular National Cyclocross Trophy I alternated laps between a cantilever and disc bike, and I average 40 seconds faster on the cantilever bike every time. Yes, the canti bike had tubular tyres which helped, but despite being an aluminium frame, it was also a lot lighter than the disc bike, which happened to be carbon with carbon wheels, oh, and it was about twice the price.
I alternated laps between a cantilever and disc bike, and I average 40 seconds faster on the cantilever bike every time
I did, however, notice an increase in control through the mud and technical obstacles, which was great. The disc allowed me to control my descents on slippery surfaces, rather than locking up and sliding. I'm by no means saying they are a bad invention; if I could afford a disc brake bike that was the same weight as my canti option, I would buy one in a heartbeat, but I can't, and I'm guessing the majority of the cyclocross racing field can't either. I think it's very important to point out to the industry that not everyone is sponsored. Not everyone can afford a race-weight bike, and potentially a second pit bike and all new sets of wheels, and I fear that newcomers have now been priced out of the genre entirely, or will have to face a bike that's nearly a kilo heavier than a canti-equivilant they could have bought two years ago.
I know I've not made the most scientific case for or against cantilever bikes here, but I'm not really trying to argue that one is better than the other, only that they are different and each hold value in different ways to different riders. Commuters and marathon riders now have infinitely more safety and security thanks to discs. The advancement in disc brakes have meant that frames have become more robust, as braking forces have needed to be accommodated with bolt-through axels, which also creates much sturdier and confident rides, especially when thrown round corners at force, or down bumpy bridal ways. This is all great, and advancements in the industry is a good thing, however; my disappointment is that the advancements for one area of cyclocross seem to have completely taken over a style of bike that posed to be perfectly adequate for the vast majority of others. It's a step forward in technology and cyclocross capabilities, but it means that cyclocross bikes have stepped up into a whole new price band for the unsponsored Joe Public.
if I could afford a disc brake bike that was the same weight as my canti option, I would buy one in a heartbeat, but I can't... and I fear that newcomers have now been priced out of the genre entirely
If stopping power is not high on your priorities, but weight is, and you fancy being a grand heavier in your wallet, there are very few brands bringing out new cantilever options to keep your weight and budget down. If money is no object, then you are blessed with the best of both worlds, as top-spec rides like the Scott Addict will offer you disc brakes in a package that's as light as a frame with old-school cantis. It is not surprising therefore that we see the pros racing on these sorts of bikes, but expect a pro price tag too, being around £5k for such dual benefits.
So Who's still On Board?
Kinesis Bikes offer four cyclocross bikes, one of which, the CXRace, is still available with cantilevers. The big difference with these guys, other than being rather British, is that they use Superlight Scandium Alloy for their frames, and with internal cable routing for Di2 and rear brakes. The CXRace is also ready to take on discs as well if you should ever change your mind later, making it budget friendly and future-proof. Raleigh are still offering cantilever options with the RX cyclocross range, although technically the cantilevers are only available on the women's specific model, which is unusual, but great for small and light weight riders. Fellas, if you can handle purple, you can get hold of this carbon frameset with SRAM Rival at around £1,850 and it weighs around 8.1kg, however; sizes only go up to 56cm, which is about a rider of 5'11". That being said, the RX Race Disc is only an extra £350 and weighs an extra 500g. Moda Bikes offer the Legato in one build option; an aluminium frame with SRAM Apex 10-speed groupset and, of course, Kore Race Canti brakes. The whole package weighs around 8.4kg and RRP is at £1,499, however, I have seen a few being sold online for nearly half that.