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Noob questions about CX Bikes: triples, disc-compat wheels, and Shimano 105

I'm just starting out in CX, don't even have a bike yet (well, I have too many bikes - just no CX bike). I've been riding since I was 8, got my first 27" 10-speed from my dad who bought it at a sherrif's auction and haven't looked back since. Avid roadie and mountain biker. I rode my brother-in-law's Motobecane last year, just on the road, and was amazed that it handled and rode nearly as well as my Felt F2C. Started me thinking...

Since then, I've been helping a friend in India establish a retail bike company. He is now the recognized leader in retail sport bikes in India. We're planning a visit in June and we're working on specs for bikes rugged enough to turn 1000's of K's on India's mountain roads--these roads are your worst nightmare. Potholes, unpredictable traffic, tight corners, long steep climbs, and (honestly) random monkeys jumping out in front of you. I have been convinced for months that a CX bike is the only way to go. My partner wants a bike with disc brakes, so I'm working on specs for that. I personally think caliper brakes will be sufficient, so I'm speccing my own bike for my visit to be a straight up CX bike with calipers.

So here are my questions:

  • I see so many CX bikes with doubles, and almost no triples. I'm over 40 and on this trip I'll spend most of my time in the mountains. One planned ride is just over 100k and includes 4000 feet of vertical gain. Am I crazy in thinking I'd prefer a triple? Are folks finding the compact double with a generous rear cassette to be enough even on really steep grades? I do ride a double now on my road, and I do pretty well in the hills of Utah (with standard 50/34 and 11-23), but I admit I've never taken that double up anything seriously steep and long; my longest is about 2 miles.
  • I like building from scratch because I can generally get better components for the same price as a box bike. If I build from scratch, I'm leaning toward the Nashbar CX frame. Everything I read tells me I want a road group - CX frames are NOT built with mountain groups in mind, correct?
  • For the bike with disc brakes, can someone recommend a good source for wheelsets with disc-compatible 130mm hubs and 700c clincher rims?
  • Shimano 105 seems to be the prevailing go-to group for CX. I ride Dura Ace on my road bike, but it doesn't get abused like this CX will. If you can't buy it that often, don't ride it, right? How have people felt about SRAM groups and can anyone recommend a similar group based on weight/durability? I *try* to ride non-Shimano, just reveling in the end of the monopoly ya know?

Thanks. I did look around a bit and could not find a post with these specific answers. If I've missed anything or if there's a good summary article, I'm all ears (eyes?)--please just plop in the link and I'll go my merry way to read it. And I'm sure I'll be back with more questions.

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It almost sounds like you may want to go with a rough-stuff touring bike or a monster-cross bike. But to answer your questions:

 - Triples: Most 'cross bikes are designed with the idea of racing 'cross. Thus the doubles. A 46/36 seems to be the starting point for most racers. You can go with a triple if you want - it's your bike! On my monster crosser, I have it set up with 46/34 and a MTB cassette in back (11-34) giving me a 34-34 low gear. It works for me on the MTB trails but for your purposes it may or may not be enough. If you want to go with MTB derailleurs and Road shifters, you'll have to check out the pull ratios. You can do that with some 8 and 9 sp stuff but with the 10sp stuff I'm not sure.

 - Depending on the group you select, you can mix and match. On the monster crosser I've Tiagra brifters, 105 front derailleur & ancinet Deore rear derailleur (9 sp in back, double up front). This is the smoothest, best shifting bike I have ever had short of friction shifting. For SRAM, I don't think you can mix and match between road and MTB components.

- SRAM's Rival group is a great starting point for CXers. It works pretty good (except for the front shifting in some cases, mine being one). The Apex is a lower-tier SRAM group that has the ability to go with a larger cassette in back (I think it can handle a 32t vs. 28t for Rival). It says it's the first road 32t cassette... phht, whatever.

Thanks for the info JD. As it turns out... After reading your thread and thinking about the double/triple question, I ran across a new 2009 Fuji Cross Comp at 50% off from retail. Took one ride on it and was sold--I bought it on the spot. Put in a quick 4 mile ride yesterday up on our fire road and absolutely loved it. It's like mountain biking, only 4x faster and without the death-defying 4' drops!

I'm swapping the 12/25 out for an 11/28, which gives me a much wider range of gears. There's a lot to do to get the cockpit set up (why, for instance, they sold it with a laid-back seatpost is beyond me). Oh and Fuji wrapped the handlebar pretty much to the stem, so I have to untape it, cut the cable housing back, and move the flat bar brake levers out a bit so I can mount a light and a computer.

All in all, tho, I'm thrilled. I've been road biking since I was 10 or 11, mountain biking since 1990. It's just so much fun to add a new mode to my fun!

Good to hear - I almost bought that bike, waited a month or so, ended up with a 2010 Cross Pro. The Comp is pretty good. I, too, went with a 11-28 in back. I ride it everywhere, really, and swap wheels depending. Road? Put on the road wheelset. Race? Take the 'cross wheels. MTB trails? Use one of the 'cross wheelsets. I agree, it's a lot of fun. I ended up selling my "road" and MTB bikes and now I have three 'cross bikes.

Glad you are enjoying it.


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