Fighting gravel, dirt, grass, sand, mud and gravity, cyclocross is not for the casual pedal-pusher. The rugged style of bike racing combines criterium (intense short circuits) and cross country. Cyclists navigate multiple laps around a relatively short course—1.5-2 miles—while intermittently dismounting and remounting over obstacles and unrideable terrain. Still, recent years have seen the popularity of the near 100-year-old sport evolve into one of the fastest-growing trends in cycling since it made its way to the States from Europe in the '70s. Thousands show up to cyclocross events in the Pacific Northwest and increasing numbers are adapting cyclocross bikes to city use.
The bike itself resembles a road bike, but with wider clearance, cantilever brakes, lower gears and stronger, more durable components built to withstand abuse both on and off road. Charging into the cyclocross movement, Raleigh recently introduced their 2012 lineup of full carbon and steel cyclocross bicycles.
To launch the new bikes Raleigh sponsored the 2011 Midsummer Nights Cyclocross Race, inviting me to try my luck at it riding the 2012 RXC Pro. Moments into the first lap I seriously contemplated watching the rest of the race from the beer garden, but the bike's full carbon frameset laced with the finest SRAM Rival components was too exciting to skip.
This all-terrain machine with its sleek matte black finish is a perfect mixture of beauty and beast. Crucial design adjustments like dual-option brakes and the flat underside of the top tube made descending the sand steeps on bike and ascending on foot a less arduous process. The tight, stiff frame responded well to the sharp curves and unforeseen obstacles. With a sticker price of $5,000, Raleigh's top-of-the-line cyclocross monster is pure performance at a mid-level price point, dropping late this Fall in select specialty shops.
Responding to urbanites who embrace the bikes as tougher, stronger alternatives to standard commuters, also new for 2012 is the Furley. The bold single-speed sports disk brakes sure to keep you in control during the winter months without destroying your wheelset and beefier tires for those annoying cobblestone streets. Available at a considerably more affordable price point of $800, come mid-September the Furley will deliver strength and power both on the cyclocross track and in the city streets.
Photography by Jake Hanson and Justin Gural