It’s finally here.
There’s no hiding from it. There’s no putting it off. It doesn’t matter how often I peek through the curtains on a morning, summer has well and truly left us.
The boiler is turning itself on in a morning, the wife is wrapping up in a blanket in front of the TV, and the bib shorts and short sleeve jerseys have been relegated to the under-bed storage.
The hardest pill to swallow is hanging up the summer bike and saying goodbye to it for another 7 months. Despite a brief respite this weekend, the Cervelo is now well and truly wrapped up warm and dry. It seems quite silly to have spent so much on a bike that will get used so little. In it’s place, I have a titanium bike, that will be used for club runs and training until the weather improves.
However, commuting to work is a different matter. Until recently, my commute was 5 miles long, from the city outskirts into the city centre. For this, my titanium road bike was ideal. My commute now is longer and involves a cycle track and dark country roads. I also intend on commuting through the winter. For this, I needed a tool built specifically for the job.
At Cycle Art and Bicycle Repair Man, sales this time of year tend to be mainly winter bikes, cross bikes and last year’s road bikes that are on sale. When riders come to us looking for a winter bike, we recommend either a Sabbath September or Silk Route, or converting a Ridley X-Bow into a winter commuter. As I already have a titanium bike, and wanted to keep the budget down, I opted for the X-Bow. It’s a popular choice, and Ridley knows this. Whilst it is classed as a ‘cross bike, it is specced with mudguard and rack mounts and with gear ratios that suit the road rather than ‘cross racing. Truth be told, the Ridley X-Bow is our most popular bike this time of year.
I’ll be honest. I have no intention of racing ‘cross. Whilst I can see why those who partake enjoy it, I am 100% positive it would not suit me as a rider. I have no intention of spending my Sundays riding around a muddy field at lactate threshold! That said, when it comes to ‘cross bikes, Belgian company Ridley really are the masters. Shop owner Tony, who is a bit of a local legend on the ‘cross scene, races a pair of custom Ridley X-Nights. High praise, indeed.
So, on to the X-Bow. What do we do to turn it from an entry level ‘cross bike into a capable winter commuter? The first task is to remove the knobbly ‘cross tyres. Whilst they will do a good job of tearing up the local farmer’s field, they will be little use on the road. Firstly, they lack the relevant levels of grip for road riding, they wear out quickly on tarmac, and their increased friction means I would feel like I was pedaling through treacle. There are a number of options available for a good commuter tyre – I personally went for 28mm Schwalbe Marathons. These are bulletproof tyres that have a 3mm thick layer of rubber that protects it from punctures. It also features a reflective band around the sidewall that lights up in car headlights.
Next up were mudguards. The thought of mudguards on a road bike makes me feel slightly ill, but on this converted ‘cross bike I wasn’t so bothered. For winter commuting, ‘guards are very important. They not only protect you and your fellow riders from the wet and mud, but in theory, the bike will last longer too – cleaner components mean less wear. I opted for Tortec Reflectors – named so for the reflective strip on the sides and the rear red reflector at the back. They also feature stainless steel fittings (so no rust) and Nyloc fittings (so they won’t rattle loose on the bike).
With the tyres and ‘guards sorted, the bike would need lights (which will all be reviewed at a later date). After much consideration, I chose to kit myself out mainly with Lezyne lights (along with an old Lupine Wilma 7 that was lying around the shop).
With Marathon tyres, full guards, lights, a bottle cage mounted tool holder packed with necessities, and a Lezyne pump, the Ridley X-Bow winter bike weighs 26lbs (11.8kg). To put that into perspective, my Cervelo weighs 16lbs (7.2kg) and the Pace RC200 F4 mountain bike I owned in the 90s weighed 21lbs (9.5kg). So, this is not a lightweight bike by any stretch of the imagination.
The standard bike’s spec is good for the price – aluminum frame, carbon forks, Shimano 105 drivetrain, Avid cable driven disc brakes and 4ZA bars, stem, seatpost, wheels and saddle. My particular bike deviated from the standard spec as it had been fitted with Salsa bars (a customer needed the 4ZA bars for their bike).
First impressions of the X-Bow were hardly surprising – it’s heavy. But with that heaviness comes a feeling of stability, safety and reliability. You know that when you go over tree roots, potholes and over obstacles, the bike is going to stand up to the abuse.
My first proper commute on the X-Bow was more of a relief than anything. I wasn’t enjoying commuting on my titanium bike, and being able to ride on something I have no affection for that is designed to stand up to the job was a weight off my mind. With winds up to 27mph and driving rain, for a first commute, the weather definitely decided to test the bike and me.
My commute is split into 2 main sections. The first is on the road from my house, through a busy residential area down onto the Newcastle Quayside. The second section is from the Quayside to Prudhoe on a cycle path, which is a combination of tarmac, bike path and off-road. On the road, the X-Bow certainly feels heavy, but not necessarily in a bad way. The road section (going in anyway) is downhill, and the weight makes the bike feel planted. The bike takes more effort to get up to speed but, surprisingly, once up to speed the bike rolls along nicely (although the near silence of the Shimano freehub took some getting used to). Once off the road and onto the cycle path, the X-Bow came into it’s own, smoothly rolling over the wooded sections, carving nicely through the muddy parts and giving me the confidence I needed to go over potholes, tree roots and gravel. With full mudguards fitted I didn’t need to avoid puddles and mud, and the Marathon tyres seemed to cope well with both the tarmac and path in equal measure.
As I’d not be racing ‘cross, I chose the disc brake equipped X-Bow, and whilst they do not feel quite as sharp as the high end calipers on my road bikes, knowing that they will perform at a competent level day in day out without wearing out the rim surface on the wheels is comforting and a trade off for pure braking power.
As I am predominantly a SRAM user, the standard Shimano 105 groupset is very different to what I normally ride with. To those who have never used SRAM before, there are several key differences between SRAM and Shimano, most of which are love or hate. Shimano use 2 levers on each side to shift – the brake lever itself and a smaller lever behind. SRAM use 1 small lever behind each brake lever to do all the shifting duties. Shimano shifting tends to be smoother and quieter, but with that it lacks the positive feel of SRAM. SRAM levers also tend to protrude out more from the bars, whereas Shimano sit more inline with the handlebars. It really is a case of what suits you as a rider. 105 itself is renowned for being Shimano’s workhorse groupset, providing miles and miles of trouble free riding – perfect then for a Winter bike. Had I had the choice, I would have specced the bike up with SRAM Apex, but my lack of patience meant taking the 105 equipped bike.
On the way home, after a day on my feet, I was concerned about the climb up from the Tyne valley to Gosforth. Once the X-Bow had efficiently dispatched the cycle path, it was time to get over the top to home. The bike is geared for road riding with a compact chainset and a 12-28 cassette, which was just as well – I would certainly need the 28 to get over the 14% gradient! This certainly isn’t a lightweight road bike, and it is on the climbs where I felt this most. Once over the top, and I had recovered from the climb, it was just a case of riding a couple of miles on the road to home, where again, once up to speed, the X-Bow rolls smoothly enough to be a comfortable cruiser.
In conclusion, a winterized X-Bow is a competent, if not a little heavy, way of getting around when the weather is foul. A few quick changes here and there and the bike can quickly be transformed into either a winter road bike (removing the heavier commuting lights and swapping the tyres for some 25mm Schwalbe Duranos or 25mm Celement Stradas) or an entry level ‘cross bike (removal of the ‘guards and lights and a change of tyres to ‘cross specific items). For me, the bike is perfect. The extra weight will help with my Winter training, the solid build, tyres and full ‘guards will help me commute through the poor conditions, and at around £1000 the bike makes perfect sense for those looking to buy a bike on the Cycle to Work scheme.
Cycle Art has the various Ridley X-Bows, X-Rides, X-Fires and X-Nights in stock starting at £870. www.cycle-art.co.uk