WOHAB Week #4: Crossy Road

Dear Loyal Readers,

School’s out this week, which means I must parent more aggressively. In turn, I must short-change you, so welcome to the Bike Snob NYC “Week of Half-Assed Blogging,” or “WOHAB.” The theme for WOHAB will be cheap-assed used bikes, and for the next five days I’ll be featuring my hastily-chosen personal recommendations, one on each day. Thanks very much for reading, ride safe (or at least as safely as you can on a cheap-assed used bike of mysterious provenance), and next week I’ll resume “MUMBOB,” or “My Usual Mediocre Brand Of Blogging.”

Yours etc.,

Tan Tenovo

PS: I know calling it “WOHAB Week” is redundant, like saying “ATM Machine,” but sometimes you just need an extra syllable.

Continuing on yesterday’s dirt theme, let’s talk about something called a “cyclocross bike.”

Here’s what a cyclocross bike looks like today:

So how is this different from a modern road bike, or gravel bike? I have absolutely no idea. I mean I’m sure there’s some difference, but I can’t see it, and I don’t care enough to find out.

Obviously the sport of cyclocross has been around for a long, long time. However, it was only relatively recently that we here in these United States could saunter into a bike shop and buy a complete and inexpensive one right off the rack. As I remember it, the earliest such specimens were bikes like the Redline Conquest and the Surly Crosscheck, which I seem to remember popping up somewhere around The Year Two Thousand as cyclocross started getting more popular over here. If you were a serious racer you got a custom frame, or maybe something from Europe that didn’t even accept bottle cages because true cyclocross bikes didn’t need them. However, the off-the-rack bikes were not only cheaper but more multi-purpose–not only did they accept water bottles, but they often had provisions for fenders and even racks–and as such they appealed to someone who might want to dabble in cyclocross but also commute on it or use it as a winter bike the rest of the time. Yet they were still generally racier and sportier than touring bikes–the other type of drop-bar bike that had canti bosses–though I seem to remember a bike or two that was marketed as both entry-level cycocross bike or tourer as well. (A Bianchi something-or-other maybe…? The Volpe? I dunno.)

Anyway, I was one such rider, and in maybe 2002 or something I picked up another one of these early-ish complete cyclocross bikes, the distinctly un-fancy LeMond Poprad:

Which served me well in all the aforementioned capacities for many years, though of course I changed lots of stuff on it in that time:

While today we’re arguably living in something of a golden age of versatile drop-bar bicycles, it occurred to me that the First Wave Of Mass Market Cyclocross Bikes might still represent a good bargain for someone wanting a cheap do-anything road-ish bike that can survive entirely off of old stuff from your parts bin. Sure enough, here’s a decent-looking specimen:

At $500 it might be a little dear for a bike that probably didn’t cost much more than that new (not accounting for inflation of course, but still…), but maybe they’d let it go for less, who knows?

By the way, don’t let the 853 decal fool you, I think “designer select” means they used like one 853 tube:

Not that it matters either way, mind you, because anyone who says they can tell the difference between different steel tubes is full of shit.

Still, it’s a nice-enough steel frame with a finish that competently walks the line between classic and boring, and if you want to take it in a retro direction it’s kind of cool that you could put downtube shifters on it if you felt like it:

Obviously bar-end shifters would be more in keeping with this type of bike, but if you like downtube shifters there’s no reason you should care, and anyway it’s nice to have options.

Looking closer at the bike, it appears the crank, derailleur, and seatpost have been “upgraded,” but otherwise it has all the original stuff on it, for better or for worse (those Sora shifters with the little shifty nub definitely qualify as “worse”)–including the tires, which would suggest this thing has not been ridden very much. The point is it has potential, and steel bikes with canti bosses are sadly going extinct. Yes, if you truly want to do such a bike properly and ride it into the sunset you should just get yourself a Sam Hillborne, but the theme here is window-shopping for cheap projects on eBay, not building your dream bike, and in this context the Poprad appeals.

By the way, the more I raced the more I convinced myself I wanted an aluminum bike for some reason, and so I then side-graded to a used Conquest frame just like this one:

We all know steel is supposed to be “supple” and aluminum is supposed to be “harsh” (especially back then), but my recollection is that it felt nicer than the Poprad, and I rode it quite often until several years back, when I gave it to a friend who I believe is still riding it:

It was also the bike I took with me on my first book tour, and here it is in action on said tour:

The pernt is that if you’re a used bike bargain hunter then early 21st-century cyclocross bikes should be on your radar–not these exact ones necessarily (remember, it’s WOHAB and I’m just spending like five minutes on eBay, I’m not endorsing these sellers or their prices) but I imagine there are some pretty good deals floating around out there now that people think if you ride a bike without disc brakes you’ll fly off a mountain and die.

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