By Michael Tierney, Photos by Justin Steiner
The Specialized Tricross has evolved over the years from the company’s primary cyclocross offering to more of an all-arounder, as their newer Crux cyclocross line is more race-oriented. Now the mission for the Tricross is to be a single bike that can do it all, or at least nearly all—including touring, commuting, and a touch of trail riding—within a moderate budget. This bike got many aspects of the equation correct.
Over the years, I had eyed the Tricross bikes of my friends with envy, and eagerly waited for mine to arrive. Much of my impatience stemmed from an annual ride on the C&O Canal rail-trail that was on the immediate horizon; my first goal was to test the Tricross in that cauldron of gravel, dirt, water and constant vibration.
My Tricross Sport arrived with a Shimano Tiagra triple crank, front derailleur and STI shifters, and a Shimano LX rear derailleur on the Specialized A1 Aluminum frame with their FACT carbon fork. Tektro cantilever brakes, along with top bar levers, provided stopping power. The rest of the parts carried the Specialized brand, including the stem, carbon seat post, handlebar, and the incredibly comfy Riva saddle. New to the 2011 model year is attractive and functional internal cable housing.
Fire Road Touring – The C&O Canal Ride
The Tricross arrived in a box the day before I left for the 200-mile C&O ride with 75lbs. of equipment loaded in four panniers, plus a dry sack. Short of a few pedal strokes in the neighborhood to ensure proper adjustment, it was a classic baptism by fire for both of us. I was initially concerned about the frame’s fit, as many bike manufacturers’ largest sizes are just a tad too small for my height. While some riders with me mentioned I looked “scrunched up” during this outing, I felt very comfortable, having no interest in a lower, more aerodynamic position. Since there is no such thing as gliding during this long, flat ride, body parts falling asleep is a problem.
Remarkably, on the Tricross I had far fewer troubles with my hands snoozing than previous years on a mountain bike with front suspension. Another fear was the unfamiliar saddle, and once again not only did Specialized come through with remarkable comfort, the saddle also proved stellar in keeping the blood flowing where it needed to flow. So the fit and comfort was spot-on for this application. Less so was the lack of front fork braze-ons for racks—the type seen halfway up the fork that allow the rider to skip use of O-rings around the fork legs to mount a rack. Seen on previous models, they were removed from the fork for this model year. I spoke to Specialized about the problem and, in a moment of candor, they admitted this mistake and assured me the braze-ons would return in 2012. Their honesty was refreshing. The front fork does have eyelets for attaching fenders, however.
I had initial concerns about the more road-oriented 700x32mm Specialized Borough Sport tires, but they proved resilient yet smooth-rolling on the hardpack. I was frankly a bit apprehensive about the Mavic CXP23 rims, as I have had difficulty with them in the past, and while they proved worthy for most of the ride under the stress of my weight and equipment, the rear wheel needed truing just as I approached my house, à la the Blues Brothers’ well-driven vehicle. Yet, many of my co-riders asked me during the four-day outing how the bike was faring, and my response was universally “great!”
I rode the Tricross on my nine-mile urban commute (with about one mile of crushed gravel) approximately 30 times. The Tricross proved to be rugged and reliable, handling curb jumps, asphalt cracks, and small potholes without difficulty. The rear rim did not need a second truing, and the tires rolled fast but were wide enough to feel secure. I was now climbing hills, and while the weight of the bike was appropriate for its price range, getting out of the saddle still felt natural. I found the top-bar brake levers to be comfortable, well-placed, and more powerful than the regular levers; they were one of the most enjoyable aspects of riding this bike, and I immediately noticed their absence when I got on another bike. However, standard barrel adjustment was available for the front brake only (via the cable hanger). The top-bar levers themselves had barrel adjustment, but not the STI levers. So at times the top-bar lever would feel relatively tight and the STI lever would not.
On the Trail
My plan on the trail was to keep it simple, keep it easy. I wasn’t looking to tackle rock-strewn steeps, but did expect to capably ride a few miles of creek-side dirt when in the mood. The occasional log jump was not a problem, and the fork stayed true and provided good tracking. The Borough tires left a little to be desired in this application— more tread would be necessary for the slightest increase in technical riding. But there is plenty of room for a wider tire, perhaps up to 42mm width with more significant knobbies, for more regular trail riders. The biggest issue on the trail is that my feet hit the front wheel when turned. This makes trail riding a greater challenge than should be necessary, and, in fact, may make trail riding for some riders a no-go proposition.
I didn’t have a chance to complete any long road touring rides, but my sense is that the Tricross will shine in this area due to its slightly more upright position, comfort, and, of course, beloved top-bar brake levers.
All Tricross models come with a triple crankset, although at times I wished for a double, which is better oriented to my personal type of riding and commuting. Obviously, the more climbing you plan on completing, whether on a fire road or trail, the more you will appreciate the triple.
I loved the brisk handling, styling and especially the comfort of the Specialized Tricross Sport, and it is a good value in its price range. There is a lot of versatility here, especially if you switch to lighter, thinner tires for more consistent road use, or slightly knobbier tires to regularly hit the trail. I highly recommend it as a mid-level ride that can do many things well.
Height: 6’ 4”
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Sizes Available: 46, 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61cm (tested)
In 2006 our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, reviewed an earlier version of the Tricross Comp. See what we wrote at the time.