Review: Specialized Tricross Elite Steel Disc Triple

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It’s refreshing to see that large companies have not wholly abandoned the legacy of steel. Specialized’s Tricross Elite Steel Disc Triple stands out from the Tricross line as the lone steel-framed model for the entire brand. Of course steel is a fitting material for the line’s intended purpose, “Freeroad,” A.K.A. riding all over the place for a variety of reasons, a purpose we champion. It’s not a new category for Specialized—we’ve tested two previous models, the Sport in issue #12 and the Comp in our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, back in 2006.

The Tricross caters to us “freeroaders” by aiming for that sweet spot between road, cyclocross and touring. The chromoly frame has a longer top tube and a lengthened wheelbase (as compared to a standard road racing bike) for stability and comfort, though the wheelbase is not as long as a typical touring bike. The head tube is a middle-of-the-road 71.5 for predictable steering. It may be heavier than its aluminum cousins, but for rough-n-ready riding, I enjoyed the genteel comfort of steel, and didn’t feel like it held me back too much when it was time to sprint for the traffic lights. It’s a nice package that covers the bases well, weighing in at 27lbs.

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The Tricross comes stock with robust 32mm Specialized Borough CX tires with flat protection that capably handled all but mud. Bigger tires, up to 42mm without fenders, fit in the frame. Full rack and fender mounts front and rear complete the bike’s all-around capability. Spoke holders are placed on the left-side chainstay, à la many serious touring bikes, although extra spokes aren’t included.

At this point it’s tough to justify not having disc brakes on a multi-purpose bike like this, and the Tricross delivers with Avid BB5 mechanicals. They were not as easy to adjust as the higher-end BB7s, and they were less smooth and more “grabby.” The brakes also pulsed oddly, which was solved by swapping out the rotors (see more about that in my blog about this bike). Still, I’ll take lesser disc brakes over caliper or cantilever brakes any day, especially when I’m riding with added loads and/or on sketchy surfaces. I haven’t been a fan of top-mounted secondary brake levers, but these Tektro ones were smooth and I didn’t notice any decrease in braking power. They were nice to have on longer rides or for mountain-bike-like moves in the dirt, and the right one sports a bell on top, although they did take up some valuable real estate for mounting other accessories. The only ding was that the rear brake caliper is positioned to the outside of the seatstay, necessitating those big awkward-looking spacers for mounting fenders and most racks.

The drivetrain is Shimano Tiagra with a really wide range, 10 speeds spanning 12 to 28 teeth in the back and a 50/39/30-tooth crankset. At first I thought this range was excessive—I’ve gotten so used to doubles on both road and mountain bikes that I was confused by the gear bounty. In practice, the gearing range enhanced the bike’s capability, allowing low-low gears for climbing loose trails and hauling a load up hills, and speedster top end gears for hauling ass down smooth tarmac. All those gears also enhance the bike’s backroad touring ability. The wheels were nothing to write home about, being fairly heavy, but they stood up to garden-variety abuse. Concessions to price have to be made somewhere.

Specialized is as well-known for useful innovations in componentry as much as for bikes; standouts on this bike were the comfy Riva saddle, Body Geometry gel inserts under the handlebar tape, and a stem that gets two additional angle positions with the use of an eccentric insert. There are also three different crank lengths spec’d for different sizes of this bike—a small but important concession to good fit.

The most attractive part of the Tricross package is the price—$1,650 is a good deal for a bike that comes ready to roll and would make a good platform for upgrading. This would be a good choice for someone that needs a bike to fill transportation and adventure needs now, and wants to experiment with dressing it in different parts down the road. Don’t overlook the big S if you are in need of a classic do-it-all sort of ride.

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