By Eric McKeegan
Swobo started life as a clothing company years ago, out to push wool on the masses before the masses realized wool was the bomb. After going incommunicado for a few years, Swobo returned somewhat recently; now more than just a clothing company, they offer a full line of bikes aimed at the urban rider. Poking around the Internet for a singlespeed to test, the Crosby caught my eye and Swobo dispatched one from Santa Cruz just in time for a cold and wet East Coast winter to arrive. The Crosby falls into the do-it-all cyclocross bike category with commuting, racing, trails, light touring, and road rides all within its purview.
Unlike most other bikes in this category, such as the venerable Surly Cross-Check or Soma Double Cross, the Crosby uses an aluminum rather than steel frame. The fluid forming process (also called “hydroforming”) is used to create tube shapes said to provide a stiff yet resilient ride, and the frame is paired with a carbon fork, painted to match. A set of sliding dropouts tensions the chain; derailleurs are an option, and a geared dropout is available for $25. On the frame and fork, provisions are made for cantilever and disc brakes, along with rack and fender mounts. Cable stops all around for brakes and shift cables. Got your own stash of parts to use, or ready to build up a bike from scratch? The frameset is available separately for $550.
I got right to riding, glad to have the knobby WTB Cross Wolf tires on the slush-filled streets. I swapped the stem for a shorter one after a few rides, and thought about swapping bars and levers too, but in the end my disagreements with the bends and hood shape weren’t enough to ruin our relationship. Stock gearing is 42/17, which is just slightly lower than what I usually run, but it worked out just fine. The saddle is well padded but still supportive, great for riding in street clothes.
The real component standout was the SRAM Torpedo hub. Stick a petite flathead screwdriver through a hole in the hub, turn seven times—ka-pow, freewheeling. Turn the other way—fixed. In theory, I really like this idea. Ride fixed most of the time, switch to free for trails or casual rides around town. In practice, I never had a small enough screwdriver around (the one on your multi-tool ain’t gonna fit), so I rode it fixed most of the time, including some character-building forays on snowy singletrack.
Fortunately, the Crosby is set up well for flailing around in the woods, or riding to the store, or riding to the next state, or maybe even getting your race on. The geometry and handling are very much middle-of-the-road, but that is a high compliment for a bike like this. Whether it is bombing rough road descents, dodging trees on singletrack, or commuting to work, I never felt like the Crosby was out of its element. My last aluminum ‘cross bike was a bit on the harsh side, but not this Swobo. It could be a combination of tires, saddle and frame, but I never felt beat up on bad pavement, although the fork could start to feel a little harsh on rougher dirt roads.
At their core, Swobo bikes are designed for urban use, and some of the small details show attention to urban riders’ needs: bolt-on (theft resistant) wheels, a neutral paint job with minimal flashy logos, a bottle opener under the seat, and a chainring guard to keep those ‘80s legwarmers grease-free. My attempts to gain some street cred with sweet stoplight trackstands were made a bit difficult by the play in the rear hub in fixed mode; it took a bit of practice to stay feet-up and clipped-in at a standstill.
Unfortunately, the local cyclocross race season was over before the arrival of the Crosby, but for someone who is a weekday commuter and weekend racer, this bike could be a very good option. The aluminum frame is noticeably lighter than its steel-framed competition, and the stable handling is my idea of a good time for ‘cross racing. You racers can keep those evil twitchy race bikes for yourselves— I want something that is happy drifting feet-up through muddy turns.
A few other things stood out to me, both good and bad. First, the new Avid Shorty brakes are brilliant. The previous design was impossible to keep quiet, but the new ones went about their work with nary a squeal or shudder. I’m sure some credit goes to the frame and fork too, but a tip of the chapeau to Avid anyway. As well as the Shorties work, I couldn’t help but want to install at least a front disc brake for all the crap I’ve been riding through, but the front hub has no disc mounts, so I’d need a new wheel for that upgrade. Bummer. Fortunately, the frame and fork have plenty of room for 32mm tires and full fenders. Without fenders, the fork might fit up to a 42mm tire; the rear looks like 38mm would max out the clearance, Clarence.
Swobo has a real winner here in the utilitarian ‘cross bike category. Super versatile, understated design and aesthetics, substantially lighter than most of its competitors, but still affordable. I’d be glad to start a long-term relationship with the Crosby; with my basement full of bits, I could see lots of parts-swapping fun in my future.
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Price: $1,000 (frameset: $550)
Sizes Available: 53, 55, 57 (tested), 59, 61cm