First Impression: Specialized CruX Elite EVO Rival Disc

By Mike Cushionbury

For a great many of us, road riding isn’t a dedicated endeavor of criterium racing and hill repeats. It’s a combination of long days on the pavement, as many dirt roads as we can find, a training race here and there, and maybe even a cyclocross race. This of course begs the question, is there just one do-it-all bike for all of the above?

The answer according to Specialized is, in fact, yes. Taking what it learned from the successful CruX cross line, Specialized has been dabbling in creating the ultimate gravel road bike, a concept that seems to be working as team riders Rebecca Rusch and Dan Hughes both won the Dirty Kanza 200 this year on specially outfitted editions of the “gravel” Crux. The production model, dubbed the CruX EVO, is a $3,200 road/gravel/cross-machine that could be the only drop-bar bike you’ll ever need. Or want.

The frame is constructed from FACT 10r carbon (the same as every other cross bike in the line save for the $8,500 S-Works edition which gets lighter 11r carbon.) Virtually every other frame feature and design is identical to the cyclocross-focused CruX, from the internally routed cables to the oversized BB30 bottom bracket junction to the FACT carbon fork.

The biggest difference from its siblings comes in the drivetrain and wheels. The CruX EVO gets wide 38c Trigger Sport tires for gravel and dirt laced to Axis 2.0 aluminum wheels. Spec-wise, the EVO has SRAM S hydraulic disc brakes and DoubleTap shifters with a Rival 10-speed rear derailleur. The aluminum stem and handlebar are paired with a carbon CG-R Seatpost (formerly known as the cobble gobbler) to successfully damp vibrations.

Part of Specialized’s plan for this long term test was to slowly upgrade the bike as the year progresses to showcase just how good the $3,200 bike can be. Unfortunately with a last-minute delivery and only one hour on the bike before the famous, 68-mile Iron Cross ultra cross race, I had to make some fast changes. With an eight-mile mountaintop finish in this year’s edition, I had to change the wheels to something lighter—and tubeless. For this I went with NoTube’s Iron Cross hoops and Clement file tread tires set up tubeless. Other small changes included a saddle I knew I was comfortable with, a longer stem (personal preference), and a carbon crank to shed weight but more importantly match the 175mm arms I’m accustomed to using. That was it.

Amazing is the best way to describe the CruX EVO’s performance. The Hydro S brakes feel as tactile and strong as their Red brethren. Modulation is perfect and strength is predictable without ever fading, a great encourager on Iron Cross’s 50mph-plus gravel road descents. After riding discs on the road I fear I can never go back to rim brakes.

Stock gearing of 50/34 and 11/28 was spot on for high-speed pace lining as well as the steep gravel and singletrack climbs that are found throughout the IronCross course. In all honesty, while I initially lusted overriding a CruX with SRAM RED 22, using the 10-speed I never once thought, “I wish I had that extra gear” because shift performance was as smooth and precise as anything I’ve used and I never wanted for more on the racecourse.

Frame comfort and handling were equally as impressive as drivetrain and braking performance. The CruX EVO was stable at speed yet able to carve nicely around turns without argument. The ultimate test for the CruX’s versatility? I raced a 68-mile ultra cross off-road race last weekend and with a tire change, I’ll be riding a 90-mile Gran Fondo all on pavement this weekend. What’s up next after that?

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