Even though it takes place in the dirt, the European-bred sport of cyclocross has always enjoyed deep and legitimate roots in the psyche of many hard-core road riders. While cyclocross is popular in America, it has never taken hold with the same religious fervor that it has across the Atlantic. And as if America’s more tenuous relationship with ’cross racing (due to costs, inclement weather and required skills) needed any more of a deterrent factor, in recent years the gravel/dual-purpose riding segment has begun to grab a bigger share of the drop-bar/knobby-tire market.
As American cyclists have begun looking at both cyclocross and gravel bikes as a means to expand their cycling experience beyond a strictly slick-tired, pavement scenario, many people see the popularity of ’cross being under siege due to the growing popularity of gravel riding. Why? Mostly because the gravel/dual-purpose bikes aren’t inherently limited in design by the UCI technical regulations that the sport-specific bikes must adhere to. In a word—versatility.
What we have here is a comparison between two cyclocross bikes from two American brands who have over the years made the heaviest investment in the sport. What can we learn from the two different machines? Read on to find out.
Cannondale: The two most important words to use when describing the SuperX Team frame are “all new.” Thankfully, this is the bike we envisioned two years ago as we slogged through the mud at Dirty Kanza on the previous version that lacked the gravel-tire-friendly wheel clearance, increased rear-end rigidity and overall compliance.
The SuperX can now run up to a 40mm tire, which came about through a new rear triangle design that requires a special dish to the rear wheel. Yes, that means wheel swaps can only be made with similarly dished wheels, which is a complication every SuperX buyer should consider. (You can get old wheels
re-dished for about $50 at a local bike shop).
What their use of Ballistic carbon also brought to the table was an abundance of proprietary features specifically designed to maximize compliance while optimizing durability. Owing to their use of SAVE Technology, the shape of the chainstays (versus the previous model) is probably the most noticeably enhanced part of the frame.
As much as they already are (and eventually will become) the norm, the SuperX runs with flat-mount brakes and 12mm thru-axles. Although the bike runs a 1x drivetrain, the seat tube is drilled to accept a front derailleur should you choose to run double chainrings.
Trek: The Boone frame is made using Trek’s proprietary OCLV carbon, along with their Isospeed decoupler suspension in the rear that was originally used on their Domane road bike. Unfortunately, it’s the static version and not the adjustable version found on the new high-end model of the Domane lineup.
We weren’t quite sure what to make of the 15mm thru-axle spec up front and the standard 9mm QR skewer used in the rear. Our guess was that Trek opted to use up their remaining stock of rear dropouts before making the mold change that would be needed to accept a thru-axle. The hidden front and rear fender mounts were a nice touch. Not so hidden is a riveted-on front derailleur mount that sticks out like a needless sore thumb. For most cyclists, thanks to the gear spreads available with a 1x these days, you’ll have no need to go back to a double.
Although race mechanics might cheer, we were surprised to see an externally routed front brake cable. However, that aesthetic hit was overshadowed by the eye-pleasing paint scheme that had a nice metal-flake finish to it.
Cannondale: If there was a single reason to overlook the SuperX Team in favor of the lower-line $5100 Force model, it would be the wheel spec. Unless you’re a full pro, serious ’cross racer, there is no reason to spend the extra $3500 on the tubular Zipp wheel upgrade. For the $3500 difference, you’d be better served buying either two plane tickets to Belgium, or a spare (wider) wheelset and one ticket to Belgium!
As much as the lever-free thru-axles help give the bike a clean look, in the end we prefer to have handles for those just-in-case moments when you find yourself stuck on an isolated fire road without an Allen key.
The SuperX is spec’d with Cannondale’s impressive Hollowgram Si crank with a 40t SpideRing chainring (mated to an 11-32 cassette) and their proprietary SAVE 25.4mm seatpost.
Trek: Like the SuperX, the Boone runs with a SRAM Force CX1 drivetrain and awesome hydraulic disc brakes. Unlike the SuperX, the Boone uses a more restrictive 11-28 cassette, which, though often touted as “cyclocross-specific,” is still on the tall side for racing, let alone gravel rides. The Boone’s wheel spec relies on tubeless-ready Bontrager wheels mounted with 32mm Bontrager CX3 tires. Being Trek’s house brand, you’ll find the full assortment of proven Bontrager-branded parts on the Boone.
Cannondale: Lucky for us, Cannondale delivered the SuperX months before we competed in our first ’cross race, which gave us the chance to see how the bike performed as a true dual-purpose bike—make that a triple-purpose bike. With and without bigger tires, we logged hundreds of miles aboard the SuperX on both road and gravel rides and found it to be a superb all-around ride.
Trek: Where the Cannondale shows some latitude in steering and compliance, the Trek shows little. It is easily the racier of the two bikes. It turns sharper and feels quicker in acceleration. The Isospeed is most noticeable on the smaller braking bumps found on a racecourse rather than the bigger rain ruts found on a fire road.
Cannondale: Ironically, the costliest component on the SuperX parts list was also the least impressive. While carbon tubular wheels may be
all the rage with the most elite cyclocross racers, they make zero sense for everyone else. Even though the proprietary Ai offset rear triangle is what helps provide added compliance, agile handling and huge wheel clearance, it’s too bad that they couldn’t provide all that without the special rear-wheel dish
(as proven possible on the Open U.P. gravel bike).
Still, as much as the special wheel dish is a pain, it can be overlooked given the overall ride quality of the frame. Sure, the SuperX is touted as a cyclocross bike, but in reality it excels as a dual-purpose bike, albeit only after you invest in a set of wider wheels and tires.
Our buying advice when it comes to the SuperX? Don’t. Instead, for anyone with dual-purpose desires looking for a great cost/benefit equation, we would urge them to choose the Force model, which is basically the same bike without the tubular wheels. Problem solved!
Trek: A few years ago Trek made a huge investment in their cyclocross program by hiring some of the best riders in the world and designing some top-flight, sport-specific bikes. However, in the time since then, the gravel/dual-purpose bike segment has come of age in terms of both new technology and rider participation.
As such, the Boone feels a bit antiquated, and the ride experience reminded us of when we were aboard the old Cannondale SuperX and longing for the version we now have. When it comes to dual-purpose capabilities, nothing beats the advantage that big tires have for off-road riding. Owing to its limited rear-wheel clearance (a 35mm tire would be the max size), the Boone would actually best double as a road bike with the addition of some slick tires. Trek’s tight, ’cross-specific gear spread also made tackling steep fire roads tough.
One of the most spirited debates about the two bikes were the mild (Trek) to wild (Cannondale) graphics that have us split, with the younger riders preferring the more outlandish SuperX paint scheme.
For anyone looking for a solid cyclocross bike, the Trek Boone is certainly a competent choice at a good price point. The bike was designed for short-course racing, and the Isospeed decoupler helps bring some useful bump relief.
As more people have begun considering the off-road components of their road bike, the measure of any bike’s true versatility has become paramount. With that in mind, while not a single one of us would choose the SuperX Team, we would, however, all choose the lower-line Force model.
We have nothing against cyclocross bikes, but it’s the very features which make them excel “between the tape” that limit their outback potential and thus, for us, lose their appeal. For both true racing and on-/off-road potential, Cannondale’s SuperX is the clear-cut winner here.
CANNONDALE PUNCH LINES
• Great compliance & handling
• Special rear-wheel dish
• Ideal for multi-purpose
Weight: 16 pounds
Sizes: 46, 51, 54 (tested), 56, 58, 61cm
TREK PUNCH LINES
• Nice price & finish
• Proprietary Isospeed rear suspension
• Mismatched axle spec screams “update”!
Weight: 17.1 pounds
Sizes: 50, 52, 54, 56 (tested), 58, 61cm