Friday, December 14, 2007

Fort Cross.Max LE review

After finally building up the frame, I raced at Cyclocross Nationals (B race) yesterday, so I now have an overall impression. I haven't raced it for a season yet, but I can say a few things about it and know it pretty intimately having built it from scratch.

One of the main reasons for getting a new bike was to shed some weight. I ordered the frame with the bling AlphaQ CX20 fork. Even so, after stripping down the Trek XO, the Fort frameset was only 4.8 ounces lighter! This is less a testament to the Fort than to the Trek, since the Fort frameset weighs the same as the Ridley Crossbow, another respectable cyclocross frameset, yet the Fort costs $200 less. Even with an alloy fork, the Trek still holds its own today in the weight department.

Some frameset details I liked: no bottle bosses or fender eyelets, seatstay cable stop, top tube cable routing (including front derailleur pulley), flattened top tube for shouldering, fairly aggressive geometry and clearcoated decals. All features of a cyclocross bike that's really going to be used as a cyclocross bike, not as a commuter, all-around bike, touring bike, etc. No compromises. Well done! This is personal, but the color and understated decals worked for me too. Building up the bike was staightforward, with all common diameters and threadings.

First ride on the bike was in the parking lot in Kansas City! A couple adjustments here and there and I was ready to race. I've never encountered conditions quite like the course in KC, with both mud and ice, so it's hard to compare how the bike handles, but I guess it's a compliment that I didn't really notice anything. The only thing that really stood out to me was cornering: the bike seemed to 'stick' better than the Trek. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to take muddy, slippery corners faster than I normally would. I don't know what the head tube angle on the Trek was, but I suspect the Fort was a little steeper because it carved those tight 180 corners perfectly. The weight balance was a bit different too, most likely because of the lighter fork. Otherwise, it just followed my input and went where I wanted it to go.

I'm very happy with the bike: all the details are spot on, handling is great, lighter than any bike at its price ($499 with generic carbon fork, $699 with AlphaQ fork), and if the results of the Fort Factory Team are a testament, it's got everything it takes to win races except the motor!