I was talking to my Kona guy yesterday (yes, it does make me feel special to have a Kona guy) and somehow got to bemoaning the way the bike industry feels like it has to slice everything super-fine so there are a million different products and no one knows what the hell they’re talking about or how to differentiate them. I was specifically complaining about adventure vs. gravel vs. cyclocross bikes. “Cripe!” says me. “It’s nothing you can’t fix with some tires, and my Jake will take all sorts of tires.”
That’s how we started talking about Carbon Drop Bar Bikes in which you could (and might!) have a bike upon which you could mount slicks and get out there for the Wednesday Night Ride or something knobbier for CX racing or something burlier still if you just want to get out there and take what nature serves up.
This afternoon I figured I’d demonstrate this premise on equipment that I own. First, here’s Jake with the setup I used all last summer: WTB Nano 40s set up tubeless. Pros: bring-it-on width and tread pattern + smooth ride with low pressure. Cons: pretty heavy even when tubeless, so acceleration is less than thrilling.
Next up: road ride. Same bike and wheels with some 30mm Specialized Roubaix tires. This is terrific setup if you’re gonna use your cross bike for road riding in the summer. Tons of grip, smooth ride and only a bit heavier than the race tires you’ve been using on your road bike.
When CX season rolls around, Bang! 33mm cross tires. I found these Clement MXPs tucked away somewhere and was instantly reminded of the fun times I had racing on them in years past.
The above pics highlight why Jake is probably my favorite drop bar bike of all time. It’s a very versatile bike, and gobs of tire clearance is one of the things that contributes to the versatility. Another thing is the way it’s built, with a comfortable ride. I’ve ridden cross bikes that were so stiff that they crossed the line into the kingdom of Harsh. While those were pretty darn good cross bikes, they weren’t something that I’d get all fired up about riding all day on skinny tires pumped up to big psi. Last thing on this subject, Jake has good geometry. Due to their need to provide clearance for pretty big tires and mud, cross forks are “taller” than road bike forks, so the bars on cross bikes tend to be higher relative to the bottom bracket than road race bikes. In fact, they get pretty close to the endurance road geometry that’s so popular these days.
I put this chart together for Jess, who was thinking about going from a Specialized Roubaix to a Crux (and did, in fact, pull the trigger). Since I was charting two bikes, why not chart five? Each of the points represents a bike’s stack and reach, which is explained in moderately gory detail here. Big takeaway: the Crux and the Jake fit similarly to our most popular endurance bikes. (Yes, there are differences like chain stay length and bottom bracket drop and head tube angle and all that, but as far as fit goes, they’re pretty darn close.)
Does this mean that I advocate against “pure” road bikes. Absolutely not. I have a Tarmac in my garage that I enjoy enormously. What I am suggesting is that, with ample tire clearance and disk brakes, the idea of “one bike” is perhaps more attainable with less compromise. I’m also suggesting that it’s not a bad idea to look beyond the way a bike is spec’d on the floor, and think about what might actually work, tire-wise.
While I’ve gone on about my carbon Jake, the argument works just a well for aluminum bikes (in fact, I was going to do the same tire switcheroo sequence with my aluminum Crux, but… didn’t). Further, I think plus size mountain bike tires and bikes are doing the exact same thing for the “one bike” crowd who desire something with a flat bar and single-track capacity.