Review: Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike

As previously noted, there’s no denying the new Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike looks like a stealth rocket ship ready to rip over hill, dale, dirt, gravel, and mud, but how does it ride?

The Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike about to be put through the paces.

The Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike about to be put through the paces.

It’s been put through its paces – 151.6 miles to be exact – encompassing spirited lunch rides on our local ‘cross trails, longer weekend rides through local forests, even longer weekend rides in the North Carolina mountains, plus 45+ minutes deep in the pain cave at a 40+ Masters 1/2/3 ‘cross race in the North Carolina Cyclocross series. It’s definitely been ridden hard – even crashed hard on several occasions when bravado exceeded bike handling ability – and it just kept coming back for more.

In short, two descriptors kept coming to the fore over and over again as I put in the miles on  this carbon fiber steed: rock-solid and confident. More on that shortly.

The Specs

Just a quick reminder of exactly what you get out of the box. At its core, the Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike features a carbon fiber frame and full carbon fiber fork with 1-1/8″ – 1-1/2″ tapered steerer, a massive BB86 bottom bracket shell, internally routed shift and brake cables, and two sets of water bottle cage braze-ons (because you’ll get thirsty on your epic dirt/gravel adventures). There’s a no-nonsense selection of components including Shimano 105 5800 2×11-speed STI shifters, Shimano 105 5800 front and rear derailleurs, a Shimano 105 5800 11-speed 11-32T cassette, and a Shimano RS500 46/36T ‘cross crankset. The brakes are Promax Render R mechanical disc with 160mm rotors front and rear. Wheel-wise, the bike features aluminum, disc brake-specific Alex rims and aluminum Novatec hubs with 28 spokes front/rear laced 2x while the tires are Vittoria XG Pro 700×33. Both wheels utilize quick releases and the wheels are set up for running tubes with your tires. Rounding out the build are an assortment of aluminum handlebars, stem, seatpost, plus a saddle which most likely will remain in pristine condition in your home workshop as you’ll very likely opt for a swap-out to your preferred choice.

The Fit

When purchasing a complete bike it’s always somewhat of a mixed bag regarding what components you may need to swap out just to make the bike fit correctly. I’ve been dealt the physique card of having somewhat stubby legs combined with a longer torso and arms, and yet amazingly the stock, out-of-the-box set-up almost worked as is in the tested 54cm option. In order to attain my tried and true position, the only component which I substituted was the stem. The bike arrived with a 110mm length and I changed it to a 120mm option (with a -17 degree rise) to accommodate my extension needs.

The handlebars were 44cm wide – 2cm wider than my preferred width – but the extra width felt just fine and actually grew on me with each and every ride. The crankarms were 170mm in length which is actually the length I’ve ridden on both road and ‘cross bikes forever (did I mention I have stubby legs?). That was a pleasant surprise as I had expected the cranks to be 172.5mm for this frame size.

A wide, 44cm handlebar comes stock on the 54cm size Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike.

A wide, 44cm handlebar comes stock on the 54cm size Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike.

The only other substitution made was with the aforementioned saddle. I did a couple of rides on the included saddle, but to truly put the bike through its paces I opted for my go-to ‘cross bike saddle choice of a Fizik Arione. Pedals are not included so I installed a set of tried-and-true Crank Brothers Candy 3s taken from my personal ‘cross bike and for all riding except ‘cross competition I added a couple of water bottle cages to the frame for my hydration needs.

 Also of note, the head tube on the 54cm size is very much in the endurance bike realm with a length of 15.8cm – much taller than what I’m used to on my race-oriented, personal ‘cross bike – but the slightly more upright position that this bike utilizes was something soon forgotten throughout the testing. In fact, the position grew on me and makes perfect sense for what this bike is all about.

Point of reference

Riding a full carbon fiber frame/fork with disc brakes was a totally new experience for me. Call me a curmudgeon/Luddite, but my personal ‘cross bike for the past 14 years (!!!) has been a Bianchi Cross Concept with a scandium aluminum frame, a carbon fiber fork with a straight 1-1/8″ aluminum steerer, plus cantilever brakes. The components have gone through multiple iterations and currently there’s a 1×10-speed drivetrain with a bespoke mish-mash of Shimano and SRAM I guarantee is not replicated on any other bike on planet Earth. My personal bike weighs in at roughly 3 pounds lighter (18 pounds for the Bianchi vs. 21 pounds for the Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike).

The Ride

From the very first pedal stroke I was impressed with just how solid the Nashbar ‘cross bike feels. That massive BB86 bottom bracket shell helps ensure that your power most definitely goes straight to forward propulsion. And even though I was now on a bike 3 pounds heavier, I honestly didn’t feel the extra weight – even on the steepest dirt climbs in the area. The ride quality was also superb out on the trails and dirt/gravel roads. Maybe my bar had been set very low having ridden a Scandium jack hammer for so many years, but my home trails and roads seemed just that much smoother on this full carbon set-up.

The Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike in action at a North Carolina Cyclocross Series race.

The Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike in action at a North Carolina Cyclocross Series race.

While the ride quality was certainly noticed, most significantly for me was the quality of the braking with the Nashbar bike’s mechanical disc brakes. Yes, my Bianchi’s Paul Components Neo-Retro cantilevers are a bit lighter and have pretty good stopping power for what they are, but it was a pleasure to use noticeably less effort at the levers to attain powerful, lightning-quick deceleration with the mechanical disc brake set-up. And having the 1-1/8″ – 1-1/2″ tapered full carbon steerer tube, too, made a definitive difference with front braking. There was absolutely no front-end chatter on the Nashbar ‘cross bike and my confidence in attacking trails and descents at greater speed grew as I knew that a braking bail-out was a lighter touch away.

Mother Nature didn’t cooperate regarding wet, sloppy conditions – all of my riding was done sans rain – but I did have the chance to ride through somewhat marshy sectors as well as negotiate some short stream crossings. And while this may seem a no-brainer to those with disc brake experience, for me it was a novel and noted pleasure that while my tires and rims were wet and muddy, braking was not affected in the least. I will take that option every time.

Practicing some 'cross skills on the Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike.

Practicing some ‘cross skills on the Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike.

Not much more can be said of the Shimano 2×11-speed drivetrain with its 105 shifters, derailleurs, and cassette other than it all just works flawlessly from the get-go. The 46/36T chainring combination coupled with an 11-32T cassette provided a wide range of gears that are well-suited for all-day gravel road adventures. You’re covered from screaming descents through lung-busting ascents and everything in between. I found the gear ratio a bit wide for the one ‘cross race I did, but if you have one set-up for everything it still certainly will work.

 The stock Vittoria XG Pro 700×33 wire bead tires did an admirable job on the trails, dirt roads, and in competition. Their all-around tread delivered ample grip and cornering traction as well as straight-line speed.

Room for More

With the included 700×33 Vittoria XG Pro ‘cross tires, there’s still an impressive amount of tire clearance both front and rear. 700×33 is the widest tire option allowable in UCI competition (which is why you frequently see ‘cross tires with that width), and while that width option provides a pretty comfortable ride I was curious to push the limits of what the Nashbar carbon ‘cross bike could handle.

The Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike was quite at home in the North Carolina mountains.

The Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike was quite at home in the North Carolina mountains.

The final weekend of testing the bike was certainly a doozy as I enjoyed two days of riding some of the finest dirt roads you’ll find anywhere out in the mountains of North Carolina in the Blowing Rock vicinity. The stock 700×33 Vittorias were swapped out for a set of 700×38 Panaracer Comet tires. Clearance for the front tire was still good, while the rear was tighter. In fact, I don’t think you could go any wider on the rear.

Rear clearance for a 700x38 tire on the Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike.

Rear clearance for a 700×38 tire on the Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike.

Nonetheless, while some bikes these days sport tires 700×40 and wider, the 700×38 tires are still excellent options for tackling mountainous dirt roads. I’ll admit I could feel a bit more heft in the wheels when faced with dirt road climbs measured in miles, but the plushness and confidence when bombing downhill on multi-mile descents was remarkable. The 700x38s, in conjunction with disc brakes, inspired a level of descending I hadn’t thought possible and I’ll gladly take the weight penalty for what this bike can do while negotiating flatter to downhill terrain. These wider tires accentuated the bike’s stability and handling – especially at speed. In fact, I’d opt for the widest tires this bike could handle in all situations other than ‘cross racing.

Conclusion

I’m impressed. It’s really as simple as that. What you get for the money is remarkable and if you had to have one bike to do it all, the Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike would be a superb option.

 

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