This Sunday I raced in the first race of the local 2007 'cross series. I've raced three cross seasons. One season on a mountain bike, the second season, I rode a Kona "Jake the Snake" cyclocross bike and this year I built a bike based on a Redline Conquest Team frameset and a hodge-podge of components. I wanted to solve problems I had with the Kona (namely too heavy!), and build a bike that could stand up to my 220 pound body, and I think I've managed to do that.
The Redline + Ultegra bike weighs 20 pounds loaded with the pedals, and full bottle. So far, it seems like it will easily survive a full cross season. I use the R600 wheels on my road bike, and they have been very durable. They survived a bumpy hard packed course with no problem.
Build, don't Buy
This article is more a write up on my methodology for building the redline bike, rather than a review of this frameset. My main conclusion is, if you're getting into cyclocross, you should probably build a bike (with the help of the LBS if necessary) instead of buying an off-the-shelf machine. I spent some time this summer trying to hunt down a good deal on a complete bike, and didn't find anything close to what I assembled in terms of price or components.
I realized last season, that a good 'cross bike (something I knew little about) is basically a good road bike (something I knew about) with a frame that has clearance for mud and nobbies, and a crankset with smaller chain-rings (e.g. 36/46). The manufacturers that offer complete bikes seem to have a different view. Perhaps they are aiming at a more general audience, so their "cyclocross" offerings are spec'ed out more like road/mountain hybrids, rather than road bikes.
A bike that's comparable in price from Kona is the "Major Jake", and for $2000 you get a mix of 105 and Ultegra components. A bike that's comparable in components from Cannondale is the Ultegra SL Si, which is a whopping £2,399.99! ($4800 the only price I could find online is in pounds, sorry).
The Frame and The Fork
I've ridden the bike twice, so these are my first impressions. I dialed in my position to match my road racing position with a 30 mile ride on pavement and hard packed trails and grass, then I did a 45 minute cyclocross race.
The race course had a little of everything: two techincal sections that required some bike handling: sharp descents through switchback turns, and two sets of stairs that required dismounts, two long straightaways, and one section with several 180 degree turns.
We've had perfect autumn weather here in northeast Ohio, so the course was dry, and the soil broke down to a fine powder as the field pounded through corners and over the crest of small rises.
The Redline frame is lightweight Scandium tubing and is extremely stiff. It did not budge under maximum torque. I went with 700x34 Vittoria tires, and pumped them to 90 PSI for this course. Stiff frame + hard tires + dry course should be a bone rattling combination. Nope. The Ritchey WCS carbon fork soaked up the bumps on the straightaways, even at full speed.
The bike was very stable and went exactly where I pointed it on the switchback descents, and along an off-camber "cliff-side" section of the course. I was happily able to make quick course corrections several times, and avoiding running into people and obstacles. It was a little truck-like through the 180 degree turns.
The frame is cleanly assembled, light, and worked well with all my components. The top tube is ergonomically designed to be carried on the shoulder--that was actually noticeable during the race.
My conclusion is the star of the bike is the carbon fork. I really appreciated the light front end when running up the stairs. If I build another 'cross bike any time soon, I'll use another Ritchey carbon fork, and I'd probably use another Redline frameset.