Hooked

Hooked

It’s hard to make a bike that does everything. If it’s great in the tight quarters of racing, it’s no good at carrying loads. And if it’s good at carrying loads, it’s not nimble enough for tight singletrack. On and on, needs force choices. But just because you can’t do rocky singletrack on a road bike with 23mm tires doesn’t mean you can’t have a bike with some versatility.

If there’s one place where a variety of needs can converge, it’s with cyclocross and touring bikes. The fact is, both bikes need clearance for big tires, longer-than-usual chainstays, brakes that could stop an elephant on a muddy hillside and good slow-speed maneuverability. Done right, a good cyclocross bike can make for a good touring rig and will also work as a multistrada. Three kinds of riding, one kind of bike.

Bombtrack is a newish company, led by industry veterans. New companies can be interesting because they don’t have an established template of, “We do things this way.” They tend to let the creativity run a bit in an effort to find something that resonates with buyers. The Hook is a great example.

It’s a cyclocross bike, straight up. That’s how the marketing copy announces it and what the parts pick reinforces. And yet, it’s more than a ‘cross bike. But I’ll get to that.

IMG_2223The weld quality was very high.

Here’s a dirty secret to product planning: It can be a challenge to deliver a price-point cyclocross bike. Either they get really heavy or they tend to be more expensive than a similarly equipped road bike. Contributing factors include the tubeset, the brakes, the wheels and the tires.

The Hook goes for $1899. It’s equipped with a SRAM Apex 10-speed drivetrain, TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes (160mm rotors) and Mavic Crossride tubeless-compatible wheels. It rolls on excellent, 35mm-wide Continental Cyclocross Race tires. It would be easy to criticize the Apex 10 drivetrain, but that’s actually one of the more genius features of the bike. By going with 10-speed product, Bombtrack was able to hold cost down while not saddling a bike that might be used for touring with the liability of a single chainring. It also allowed them to use double-butted chro-moly tubing to yield a better riding frame that still be stiff enough for crazy exploits in the mud or thousands of miles from home.

Let’s be honest; if you’re contemplating the purchase of a cyclocross bike, it is almost certainly part of an N+1 philosophy. You’re already got a road bike and maybe one or two others. Even if you only have a road bike, adding a cyclocross bike means adding a bike that for most people will get three to four months use each year. It’s easier to justify that purchase if the bike can be ridden on unpaved roads or as a touring rig.

IMG_2227Top tube cable routing for the derailleur cables helped keep them clean and the inclusion of the barrel adjuster made it easy to ensure the front derailleur shifted perfectly.

That’s why the folks at Bombtrack included rack braze-ons on the seatstays, at the dropouts and a set of lowrider braze-ons on the fork. This thing can handle fully loaded touring.

At the point I received the bike the cyclocross season was over, so I couldn’t line up against any similarly incapable racers, but what I was able to do was go ride one of last fall’s race courses and then tear around fire roads in a nearby park. The fire roads in question suffer from the rather ubiquitous presence of decomposing granite and volcanic rock. It makes the going surprisingly slow and treacherous; pinch-flatting here is easier than finding an orange demagogue on TV.

The big question on my mind was how the Hook would handle on faster, smoother descents. Traditionally, cyclocross bikes had a high bottom bracket because you didn’t want the clips and straps on your pedals to get gummed up with grass and dirt when you dismounted. But then clips and straps went the way of dial telephones and after a 20-year lag BB drop has been on the increase. The Hook has 6cm of BB drop; that’s less than ‘cross bikes used to be but there’s room for it to drop further in the quest of making the bike as multipurpose as possible.

IMG_2225Eyelets on the fork mean you can add touring racks or fenders.

There is one unpaved road near me that I can hit with a fair amount of speed and not worry that rocks will cause an immediate pinch flat. I let the Hook run, tapping the brakes just as I hit the bottom of a water bar so that I wouldn’t launch coming over the top. Another 100 meters or so on there’s a sweeping left turn that requires severe braking to negotiate. This was the turn I figured the Hook would balk at, that I’d have to slow to a near stop, but instead with a bit of countersteering, I swung through it and proceeded down the descent. That was the moment I knew Bombtrack had created a true multipurpose bike.

The Hook is made in four sizes. The Small has a reach of 37.4cm (52.6cm top tube), the Medium a reach of 38.4cm (54.4cm top tube), the Large a reach of 39.3cm (56.2cm top tube) and the XL a reach of 40.4cm (57.9cm top tube). I rode the large and it was a surprisingly good fit straight out of the box. It comes in but one color, metallic gray, which looks great in afternoon sun, or when splattered with mud.

IMG_2229The rear dropouts are elegant, light and make welding a snap. The Apex drivetrain is one of the best available at this price.

On my last ride I ignored the sound of caution in my ears and went diving into one of the rocky descents. I picked my line nearly perfectly until I panged a rock that I never saw. The sound was metallic and one I assumed was only possible as a prelude to the dreaded ft-ft-ft. Which never came. I attribute my bullet dodging to great wheels and sizable tires of race quality. It’s a terrific example of why with ‘cross bikes product managers often invest more in the wheels and tires than they would on a similar road bike. It takes more to make a cyclocross bike ride great straight out of the box. I’d put the Hook against any other bike at this price point.

Final thought: One bike, many courses.

 

 

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13 comments

  1. Olivier

    A cyclocross bike has a high BB so you can keep pedaling through ruts, off-camber sections and tight turns. If the industry wants to cater to the low BB crowd, that’s fine, but racers will still prefer the traditional geo.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Historically, cyclocross bikes had a high BB not because of ruts or other course obstacles, but the keep toe clips from digging up grass. In the event of off-camber sections, a lower BB actually allows you to carry more speed and in tight turns a low BB is absolutely beneficial.

    2. Olivier

      I’m not contesting the origins, and I am a fan of the low BB. I disagree that the geometry somehow lags by 20 years. Stability in cornering and off camber sections is great at speed, when you are coasting, but as soon as you need to pedal you will be striking the ground. Cross races are all about pedaling everywhere you can; deep ruts, off-camber, etc. Coasting is a short-lived and much appreciated commodity.

    3. shiggy

      Agreed. My first ‘cross bike was a converted road frame. Rarely had issues with the toeclips dragging. Pedal strikes on offcambers were common.

  2. Scott G.

    Tourist are the cheapest cyclists there are, current system is to fly in
    and buy a cheap hybrid, under $500 (due to silly airline fees.)
    Donate bike at the end of trip to local bike co-op.
    Bring panniers, rack, pedals and saddle.

    1. Shawn

      I agree with Scott’s travel philosophy. Who needs the headache of dealing with a bike and the airlines (yes, and their silly, ludicrous, moronic, how-are-we-going-to-insure-my-airline-ceo-bonus justified airline fees). Coordinating the purchase of a bike on the leisure end of your travels eliminates the added extortion of the airline, and the idea of donating the bike to a non-profit when completed is a fine, noble idea. Pack your saddle, your shoes and your cleats and you’ll likely have a great time trying a new steed and knowing that you’ll have added data for your annual tax indebtedness. For those looking to travel to my part of the world in the near future, please note my new non-profit organization: “Ineedanewbikemorethantheairlinesneedanotherdamnfee.com”…… and we can arrange to meet you at the airport before you depart for home !


    2. Author
      Padraig

      That’s a pretty big generalization, one that, if true, would mean that S&S Couplers would have gone out of biz 20 years ago. And while donating a bike is always a nice thing, I’ve yet to run across a co-op in Hawaii or the mountains of France.

  3. Chris

    My cross bike has quite of lot of BB drop – not sure exactly but more than 60mm for sure. I tried 180mm cranks last year (I am 6′ 3″) and was striking pedals all over the place, actually knocking me off on a couple occasions. I have also mashed the big chainring on obstacles on several occasions. So, it’s pretty low, but I do love the handling. I would be curious to try a frame with a higher BB to see if I notice a difference.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I’ve got the Spyres on my Airheart. They are great brakes and for reasons I never figured out, the ones on the Bombtrack stopped better than mine. Grr. They aren’t as powerful as hydraulics, though, but for cable actuated, they are pretty terrific.

  4. Andrew

    Not to say that airline fees aren’t irritating, but methinks people bitch far too much about this. It’s $300, to be able to ride your own bike. Difficult to find a nice rental for less than $50/day, so if you ride more than a few days you break even. Buying a crap hybrid for $500 seems both more expensive and less enjoyable. Life is short- I want to ride my own, nice, bike.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      That’s why I undertook the Airheart project with Seven. When I fly, it’s $35 at the most. And as far as eliminating hassles, I’d much rather get to my room sooner and spend a peaceful hour assembling my bike. Bear in mind, of course, that I actually like working on bikes; YRMV. Also, I’m not rich enough to buy a bike and donate it to a charity at the end of a week. I tend to make big investments for the long term. All that said, I suspect anyone willing to buy a hybrid and ride it for a week while touring is probably not looking for the same experience I am. And that brings me back around to the Hook 1; I’ve done lots of touring from my front door and there’s nothing like four panniers and a handlebar bag and the open road. This bike makes me dream.

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