Free Your Mind, And Your Legs Will Follow

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gunnar Cross Hairs Gravel Prototype

I rode my Gunnar Cross Hairs for more than two years. I had a hell of a lot of adventures on it. We went everywhere and saw everything together. I shared some of my finest race finishes on that bike and enjoyed every mile that I put on it. Gunnar makes one awesome bike....and they call it the Cross Hairs. It is a cyclocross bicycle with cantilever mounts and more of a "road" geometry compared to some of the other racing cyclocross bikes. In my opinion it is one of the best riding bikes I have ever been on. I built up a stock 56cm Cross Hairs, had it fitted, and have never been happier with the performance of that bike. I finished Trans Iowa in 2012 aboard my vanilla milkshake colored Gunnar and raced several other gravel events on it. I feel like that bike was more at home on the gravel then it was on any other pavement. It shared tears of defeat and tears of victory with me and never failed me. It is a fantastic bike. 
Racing several gravel events each year I wanted something that fit more like a glove and was a little bit more comfortable over the long miles of endurance gravel racing. My training partner and Ari and I have had several conversations on the perfect gravel bike and what is necessary and what is not for gravel racing. We began a dialogue with Gunnar on what they would need to make a gravel specific bike. So this brings up the question: What makes a "Gravel Prototype" or a "Gravel Bike"? Our niche bicycle industry is getting even more niche-y and narrowing down riding styles and categorizing bicycles into narrowly defined machines. So, where cyclists have previously ridden mountain bikes or cross bikes on there is a push to have a specific bike designed for a specific purpose. And, to a point I think this is very viable. Especially, if you are putting lots of hours and miles into performing or achieving one task. For me this task is finishing Trans Iowa...again. My Cross Hairs performed flawlessly in the 2012 version of Trans Iowa. But, I wanted something ever-so-slightly different for the 330 miles of gravel encountered during TI. 

Ari and I corresponded with Johanna at Gunnar/Waterford and emailed back and forth with each other on how we would want this prototype to be set up. Gunnar agreed to make us a "prototype" version of the Cross Hairs since we both own and race on the current stock version of the bike. We felt that there were several tweaks to be made to create the perfect gravel bike: 1) Wider tire clearance, 2) A third set of bottle bosses. 3) A taller head tube, 4) A lower bottom bracket, 5) Cable routing issues, 6) Brake setup, 7) Dropout selection.

1) Wider tire clearance is key for gravel racing. Many events have single track, rocky sections, horse trails, and scetchy roads that require a bigger tire. The stock cross hairs comes with clearance that maxes out right about 35mm wide tires (depending on the tire). We asked Gunnar to make a bike that had clearance for up to 45mm tires. We asked, and they delivered. We can easily fit 45mm tires in the bike with more room to go. A draw back of this is that the chainstays have to be widened to accommodate a larger the wheel base effectively gets longer. This isn't a bad thing though! These bikes aren't road racing crit bikes....they are long distance endurance bikes! So a larger wheel base just means added comfort. This felt a little "sloppy" at first, but now that I have 1000 miles on the bike, it feels just right.

2) A third set of bottle bosses under the downtube was an easy add-on. They are hidden if you don't use them....and WHY not get them?? Its extra water storage if you need it, or extra storage in general. You can use a dry water bottle to store other food, tools, or goodies. Enough said.

3) A taller head tube helps take a race bike to an endurance bike. Granted, the stock cross hairs felt great to me...I did need some tweaking. The taller head tube allowed for a shorter top tube and a longer stem (this is a personal case and isn't the case with everyone). This allowed me to fit better on the bike and reach the drops of the handlebars more comfortably and efficiently.

4) The lower bottom bracket makes the bike more stable. You might be trading that racy BMW M3 feel for a Cadillac CTS feel....but just like the longer wheel base....ITS OK. We want it to steer smoothly and be more stable since we are riding on more of an UNstable surface. What it boils down to is that the bike will handle better off-road and be more comfortable for 50+ mile bike rides.

5) We thought of running fully sealed cable housing the entire length of the cable.....but there were certain draw backs. If we did this we would be getting more of a "sloppy" feel from the cable and more area for the cable to become kinked and create friction. But, this would seal our cables off from the elements. Running the cables along the top tube would create a problem for the front derailleur. We could use a top pull front derailleur or run one of those goofy pulley wheels if the housing was run along the top tube. Instead, we realized that our cables have never shifted poorly in muddy situations....So, we went with traditional cable stops on the down tube and routed a full length of housing for our brakes along the top tube. This helps when we run frame bags and keeps the cable from getting caught or crimped from the bag.

6) Would we run disc brakes of cantilever brakes. Disc brakes are attractive, but do they make sense on the gravel. One year during Trans Iowa, Ari's brake pads on his Avid BB7 brakes were completely worn down to the metal from all of the grit and mud that we rode through. His brakes were useless at this point. We have always liked cantilever brakes and decided that is the choice we would go with. They have been great why not go with what we know.

7) I had sliding dropouts added to my bike. This isn't necessarily "gravel specific" but it does allow me to change from geared to single speed if need be. On this bike I wanted the versatility so I decided to have them installed. Its also a neat way to play with the effective length of the wheel base and see how the bike handles.

There you have go buy a Gunnar, and tell them Ari and Jay from the Slender Fungus sent you!

Thanks to Johanna and Richard up at Gunnar/Waterford!!!!!
We believe in your bikes and you guys do fantastic work!!!



  1. Great piece on a beautiful bike. Happy Trails!

  2. Hi Jay,

    I'm really looking at pulling the trigger on this bike. Spoke with Johanna and referenced your build. Would it be possible to speak with you via email to discuss this bike. First hand accounts are really helpful.