In the past couple weeks we’ve begun shipping the first of our new La Cruz Ti frames, so Jason asked me if I’d be willing to share some of my experience on the frame.
My experience on a prototype La Cruz Ti is most likely quite different than how a typical cyclocross racer might use the bike. At this point in my cycling career I’d likely be squarely classified as a ‘Gravel Specialist’. There’s nothing wrong with that and I suspect we’ll see quite a few La Cruz Ti bikes on the gravel scene in the coming seasons.
My frame was one of several prototypes that were ordered when Salsa began exploring titanium as a frame material. Details like cable routing, tire clearance, and accessory fitments are different than on the production frames, however tubing specification is the same. The changes on the production frames are all improvements and I suspect someday I will purchase a production La Cruz Ti.
My experience with cyclocross bikes began around 2001 with the purchase of a Bean Green Surly Crosscheck. It was my first ‘road bike’ that I purchased specifically to serve multi-purpose use that included year-round commuting, weekly training rides, crit racing, road riding, and ‘cross racing in the fall. Like many other folks, I immediately recognized the versatility of cyclocross bicycles.
Over the past several years I’ve spent hundreds of hours and thousands of miles riding and racing Salsa’s La Cruz Disc and Chili Con Crosso models. In 2009 I logged over 4000 miles on the La Cruz Ti. When I wasn’t training (riding my loaded Fargo) for the Tour Divide, I was riding that LC Ti proto.
In the fall of 2008 we took delivery of several titanium prototype frames from Lynskey. I built my bike with a SRAM Rival drivetrain, Tektro brakes, Alpha Q fork, DT 240 hubs w/carbon clincher rims, Challenge tires, Ti Moots seatpost, and Salsa Pro Moto stem and Bell Lap handlebar. Very few changes, aside from worn tires, pads, and drivetrain components, have been made since that original build.
While winter was beginning in Minnesota I began riding the bike, primarily commuting, 30+ miles a day. It stayed on its hook on the wettest of days and made round trips on the sub-zero days. In early March the weather broke and we began getting consistent above freezing days. Added to my commutes were base mile training rides of 80+ miles, a bit of gravel, and finally some higher intensity/faster paced riding. It wasn’t until I began to get the bike out on the longer rides and rougher terrain that I was able to identify the characteristics that I really liked.
The La Cruz Ti really shines on long rides and/or rough terrain. How long? In 2009 I raced Trans Iowa V5 and the 100-mile Almanzo with this bike. Trans Iowa V5 was my third attempt, second finish, and first win of the grueling 320-mile gravel race. Coupled with good preparation, conditions, and riding partners, the La Cruz Ti was an important part of my success.
I chose the bike based on two primary factors: weight and comfort. Weight plays into comfort, of course, but it also affects speed and endurance. When you push more weight, you will fatigue faster than you would pushing less weight. My proto weighs in near the 18 lb (8.1kg) mark. Riding a lighter bike helped me stay ‘fresh’ longer and cover ground faster!
Defining comfort is a bit more complex. I started out writing this review by defining comfort in relation to loss of power and speed (due to rider fatigue) over miles covered. I got halfway through that paragraph and realized that unless we have data and/or are talking about pro athletes (one of which I am not), plotting these factors is unnecessary.
For the vast majority of regular Joe’s (which I am literally), it is all about perception. I don’t own a power meter, I don’t use a heart rate monitor, and I definitely don’t monitor my caloric intake. I train, race, and choose my equipment based on perception and the experience I’m seeking.
At the finish of Trans Iowa V5, after close to 25 continuous hours on the bike I could hardly walk. I hobbled to the hotel room, whacked out on adrenaline and exhaustion, and climbed into the shower to rid myself of accumulated limestone dust. It took a strong dosage of coffee, a hot shower, and repeated cycles of stretching to stand up straight, push my shoulders back, and arch my back. The physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion weren’t a surprise. What was a surprise though was the speed of my recovery. I was back on the commuting regimen Monday morning, just over 24 hours after getting off the bike in Iowa. The ride to work was definitely at a recovery pace, but my body wasn’t nearly as fatigued as I’d expected. I believe the bike had something to do with the rate of my recovery. I believe it absorbed more of the impact from the road surface, slowing the rate of my fatigue and preserving my body to ride another day.
Frames built with titanium have long been coveted for their blend of performance characteristics. They have been described as having the ride quality of high-end steel in a lightweight and durable package. While they are expensive in comparison to steel and alloy, they are, dare I say, an heirloom quality product. No, you probably won’t pass the frame on to your grand child, but I doubt you’ll be looking to replace your frame any time soon.
Like I said, my experience with the La Cruz Ti may be different from that of most ‘cross racers. But it might be right up the alley in terms of what many riders are experiencing or looking for, there is gold in them there gravel hills after all...
Photo courtesy of Katy Steudel