24 May 2016


One of the many great things about bikes is that there’s always a way to make them faster. Once you’ve dialled in the fit so you’re totally comfortable while riding (and with it on your shoulder), and read our favorite ‘cross riding tips, it’s time to dial in the bike to the specific terrain. Certain things will work anywhere, however, and lay the groundwork for a truly efficient machine. Things like…

1. Tires

You wouldn’t take on the running sections in hard, slippery shoes, and you shouldn’t skimp on tires either. Traction is key, and the more you have, the less time you waste dismounting. Ditching tubes allows lower pressures for greater traction, no pinch flats fit and lower weight – so long as your wheels fit can take it, it’s a no-brainer. The only downside is the extra difficulty of swapping tyres, though that’s a good excuse to go for #5 as well.

High volume tires with more supple casings (look for high threads per inch, or TPI) give greater compliance, while condition-specific treads easily beat the do-it-all hoops most bikes come with. Be accurate with the pressures to maintain the greatest rolling speed/grip balance you can.

2. Bearings

Bottom brackets, headsets and wheels all get a pasting in the mud, so it really pays to fit quality bearings with good seals. Sloppy, notchy and rumbling bearings all sap speed and affect handling. At the same time, go for a quality chain for low-friction performance and less risk of snapping, and keep up a good maintenance regime.

K-Force: the quicker you stop, the quicker you go!

3. Brakes

Reliable, predictable brakes give more control and greater confidence – the irony is, the more powerful they are, the less you’ll pull them. Advanced cantilever designs such as K-Force are very light and easily adjustable while discs offer fantastic power and greater consistency in the wet for less effort at the lever.

4. Drivetrain

There are huge gains to be had with uprated drivetrains, including with ratio choice, chain security and weight. 11-speed options give a big enough spread to make single front rings a really tempting option, and ditching the front mech/shifter saves a lot of weight. Special 1x chainrings like MegaTooth let you safely get rid of chain devices, removing yet more mass. A selection of easily-swapped rings then lets you fine-tune your bike to any course.

5. Race wheels

Lighter rims give better acceleration, braking and flickability, while their lower mass makes the bike easier to shoulder. Carbon fiber is the ultimate rim material, but even light aluminum rims will have a big effect on performance. Tubeless-ready wheels make for easier tire changes than tubular, but aren’t quite as foolproof – the choice is yours. Check out FSA’s MTB-orientated wheels and our sister brand Vision’s aero-rimmed race wheels.