Diamondback Steilacoom RCX Cyclocross Bike

, September 12, 2011

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It would be easy to look at this record-breaking dry winter on the West Coast and fret about Lake Tahoe’s dirt-strewn ski runs, but this weather is the reason why god gave us bicycles.  Since I was forced to decide whether my snowboard was destined to collect dust or rock-induced gouges, I have chosen the dust and have grasped this opportunity to extend the cyclocross season into the new year.  This season I have had the pleasure of riding the Diamondback Steilacoom RCX for both training and racing and have been extremely impressed with its quality and value.  Even though Diamondback has been manufacturing mountain bikes since the beginning of time, they are just breaking into the road and cross markets.

As a complete bike snob, I can almost always justify paying top dollar for a bike.  I have a garage full of carbon fiber that represents about 90 percent of my net value, but even in Category A cyclocross, I don’t see why anybody rides a bike more expensive than the Steilacoom RCX.  Here’s my reasoning:

Cyclocross races are either slow and technical or slow and muddy.  Technical courses see riders bounce over rocks and roots, plough through sand and usually involve a crash at some point.   If you finish a muddy race without your derailleur hanger being ripped off, your bike will cross the line weighing 45 pounds and shifting like a Huffy from WalMart even if you are riding an $8000 Kuota Kross with tubular 404’s and Dura-Ace Di-2 electronic shifting.  Aerodynamics only make so much difference at CX speeds, especially if you’re tipped over in a ditch and carbon fiber has a tendency for catastrophic failure (great link) when hit the wrong way.  When I think about what makes a good CX race bike, I look for something sturdy, responsive, and economical.  This would be a perfect description of the Steilacoom RCX.  Now don’t think you can just go out and buy the cheapest bike on the market, even though your CX bike is destined to have a hard life, in order to succeed in any CX race it is essential to have a bike that rides smoothly and gives confidence on steep descents and through tight muddy switchbacks.

The first thing that I look at when I purchase any bike is the groupset (shifters, derailleurs, and brakes). Both the main brands, Shimano and SRAM, produce good products (Campagnolo on the other hand is trash), but nothing lower than Shimano 105 or SRAM Apex (mid-line) components are designed for racing.  Cheaper groupsets will have the controls in an easy-to-get-to location for casual riding, but will make shifting and breaking near impossible in race situations.  The Steilacoom is equipped with 10 speed Shimano 105 which shifts, brakes and feels nearly as good as Shimano’s high-end component groups and cuts the price of the bike in half from what it would be.  I was pretty impressed with the responsiveness of the controls and didn’t mind a tiny bit of extra weight.

The second thing that I look at is the frame and wheelset.  The Steilacoom RCX is a matte black aluminum with glossy black decals which exudes a beautifully clean all-business attitude.  Aluminum is an under-rated material.  It is stiff, responsive, and will dent rather than explode when it contacts other solid objects.  I like that.  All Steilacoom models have a unique feature where the top tube is shaped with a flat bottom as to be shouldered comfortably while scrambling through the run-ups.   The BB30 bottom bracket design with its FSA crankset adds stiffness and is a feature usually only found on high end bicycles.  The one piece of carbon fiber on the bike is extremely well placed.  It is outfitted with the Easton EC70 carbon fiber fork which provides a slight shock dampening effect over rough terrain.  This is truly one of the best forks on the market for any price.  Even the slightly generic Equation CX 20 wheels proved durable over the season and look fantastic with their white spokes.  One can really say that the Steilacoom has all the qualities of the most expensive race bikes except for its aluminum construction which slashes the price and adds durability at the slight cost of some extra weight and ride harshness.

Even though Diamondback has yet to make a huge footprint in the cyclocross scene, I would not trade my Steilacoom RCX for a bike with twice the price tag.  So instead of getting irked about the lack of snow take advantage of this perfect cycling weather, grab your cross bike and rest assured that winter will arrive some day.

Craig Fellers is based out of Santa Cruz where he is the owner and optometrist at Midtown Optometry.