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Old 01-20-12, 09:58 PM   #1
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Motobecane Fantom CXX Review

I was seriously considering a Surly Cross Check. I liked everything about it except the color choices. Then I saw the Motobecane Fantom CXX online at Bikes Direct. http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/...fantom_cxx.htm The geometry is identical to the Cross Check (at least in the 56 cm size), it comes in yellow, and itís $400 cheaper (considering that I would have to pay sales tax for the Surly and make component changes). I finally took the plunge and bought the Motobecane a few weeks ago. This is a steel frame cyclocross bike with mostly SRAM Apex components and Tektro cantilever brakes. I wanted a versatile road bike with rack and fender mounts and fairly low gearing, which I plan to use for commuting and recreational road riding. It can also take fairly wide tires (up to 700x42), so I may get a wider set of knobby tires for occasional trail riding.

A lot of cross bikes come with pretty high gearing. I have long-term pain in one knee that flares up if I try to grind away in high gears, so I wanted a bike that would go reasonably low in stock configuration, or could be converted to lower gearing without a lot of part swapping. This one has a double crank with a 34-took small ring on the front and an 11 to 32 cassette on the back, producing a 28.7Ē low gear. I think Iíll be ok with that.

The bike arrived in good shape except for a couple very minor dings that I decided to just not worry about. It was carefully packed and well padded, but apparently gentle treatment by UPS is too much to askÖ.

The thing about Bikes Direct is that you have to do some assembly or pay a bike shop to do it for you. This is what it looked like out of the box:



I have done quite a bit of maintenance on my own bikes over the years, so I felt I could get through it ok. On this particular bike, I needed to: (1) install rear derailleur (cable was already connected), (2) install stem on steerer tube, (3) install handlebars, (4) install brifters, (5) run brake cables, (6) wrap handlebars, (7) true wheels (they tell you up front you will need to do that), and (8) adjust brakes. People say you should check over these bikes pretty carefully to make sure that the pre-assembled parts are right (e.g. bearings are greased, bolts are tight, etc.). This bike checked out pretty well. The hubs were well-greased out of the box, but the bearings were just a little tight. The completed bike looks like this:



I decided I wanted to install a fork-mounted cable stop for the front brake. Iíll post more on that later.

I struggled with the wheels a bit. I wanted to make sure the wheels had consistent spoke tension and the spokes would be properly stress-relieved before putting any significant miles on the bike. I bought a Park Tool spoke tensiometer and a dishing gauge (I already had a truing stand). The front wheel went great. The rear wheel did not, but after some frustration and a cooling-off period, I got it worked out. I had never done this before, so I think the problems were mostly my fault and not the wheelís.

I did the bike assembly a little at a time over a few weeks (just busy, didn't really take that long in terms of hours). I finally got it finished last weekend, and took my first real ride on MLK day. I only rode a little over 11 miles, so my experience with it is still a little limited. I think Iím going to like it a lot. My main basis for comparison is my 2005 Bianchi Volpe, which is similar in some ways to this bike. However, I think the emphasis with the Volpe was more on all-around riding and touring, and this bike feels more tuned for performance. Itís a bit more nimble and feels a little more responsive when pedaling, especially when standing. The ride feels pretty smooth, although I was mostly on well-maintained roads. The brakes are pretty strong. I replaced the Tektro brake pads right away with Kool Stop pads, so I canít comment on the Tektro ones. I donít worry too much about bicycle weight, but I think it weighs about 23 - 24 pounds (using the none too precise ďbathroom scale methodĒ). The saddle seems a little cheap. It was fine for an 11-mile ride, but we'll see how it works out.

Overall, I think I made a good choice. I think the bike will be exactly what I wanted. Bikes Direct shipped quickly, the assembly wasnít a big deal, and the price was great. Iíll definitely give Bikes Direct another look before buying any future bikes.

Jim
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Old 01-20-12, 10:20 PM   #2
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After struggling with brake shudder/squeal on my Bianchi Volpe, I decided to install a fork-mounted brake stop up front on this one. The hooks Bikes Direct provided to hold the transverse cable were also kind of cheesy, although they would probably work ok. Here are some details in case you're thinking about doing the same.

I got an Origin8 "Rear Brake Hole Mount" and two Tektro "black cable triangles" from Niagara Cycle Works. Here's what they look like installed:



The brake cable provided by BD, which was intended to go to a stop under the stem, turned out to be just the right length to reach the fork-mounted stop.

The back of the cable stop didn't quite clear the lower part of the headset. I considered grinding a little off the back, but I ended up making a shim from a piece of 0.125" aluminum bar stock. The shim is about 0.75" square. This worked out well, because the cable stop is a little concave on the back and the fork crown is flat. Making the shim a little larger gave the cable stop a good surface to rest on. The bolt provided with the cable stop was too short, so I had to get another one from the hardware store.

The brakes squealed at first despite using this, but the pads just needed more toe-in than I used initially. After playing around a little with that, they now work well.

P.S. I was able to tune the shudder out of my Bianchi brake as well without resorting to this solution. However, that was kind of a battle while this was pretty simple, straightforward, and inexpensive.
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Old 01-21-12, 08:22 AM   #3
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Great Review and pics! Thanks for sharing. I'd like to buy a bike like this in about a year or so. I've been considering the Bianchi Volpe for it's versatility, but I'd also not like to lose a whole lot of performance over my entry-level road bike. I appreciate the comparisons.
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Old 01-21-12, 10:13 AM   #4
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I do really like the Bianchi Volpe and plan to keep it a long time, especially for commuting. I want to try touring as well, but I haven't yet. I test rode one "true" touring bike before I bought the Volpe, and the Volpe was definitely much more sporty. Still, it would probably be good to seek out one for a test ride before committing the cash.

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Old 01-21-12, 11:19 AM   #5
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Very nice bike. The frame and fork looks a lot like a Cross Check.
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Old 01-22-12, 09:08 AM   #6
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3.5 years ago I bought this bike for 499.00: http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/..._cross_cx2.htm Mine's yellow like yours. You've got a much better bike for the money.

34/48-11x32 is a much better low end for one's ailing knees. The one I've got is 36/50-12x26 18 sp. It's aluminum w/a steel fork. So far I've got 17,000 commuter/utility miles w/one major overhaul and regular maintenance and lubing. Original comps. It's really been a great bike. I swapped out the original tires for Schwalbe Marathon Plus' as the cx tires were too soft for black top/pavement. Still running the same set, though they'll need to be replaced in the spring.

All in all a great choice for all-around loaded errands, etc.
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Old 02-21-12, 01:53 AM   #7
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Nice thread. Can you post more pics of your bike?
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Old 02-21-12, 08:54 AM   #8
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Thanks. Is there something specific you would like for pictures? I haven't taken a bunch. I could take some more, but it might take a few days. If you go to the BD page linked in my first message, there is a link to a gallery of pictures with lots of close-ups from various angles.
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Old 02-21-12, 09:05 AM   #9
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Thanks for sharing. I like actual reviews like this and yeah, more, larger pictures would be awesome.
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Old 02-21-12, 09:27 AM   #10
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Nice review. I'd be so tempted to get something like this, if I could get rid of one of my current bikes. The only thing I'd like better is if it had disc brakes.
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Old 02-21-12, 10:07 AM   #11
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Not a fan of cross bike geometry, but glad it worked so well for you.

One thing that's not immediately obvious about DB bikes, the entire package is priced so you can use your BD bike as a donor if you decide sometime in the future to change frames... without feeling like you bought two bikes. You can probably port over those components and wheelset to another 56cm frame in an hour with some minor tweaks. I did that with a 29er, Al to chro-mo..it was a painless swap and less expensive than if I bought the built steel 29er at my LBS.

Happy riding.
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Old 02-21-12, 10:43 AM   #12
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Congrats! Nice looking bike and great write up. I look forward to more (pics and words) as you put miles on your new baby.
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Old 02-21-12, 08:52 PM   #13
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Not a fan of cross bike geometry, but glad it worked so well for you.

One thing that's not immediately obvious about DB bikes, the entire package is priced so you can use your BD bike as a donor if you decide sometime in the future to change frames... without feeling like you bought two bikes. You can probably port over those components and wheelset to another 56cm frame in an hour with some minor tweaks. I did that with a 29er, Al to chro-mo..it was a painless swap and less expensive than if I bought the built steel 29er at my LBS.

Happy riding.
Yes, I figured if I hated the frame, I could go ahead and buy a Cross Check frame without losing much. (i.e. the difference in price between the 2 complete bikes is almost as much as the Cross Check frame). However, the BD frame turned out to be pretty nice, so I see no reason to go that route....
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Old 02-23-12, 10:04 PM   #14
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Thanks. Is there something specific you would like for pictures? I haven't taken a bunch. I could take some more, but it might take a few days. If you go to the BD page linked in my first message, there is a link to a gallery of pictures with lots of close-ups from various angles.
Close up of the welds would be nice. Any good quality photo works for me. The more the better.

BD photos are nice, but seeing a bike in a more natural environment seems more realistic, I guess.

Thanks.
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Old 02-23-12, 10:35 PM   #15
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Yes, I figured if I hated the frame, I could go ahead and buy a Cross Check frame without losing much. (i.e. the difference in price between the 2 complete bikes is almost as much as the Cross Check frame). However, the BD frame turned out to be pretty nice, so I see no reason to go that route....
Looks to me like if you hated the frame you'd have hated the Cross Check. The things are twins.
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Old 02-23-12, 10:57 PM   #16
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Looks to me like if you hated the frame you'd have hated the Cross Check. The things are twins.
Not quite. On the Fantom CXX, the cable stops are welded towards the bottom of the top tube, which doesn't make much sense. Cyclocross requires putting the bike over one's shoulder.

That reminds me of a question:

Spld cyclist, do the cable stops and/or cables severely get in the way of putting the bike on your shoulder? I'd imagine the cable would also rub the paint off.

Demonstration here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxzwX8AUL3g

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Old 02-24-12, 10:15 AM   #17
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I just ordered a 42cm CXX in white. I always wanted a Cross Check and the geo is the same and this bike has a much better spec. I'm also interested in trying the SRAM and the compact gearing. This bike will be used for around town adventure rides and commuting. I'll post up some reviews in the near future.
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Old 02-24-12, 11:24 AM   #18
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Not quite. On the Fantom CXX, the cable stops are welded towards the bottom of the top tube, which doesn't make much sense. Cyclocross requires putting the bike over one's shoulder.
How many people that buy cyclocross bikes are doing cyclocross, though? Perhaps not many, especially now that cyclocross bikes keep on getting more popular.
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Old 02-24-12, 01:53 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by snobbiestosall View Post
Not quite. On the Fantom CXX, the cable stops are welded towards the bottom of the top tube, which doesn't make much sense. Cyclocross requires putting the bike over one's shoulder.

That reminds me of a question:

Spld cyclist, do the cable stops and/or cables severely get in the way of putting the bike on your shoulder? I'd imagine the cable would also rub the paint off.

Demonstration here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxzwX8AUL3g
I haven't tried putting the bike over my shoulder, but the cable is in the way. I don't think the cable stops would be much of a factor because they are near the ends of the top tube. Doesn't matter to me, as I don't have any need to do that. I'm not a racer. I might be cursing some day if the bike is disabled and I have to carry it....

Jim
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Old 02-24-12, 03:49 PM   #20
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How many people that buy cyclocross bikes are doing cyclocross, though? Perhaps not many, especially now that cyclocross bikes keep on getting more popular.
This is true. Among people who buy cyclocross bikes, only a small percentage do cyclocross racing. Among people who do cyclocross racing, only a small percentage use bikes as heavy as the Cross Check (or presumably the CCX). Among people who do cyclocross racing with heavy bikes, only a very small percentage care about things like whether or not the cable stop poke them while they're shouldering the bike.

Cable stops like that do make this a less than optimal choice for CX racing, but so do the weight and the geometry. None of these factors would stop you from racing these bikes if you wanted to.
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Old 02-24-12, 05:25 PM   #21
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How many people that buy cyclocross bikes are doing cyclocross, though? Perhaps not many, especially now that cyclocross bikes keep on getting more popular.
Agreed in principle; however, I would suspect that a lot of buyers carry their bikes up stairs. I know that I do on a regular basis.
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Old 02-24-12, 06:09 PM   #22
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Very nice ride

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Old 02-26-12, 09:59 AM   #23
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How many people that buy cyclocross bikes are doing cyclocross, though? Perhaps not many, especially now that cyclocross bikes keep on getting more popular.
I think a LOT of the attraction is the ability to run a wider tire then a traditional road bike to improve ride. The bike in question as well as many bikes billed as "cyclocross" is they are a good "all arounder" bikes with Braze ons for racks and fenders combined with the lower gearing for hills and loads makes for a good commuter for those that prefer more of a road bike riding position but not the bulk and upright riding position of a Mountain bike made commuter.
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Old 02-26-12, 10:08 AM   #24
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great looking bike
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Old 02-27-12, 12:30 PM   #25
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My CXX is in transit to me right now. Supposed to arrive on Wednesday. I plan on changing a few things out. I have a set of handlebars already that I want to use. Ordered a set of Apex cranks in 165mm, will swap out the 170s and should be able to sell them on ebay as new takeoffs. Ordered some cross brake levers. I have a Delta rear rack for it. Gonna skip on fenders for now. I want to get some road/touring tires for it.
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