Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: living in the moment
Bikes: 2005 Litespeed Teramo, 2000 Marinoni Leggero, 2001 Kona Major Jake (with Campy Centaur), 1997 Specialized S-Works M2, 1992 Specialized Rockhopper
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group: i have campy centaur 9-speed on my bike. i think campy makes for some pretty fine 'cross components, but that's a preference thing. considering that veloce will be 10-speed next year, you can probably find some 9-speed veloce stuff at good prices right now. otherwise, go with 105. this is a 'cross bike. it will be abused. ultegra, chorus, dura ace, whatever, will be a waste.
wheels: this will depend to some extent on your group. if you have the hubs, build up some nice mavic open prs with 32 spokes. if you don't have the hubs, buy some pre-built mavic open pro wheels.
top-mount brake levers: if you like 'em, buy 'em. i don't use them. i only know one person on the whole quebec race scene who has them, and he says he never uses them.
cassette: 12-27. a good rule of thumb is that, if you come to a hill that needs anything lower than 27t, then you're probably better off running it. my low gear is 38X26, and i find it fine for almost anything.
brakes: avids don't suck. they squeal. i think they're just fine in terms of stopping power, but i can't handle the squeal and they're waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over-priced. buy some old xt, xtr or lx cantis on e-bay or from your lbs's bargain bin. they'll do the job ata fraction of the cost -- and without the squeal.
hope that helps.