|BMC "Monster Cross" Frame/Fork|
So, when I heard he was going to design his own line of frames for his shop, I took notice and found he was doing an interesting steel cross bike themed rig- a model he dubbed the "Monster Cross". Several details emerged that caught my eye and made me think this bike would be a great gravel grinder.
Of course, the sloping crown fork, cantilever brakes, two water bottle bosses, and cool details like the front derailluer cable adjuster were very attractive features as well.
One thing Mr. Varley did on this design I didn't really care for in the end was the "in between" drop out spacing. Made popular by Surly Bikes, a 132.5mm spaced rear drop out is supposed to allow for either a 135mm OLD hub or a 130mm OLD hub to be fitted into the frame. To my mind, it is a feature that is frustrating, since neither wheel axle standard fits in cleanly, and without futzing. Yes- it does work for either OLD standard, but it is a kludge and I would have preferred a 130mm OLD spaced rear since that standard is fast becoming the de-facto rim brake standard hub width. (Since mountain bikes are nearly all gone over to disc hubs these days, or so it seems.)
|The Final Build Version|
Subsequently, I decided then to add gears to the bike for hilly terrain that I hoped to tackle on this bike. I went with a mix of mountain bike and road bike componentry which has worked flawlessly for me and installed with no issues.
Frame clearances for a triple crank might be tough, so I decided on a compact double, using a non-series Shimano 50/34T crank with the Hollow Tech, two piece design that utilizes out board bearings. The front mech is a 90's era STX mountain bike unit that shifts the chain famously from the Ultegra STI levers. In the back, I fitted a 11-34T cassette and a long cage Ultegra rear derailleur which has no problems shifting the SRAM chain up and down the full range of gears in either front chain ring.
|Plenty of rear tire clearance|
Other bits include the awesome Salsa Cycles Cowbell 2, Ritchey Classic stem and seat post, and Bontrager saddle and bar tape. I have run the bike most often with an Epic Designs Tangle Bag under the top tube for on-bike storage of tools, tubes, water, and rain gear. Sometimes I also include a Banjo Brothers Top Tube Bag which sits up next to the stem on the top tube for phone/camera storage. (Not shown here)
Performance Notes: All right then! So much for the build. How's it ride? Well, pretty much as you'd expect a nice steel bike to ride. It does have good stiffness at the bottom bracket, and I'd know if it didn't with those big tires on there! The fork does a good job of muting most gravel chatter, but don't think it is on the same page as a compliant carbon fork. Laterally it seems okay in turns as well. No problems with front brake chatter that I've come across either. (Using old 90's era STX cantilevers, by the way.)
On high speed gravel descents, the Monster Cross is fairly stable. I attribute some of this to the slightly longer chain stays/wheel base. Cyclo-cross bikes typically have a bit slacker head tube angles than road bikes, and the Monster Cross is no different here. This also plays into the bike's well mannered descending prowess. Important stuff when you are bombing 35-40mph down loose gravel roads.
Climbing in or out of the saddle is good. Not as "direct feeling" as carbon bikes, but still stiff. The BMC is well balanced, even with the chain stay length for my size, and I never wanted for traction. Smaller sized riders may experience something different in that regard, but the horizontal drop out adjusters will allow you to set up a shorter "effective chain stay length" at the sacrifice of some tire clearance.
I think the frame and fork, if anything, are on the slightly stiffer side of steel's riding characteristics, and not to a detrimental effect on over-all ride quality. Of course, I've mated the frame/fork to big, high volume tires, and at the pressures that this affords me to be able to run, the stiffness of the frame becomes a positive on long, cobbly, rough rides. Skinnier tires would force me to have to run higher pressures, and the ride quality would then suffer. So, the designed in big tire clearances on this frame are quite a welcomed thing at the tail end of a century's worth of gravel grinding.
Over-all, I give the ride quality high marks for gravel road racing or riding. The bike is reasonably light, (I could go quite a bit lighter with higher end component choices), comfortable, and handles gravel roads very well. Big tire clearances are there, which is a huge plus. The slightly longer rear end lends stability as well. Cosmetically, the bike is holding up nicely, as I only have found a couple of nicks and scratches in the finish so far after hundreds of miles of gravel riding.
Conclusions: This is a low production, steel construction, cyclo-cross frame with some unique features similar to some other companies rigs. I know a lot of folks asked why I didn't just get a Surly Cross Check. That's a fair question. Surly Cross Checks, at first glance, would seem to be a dead ringer for the Monster Cross from BMC.
So, for a gravel grinder rig, you really can not go wrong with the BMC Monster Cross frame and fork. It is a nice handling, reasonably lightweight, durable, and good looking steel bike that will handle any gravel you care to ride it on. It is fairly priced, and as an added bonus, you won't see a bunch of them at your next gravel race , or cyclo-cross event. It makes for a great commuter bike as well, by the way! Besides the "not right" rear drop out spacing, I think Mike Varley designed another winner of a bicycle here.
NOTE: I own this frame and fork and was not paid, nor bribed by Black Mountain Cycles, Mike Varley, or any other party to write this review. I strive to give my honest opinions through out. Guitar Ted