Thru Axles in Cyclocross: One Mechanic’s Take

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The Whisky No. 9 thru axle fork for cyclocross bikes.

The Whisky No. 9 thru axle fork for cyclocross bikes.

We asked, “What are your thoughts on thru axles for cyclocross, and why would someone want to use them? Will that be the next big move in gear?”

by Drew Hager

You may have heard that some new ’cross bikes will be going the way of the mountain bike and offering bikes with thru axels. We’ve seen them on the Foundry bikes in the past year, and the newest Giant ’cross bikes will be equipped with them starting in August. What does this change mean for you, and should you swap? For mountain bikers, this topic might be old hat, but for those of you with a roadie background, this may be a brave new world.

Thru Axles have become “standard” on mountain bikes much like disc brakes did years ago. Not even five years ago mountain bikes has 9mm x 100mm quick release fronts and 10mm x 135mm quick release rear wheels with the occasional 20mm x 110mm thru axle on the front of longer travel bikes. These days, a 15mm x 100mm thru axle on front and 12mm x 142mm on the rear are standard on most mountain bikes. You still occasionally see 20mm on the front of bigger travel bikes and 9mm quick release front on lower travel bikes, but even the 9mm has a through axle option that is stiffer than a quick release.

Now, I started that first sentence of the first paragraph with the word “standard.” So many people gripe about “new standards” and that bugs me. Nothing has been “standard” on a bike since the very beginning. Before we were born there were different bottom brackets, axles, thread pitches, tubing diameters and wheel sizes coming from England, France and Italy. Since then things have only become “more common,” from bottom brackets, head tubes, seatposts, freehub splines, lock rings to brakes, and now, to axles. The point of this is to get you to not think of these as a new standard, but as new options, and decide what option is good for you. With that in mind, let’s take a look at thru axles.

Working for a wheel manufacturer, I have been lucky to try thru axles for ’cross before they were available otherwise. I had a set of hubs with hardware made to accept the DT Swiss RWS thru axle skewers, which work in common 9mm fork dropouts and 10mm frame rear dropouts. The thru axle certainly has a stiffer feel, more control at lower PSI and even helped eliminate brake chatter on the front by making my front end more rigid. In my experience, the added stiffness from a thru axle set-up will allow you to feel more in control when using low pressure in your tires.

Whisky Parts Co. was the first to offer a 15mm through axle ’cross fork (found on the Foundry Auger), which I would assume will appeal to many ’crossers coming from the mountain bike side as well as gravel grinders and tech geeks. It may also be a common option for those buying custom-made frames or those buying a Foundry ’cross bike that comes standard with this fork. Giant recently introduced their TCX Advanced, and that will come with a thru axel.

The new Giant TCX Advanced comes with a thru front axle.

The new Giant TCX Advanced comes with a thru front axle.

As far as the rear is concerned, many dropout options are available to framebuilders, for example, using the Rock Shox Maxle Lite rear 12mm rear axle in 142, or 135 spacing, but this still hasn’t really caught on to the cyclocross crowd. Who knows if it will? That said, I certainly feel like thru axles will be most common for the front wheel.

While the technical benefits exist for thru axle wheels in cyclocross, I am not convinced that it will become as common for racing as disc brakes, internal headsets and other so-called “standards” due purely to the time it takes to change your wheels with these axles. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have an “A” and “B” bike and both have thru axle set-ups—then you could probably benefit from the option with little to loose other than the initial investment money. The number of  racers with spare bikes and equipment, however, are a low percentage of the total cyclocross racing community. Most of us typical racers at our local series are lucky to have a spare wheel set in the pits, and if thru axles are a consideration, I would bet that depends on if we’re changing wheels to get back in the race to defend our series points or if we’re just trying to not get a DNF! The bigger problem is switching to thru axles, though with certain wheels, you can change what axles they will fit by changing the axle endcaps when you get a thru axle fork or frame, but definitely check first.

All issues aside, I like thru axles. The benefits are certainly there, but I think they will stay with the gravel grinder, monster cross, single-track riding types and perhaps a few privileged racers.

But… the next big thing? My guess and hope is that it will be tubeless-ready tires with better ride quality. I have heard rumors of a rim manufacturer developing a rim that is tubeless compatible with open tubular-type clincher tires. The industry needs to help make this happen!

 

 

Cyclocross Magazine, Issue 22, Print and digital subscriptionsHave you subscribed yet? You're missing out if not. Get all-original content and your cyclocross fix throughout the year with a subscription and Issue 23 back copy, with features on Lars van der Haar, Jonathan Page, Elle Anderson and more!
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25 comments
KerryNordstrom
KerryNordstrom

Just went on the maiden voyage on my Seven Mudhoney cross bike with the Whiskey No.9 thru axle fork.  Coming from several QR and canti-equipped cross bikes, I can tell you that the braking and cornering of this new set up are leagues better.  I'm also running tubeless which I have tried on other bikes.  

repsteindds
repsteindds

Nate, a dozen years ago and less every other schmuck on the trail (yeah I am a mountain biker so you know already my opinion is dirty) would ask me if my steed was a downhill bike (it was not) because I had (hydraulic) disc brakes ('99 on) and a 20mm thru-axle ('01 on), why did I need those since V-brakes and QR's were lighter, blah blah blah. Now you cannot hardly find a bike outside of Wallyworld that has V's ('cept CX bikes) and thru-axles are omnipresent as well. Does a cyclocross bike "need" any of this stuff? No, but depending on the rider they do solve problems. I am a bigger guy that rides aggressively. I break stuff; lots of stuff. I could stock a bike shop with the components and frames I have destroyed. This includes many high end brands that many have over-hyped respect for. Disc brakes are a no brainer, but not the stupid heavy ass mushy cable ones. Thru-axles? Absolutely. It sucks railing a flimsy front end through a corner or any chop. I want my bike to go where I point it. I have a hard time believing that part of the mystique of cyclocross is having outdated poor-handling and lousy braking bikes. There are plenty of Luddite-driven retro racing sources for that, but I am not wearing tweed this season.  

Nate Woodman
Nate Woodman

It's just as dumb as all the new bottom bracket "standards", as a shop owner and mechanic I like improvements that are tangible and happen for a reason, not so that you as consumers are duped into buying more un needed shit that won't improve your riding experience. Different bucket, same...

Troy Hudson
Troy Hudson

I think this is called mountainbiking.

Steven Edwards
Steven Edwards

Vins right , let the development happen then take your pick,I'm on a dirty disco now,with 29er wheels ,cherry pick what you want ......if you still want a gas pipe steel frame with frogs' go for it power to the people ;)))

Vin Cox
Vin Cox

Nate, you're right to apply a bit of cynicism by default. But on this issue, you just don't realise you have the problems which are being solved. Through axles are a superb step forward.

Nate Woodman
Nate Woodman

Screw the bike industry and their un needed bullshit. Solving problems that don't exist.

John Shoemaker
John Shoemaker

I am also going to be running hydraulic disc with my thru axle set up.

Raymond Epstein
Raymond Epstein

It depends on the rider. If you are Nys or some other pro then you probably don't need it. If you are a big and/or aggressive rider that takes your CX bike out on trail rides and/or you value excellent tracking then by all means. If I was going to buy/build a rig tomorrow then I would absolutely have a thru-axle up front and hydraulic disc brakes.

John Shoemaker
John Shoemaker

I have modular front hubs on my Pro Build Velocity A23 wheel set and plan on running a Whiskey thru axle fork on my cx bike.

Hans Mossner
Hans Mossner

oh wait... your post was sarcasm; duh!!! totally missed it...

Hans Mossner
Hans Mossner

^Doug... not all cat4 & now cat5 racers can afford two bikes; for some pit wheels are a stretch...

Doug Page
Doug Page

But, Hans, don't we all have at least one spare bike in the pits?? Buying all new wheels and forks is easy too, isn't it?

Hans Mossner
Hans Mossner

so much for a quick wheel change in the pit...

Johnnie Ho
Johnnie Ho

So... we're going to see full-suspension CX rigs? That's cool if you've got a 29er and the wheels are going double duty, but I can't see a reason for it otherwise.

Patrick Beeson
Patrick Beeson

Yup, as long as you have a bike, and not wheels, in the pit.

Chad Rector
Chad Rector

I think it would be awesome, I hate trying to figure out if I've centered the wheel correctly... I'm lazy. I also trail ride (light duty) with my cross bike. Log piles get dicey sometimes.

Richard Jackson
Richard Jackson

If it means mixing technology with other areas of cycling i.e. MBK and it brings prices down then yeah why not!

Bob Nunnink
Bob Nunnink

An open tubular type clincher will work tubeless on a Stan's Notubes Iron Cross wheel..  The hubs on this wheel set are also ready to accept a 15mm or 9mm thru end cap. The rear can be changed to 10x135, 12x135, or 12 x142. Alpha 340 disc can also be converted the same way.  We are always trying to be ready for the next big standard.  Any questions on tubeless can always be sent to [email protected]

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