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.
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!