As the gravel market continues to grow, bike companies have seemingly taken two approaches to providing bikes for drop bar dirt riding.
One approach has been to offer distinct cyclocross and gravel bikes, each designed for the specific demands of the respective disciplines. The second approach has been to design a do-it-all bike with geometry fitting both long grinds and short ’cross races while offering builds to suit each type of racing.
The freshly redesigned Pivot Vault is one of the bikes taking the latter approach, looking to offer a single bike for racing cyclocross and gravel.
The Vault was not the only bike fitting this billing we saw at the recent U.S. World Cups—Tobin Ortenblad's Santa Cruz Stigmata and Katerina Nash's Orbea Terra were the same bikes we saw them racing at the Lost and Found Gravel Grinder earlier this summer.
Riders on the new Vault this cyclocross season include members of the Pivot / Maxxis p/b Stan's NoTubes team and Jamey Driscoll.
Courtenay McFadden is one of the Pivot / Maxxis riders on the cyclocross/gravel dual-purpose bike, and we took a closer look at her setup during the Rochester Cyclocross weekend at the beginning of September for this bike profile.
Courtenay McFadden's Pivot Vault Cyclocross Bike
It has been several years since Pivot's drop bar, off-road bike vaulted onto the scene, with the bike originally released as a cyclocross bike in 2014. The bike was Pivot's only drop bar, off-road bike at the time, and so the company gave it healthy tire clearance to allow riders to use it for gravel cycling as well.
When McFadden helped start the Pivot / Maxxis team in 2017, Pivot was still marketing the Vault as a cyclocross bike first. Around that time, we also noted its versatility, with Lance Haidet outfitting his Vault as a gravel bike. Signs that the Pivot's approach with the Vault was changing emerged when we reviewed what is now the old frameset with a gravel-oriented build earlier this year.
Pivot released the newest iteration of the Vault in the summer of 2019. The biggest changes to the geometry of the new bike are a shorter front-center, shortened rear and lower bottom bracket. Dropped 42cm chainstays also added increased tire clearance.
With the redesign of the Vault, Pivot opted for rear compliance for gravel with the IsoFlex rubber insert that separates the seatpost from the seat tube. The gizmo looks enough like a dropper post that McFadden said she gets that question "all the time" when people first see her 2019/20 bike.
Does the IsoFlex work as advertised? Well, it passes at least one test.
"Usually I get a fair amount of back pain in early season ’cross races due to the bumpiness of the courses, but I haven't had any back pain this year, so something is working," McFadden remarked.
The wide tire clearance of the old Vault returns, with the new Vault offering room for 700c tires up to 47mm wide. Although McFadden has embraced her inner gravel side this year, the UCI limits how much of that clearance she can use when racing cyclocross.
The do-it-all design of the new Vault also includes some of the mounts we might expect to see on a straight gravel bike. At Rochester, McFadden had the top tube bag and three down tube water bottle mounts tastefully covered up.
After World Cup Waterloo, McFadden headed to California for Grinduro, where she took her new vault on its maiden groad adventure. "The bike is fast, I was not," she said. "I was fatigued physically and mentally from the World Cups and travel home and then travel to Grinduro, so that was a bit rough, but overall I would say the bike was great.
For the Rochester weekend, McFadden had the rather light Stan's Grail CB7 tubeless-ready wheels on her bike. Our review set of the CB7 wheels weighed in at around 1,250g, verifying the "light" label.
"I partnered with Stan's again because I like riding tubeless, and I believe it works, especially for me," she said.
McFadden and her teammates—Ruby West and Grant Ellwood this season—are embracing the tubeless cyclocross movement for the second-straight year. With conditions in Rochester fast and dry, McFadden had Maxxis Speed Terrane TR tires mounted up before Sunday's C2 race.
She ran the Speed Terranes at 19 psi front and 20 psi rear at Rochester. At World Cup Waterloo she ran Maxxis mud prototypes at 15/16 psi.
"I can change my own tires when I want, I can train on what I race on, and I love the feel of it," she said about racing on tubeless tires. "It feels a lot more like my mountain bike than tubulars do, and I train about 50% on my mountain bike, so having the same feel under me during a cyclocross race is ideal. I know how the tire and rim are going to respond when I push the corners and when I'm descending."
While Shimano-sponsored Euros have been slow to adopt the clutch-based GRX groupset or Ultegra RX rear derailleur—or in the case of some riders, even know about clutch-based derailleurs—U.S. riders have almost universally gone to one of those two options.
McFadden went the Ultegra RX route, using an RX805 Di2 rear derailleur with an 11-32t cassette for rear shifting.
McFadden said she ordered the team bikes in May and wanted the team members to get a solid summer of riding in on the new frames before cyclocross season, so that's why she chose the Ultegra RX rear derailleur over the GRX. She did note that she has GRX on the bike she rode for Grinduro.
She paired the rear derailleur with a 38t Easton narrow-wide chain ring mounted to an Easton EC90 SL crankset.
"I go back and forth between a 38 and a 40," McFadden said about her front chain ring choice. "I like the 40 for flatter faster courses, but sometimes courses have those steep uphills, like Rochester, and a 40 is just a little too big for me, so then I will run the smaller 38, which is what I did in New York."
McFadden takes an approach with her Ultegra R8070 shift-brake levers similar to one we have seen another successful rider use, adding some sandpaper to the brake lever for extra grip.
Another new addition on McFadden's bike is her SDG Radar saddle. The small company has (obviously) sponsored the SDG - Muscle Monster team that counts Amanda Nauman and Drew Dillman as members, and in 2019, it is the saddle sponsor of the Pivot - Maxxis p/b Stan's NoTubes team.
Parts from Easton helped round out McFadden's cockpit, with an EA90 stem holding an EC90 SL handlebar. In a slight departure from the norm, McFadden had her Di2 junction box mounted on top of the stem and not on the bottom.
She also used a 27.2mm EA90 ISA seatpost from Easton—the ISO FLEX works with both 27.2 and 30.9mm posts. Shimano XTR M9100 SPD pedals rounded out her contact points.
When we interviewed McFadden about her first gravel experience earlier this year, she hinted a lot more of the groady racing could be in her future. Her presence at Grinduro helps verify that likely future.
McFadden explained what the Pivot gravel bike may look like come Grinduro 2020.
"The Vault, with flat bars—because oooffttt my grip and shoulders were cooked—and the Fox gravel suspension fork. Why. Not? Plus the dropper. I like the positioning of the Vault for a long ride like that, and then a little suspension up front would feel good! Oh and then 45mm tires. Some people would probably think that's a silly idea when you can ride a hardtail mountain bike, but sometimes it's fun to be a bit unconventional."
For a closer look at the cyclocross setup of McFadden's Pivot Vault, see the photo gallery and specs below.
"Some people would probably think that's a silly idea when you can ride a hardtail mountain bike, but sometimes it's fun to be a bit unconventional."