For the last few seasons, Jen Malik has been a rising name in Ohio cyclocross. In only her fourth year of racing, she has gone from the beginner ranks to the UCI Elite level, where she rides for the American Classic Pro CX team.
Think a national champion or Elite pro has nothing but the latest and greatest? Think again. Malik took her title on her B bikes with a surprising, outdated mix of older componentry. We caught up with Malik for a closer look at her race-winning machine.
Winning A Title Without "A Bikes"
Perhaps most interesting about the bike is that Malik did not originally intend to use it. The pair of bikes Malik had in Reno were built with a mix of older components and serve as travel bikes for a block of Belgian ’cross. The starting bike in the pair has been Malik’s training bike all season, but the team built the pit bike to match the other one later.
Knowing there would be a tight timeline returning from Europe to leaving for Nationals, team mechanic and owner Robert Marion built the bike we photographed to match her training bike before she left for Europe. This second pair allowed her A bikes, which feature a more up-to-date build, to remain tuned and ready for Nationals at the team headquarters in North Carolina.
Unfortunately, the tight schedule after Europe kept Malik from making the trip to retrieve her bikes, so she headed to Reno with equipment fresh from racing in Europe and some extra wheels mailed to her by The Beard. Sure, the team could have shipped her A bikes to Reno, but for a collegiate racer, even one who raced in Europe, every dollar matters. "If they're good enough for Europe, they're probably good enough for Nationals," Malik told Cyclocross Magazine.
According to Malik, the two bikes she took to Reno are the same, save for saddle color, with white being her training bike and black being her freshly-built Euro bike. Come race day she equipped both with Vittoria Terreno Wet tubulars and took to the line on her long-time training bike. She flatted jumping the ditch on lap three and switched to her second bike, which did little to slow her as she crossed the line with a 1:15 gap to second place.
A Race-Winning Winning Training Bike
All of Malik’s bikes are built around the 2015 Raleigh RXC Pro frame, which features thru-axles, a PF30 bottom bracket, and a tapered steerer tube. There was a 2016 update, which added flat mount brakes, shortened the chainstays by 5mm and reduced tire clearance, but the American Classic Pro CX team kept the older model with post mounts, longer stays and better clearance.
As a build originally intended for training, Malik’s winning bikes featured a mix of older components. Her drivetrain was a SRAM 10-speed system, using a Force mechanical lever paired with an XO clutch mountain bike derailleur to shift on her 10-speed SRAM cassette. As part of a KMC sponsored team, Mailk powers her 10-speed bike with the assistance of a KMC X10SL Silver chain.
Malik has been using Rotor Q-Rings on a 1x system since her Elite debut with Stanridge Speed (formerly of Columbus as well) and equipped her Rotor 3D+ crankset with a QCX1 40t oval chainring. "I absolutely love them," Malik told Cyclocross Magazine. "I mean who doesn’t love free watts, right? I have found that they really help me maintain a smooth pedal stroke going up punchy or steep climbs, so I don’t break traction with my rear tire. I felt like this was a huge advantage in allowing me to keep a smooth pedal stroke and power up the climb to the off-camber section." Xpedo sponsors Malik’s team, and she used the company’s SPD-compatible CXR pedals, which were designed expressly for cyclocross racing.
With her shifters designed for mechanical rim brakes, Malik used Hayes CX Expert mechanical disc calipers and rotors, which got her a lot of attention. Malik had a glass half-full attitutude about not having hydraulic braking like most of her competitiors. "I had a lot of comments about the mechanical disc brakes out here," she said. Having just raced in Europe with the system, Malik was comfortable to "run what she brung" and hit the descents with all she had. "Racing Namur really inspired my descending confidence, and the lack of that initial bite with mechanical brakes sort of made me push my limits a little more on some of the off-cambers, if that makes any sense."
As would be expected from a team headlined by American Classic, Malik rolled on American Classic Carbon 46 Tubulars, which feature bladed spokes and a claimed weight of 1,435g.
For the conditions in Reno, she selected Vittoria Terreno Wet tubulars which, despite flatting, she credits with some of her success. “For the Collegiate race, I decided to run the Vittoria Terreno Wet tires on both bikes because they let me push the limits in the corners and don’t have as much rolling resistance compared to other wet condition tires,” she told us. "I also race mountain bike for the KS-Kenda Women’s Elite MTB team, so my riding style is a little more aggressive in the corners and the descents. I am very happy with my choice and feel like those one to two seconds gained from being able to rail each corner helped me maintain my lead, even after flatting."
Malik’s cockpit consisted of an alloy handlebar and a Cannondale C3 alloy stem. Her saddle was a Velo Angel mounted to American Classic's "candy cane" seatpost, with the particular one we photographed being a test saddle intended for a shop sales display.
A Look Back and Forward
While not a component of the bike itself, Malik credits her local cross scene as well. "I was blown away with the support and cheers from my local cycling community, even all the way out here in Reno," said the 27 year old.
"I am so lucky to be a part of such an amazing group that is so supportive and travels so well. I am pretty sure that from the time I crossed the line to the time I got back to the car my phone was overloaded with super positive and excited messages." Malik continued, “Cap City CX and OVCX were a huge part of my start in cyclocross and gave me a really positive start to racing."
Even with Malik’s Collegiate win, the outpouring of local support and 15th place finish in the Elite race, it’s not all smiles for the American Classic Pro team as of late. Raleigh has been stepping away from the ’cross market, and does not currently offer the RXC in any capacity, although 2017 models are still available in stores and online.
Team title sponsor American Classic also closed their doors a week before Nationals. Despite the unknowns ahead, Malik plans to be there next season with her team and is optimistic for their future. "I know Robert has put out some feelers for a new title sponsor and I am planning on returning to Carpe Diem CX [formerly American Classic Pro CX] next year."
Jen Malik's Nationals-Winning Raleigh RXC Specs:
Frame: Raleigh RXC, full carbon, PF30, post mount disc brake, internal cable routing, 12x100mm thru-axle.
Fork: Raleigh RXC, full carbon, tapered steerer, post mount disc brake, 15x100mm
Shifter: SRAM Force 10-speed
Brake Caliper: Hayes CX Expert mechanical disc calipers, post mount
Rotors: Hayes 6-bolt, 140mm
Rear Derailleur: SRAM XO clutch
Crankset: Rotor 3D+
Chainring: Rotor QCX1, 40t
Cassette: SRAM PG-1170
Chain: KMC X10SL
Stem: Cannondale C3, alloy
Seatpost: American Classic "candy cane"
Saddle: Velo Angel (test display model)
Pedals: Xpedo CXR
Wheels: American Classic Carbon 46 Tubulars, thru-axle, disc brake specific
Tires: Vittoria Terreno Wet tubulars, 700x33mm