Von Hof Cycles of Hoboken, New Jersey produces small batches of metal bikes made in the USA via partners in the U.S. cycling industry. The company's newest cyclocross bike is the Steel ACX that we first looked at last year when it was released. We have also seen the Steel ACX under Jalapeño Cycling rider Kathryn Cumming the last few years as well.
For many years I raced a custom steel Steelman Eurocross, and I continue to appreciate steel bikes, so I was intrigued by the Columbus steel Von Hof Steel ACX. In the past, I reviewed the Wraith Paycheck, Grava Revenuer and Zen AR45 steel bikes, all built in the USA with a similar ethos.
Von Hof briefly used Zen Bicycle Fabrications as a domestic builder before Zen closed its doors, but Von Hof continues to carry the steel bike torch with the new Steel ACX.
The Von Hof Steel ACX is immediately attractive to a steel bike aficionado like me because of its slender tubes and two-tone matte finish paint. When you see the Columbus tube indicator, it makes you dream of the smooth, lively ride of a steel bike.
Would it live up to such dreams? I review the Von Hof ACX cyclocross bike to see if it delivers in providing a classic steel ride.
The Steel ACX frame is TIG welded using Columbus tubes by a frame building partner in upstate New York. It has a 160mm tapered head tube, ovalized top tube and bi-ovalized down tube in the vertical plane at the head tube and in the horizontal plane at the bottom bracket.
The bottom bracket is T-47, a 47mm "oversized" diameter threaded shell that is 68mm wide. Field measurements reveal that the BB drop is 6.2cm, which today is closer to old European cyclocross standard than many current models hovering around 7cm.
Chainstays that are 42.5cm long and a 60.5cm front center combine for a 102cm wheelbase. Our review sample has a 56cm (center to top) seat tube and an effective top tube length of 56cm. The headtube angle is 72 degrees. That is very standard, old world cyclocross geometry.
The frame is 12x142mm thru-axle and has a flat mount for the rear brake caliper on the chainstay. The control lines run externally along the downtube with full cable housing utilizing bolt-on holders. There is room for 40mm tires for non-UCI racers and gravel grinders.
The frameset includes a carbon Enve CX fork that has a 12x100mm thru-axle and flat mount caliper. The frameset including the fork has a very attractive matte orange finish and cream two-tone graphic paint scheme.
Dual bottle bosses are in the usual places for longer adventures, but there are no provisions for fenders or racks. If you do want to equip the bike with extra features or adorn it with custom colors, you can request a custom frame with the features you want at an additional cost.
Though Von Hof sells the Steel ACX online as a frameset only, our review sample came built-up complete with full SRAM Force 1 HydroR groupset with a 42-tooth front ring and an 11-28t 11-speed cassette.
This bike is set for the races with a single ring setup. If you want to run a front derailleur with the Von Hof Steel ACX, you will need to change the cable housing clips on the downtube and figure out a cable stop.
A Paul Component Engineering Boxcar 90mm 15-degree stem and Tall and Handsome 27.2mm seatpost with a 2-bolt clamp are very nice additions to the build. A Ritchey Logic WCS aluminum alloy bar and a Ritchey Logic Streem saddle complete the build.
The Paul Component Engineering’s seatpost and stem are beautiful machinings, but not super-lightweight components. When you add Paul Component Engineering parts, the ethos is beauty and craftsmanship, not lightweight. The 320 gram Tall and Handsome seatpost matches its name, and the two-bolt design is our preference. The 9cm square section Boxcar stem weighs 155 grams. Both extend the domestically-built theme of the Von Hof ACX.
Our review bike came with HiFi Wheels EP 38 carbon tubeless clinchers. This 1,570 gram (actual, with tape) road tubeless wheelset from Portland-based HiFi features a 17.5mm inner width and a 38mm rim depth. Twenty-four bladed spokes woven 2x lace the HiFi EP 38 rims to the HiFi Fidelity hubs with stainless steel bearings. The 700c x 38mm Ritchey WCS Megabite tubeless-ready tires came with tubes.
Our test bike checked in at a total weight of 19.8 pounds and 12.9 pounds without wheels.
The VonHof has tried and true geometry and the TIG welds look solid, so the tube parameter mix is the key variable. I consider a steel bike with disc brakes and 38mm tires to be reasonably light below 20 pounds, and the reasonably light weight translates into a lively ride.
The Steel ACX hums on the pavement and sings off-road. It provides constant feedback from the surface and to your input in steering and pedaling. Ride over a series of roots and rocks and the frame responds like a tight spring or firm suspension almost helping you over. Lean or steer the bike and it goes when you want it. Put force to the pedals and it moves forward, with smooth acceleration. The ACX does not jump out from under you with hard acceleration, rather, it moves with you.
The geometry, as measured, provides handling that is familiar and intuitive. The 9.0cm stem is shorter than we used to run 15 years ago, but a longer top tube partly compensates for the difference. The addition of hydraulic disc brakes compared to cantilevers or rim brakes, in general, is a vast improvement, and clearance for wide tires adds to long ride comfort and control. The Von Hof Steel ACX is a modern take on an old world classic.
After a run-up or barrier, swinging a leg over the saddle of the Steel ACX during a blurry-eyed remount takes a bit more attention and effort, especially after riding bikes that sit almost a centimeter closer to the ground, as many ’cross and gravel bikes now do. On one hand, I appreciate the extra ground clearance for some technical trails and pedaling through off cambers, but I also like the lower bottom bracket of modern ’cross geometry when riding through sweeping turns, flowing trails and through downhill switchbacks and chicanes.
The minor height difference is not a factor in dismounts, and I enjoyed the slender downtube when picking the bike up to my shoulder for run-ups.
HiFi Wheels Extended Play 38 disc clincher has a great mix of features and is a nice addition to the build kit for the review bike. The mid-depth carbon rims have an internal width of 17.5mm, which is almost narrow by today’s standards, but with a good tubeless profile. The profile offers good stiffness and rim strength while keeping the weight in check and is a good compromise should you want to run anything from road tubeless tires to wide gravel tires.
With the Ritchey WCS Megabyte 38mm tires on these HiFi EP 38s, they took a beating without a hitch. Tubeless setup was simple and reliable. I used to think I could ride 33mm tires anywhere—and did—but now having ridden 38mm tires with more choices available, I would consider cyclocross racing with them in early season races when the terrain is loose despite the added tire weight.
The Von Hof ACX Steel is a well-designed American small-batch handmade cyclocross frameset that offers an excellent representation of a lively steel bike ride. It is a modern take on a classic, with a tapered head tube, flat mount brakes, 12mm thru-axles and wide tire clearance.
It's more of a race bike than a do-it-all machine or gravel bike. The geometry puts it on the racy side, and it lacks mounts for racks, fenders or a front derailleur. However, thanks to its smooth steel ride and the wide tire clearance, it is suitable for long mixed one day adventures.
For $2,500 dollars for the frame and Enve CX fork, it is competitive with other handmade steel bike framesets, and it gives the rider an old-school cyclocross experience on a modern steel frame.
Von Hof Steel ACX Specifications
MSRP: $2,395 frame and fork. $5,795 as tested
Frame: Columbus steel TIG welded, 12mm thru-axle, flat mount disc
Fork: Enve CX carbon fiber, 12mm thru-axle, flat mount disc
Weight: 19.8 pounds (no pedals), 12.9lbs without wheels
Shifters: SRAM Force 1 HRD
Crankset: SRAM Force 1, 42t Xync
Rear Derailleur: SRAM Force 1
Cassette: SRAM, 11-28t
Brakes: SRAM Force, SRAM Centerline rotors 160mm front, 140mm rear
Cockpit: Paul Component Engineering 90mm Boxcar stem, Ritchey Logic WCS aluminum bar
Seatpost: Paul Component Engineering Tall and Handsome, 2-bolt clamp, 27.2mm
Saddle: Ritchey Logic Streem
Wheels: HiFi EP 38 carbon, Sapim CX-Ray spokes, HiFi High Fidelity hubs
Tires: Ritchey Logic WCS Megabyte 700c x 38mm TS
Warranty: Frame and fork (original owner)
Country of origin: USA
More Info: vonhofcycles.com