by Clifford Lee
Zen Fabrications has been manufacturing aluminum and steel bike frames for other companies, such as Van Dessel's Aloominator, since its inception. When the decision by David Woronets came to introduce their own brand as Zen Bike Co., the CROSS was one of the first models, undoubtedly driven by Zen Fabrication’s location in Portland, Oregon: one of the nation’s hotbeds of cyclocross. The Zen Bike Co. CROSS is purpose designed as a light race machine for the hour of pain.
While we were able to get an in-depth look at the Zen Bike Co. frames at NAHBS 2015 this year, we were able to get a closer look with our in review CROSS model.
The frame is made of 6160 aluminum alloy in custom drawn diameters and gauges, TIG welded and then powder-coated to a matte black textured finish that has surface feel of cast iron. The graphics are masked off, leaving the polished aluminum to shine through. This is one of the most unique and attractive production frames we’ve seen in awhile.
The idea is to include every technological feature to adapt the new bike to the latest technologies including disc brakes, thru axles, tapered-steerer fork and electronic shifting.
All cables run along the outside bottom of the down tube, fully sheathed in their housing, appearing like industrial conduits as they travel from the levers to their destination.
Although the down tube diameter seems massive at 51.3mm compared to old steel frames that are 20mm smaller, the Zen Bike Co. CROSS’ down tube is actually a shade smaller than a small Redbull can so is easy to grasp. However, with three sets of cable housing running along the bottom, it is still a handful with the leveraged weight of the bike as you swing the frame to your shoulder.
Regarding the full cable housing runs, compressionless housing, though standard for shifting systems now, is also a necessity for these cable actuated brake systems to perform decently with the full length demanded by the frame. Zen Bike Co. has the bike setup for internal shift wiring of electronic shift systems, and that combined with a hydraulic brake system will negate any worries about shift or brake performance.
Frame geometry is neutral for a ’cross bike. Our mid-size 56cm frame has a 56cm effective top tube, though the actual top tube slopes mildly from the 160mm tall head tube down to the 55cm seat tube junction. The seat and head tubes are a parallel 72 degrees. The one standout is the short 42.0cm chainstays, when combined with a more typical 602mm front center yields a 101.2cm wheelbase, given the 7.0cm measured bottom bracket drop: measurements we confirmed in the field.
The naked frame, without the headset bearings pressed in, nor the the included Enve fork weighs a respectably light 1475g, (or 3.25 pounds).
We received the Zen Bike Co. CROSS as a frame with the proven Enve quick release disc fork. The build kit consisted of an eclectic parts mix from the Cyclocross Magazine shop parts bin, including a set of Hayes CX Pro brakes and rotors. The drivetrain is a full complement of Shimano 7900 Dura Ace 10 speed paired with an FSA Gossamer alloy crank for BB/PF 30.
For review rides we used a variety of wheels including American Classic Carbon 46 tubulars, Industry 9 Ultralite CX and HED Ardennes, the latter two set up with tubeless clinchers.
Our control center is Shimano’s Pro PLT series aluminum bar and stem, while a Soma 27.2mm diameter layback post topped with a Soma Hishou saddle, reminiscent of a 1990’s italian model that really took off back then.
With the eclectic mix of parts, each piece that were all familiar to us, we were able to concentrate on the nuances of the ride of the Zen Bike Co. CROSS. Put together, the bike is just over 19 pounds with the HED tubeless clinchers with a Vittoria XL Pro TNT on the front and a WTB CrossBoss on the rear, and just over 13 pounds without the wheels.
Be sure to stay tuned for a full review on the ride and verdict of the Zen Bike Co. CROSS. You can find many of our other full bike reviews here. Use the slider below for more photos as well as a full spec guide.