The Cronus was launched in 2011 as Trek’s first-ever carbon fibre cyclo-cross platform and marked the Wisconsin-based firm’s first proper foray into the CX market.
Our two-month test has revealed a machine which is as at home on the race track as it is on the road – and everything in between – thanks to a winning combination of dependability, stability and versatility.
Trek’s cyclo-cross offering is split into three ranges, with two bikes in each of the entry-level CrossRip, mid-range Ion CX, and top-of-the-range Cronus CX collections.
The Cronus CX Pro is the cheaper of the two builds at £2,000 and is equipped with Shimano 105 shifters/front derailleur/rear derailleur, FSA Energy Cross 46-36t chainset, Avid Shorty 6 cantilever brakes and Bontrager finishing kit, with the upgraded Cronus CX Ultimate getting a SRAM Force groupset, Shimano Ultegra wheels and Avid Shorty Ultimate brakes for £3,000.
The frame remains the same, however, and it’s trademark Trek, with beefy proportions throughout, not least on the downtube. In short, it’s huge, tapering ever-so-slightly from the super-wide BB90 bottom bracket (the widest available on the market) to the junction with the headtube, which tapers from a 1.5″ lower bearing to a 1-1/8″ upper bearing.
The top tube (of which the underside is slightly flattened to make the bike easier to shoulder) is also wide – and certainly wide enough to occasionally catch your legs, especially if you ride knock-kneed like I do – while the seattube, which rises to meet a 27.2mm seatpost, looks decidedly skinny in comparison to the rest of the frame, which is constructed from the same 500 Series OCLV carbon fibre as Trek’s 5-Series Madone and Domane road bikes.
Out back, the chunky theme continues with the chainstays, which are strong enough in their own right to allow Trek to do away with a chainstay bridge, allowing masses of mud clearance between the rear tyre and the bottom bracket.
The Cronus CX Pro is part of the Gary Fisher Collection and wears his signature on the downtube, while at the front end, the fork uses the eccentric American designer’s Fisher Control Column dropout design, which can accommodate the oversized hub and 25mm end caps found on FCC-compatible wheels. Trek say that improves wheel stiffness but it’s worth noting the Bontrager Race hoops specced with the Cronus CX Pro have a standard sized hub.
At the top of the fork, the front brake hanger is bolted into the crown, thereby increasing the distance between the housing stop and the brake calliper, and doing a good job of minimising brake judder.
The Cronus CX Pro has a slightly taller headtube than we’ve come to expect, at 167mm on our size 56cm test model, and that translates to a fairly upright riding position. Stand over the bike and it feels substantial beneath you as the toptube slopes only a little, but jump aboard and the slightly shorter than average toptube (effective length 553mm) means it doesn’t feel too long when riding.
It does, however, provide a very stable footing for the machine as a whole. The Cronus CX Pro doesn’t perhaps have the zip of some ‘cross bikes when throwing it around a race course, but it’s ultimately a super-reliable platform, with solid steering which delivers the bike in the direction you want it, and while the 44cm-wide Bontrager Race Lite Anatomic-C handlebars may feel too wide for many when compared to their road bike (I normally ride with 40cm handlebars), they do go some way to contributing to that confidence-inspiring ride.
The super-wide BB90 bottom bracket is at the heart of the frame and there’s no doubting the Cronus CX Pro delivers plenty of stiffness, but it does so in a ‘mind your own business’ way. By that, I mean the bike doesn’t jump from underneath you when you stamp on the pedals, but it still ensures more than enough of that power is transferred to the back wheel.
That’s partly a consequence of the 500 Series OCLV carbon fibre lay-up. The Cronus CX Pro isolates itself from rough off-road terrain, with the frame offering bags of compliance, which, along with the sure-footed handling, makes for a relatively neutral ride, allowing the rider to concentrate on the task at hand.
Cyclo-cross bike are becoming increasingly popular as do-it-all machines and while Trek describe the Cronus CX Pro as an “ultra-tough, pure-bred cyclo-cross racer”, it has enough built-in versatility to mark it out for day-to-day use as well. Cyclo-cross riders normally do away with bottles over an hour-long race but the Cronus CX Pro has mounts for two cages in addition to hidden mudguard mounts, which means it can double up as a winter training bike or year-round commuter.
Most of the £2,000 price tag has gone into the development of the frame and the spec is mostly functional and reliable, with Shimano 105 taking care of shifting duties and Avid’s strong but occasionally squealy Shorty 6 cantilever brakes providing the stopping power. The Bontrager CX0 tyres were particularly impressive, offering a good amount of grip despite their billing as rubber suitable for dry and hard conditions, and when we asked Trek for the CX3 mud tyres ahead of the final round of the Rapha Super Cross series we got more grip again thanks to the effective open knob design.
Bontrager’s Race clincher wheels are solid and dependable without offering much in the way of performance, as you’d expect for budget hoops: ideal for training but an obvious upgrade for racing, particularly as most experienced ‘cross riders will want a tubular wheelset and tyre combination come race day. Otherwise, the Bontrager Evoke 2 saddle is comfortable but on the spongy side compared to racier models, and looks a little out of place on the start line of a race.
All in all, the combination of a superb frame and solid build delivers a hugely pleasurable ride whether racing, hacking around the woods or using the Cronus CX Pro as a do-it-all winter trainer on road. Some riders may prefer a machine which delivers a sharper ride and more feedback from the rough stuff but if you’re after dependability, stability and versatility, then the Cronus CX Pro has it in bags.