Coming into this review, my biggest question was, why does the bike cost so much? Surely something about it is special, right? Turns out, there’s a reason the folks pushing it were hard pressed to describe why a steel cyclocross frameset was selling for $2,395 – the same (or more) than you could buy a complete carbon bike for. It’s just one of those things you have to ride for yourself to “get it”.
On paper, there are a few things that set it apart from a typical steel bike. There’s a shapely tapered head tube with inset bearings that lend a very modern look. The downtube is slightly oversized, and it’s biovalized to improve lateral stiffness at the bottom bracket shell.
The top tube is ever-so-slightly shaped, ending up with a mildly flattened underside to improve shouldering comfort.
The bottom bracket uses the threaded T47 standard, so you get the best of both worlds – oversized and lighter crankset spindles, and the ease and durability of a threaded system.
Front and rear, you have 12mm thru axles. Up front, it runs through a painted-to-match ENVE CX fork, which so far is only available with post mount brake tabs. In the back are well-designed flat mount tabs inserted through the chainstay. The design keeps the bolts easily accessible and has a nice look to it, too.
When the bike debuted in April, it was only shown with a bright orange and white paint scheme, which is what I was expecting to receive. This matte gray with yellow has just the slightest olive undertone, and the finish is more of an eggshell than a gloss, which is neat.
The complete bike as tested came with their “Force 1 Racer” build kit and retails for $4,800 as shown here. That includes a complete SRAM Force 1 group with hydraulic disc brakes and an 11-32 cassette, Thomson Elite post and stem, Ritchey WCS EVO Curve handlebar, White Industries headset and T47 bottom bracket, Selle Italia saddle, HiFi Mix Tape alloy disc brake wheels, and Challenge tires. It’s a solid build that I’ll discuss in a minute. Actual weight for the size 58 bike was 20lb 2oz.
But How Does it Ride?
Here’s where the bike starts to justify the price. The frame is Columbus Select steel tubing, which is shaped, designed and hand built by one of the best builders in the U.S. If you’re into the whole handmade bicycle thing, you’d recognize the name…if Von Hof wanted to publicize it. Basically, they’ve contracted with one of the top builders to produce a made-in-America steel cyclocross frame that rides as you’d expect such a thing would ride.
That is to say, impeccably well. The geometry is spot on for general cyclocross use…not to quick, not to slow. So it holds a line around sweeping corners while still allowing me to lay down the power. Tight corners are quick enough, and straight line efforts illustrate that aforementioned bottom bracket stiffness.
The rear end was gentle on my rear end. I’m the type of rider that likes to stay seated and pummel through the rough stuff without wasting energy on things like, you know, standing. The Thomson seatpost is not known for its comfortable flex, so I’m sure the surprisingly smooth ride quality and compliance was coming from the frame.
The bike is designed to clear 40mm tires, so the bike can easily pull year-round duty with tires larger than the Challenge 700×35 Gravel Grinder models installed here. Put on UCI-compliant 32mm or 33mm tires and there’d be gobs of clearance so you don’t get gobs of mud.
The Bits & Pieces…
Little things like replaceable hanger, clean external derailleur and rear brake housing and subtle bends in the stays all add up to a well executed package. The ACX is meant as a 1x racer – there’s no routing accommodation for a front derailleur.
This was the first time I’d ridden HiFi wheels, and they impressed. I mentioned how I like to stay seated and motor through obstacles? That tends to test a tire’s ability to protect the rim from root strikes, and boy did I put these to the test. Even with tubes in the tires and typically low CX-appropriate air pressure, I never flatted even after repeated hard rim hits. The tires deserve some of the credit, too, which illustrates that as a package, the bike starts to justify the price.
If you’re looking for something that’s more small batch and domestically made, and you don’t mind paying for it, the Von Hof ACX is worth a look. Complete bikes start at $4,000 and run up to $5,700 with suggested builds, but there are upgrade options, too.