Cyclocross will forever be a strange breed. As specific as CX racing is, most of us want a cross bike that’s fun to ride year-round. With gravel’s huge recent growth, Bombtrack refocused their CX line-up with the Tensions, reminding us again that often times a cross bike can be the most versatile in your bike quiver.
Cyclocross brings a somewhat brief race season predicated on suffering, foul weather & high-intensity racing in circles. If you over-indulge on the road or trail all summer, it’s easy to blink and realize cross season has caught you off-guard once again. Maybe it’s even over before you’re ready, and then you could hang your cross-specific bike & gear on the wall until next year. Or, like most of us who aren’t only focused on racing CX, you could find a cross bike that’s more of an all-rounder…
2019 Bombtrack Tension 2 race-ready alloy cross bike
We got ahold of Bombtrack’s new Tension 2 cyclocross bike in the middle of October for a more detailed review after previewing it at the end of summer. Just about in time for the start of our European cross season, we quickly put the bike to dirt & gravel roads, singletrack & a few proper race courses.
The Tension 2 is the middle offspring of the Bombtrack’s cross family – now separated from the gravel-specific Hooks. With clear differentiation between cyclocross & gravel for the first time, the Tensions are more race focused and feature quicker handling. But the aluminum Tension 1 & 2 are actually 0.5° slacker than the more race-oriented carbon Tension 3 and get plenty of braze-ons, still making them solid all-rounders.
Tension – What’s new, spec & actual weight
The double butted, hydroformed 6061-T6 Tension 2 now features a 1.5″ tapered headtube, full carbon fork, flat mount disc brakes & 12mm thru-axles at both ends. At 2700€ it is pretty high-priced for an alloy bike, but a lot of that comes down to a quality performance spec & versatile detailing. Unlike most alloy bikes the Tension 2 gets the same finishing kit as its carbon sibling, with a complete SRAM Rival group, Ritchey alloy cockpit & mainstay tubeless Hunt 4 Season Disc alloy wheels.
All of that amounts to a real weight of 8.94kg/19.7lb for our medium test bike. Again, that isn’t incredibly light, but close to Bombtrack’s own claims, and not too bad for a versatile cross bike with rack & fender mounts as well.
Bombtrack spec’ed the bike to be mud-ready, so while it doesn’t yet come fitted with Challenge tubeless tires (the new TLRs weren’t ready in time), it does feature an OEM-only vulcanized brownwall version of the excellent 33mm Baby Limus tread. We didn’t try to convert these specifically, but ran a few other tubeless cross & gravel tires on the same Hunt 4 Season wheels.
Gearing on the bike is a Rival 40T ring to an 11-36 cassette, which offered plenty of range for cross racing and most trail riding. But we would probably have liked a wider range for ultimate versatility. Of course the move to a 10-42 setup makes for big cadence steps and would require a XD driver on the hub (which is possible on the Hunt wheels). But even an Apex level 11-42 could be a nice upgrade for steeper off-road riding.
Riding First Impressions
The bike made it to us in mid October, just as we were dreaming of the start of our proper European cross weather. The climate didn’t agree, so we started riding the Tension on hot & dusty trails instead, taking it to rough forest singletrack before any muddy CX terrain. As continues to be noticed by riders who haven’t spent much time on SRAM Hydro setups (even several years after their CX dominance), the large boxy shifters took one tester a while to adapt to.
One very cross-specific issue we noticed early on is that the dramatically hydroformed toptube shape gets slightly sharp edges especially near the seat tube, that fit strangely in the hand while “suitcasing” the bike over obstacles. It’s not a big deal really, but limits the position of your hand picking up the bike. “Shouldering” doesn’t seem to be an issue, as the underside of the tube is wide enough midway through its length.
Not an issue on production consumer bikes, but we ran into an annoyingly common valve issue with the 27mm deep rims. Standard valves don’t quite stick out enough from the rims to the point that pumping was more of an art than it should be. It just means you need to buy longer valved tubes, or maybe that was the best reason to go tubeless!
Deep thoughts from our time riding trail & racing cross
As cliché as it sounds, the more we’ve ridden the Tension 2, the more we’ve liked it. The slightly relaxed cross angles, the long toptube & upright position all make for a comfortable ride. It also gets plenty of technical descending confidence thanks to stable geometry and a wheel/tire & drivetrain/braking spec that just solidly delivers out of the box in a wide range of conditions.
It pretty much rides trails like a rigid mountain bike with a stiff feel from the full carbon fork, although that certainly helps control the bike in fast or off-camber cornering. The beauty of the stiff alloy frame is also that it climbs quickly, readily flying when you open up a sprint.
Taking it to the cross races our initial concerns were washed away by slick grassy turns, deep sand & an elevated heart rate. The bike handled tight & twisting turns, loose downhill & pedaly sections, and repeated short sprints all without hesitation. For sure, our own amateur fitness was the only limiting factor racing cross this past season.
The Tension 2 has mid-length 425mm chainstays, which generally offer plenty of mud clearance and ample room for up to ~40mm tires with room to play.
But the rear fender compatibility means the bike gets a chainstay bridge that provides a spot for mud to build up. In a lot of wet riding it never was a significant issue, especially with the 1x setup. But we didn’t have any proper mudder cross races late in our season either, and this is definitely a spot where peanut butter mud would accumulate.
Lasting Impressions with the Bombtrack Tension 2
For riders looking for an all-purpose bike that can do double-duty as a race-ready cyclocross bike during those few short months of CX, yet still be fun to ride year-round, Bombtrack did a great job reworking the Tension family for 2019. It isn’t the cheapest entry into cross at 2700€, but outside of an easy tubeless conversion (by picking up some valves & your tubeless cross tire of choice) it offers a solid performance spec and a capable ride. Slap a rack & fenders on to extend your riding season as a commuter, then maybe some fatter tires to hit the gravel roads and singletrack when they clear up too.