As cross season gives way to Classics season, my time on the Framed Course Carbon comes to a close. Initially brought in as a race specific platform, the Course has seen just about everything in the past five months. Ultimately, the low cost seems like it could validate the bike’s use as a race day only platform – but I also wanted to test out the bike’s range. For the most part, the Course has been surprisingly capable but it’s not without faults.
First and foremost, the Course Carbon is marketed as a cyclocross race bike, and that’s where it excels. Out of the box at $1,499 it’s impressively speced, though you will probably want to upgrade the wheels. The stock aluminum wheels with tubeless Alex Draw 2.1 rims and PUB sealed cartridge bearings were on the heavy side and the front hub had play in the bearings that couldn’t be fixed. Framed took care of the issue immediately (and will do the same for any customer), but if you’re looking for one area to upgrade on the bike, the wheels are it.
Fortunately for me, Framed had included a set of their PUB carbon/gravel wheels to test out which were flawless. The 31mm deep rims have a 21mm internal width, and set up tubeless extremely easily. Even running pressures in the low 20s, I had no issues with burping. Built to DT Swiss 350 centerlock hubs with 2.0 stainless steel spokes, the wheels seem to offer a lot of bang for the buck. Since Framed offers this exact combo of bike and wheels for $2,099, instead of $1,499 for the aluminum wheels, I would definitely recommend dropping the extra $600 for the carbon wheels.
In terms of mud clearance, the Course frame and fork were quite good. Even running 32mm tires on the wide rims, there was still a good amount of room though the absolute worst mud might still gum up the works. As for tire clearance, I attempted to fit a 700c x 40mm set of Terrene gravel tires, but they were too wide to fit at either end. Something like a 700c x 35mm should fit if you want to try out some different rubber for gravel or road riding though.
Even though the cable guide is exposed on the bottom bracket, the cable liner tube protects the rear derailleur cable from any crud and it’s still shifting cleanly.
Equipped with a 44t FSA Megatooth ring, I’d prefer a smaller chainring up front. I made it work, but on the hillier races, it was a bit much. Something like a 40 or 42t would be preferred. Out back, the 11-42t SRAM NX cassette made for some big jumps between shifts, but I didn’t really find it much of an issue. Without the 42t in the back, there’s no way I could have run the 44t up front.
It should be mentioned that this bike will continue to be offered as is for the 2018/2019 CX season. Also, as mentioned in our first look, I’d recommend going with your gut instinct for sizing rather than relying on the sizing chart. I’m 5’8″ with a 30″ inseam, and the chart would put me on a 54cm. I opted for a 51cm, and even it’s a little big – though I don’t think I’d size down to the 48cm. I did throw on a shorter stem since the stock set up was too long of a reach.
To keep the price down, the bike was built with mechanical SRAM rival 22 shifters but with the front shifter gutted to work with the 1x drivetrain, and Avid BB7-S mechanical disc brakes. A SRAM Rival 1 rear derailleur, FSA Gossamer Cross 386EVO crank with BB30 bottom bracket, and a KMC 11 speed chain finished off the drivetrain. While not quite a slick as a full SRAM Rival 1 hydraulic set up, the drivetrain mashup worked well and didn’t feel lacking in any specific area.
One thing that bugged me was the positioning of the QR levers for the thru axles. Since they have no ability to be adjusted, you’re stuck with wherever they end up when tight. In this case, that was pointed almost straight down – not exactly ideal. Framed said that they are aware of the issue, and are working to source new thru axles that would allow you to position them where you want.
How does it ride?
Honestly, for an inexpensive carbon bike the Course rides a lot better than I expected it to. It’s definitely a bit more harsh than some of the higher end carbon frames I’ve ridden, but it still has that snappy, comfortable ride of a carbon frame. There’s no question that this is a race bike when you ride it – it’s stiff in all the right places to help you really put the power down. But it’s also pretty stiff vertically which could be improved for a bit more compliance. I supsect a lot of this comes from the seatpost, which is a pretty chunky set back carbon post with fairly thick walls. I bet if you swapped out the post for something higher end it would be a noticeable difference.
The handling is also on par with a race bike, with quick but precise steering. with a 65mm BB drop, the Course is on the lower side of traditional CX bikes, but that makes it a bit more enjoyable on the road or on gravel. On that note, you can certainly use the Course for more than just CX racing. I look at the CX vs. Gravel debate in terms of what you want to do more, and what you want to have the better bike for. If CX racing is something you live for every fall, and you might do the occasional gravel ride, then go for the CX bike. If you really love gravel, but might do the occasional CX race, then go for the gravel bike. You technically can use either bike for either purpose, just one will be better at certain things than the other. I have done a number of gravel/road rides on the Course and it handled them fine. It wasn’t quite as comfortable as gravel specific builds, but that’s expected from a CX race build.
Overall , it’s hard to find too much fault in a bike at this price level. What drew me to the bike in the first place was that it seemed like a race ready rig at a price that would make it easier to hang up in the garage once the season ended. And that’s exactly what I found – in spite of a few faults, the Framed Carbon Course was more than capable of climbing on the podium come race day.