Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.
Does It Offer Value and Racing Performance?
If you’re looking for a cyclocross racer around the $1000 price point, could the Diamondback Steilacoom RCX be the bike for you? It has an ultra-reliable Shimano 105 groupset and what promises to be a race performance-worthy aluminium frameset for efficient power transfer, but what’s it like as a cyclocross racer?
MSRP is $1499.99, but if you shop around you’ll often find prices below that mystical $1000 price mark. This makes it sound like the bike will represent exceptional value for your money.
The sub-$1000 Cyclocross Bike Review
Alloy Frame and Fork
At first glance, the Diamondback Steilacoom frame looks like a full-on cyclocross racer and cross-country explorer. Its lightweight 7005 aluminium frameset is hydro-formed to ensure additional strength where it’s needed. It also forms an impressive flattened shouldering section between the top tube and seat tube for additional comfort when carrying your bike. The S-bend seat also helps to smooth out the ride.
The geometry is very race performance orientated with a relatively short steerer tube length. It's just 13 cm on my 56 cm test bike, putting the racers centre of gravity closer to the ground, and had a sensible 565 mm effective top tube.
Up front, a full carbon fork helps absorb some of the shock and vibration while promising responsive steering when you need it most and providing a feeling that where you steer is the direction you'll be travelling.
Diamondback has really come up with a very impressive frameset on such a good value bike. Aluminium frames are still favoured by many racers who eschew expensive carbon and this frameset wouldn’t look out of place on a bike with much better components and a svelte set of deep carbon tubular wheels for a pro racer look.
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The black with white elements colour scheme is neutral with a sporty edge. It’s simple and effective in letting you concentrate on riding while allowing you to add some coloured accessories like bar tape over time. You can add elements for some personal style like some Giro D'Italia inspired baby pink bar tape or whatever color matches your club or team.
The Conquest is equipped with Shimano’s reliable and durable 105 10-speed groupset. 105 offers an excellent balance between performance and cost. 105 offers high-level performance and is almost unheard of in race bikes below the $1000 price point. For many racers, 105 is the perfect balance between shifting quality, longevity and value.
Cyclocross specific gearing comes courtesy of FSA's Gossamer 36-46 chainset which offers a wide range of CX-specific lower and mid-range gearing for whether you're knee-deep in mud or tackling fast woodland fire roads.
Wheels and Tires
The Steilacoom features a DB Equation CX wheelset featuring 20 front and 24 rear spokes. They’re not exceptionally light but should see you through your first season of racing without problems. Over time a sensible upgrade would be to take the step up to tubular wheels and tires which offer better grip at the low tire pressures cyclocross racing demands.
Kenda Small Block 8 tire’s will serve you well through dry, hard-packed early season courses, although once the going starts to get muddy you’re likely to need to change tires to something with a little more bite for the mud. The tires are more targeted towards individuals looking for a fast mixed conditions tire. Most racers will have a plethora of different tires at home (or wheels) to adjust choice of tire as course conditions change throughout fall and winter so they're not a bad choice to start with.
Bars, stem and seat post come courtessy of diamondbacks own label DBR brand. At this price point they’re as you’d expect. Nothing outstanding but they do the job well. The saddle is a comfortable WTB Vulcan which offers a little padding to cushion those re-mounts induced by a set of barriers. The saddle is always a personal point and it can be changed easily should a rider require it.
When on trails, it’s hard to tell that this is only a $1000 bike (well you paid less because in reality, it's a $1500 dollar bike so you should be smiling). The geometry is exceptionally race orientated and wants you to push into each corner whilst allowing you to accelerate out. The frame and fork offer good power transfer, whether you’re on the road to work or on a cinder track on the roads wanting to pass the guy in front of you.
The only real slight let-down is the wheel weight, but with such a well constructed frame and component package, there is always going to be some compromise. The wheels are solid and do the job, yet warrant being the first component to upgrade as a beginner gets further immersed into the racing scene.