Posted by auscxmag
Posted in Review
Reviewed by: Duncan Markham Photography: Christine Carter
Before I start this review I’ve got to disclose something. I know Dave Musgrove, the fella that designed this bike. I knew him when he was a grom in the LBS building dirt jumps, then we lost contact til I bumped into him riding on a fixie with a very cool double speed hub. Turned out he was now frame designer at Cell Bikes after studying mechanical engineering at Uni.
Now I have another confession. I had assumed Cell Bikes were just a cheap seller of generic bikes, so I had a bit of a jaundiced view of their product.
So with that in mind, and having chatted to Dave over the last little while about bike design, I was intrigued to find out what the Cell Brunswick CX was like.
One more confession. Last one I promise, anymore and I’ll turn Catholic (at least it’ll please my mother-in-law). This is the cheapest bike I’ve ridden in about 10 years, so I wasn’t expecting much.
As you can see I was going into this test with an open mind.
The editor of Australian Cyclocross Magazine Sean dropped the bike off having taken lots of pictures of a nice clean bike and we got to chatting about aesthetics. The frame is black with a very subtle hint of gold glitter, so subtle most people won’t notice unless its in the sun.
The wheels are black and the bars, stem and seat post are black. Only the logos break up the blackness, so this isn’t Black. On. Black blackness. This bike isn’t just a CX machine its also aimed at the commuter/gravel grinder, so the grey logos are reflective under lights. A nice touch.
The Brunswick is a good looking bike, but in a contrary way to a carbon framed bike is good looking. The tube proportions are different. They have to be due to the inherent differences in the materials.
The nice touches start to mount up as I looked over the frame. The triple butted hydro-formed alloy tubing, the waist on tapered head tube, the triangular sectioned top tube, the tapered seat stays, the sculpted rear dropouts that are primarily there to give room to the disc brakes but look really cool. This is a frame that before the advent of carbon would have retailed on some top notch machinery.
Unusually for a CX bike the cables are routed along the downtube. This used to be a CX no-no as the cables would fill full of gunk and seize, but with the reduced friction of lined outers, the Brunswick uses a fully closed run of outer cables for brake and gears leaving an uncluttered, dare I say, better looking top tube.
High-lighting the Brunswick’s dual role, the frame has all the braze-ons (what are they called now they’re not brazed on?) for a rack and mud-guards. It can also carry 2 water bottle cages.
The disc fork is made of carbon. Tapered 1⅛” to 1½” carbon steerer, big shoulders tapering smoothly to a Q/R dropout on either side, subtle decals and mudguard compatible.
The 27.2mm seat post is carbon bonded to a 2-bolt micro adjust head, so you can be like Eddy and get your saddle ‘just so’. The saddle is a Cell branded affair which is very comfy in use but visually there’s just something wrong with droopy nosed saddles regardless of how practical they are. The stem again is a Cell branded affair, but made of 6061 with a 4 bolt face and +- 7deg rise, its a decent quality product. Similarly with the handlebars compact shape – short reach shallow drop – made out of 6061.
The 24 spoke wheels are made by A-CLass who I’d never heard of, but they appear to be well made, good spoke tension and consistency, with good quality bearings, red alloy nipples (go faster), and most importantly, they’re tubeless compatible (Huzzah!)
Gearing is by SRAM a mixture of APEX and Rival, 46/36 GXP crankset with an 11-26 10spd cassette
Stoppers are Avid BB5 cable callipers with 160mm discs.
Tyres are Vittoria XN 32mm file thread with lugged shoulders.
With a pair of Time ATAC Titans on the Brunswick came in at 9.74kg.
When setting up a bike I work outwards from the bottom bracket, the sit centre of the seat is always x mm from the centre of the BB, and y mm layback. Once thats in position I measure forward to get the handlebars sorted relative to the saddle. Despite the medium sized Brunswick having the same length top-tube and 100m stem as my current CX bike the overall reach to the brake levers was about 40mm too short. It took me a couple of re-measures to realise that it was the reduced reach of the compact bars. To compensate I lowered the bars about 15mm, but expected to be a little cramped in the cockpit.
All set up I headed out to meet the boys for the weekly CX hit-out. Its raining but stops before I get to the meeting point. Riding along the pavement the Brunswick feels smooth with the file tread XNs, the SRAM shifting is precise giving a nice solid clunk engaging the gears, but I’m definitely feeling more of the road than you would with a carbon frame. Once we get to the dirt the trail heads up, and I run out of gears. Admittedly, the first hill is fairly brutal but 26 is too small for me I’d prefer a 28, better still a 32 tooth on the back, but I take a cement pill and soldier on. The XN are gripping pretty well on the wet grass as long as you sit in the saddle and grind, out of the saddle its pretty easy to lose traction. Back on tarmac, we’re still climbing but I notice the extra speed the XNs give you over a more chunky CX tread. On to the pave’ section and the bike starts to show its true colours, the supple sidewalls of the Vittorias conform over cobbles whilst the carbon fork and carbon seat post do a reasonable job of damping out some of the vibrations. Its not as damped as a carbon frame would provide, but its a lot better than having my fillings rattlin’ around my head which is what I was expecting. Into the twisty stuff, the handling is spot on, even on wet grass the file treads grip well the side lugs biting in as the bike banks over, the carbon fork is tracking true with no hint of understeer that an overly stiff fork can cause and has no judder even when hard on the brakes. The brakes themselves are good. I like cable operated discs, whilst not giving as much stopping power and not having the self adjustment of hydraulics, they have good modulation and realistically how much braking power do you need on a CX bike? The gears feel like something much more expensive, I presume the downside must be weight related as the shifting is great and there’s no plastiky feel you can get with some of the other cheaper group sets around
We arrive at the run up. Hopping off I put the bike on my shoulder, this is not so good. I really notice the weight here, the sloping style of the top-tube makes it harder to get my shoulder through and when I do the triangular shape of the top-tube digs into my neck.
Still hopping back on and heading downhill all is forgiven, cross slopes are tackled with ease, even getting a little airtime over a few jumps is shrugged off with a feeling of control, although braking on wet surfaces with file treads can be a little exciting. The frame is stiff under acceleration and when flicking the bike from side to side trying to unsettle it, it shows no hint of tyre rub which you can get with some frames.
I head for coffee feeling completely different about this bike.
I did a couple of commuter runs on the Brunswick just for kicks, and again was pleasantly surprised. Usually CX bikes handle noticeably slower, but the Brunswick doesn’t. Again the speccing of the Vittorias plays a part, providing a supple ride with low rolling resistance, and the closing ratios of the 11-26 cassette makes more sense.
If I was using it more as a commuter I would probably fit a slightly longer stem or maybe go up a frame size, but my worries about being cramped on the bike with the shorter reach bars was unfounded. Because the top of the bars were still the same distance from the saddle as my regular bike I had no issues with knees hitting bars when climbing, but being that little bit shorter in reach to the levers gave more control and made initialising a bunny hop easier despite having the stem lower. And having the stem lower mean that I could reach the drops more easily when I was shouldering the bike with my arm looping the downtube.
I shall be fitting a set of compact bars to my trusty steed.
The Brunswick isn’t perfect, for it to be that it would need to lose weight and that would make it increase in price, but it is incredible value. It has quickly become my go-to bike for popping the shops, riding to work, CX hit-outs because I’m really enjoying riding it. I’ll be sad to see it go.
If you’re looking for a commuter that can get you into CX, or that N+1 bike for those gravel grinds – I highly recommend this bike.
The Cell Brunswick retail for $1399 and you can find out more by visiting www.cellbikes.com.au