Update Dec. 16

We continue to be impressed by the speed and versatility of the Look X85 bike. The bike has proven to be an agile bike that accelerates well and gets up the big hills with ease. Yet, it rides comfortably as the stays absorb much more of the vibrations present in our steel cross bike. And as the ride mission gets more challenging, we're able to put big tires on this bike without much of a problem.


The weak link to this system is the the Avid BB7 brakes. Although they modulate well, the power simply isn't there compared to modern hydraulic brakes like the Shimano XTs or Magura MT8s. So we are getting a bit antsy to try a hydraulic converter box so we can convert the stock brake lever pull into hyrdraulic fluid force. No revolutionary products were introduced at 2012 Interbike but we have bee seeing photos of new systems from Sram and Shimano as they use this cross season for testing.

The other opportunity for improvement is the the wheels. The carbon Eastons are light but they are not very stiff. We tried on a pair of Edge carbon wheels and they put this bike at a whole new level of lateral stiffness and responsiveness.


Color us lucky as we get to try one of the most anticipated bikes of the year. It is the launch of a new breed of bikes as this is a cyclocross bike solely designed for disc brakes and manufactured entirely with carbon fiber. The promise is a cross racing bike that is optimized for disc brakes and as a side effects bigger tires will fit and mud clearance is increased since the pesky canti brakes are not in the way. Another benefit is the ride can be optimized using carbon fiber without having to accomodate stiff cantilever brake posts.

But Look has taken it a step further. Realizing that the best disc brake compatible wheels right now exist in the 29er world, they made the rear dropout spacing 135 mm instead of 130 mm to make it compatible with 29er mountain bike wheels. This makes the massive array of 29er wheels available for use on this bike. Light, heavy, wide, cheap, expensive 29er wheels have multiplied so much over the past years that Look decided to let their customers use those instead of waiting for the limited selection of disc road wheels to grow. Even more attractive is a lot of cyclists have 29er wheels in the garage that they can play with and try on this bike.

Beyond Cyclocross
Something really exciting for this bike is it has legs beyond cyclocross. Since this bike is so versatile we see a few other uses for it.

Adventure Road Bike - This is a bike with big slick tires. It can go on long adventure rides on tarmac and gravel. One can ride to the trailhead, punch through the trail system and keep riding on a mix of paved and unpaved roads.

Monstercross bike - One can put small mountain bike tires on this bike and take it on real trails. Put some tubeless tires and just roll.

Commuter, century bike - Let's face it. Most cyclists are riding on 23c tires at 120 psi when they really should be riding wider tires and lower pressures. It would improve their control and comfort quite a bit. This X85 can certainly handle any tire size and it's a very capable road bike as well.

The Weak Link
The weak link right now is since there are no hydraulic brake levers for road bikes, The X85 and other bikes of this type are limited to mechanical disc brakes. And since there has been low demand for high-end mechanical disc brakes, the popular option these days is the budget-priced Avid BB7. It's a decent brake and better than canti brakes but it is a far cry from the latest hydraulic disc brakes. Avid BB7s are heavy and have limited modulation due to cable actuation. Plus they are prone to cable dirt contamination. They are also single piston so not as powerful as standard mountain bike brakes.

But help is on the horizon. There is a bevy of converter boxes that take cable actuation of the lever and turn it to hydraulic fluid action for the modern day disc brakes. Many of them are working really well and there will be many more solutions to come.

One of the most anticipated and requested bikes from Look Cycles has always been a true carbon fiber cyclocross bike. Look answered those requests this past fall with the introduction of the X-85. Shown quietly at the fall bike shows, the X-85 was still very much a prototype bike. Prototype no more, the production version was on display at this year's Sea Otter Classic. Look is returning to cyclocross with a truly avant garde cross frameset. Using Look's 25 years of experience and "know-how" in carbon technology, the new X-85 is completely hand made in Look's Nevers, France carbon factory. The frame is constructed of "tube-to-tube" technology and weighs in at a very respectable 1150 grams (size M), and the all carbon disc fork is 550 grams.

The X-85 is built to accomodate standard 160mm rotors with the IS standard mounts, hydraulic or mechanical. To ensure a wide range of wheel options, Look opted to use a standard 135mm rear wheel spacing allowing for most any 29er wheel to be used. Look's "Mud Evac" chainstays have been designed for optimal mud clearance and seatstays were designed with a carbon composition incorporating flex, ideal for absorbing vibrations. Look has also moved the cable routing from the below the flattened top tube on the prototype to above it, for easy shouldering during cross racing.

Look also opted to spec the X-85 with a 27.2 seatpost standard to allow riders to tailor the ride quality with their seatpost of choice. Interestingly, Look also choose to stick with the 68mm BSA bottom bracket standard, skipping the benefits of the larger BB30 or PF30 standards. The X-85 is said to be well into full production now and should arrive in plenty of time for cross season. The MSRP on the frameset is $2999.00, and is available for ordering at any Look dealer. For more information visit look at www.lookcycle.com

Justin giving us a quick overview of the X-85

[youtube width="600" height="361"]httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Z7oJ7eZ1aE

  • Full carbon cyclo-cross frame handmade in France
  • 135 mm rear hub spacing for compatibility with wide array of 29er mountain bike wheels
  • Compatible with standard international disc brakes
  • Ample tire clearance in front fork and rear triangle for huge cross tires or small mtb tires
  • Compatible with circular seatpost 27.2 mm for added flex and comfort
  • Very lightweight: frame alone 1150 grams or 2.53 lbs
  • 100% carbon fork with carbon steer tube and carbon dropouts at 550 grams
  • FLEX bases and stays for comfort and control
  • No canti brake post mounts allows stays and forks to be optimized for ride quality instead of stiffness
  • BB is 68 mm BSA standard for ease of maintenance.
  • UCI approved for Cyclocross racing


On with the testing:

We've ridden this bike a few times with normal cross tires and a couple of times with a 2.0 Specialized Fastrack tire in the front. We can attest to the versatility of this bike already but we'll update it more as we try other tire options on it like 32c road tires and 23c racing tires.

As a cross bike, it's one of the best we've tried. Acceleration and responsiveness is excellent. It climbs like a goat and gets off the line assertively. Stock gearing on our tester was a bit heavy with an 12-25 on the rear but we expect this bike to scale many walls as we get the gearing sorted for our local terrain. For racing, the 25 tooth rear is probably fine.

Comfort was definitely noticeably improved over other cross bikes we've tried. We've ridden the Surly Cross Check, Steelman Eurocross, Jamis Nova carbon bike and this X85 was more comfortable. Vibrations were dampened it had a bit of give to it.

Handling over rough stuff was improved as well as the chassis wasn't bouncing all over the place. Better traction was maintained as the bike absorbed some of the trail chatter. Of course tire pressures have more effect on this equation but the frame seemed to contribute to the task. As far as lateral rigidity, the frame held its line well. It seemed really solid but we'd love to attack some of our paved descents to really test the handling of this frame.

We have not ridden this in muddy conditions but it seems obvious it will do well. The front fork has obscene amounts of mud clearance with a 32c tire. The rear doesn't have quite as much but there is more room than we've ever seen on a cross bike. Plust the stays are shaped in such a way that it will be very difficult for mud to clog the system.

Braking on cyclocross bikes is traditionally the achilles heel of these machines. For example, my Steelman Eurocross has been through four sets of brake upgrades and it's finally acceptable with the latest Avid Shorty brakes. The Avid BB7s disc brakes on the X85 are better than Shorty's already. They are more powerful and consistent in all weather. Plus removing the wheel is not such a pain. But the true promise of this braking system lies in the future when I'm able to put my Magura MT8s or Formula R1s on this bike. On the front, there is none of that dreaded brake chatter under heavy braking.

There are a lot more rides coming up with this bike and we will continue to update this review. But if it proves as capable and versatile as we've seen in the early testing, this bike will be a break new ground.

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