Redline 2009 Conquest Pro Full Review - By Steve Cooper
- Frame: R6 Double Butted Alloy
- Fork: Carbon Fiber With Alloy Steerer.
- Sram Rival shifters and derailleurs
- FSA Gossamer 46x36t crankset
- Ritchey Pro wheel set with Hutchinson Bulldog tires
- Available in 7 sizes
Admit it. You've watched crazed cyclocross riders with drop bars and skinny tires plowing through puddles, scrambling up muddy hill sides and shouldering their dirt caked bikes over logo clad white barriers. Likely you've pondered what it would take to get out in the muck, all with a hunch that the filthier you got, the funner the time you'd have.
The obvious door into that day dream is to break down and buy a cross bike; but your frugal side smacks you upside the head and halts that dream dead in its tracks. Reality check. You talk yourself down, rationalizing that a decent cross bike is too expensive. And an affordable one is bound to be a string of disappointing compromises that you'll outgrow as soon as CCX skills kick in.
Turns out, Redline has your wake up call. They've assembled a sophisticated spec that retires that rationale. The Pro doesn't cost an arm and a leg to straddle, and if you truly outgrow it, it's time to line up sponsors. The 2009 Conquest Pro is a solid cyclocross offering that gets you onto the dirt, helping dial in your skinny tire trail chops; and when you finally decide to take it to the races, just get a number and go.
Sure you'll want to tweak it some. But the Conquest Pro is a great foundation, and since you're not into it for deep coin, adding those few pieces along the way is as painless as upgrading can be.
A closer look:
At first glance the subtle graphics, off-white Redline logos on black metallic paint, with red splashes and bar tape, black mechanical bits, and those fat gray Bulldogs look utilitarian with a sense of style. Nice. More than skin deep, the Conquest Pro is mash-up of solid CCX components so let's dig in.
At the core is Redline's R6 DB (double butted 6000 series aluminum alloy) frame that matches geometry of the more expensive scandium Conquest Team. The Pro's semi-sloping top tube yields decent standover while providing plenty of room to reach through the front triangle to shoulder on a run-up. And its egg-shaped down-tube cross section is easy to grab when you're shouldering.
The 60cm frame reviewed has a 73 degree head tube, 72 degree seat tube, on 43.5cm chain stays, with a 106cm wheelbase. The Redline RCT carbon fork has 45mm offset for stable tracking. Across the range of sizes, the Conquest Pro dimensions produce a ride that's stable, easy to control, and comfortable enough to log in hours of ride time. Bone stock out of the box, the bike without pedals weighed in at 20.5 pounds.
A fan of SRAM shifting, the 2009 Rival shifters and derailleurs put a smile on my face. For 09, SRAM upgraded the Rival shifters to zero loss, with carbon levers, retaining that pistol trigger mechanical feel that seems to really mesh with the demands of cyclocross racing. When delirious and about to loose a lung on the last lap, I like Rival's distinct click-shifts. Another CCX plus? SRAM shift cables route under the bar tape, so your bike doesn't have cable housing flopping around to catch on branches or snag your thumb when portaging.
The FSA Gossamer crank comes with a useful 36/46 ring combo on a standard 110mm, 5 bolt center. At the rear is a SRAM 1070 10 speed cassette in a 12-27 range. The 36/27 will let you muscle up most anything. Put on a 34 and you'll be spinning a little easier up those killer steeps. A side note about the crank - when new, its glossy black coating looks great in combo with all the other black parts, but it's easy to scratch; in reality that's not much of an issue on a cross bike, if you ride it, you'll scratch it.
Up front, the Conquest Pro sports a functional FSA ST OX 4 bolt stem and FSA's sturdy oversized Omega shallow drop bars; both bar widths and stem lengths vary based on frame size. Ready for a night of clubbing, the bars are wrapped in swank perforated red leather. The Tektro top mount levers add a second brake position, a great feature for those white knuckled new riders. There are lighter bars, stem and top mount levers out there, but Redline wisely selected durability over flash. Upgrade down the road if you want to save a little weight, but these stock controls will likely stand up to any amount of thrashing.
To get it rolling, the Conquest Pro comes with Ritchey DS Pro wheels. Tough, purpose built and trail ready, the Zero System Pro hubs and DS (deep section) Pro rims are asymmetrical in the rear to reduce dish, with bladed stainless spokes front and rear; 20 one cross up front, and 24 two cross out back. The silver Ritchey quick releases have a long comfortably shaped lever, so you can apply lots of clamping force yet open them easily. Train on these wheels. Descend on these wheels. Run them through the wringer. You'll get strong, fast and fearless. But on race day? You might want to throw on little lighter wheels to really fly.
To slow you down, Avid supplied their Shorty 4 cantilevers. Shorties are standard fare on many factory CCX bikes, and they "can" work great. The hot tip? New pads. The Shorty 4 pad is very stiff and even with toe-in they can cause fork chatter, plus they don't modulate as smoothly as aftermarket pads. I swapped out the stock rubber with Koolstop MTB salmon/black pads and have been very happy with braking performance. Avid makes aftermarket pads, as do several other manufacturers. Pads are a cheap upgrade and well worth it.
For your backside, the Conquest Pro comes with a San Marco Ponza saddle and an FSA carbon wrap post. The post is aluminum with a cosmetic carbon wrap that looks nice, has held up just fine, and doesn't have the failure risk of an all-carbon post. Carbon wrap is a puzzling concept, but hey, the post works like a seatpost should.
Saddles are personal. A saddle I like, you might hate. Another you love could cripple me in an hour. For comfort, the steel railed San Marco Ponza is fine. It has an ergonomic curve that fits well. It has sufficient padding for an off-road saddle. And it looks stylish. But, it's not a good race saddle. With its sharp cornered nose, pointed tail and grippy surfaces it fumbled several mounts/dismounts. The saddle points grabbed my shorts and inner thigh, making for sloppy transitions. If you're racing, here's a highly recommended upgrade - get a slick surfaced, steel railed saddle with a smooth shaped nose and tail. I chose a WTB Shadow and have been happy since.
The Conquest Pro has some other nice touches. A Dog Fang chain deflector keeps your chain from bouncing off the inner front ring, typically just as you're remounting - the last place you to drop a chain. Cable routing is 2 up (rear brake and rear derailleur), 1 down (front derailleur). This is a smart set-up letting you run a common bottom pull front derailleur, and if you convert to a single ring up front, your remaining cables are up top. Redline must realize that not everyone is going to race the Conquest Pro as they've included two details perfect for commuters, trail riders and rough road tourists: two sets of bottle cage mounts and rear dropout drillings for a rack or fenders.
Time for the dirt:
Redline didn't design the Redline as twitchy, snap-quick short wheelbase CCX race bike. The Pro's geometry is laid back, with a longer wheelbase and chain stays that show their merit on fire roads and rolling single-track with carving turns. Tight, fast corners require a little more deliberate push to the inside. Once you master this technique, you'll be able to dive into corners at race speed and hold 'em. The overall feel is smooth, predictable and stable, great characteristics for a new cross rider. And once you've got finesse, you can reliably push the bike into any situation.
Between stay length and a moderately relaxed seat tube, the rear wheel hangs back, helping it hookup well on steep, loose climbs, even when standing. In comparison, my short wheelbase CCX race bike gets light when I'm out of the saddle, loosing traction when standing.
Some of the Redline's handling is attributable to the stock tires, and changing pressure or swapping tires produces different characteristics. The meaty Hutchinson Bulldogs aggressive tread pattern has the two outer rows of side blocks spaced widely apart from the three center rows. When steering straight, you're riding those inner rows, but turn sharply enough, and you'll be transitioning to the outer side rows. The tread gap produces a sensation that the bike is resisting, then dropping in as you carve into a corner. Once you're actually onto the outer blocks, you're hooked into the turn just fine. That sensation was easily tuned out by changing to a slightly less aggressive Michelin Mud2 clincher, with close, evenly spaced knobs. Cornering also transformed into a smooth transition from center to side roll, requiring a little less effort.
Predictably, the Bulldogs really shine in sloppy stuff - they are perfect when your trail turns to mud. But most of the California riding this season was on hard-pack, dry, fast terrain, and a change to less aggressive rubber improved the Conquest Pro's perceived speed. The less aggressive tread felt lighter and faster.
Experimenting with the Bulldog's pressure helped as well. On the Redline's first Wilder Ranch ride with a technical single-track drop into Enchanted Forest and several full speed descents down gravelly fire roads, I really liked running a soft 35PSI. But at 210 pounds with gear, I pinch flatted twice that day. At least I'd established the lower limits. Upping the pressure to 38-40PSI ended the pinch flatting, surrendering only a little of that cushioned fat Bulldog footprint.
Yes, the Bulldog's are a tubeless ready tire, and with a Stan's Notube set-up I could've done the conversion to end the pinch flats. That's for another review comparing a variety of tubeless set-ups, once we figure out how long Redline will let us hang-on to the Conquest Pro.
Unexpectedly, the ideal terrain for the stock Redline and Bulldogs were the Nisene Marks fire roads. With a moderately steep 1600' climb, followed by fast, dry descents, swooping curves and switchbacks, and just enough water bars, roots and ruts to make it challenging, the Redline ascended without a wrinkle, and let me charge back down with full confidence. The predictable turn stability let me dive hot into a corner, hang on and pop-up out of the exit just in time to flop into the next corner. At high speed the tires' corner to corner effort vanished. Nisene Marks revealed the Conquest Pro's well mannered, neutral handling attributes.
Redline made an interesting pick when specifying bars. FSA Omega Shallow Drops are often used on compact road bikes to reduce reach. On the Conquest Pro shallow bars place the drops, tops and bends within easy reach. This is a real help for the rider that might get a little spooked descending on the drops with a position that isn't as low or far forward as full depth bars. The SRAM Rival levers add to that confidence ergonomic hand placement with their outward angled lever design. Factoring in top mounted brake levers, the rider gets an upright position to slough off speed while shifting balance rearward. Both brake levers and bar sizing help counter intimidation on fast descents.
In the Redline's first impression published in fall 2008, I speculated that the 2009 Conquest Pro would emerge a race-ready contender, 95% brilliant. I'm sticking to that. The bike has been filthy fun to ride. It's performed like champ on the local CCX circuit, when riding off-road with friends on full squish all-mountain bikes, and even on the occasional road commute.
- SRAM Rival Doubletap shifters, front and rear derailleurs provide positive shifting and braking control
- All cabling under bar tape for clean controls and fewer snags from branches or when carrying on a run-up
- Plenty of stand over height from slightly sloping top tube
- R6 double butted aluminum frame shares geometry with more expensive Team
- Shape of downtube is easy to grip when carrying.
- Sturdy, heavy duty Ritchey Pro DS wheelset great for rough terrain
- For all-around or commuting use, rear dropouts have drillings for rack/fender mounts
- Stable, predictable handling for entry level CCX riders
- Avid Shorty 4 Cantis come with chatter-prone stock Avid pads
- San Marco Ponza saddle comfortable on trails, but not a good race choice
- Bulldogs are fine in the mud and slop, but have overly aggressive tread for normal conditions and require a bit more push into corners.
Bottom-line: At typical out-the-door prices, the Redline Conquest Pro is an excellent cyclocross bike. It's ready for just about any trail as is; add a few modest upgrades and its race ready. With a frame geometry that heads towards the stable end of the spectrum, the Conquest Pro is predictable yet very adaptable with the right tire tuning. If you're look for an all-around dirt ready cross bike, with the idea of dipping your toe into local CCX events, the Conquest Pro is a smart choice with plenty of bang for your buck.