At 7.27 kg and € 12,800, Specialized set the bar in terms of price, weight and prestige. However, the S-Works Crux doesn’t look like a race bike, nor does it boast obvious aero optimisations. Does that make it slow? We pitted the S-Works Crux against fully aero-optimised gravel racers and found out why aero and full integration aren’t everything.
This bike was reviewed as part of our 2023 gravel race bike shootout. You’ll find a comprehensive group test and test field overview here: Which is the best gravel race bike of 2023? 9 gravel race bikes in review
Specialized were voted the “Best Brand” in our 2022 reader survey and they’ve long had a wide range of bikes in both the drop bar and mountain bike segments. As you might expect, the full-suspension Diverge STR gravel bike caused quite a stir when it was launched. While the drop bar full-susser is packed with features and functions, the Crux promises that less-is-more, providing the ultimate in aesthetic minimalism. It features classic round tube shapes and, of course, the prestigious “S-Works” lettering on the down tube. There’s no integrated cable routing or one-piece cockpit to be found here. This helps keep the weight down to 7.27 kg, but does it benefit the bike’s performance? Considering the hefty € 12,800 price point, our expectations are high!
The Specialized S-Works Crux: from CX to gravel race bike – A natural evolution?
For years, the Crux was synonymous with cyclocross racing. With the new generation introduced in 2022, however, the bike made the move to more comfort and composure for gravel riding. But can these requirements be combined?
The Crux is clearly based on the Specialized Aethos both visually and technically, which is the Californian brand’s lightest road model. Both bikes rely on a classic, timeless design language with a refreshing amount of minimalism and weight savings. Obvious aerodynamic optimisations and deep tube profiles are heavy, which is why you won’t find any of that on the Crux. The same applies to lowered seat stays and D-shaped seat posts. Despite the visual similarities, the two bikes differ fundamentally, as the Crux has a completely different geometry: a longer wheelbase, lower standover height, slacker head angle, and more stack, which should make the bike more suitable for off-road use. In addition, the frame has been reinforced to cope with the demands of gravel riding, which has increased its weight by an insignificant 26 g, according to Specialized.
Seatpost Roval Alpinist Carbon
Brakes SRAM Red eTap AXS HRD 160 mm
Drivetrain SRAM Red eTap AXS 1x12
Stem S-Works SL 110 mm
Handlebar Roval Terra 440 mm
Wheelset Roval Terra CLX
Tires Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready 700 x 38c
Size 49 52 54 56 58 61
Weight 7,27 kg
lightest bike on test
generous tire clearance
Specialized Pathfinder, the ideal Gravel tire
The components of the Specialized S-Works Crux
As you’d expect from S-Works, the Crux is specced with first-class components and boasts a discreet yet very high-quality finish. Only the hoods of the SRAM groupset look a bit rough compared to the Shimano GRX range. As usual, however, the shifting performance of the 1x setup is superb. The round tubing of the 440 mm wide Roval Terra handlebar and shiny S-Works stem suit the bike perfectly, offering plenty of control on the descents. On the flip side, the wide handlebar results in a less aerodynamic position for racers. Specialised opted against futuristic aero design on the seat post, too. Instead, the Crux comes specced with a round 27.2 mm diameter seat post, which allows the use of a dropper post. The 700 x 38C Specialized Pathfinder Pro tires offered a particularly convincing performance. Thanks to their semi-slick central tread, the tires are incredibly fast and efficient on straight and hard surfaces. At the same time, the knobby shoulders offer sufficient grip for fast cornering and on damp terrain.
Along with the restrained look and the discreet spec, there’s nothing that makes the bike stand out from the crowd, at least not visually. You won’t find technical gimmicks such as on the rear end of the Berria Belador Allroad, the handlebar of the Canyon Grail CF SLX 9 eTap, or a storage compartment in the down tube. Specialized remain true to their minimalist approach with the Crux – as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said so beautifully: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Can the 2023 Specialized S-Works Crux hold its own as a gravel race bike?
After the first metres aboard the Specialized S-Works Crux, you’ll quickly realise that it’s merely the bike’s looks that are understated. The handling is very agile, and the bike feels particularly comfortable in tricky terrain. This is mainly determined by the slack head angle, minimal fork trail, short head tube, and steep seat tube angle. The Crux excels on technical climbs, allowing the low weight of just 7.27 kg and the light wheel and tire combination to come into their own. Here, the bike feels extremely quick and responsive, converting your pedalling input into propulsion with incredible efficiency, and encouraging you to put the hammer down.
Exudes a confidence that was not felt in any other bike.
We didn’t have so much fun pushing ourselves with any other bike. Not even the more speed-oriented test winner, the Ridley Kanzo Fast, was as much fun. The Crux is incredibly inspiring and motivating, managing to increase your willingness to put in effort. The main sources of comfort on the Crux are the tires, seat post, and handlebar. The frame itself is relatively stiff, which speaks for the sprightly handling. However, the bike isn’t the most stable on a straight line and requires an active riding style. In the context of gravel racing bikes, however, its handling is still intuitive enough for beginners to get to grips with. From the perspective of all-round gravel bikes, as we covered in our 2022 gravel bike group test of 19 bikes, it’s a different story!
Specialized S-Works Crux
|Seat tube||466 mm||496 mm||521 mm||546 mm||576 mm||606 mm|
|Top tube||512 mm||539 mm||549 mm||568 mm||582 mm||599 mm|
|Head tube||100 mm||115 mm||130 mm||147 mm||167 mm||190 mm|
|BB Drop||74 mm||74 mm||72 mm||72 mm||72 mm||71 mm|
|Chainstay||425 mm||425 mm||425 mm||425 mm||425 mm||425 mm|
|Reach||375 mm||382 mm||388 mm||397 mm||405 mm||415 mm|
|Stack||530 mm||547 mm||560 mm||578 mm||598 mm||621 mm|
Who is the Specialized S-Works Crux for?
The bike celebrates understatement and minimalism, puts function before technical gimmicks, and doesn’t just cut a fine figure riding to the ice cream parlour. It delivers lively and responsive road bike handling off the beaten track. That said, it doesn’t provide sufficient composure and comfort for long gravel events. As such, the Specialized S-Works Crux is for those who are simply out to enjoy themselves and whose idea of fun is fast, agile rides. It remains a bike that fares excellently in almost all situations and will bring the rider home with a big grin on their face. The grin, however, has its price: You’ll have to reach deep into your pockets to belong to the exclusive S-Works club.
Tuning tips: thicker bar tape and a compliant seat post for added comfort, and a narrower handlebar for racers
Our conclusion on the Specialized S-Works Crux
The Crux won’t perform well on US-style gravel races that cover 200 miles along mostly straight roads, but it wasn’t designed to either. It is agile and playful, it loves technical terrain and accelerating, and it conquers summits with a passion like no other bike on test. It lacks the speed and composure on the straights necessary to beat the gravel racing competition, but, being the most fun to ride, the Specialized S-Works Crux is our deserved Best Buy.
- maximum riding fun
- lightweight frame and wheels make it the ultimate climber
- Specialized Pathfinder Pro tires offer excellent handling and grip
- for a lack of things to criticise, we didn’t like the shiny stem on the otherwise matte bike
You can find out more about at specialized.com
For an overview of the test fleet head to the group test: Which is the best gravel race bike of 2023? 9 gravel race bikes in review
All bikes in test: Argon 18 Dark Matter | Berria Belador Allroad 8 | BMC Kaius 01 ONE | Canyon Grail CF SLX 9 eTap | Factor OSTRO Gravel | Fara Cycling F/All-Road | Ridley Kanzo Fast | Specialized S-Works Crux | Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap
No, it’s not about perfect race tracks, it’s about efficiency. Fast, fleet-footed and efficient – those who want to speed along high-speed passages need a defined and spritely bike that accelerates with ease and efficiency. Nevertheless, reliable components are important too. We interpret “Smooth tarmac” bikes as follows: Hard efforts at high speeds with a maximum efficient bike on a consistently well-paved road. Effort-joy ratio: 80:30 (not everything has to be 100%!)↩
… also known as bike riding. Broken-up roads in the hinterland, deadlocked gravel roads, loose surfaces – sometimes muddy, sometimes bone-dry. For this, it takes bikes with super all-round, handling and wearing qualities uphill and downhill. Effort-joy ratio: 50:50↩
If you want to use your bike almost every day, you usually do not need an extremely tuned racing machine. Solid components, which are able to cope with the rigours of continuous usage in any kind of weather, are part of the basic equipment. At the same time, the bike should have practicable details: integrated fenders/assembly options, luggage racks/attachment points and a light system or at least the option of installing bike lights. The position on the bike should be rather relaxed, the overall comfort high, so that the Afterwork Ride becomes a cure and not a curse. Effort-joy ratio: 30:70↩
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Words: Calvin Zajac Photos: Robin Schmitt, Jan Richter