Fair warning: this probably doesn't qualify as a traditional bike review. There will be no discussion of carbon fiber layups, aerodynamics, or the relative merits of vertical stiffness versus lateral compliance.
Whether it's a healthy bout of New York cynicism or simply reaching the saturation point of marketing, the truth is that at this stage those factors don't significantly influence my perspective on bikes. For better or worse my judgement is based on the intangible - how much enjoyment ("stoke" to use the jargon of the industry these days) can I squeeze out a given frameset. Which brings me back to the Garneau Steeple-X, perhaps the most exciting and versatile bike I have owned.
In its original form the Steeple-X arrived custom painted in the Garneau Dream Factory with the highest-end stock kit offered by Garneau including hydraulic brakes and a CX-1 drivetrain. If anything this setup was overkill for my limited cyclocross ambitions but it was a blast to race from the deep deep mud of Supercross to the dry and rooted conditions at NBX all the same. I'll leave the disc brake debate to more experienced (and opinionated) riders than myself - despite traditionally falling on the skeptical side of discs my first experience on hydros with the Steeple-X was magnificent. Stopping power and modulation quite simply do not disappoint. I've ridden CX-1 on prior bikes and the simplicity and performance of this drivetrain setup seems clear at this stage - it's a great option for a bike of this nature. As for potential upgrades - the wheelset is one obvious area. I personally favored the stock Steeple-X clincher setup for ease of use, particularly while training, but for next year I'll likely add a tubeless or tubular wheelset to the mix for racing. Otherwise the stock build from Garneau was just about perfect in my mind - with a slight wheel upgrade (and a major rider upgrade) it's a setup that managed to score more than a few top tier results this year.
Of course the true fun came when the season concluded and I finally got around to prepping the Steeple-X for it's home turf for much of the year: singletrack trails. Tossing a pair of beefy 40cc tires on the stock wheelset left me with a monster perfect for hours of ripping trails. Even more so than during cyclocross season the Steeple-X exceeded my expectations in this terrain - extremely quick and responsive on the fast sections while still able to slog through tough and loose climbs. In fact my only critique would be that the stock 172.5 length cranks provided a bit less clearance than the 170 cranks I am used to, but I quickly adjusted to the difference when bridging logs and other trail obstacles. Net-net the Steeple-X has proven itself as the perfect tool for what I'm sure will be plenty of #healthwarriorshreadfest adventures to come.
Before delving too much into singletrack riding however, I prepped the Steeple-X for it's third lifecycle in nearly as many months - that of a winter road bike. With a fairly road-like geometry and a reasonable center of gravity I was able to swap on 32mm gatorskins (making the 28mm tires I have on the Garneau Gennix R1 that the team rides appear absolutely svelte) and road pedals to turn the Steeple-X into a winter training bike that I'll likely end up racing in the early months of the road campaign. For longer training rides I went ahead and swapped the 1x front chainring for a dual setup and I have a set of PDW full metal fenders waiting for installation - taking advantage of the fender mounts on the Steeple-X. With several multi-hour base mile days on the road under it's belt, the Steeple-X is adapting well to the team's usual winter riding diversions and the at times less than ideal conditions in NYC. While my build is very much still on the high performance end of things, based on my experience, with a more value oriented kit I could certainly see the Steeple-X setting up as a viable commuter option for those with secure bike parking.
At the end of the day there are a lot of bikes out there - mass market, custom, aluminum, carbon, titanium, etc - and whether it's based on materials or performance or marketing, I remain a firm believer in "to each their own" when it comes to their choice of bikes. But from my perspective the Garneau Steeple-X is perhaps the most exciting bike I have owned as it has seamlessly transitioned from cyclocross to singletrack and now to road, providing nothing but smiles along the way. Certainly there are better pure road bikes out there and there may be better pure cyclocross bikes as well, but in the few months I have ridden the Steeple-X it has covered multiple disciplines and terrain better than I ever expected.
Matthew Vandivort is a New York City based cyclist and sometimes photographer who was also a founding member of To Be Determined. You can follow him online at @photorhetoric or http://photo-rhetoric.com/