Bang-for-buck, thoughtful design and versatility: Iain Treloar tests a locally-designed cross bike.
There’s a lot to be said for the versatility of a cyclocross bike—they’re tough enough for off-road, frequently comfortable enough for light touring and speedy enough that they make for great commuters or occasional road bikes. The Cell Brunswick is a great demonstration of this adaptability.
Cell’s an Australian brand that, until recently, sat in the ‘cheap and cheerful’ end of the market. This perception has rapidly changed since the appointment of Dave Musgrove as designer and product manager. They’ve since released a number of bafflingly well-priced (and unanimously well-received) carbon road bikes, and the Brunswick continues this fine tradition.
Featuring a triple-butted aluminium frame, with a full carbon, tapered-steerer fork, mechanical disc brakes and a SRAM 20-speed drivetrain, the Brunswick is sensibly specced. It’s designed with versatility in mind, with massive tyre clearances for really rough stuff, and wouldn’t be out of place in a cyclocross race—indeed, it recently won the prestigious Sydney Rapha Supercross under Team Bicycle Network’s own Alex Malone—but the inclusions of rack and mudguard mounts are a nod to its considerable chops as a commuter.
I’m picky with my bike fit, but jumping on the Brunswick, I experienced one of those rare moments of synergy; it felt pretty much spot on, straight away. Take a close look at the sizing chart rather than ordering based on ‘small/medium/large’, because the top tube is fairly short for the size; the 55cm effective top tube of our medium/large test sample would more commonly be found a size down. However, once you’ve got the sizing sorted the position of the Brunswick is surprisingly welcoming. It’s something of a middle ground between race and endurance road geometry; comfortable for longer rides and brief commutes alike, without sacrificing any liveliness or steering response.
Disc brakes are here to stay, and with a slew of hydraulic road options appearing on the market over the past year I think that before too long that’s where we’ll end up category-wide. The brakes on the Brunswick are—not surprisingly, considering the low asking price—Avid’s BB5 mechanical disc. The lever feel still isn’t quite as good as a hydraulic set-up but they worked beautifully on our test bike, representing a clear improvement in braking performance over a rim brake (cantilever or otherwise). There are two clear benefits of disc brakes—better braking in wet or dirty conditions (which makes a lot of sense on a cross bike or all-weather commuter—both feasible scenarios for the Brunswick), and better modulation. I’ve previously been sceptical of the comparative merits of mechanical disc brakes, but this bike is the one that’s changed my mind.
Paired with a SRAM Apex groupset (with the exception of the rear derailleur, which is SRAM Rival), the gearing of the Brunswick is impressive for the price, and all shifting throughout our test period was predictably crisp. The lever ergonomics of the old 20-speed SRAM groupsets aren’t as good as their 22-speed siblings, with an annoying bump in the transition from the hoods to the bar, but that’s at most a minor grievance in an otherwise fuss-free set-up.
One potential consumer drawback to Cell’s business model is that they’re largely an online business. There are two retail stores, in Fitzroy North (Melbourne) and Stanmore (Sydney), but if you can’t make it to one of these locations it’s an online purchase. We got ours sent to the office to see how the build quality stacked up, and were very pleasantly surprised with packaging and preparation alike.
In the Brunswick, Cell have done much more than just whacked some components on a frame. The frame, a design exclusive to Cell, is both well finished and well mannered—handling on descents and tight corners is excellent, it’s stable and predictable and it accelerates well. It does feel slightly sluggish climbing—perhaps a side-effect of its ~10kg weight—but it’s not disastrously bad, just a bit less impressive in comparison to the rest of the bike, which is consistently smile-inducing. One flaw in the bike’s design is the potential for heel rub at the back of the frame; to accommodate the wider hub required for the disc brake caliper, the foot passes quite close to the seat-stay. If you’ve got big feet or a heel-in cleat position, ask for some extra pedal spacers at purchase to overcome this.
Cycling isn’t the cheapest hobby, and riders often like their products to be reassuringly expensive. As such, some will be downright suspicious of this kind of bike coming in at this kind of price (and, keep in mind, you’re getting a complete bike for less than an equivalent frameset from most other brands). Usually, cut corners can be found fairly easily. Happily this isn’t the case for the Brunswick, which is not just a good bike for the price; it’s a good bike, full stop.
|Frame||Triple butted 6061 aluminium|
|Fork||Carbon, tapered carbon steerer|
|Shifters||SRAM Apex 20-speed|
|Front derailleur||SRAM Apex|
|Rear derailleur||SRAM Rival 10-speed|
|Crankset||SRAM S350, 46/36t|
|Cassette||SRAM PG-1050 11-26t|
|Brakes||Avid BB5 mechanical disc|
|Wheelset||AClass CXD5, double wall, tubeless compatible, sealed bearings|
A versatile and great value ‘cross bike.
For more info or to buy, cellbikes.com.au
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