The Bike List

Verenti Substance CX1.1 Sora 2014

Tested by Neil Watterson

Review

Most people can remember their first proper bike. Mine was a secondhand drop-handlebar tourer that I got for Christmas when I was 12. It was a steel-framed Raleigh, had metallic purple paint, five-speed rear cassette and pannier rack and I had to ride the five miles home with it as it didn't fit in the back of my parents' car.

I'm not sure that it was quite what I wanted. Loads of friends had 'cooler' BMXs and were becoming quite adept at performing stunts on them, so I learned how to pop proper wheelies and bunny hop on my bike to stay in with the crowd. We made jumps out of tree routes in the park and threw ourselves at them with gusto, suffering the inevitable cuts and bruises when things didn't go quite to plan.

I swapped the tyres for more knobbly ones and could keep up with them over the rough stuff; they'd have the advantage in the corners, I'd catch up on the straighter sections. We weren't timing ourselves, trying to beat records or taking it too seriously; we were just having fun.

Getting onto the Verenti Substance CX1.1 takes me back to that world. Sometimes I feel we've become too obsessed with continiual improvement - why don't we just stick with what works and enjoy it?

And in that respect the CX1.1 is spot-on. The frame isn't some ultra-lightweight water-formed strange tube-shaped sculpture, but a good old-skool traditional triangular Reynolds 520 chrome moly steel frame. The forks are steel. It's got drop handlebars and knobbly tyres - all the sort of stuff that has stood the test of time. The only concession to the modern age are the disc brakes - but let's face it, they aren't really that modern; all my personal bikes have had them for 15 years.

It's a robust machine designed to take on any cycling discipline and be lots of fun at the same time. Cross-country - tick. Commuting - tick. Touring - tick. Stunt-riding - tick. You get the picture.

But don't think that old-skool means it's not well equipped. You're getting a lot of kit for your money: a full Shimano Sora 9-speed groupset, Avid BB5 cable disc brakes and deep Alex rims laced to Novatec hubs. It's all proven stuff that you know works.

Like the gearchange. 9-speed has stood the test of time because it works. Yes you can have 10 and 11-speed, but stick with nine and you'll appreciate cleaner shifting with less fiddling. And the Sora shifters and derailleurs just keep working, even when I'm committing the heinous crime of running the chain across the biggest cogs front and rear.

And that's partly down to the cable routing. Rather than leaving the gear cables exposed to the elements and routing them under bottom bracket where they get coated in crud by the front wheel, they run along the top tube, before dropping down the seatpost tube to the top-pull front mech and along the stay to the rear. The only cable that runs under the bottom bracket is the rear brake cable - and that is fully sheathed its entire length.

It's clear that the routing has been considered carefully and the result is less downtime maintaining the cables. And less downtime means more time for fun.

Which is what you get when you ride it. The 700x32C Kenda Kwicker tyres are unashamedly biased towards cross-country cycling - with plenty of knobbly blocks to bite into soft surfaces and propel you forward. I've found they're happiest at around 60psi on the soft stuff, but ramp them up to 85psi when I'm riding on tarmac.

But the tyres aren't happy on-road. They seem to have a magnetic attraction to linear marks on roads and tracks, making riding along traffic-clogged cycle lanes a nerve-racking experience; if you're going to be using this bike primarily on hard surfaces budget for a more road-biased pair of tyres.

But the benefit of having the more aggressive tyres means you will find yourself looking for new routes home. One of my seldom-used commute routes includes a 1.5km narrow-straight track. It's soft with puddles after rain, but when it's dry it's a gloriously fast path. The CX1.1 is in its element here where the lighter wheels and tyres, compared to a mountain bike, means it accelerates quickly and you soon end up skimming over the tops of ridges as you blast down it.

Surprisingly little vibration makes it through the frame to the saddle and you can build up a decent plume of dust as you power along. Last time I rode it I didn't even have time to react to the grass snake crossing in front of me, catching the end of its tail as I flew over it. By the time I'd brought the bike to a halt and turned round it had slithered into the undergrowth, so I'm hoping it was okay…

If I had seen it in time, the brakes would have brought me to a halt quickly enough. They're not at hydraulic stopper level, but for an entry level set of brakes, they work fine, if a little noisy when not set up correctly. And with the all-in-one gear/brake levers, you can't go for hydraulics unless your budget is considerably higher.

The riding position is good, both as a cross-country bike and as a commuter and rack and mudguard mounting points cater for the latter; bikes designed for a hard life often make the best commuter hacks, because they can withstand the rough-and-tumble of the daily slalom through the cars. And the 50/34T HollowTech II chainset coupled with an 11-32 cassette gives you a good spread of low gears to get you going, even on bleary-eyed wintry mornings, or up steep climbs on the cyclo-cross track.

Talking of wintry mornings, there's sufficient clearance between the wheel and frame for studded winter tyres, helping you keep mobile all year round, making this an all-season bike.

It's difficult to fault for the money and even the paint colour - a sober-sounding Battleship Grey - seems warmer and more fun than you'd expect, while not drawing too much attention to itself. The Substance CX1.1 may be the cheapest bike in the Verenti range, but don't confuse 'cheap' with 'bad' it's a great all-rounder that's a hoot to ride. And that's why we started riding bikes in the first place, isn't it?

At a glance

Verdict Very well spec’d, decently-priced, Reynolds 520 framed cyclo-cross bike – ideal for all year use and commuting
Value
Performance

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