Is This Amazing Ultralight Gravel Bike Too Clever for Its Own Good?

With lots of fancy features, the Specialized Crux Expert shoots for the stars and lands on the moon.

specialized crux expert parked on a trail
Steve Mazzucchi

Pedigree’s gotta count for something, right? Morgan Hill, California-based Specialized has oodles of it. Founded by Mike Sinyard in 1974, the mega-brand has been rolling out top-notch bike components — and bikes themselves — for nearly 50 years.

As innovative as Specialized is in the road bike space, the company’s MTB feats may be even more noteworthy. An original 1981 Stumpjumper, the world’s first major production mountain bike, is on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Fast-forward to 2022, and four-time UCI Downhill World Champion Loïc Bruni swears by Specialized.

Meanwhile, where road and MTB meet, the ever-exploding world of gravel biking, the brand supplied the ride for Sofia Gómez Villafane’s dominant victory in last month’s Unbound Gravel, one of the world’s gnarliest off-road races. Her frame of choice was a souped-up Specialized Crux, an ultralight gravel bike that takes cues from the brand’s insanely light Aethos roadie.

No one would ever mistake me for a pro gravel rider, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t wildly curious about this former cyclocross bike, reborn last year with gravel-friendly geometry. I was stoked to try out the mid-level edition, the Specialized Crux Expert. (At $6,200, it’s $2,000 more than the entry-level Crux Comp — but $2,000 less than the Crux Pro and roughly half the price of the $12,250 S-Works Crux.)

After many weeks of testing — and a fast friend weighing in — I found a lot to like. A hell of a lot. But like a bratty younger sibling that plays nice around the parents — then drives you nuts when they leave the house — this beautiful beast presents some nagging hangups, too. Here are the highlights, the lowlights and the verdict.

What's Great About the Specialized Crux Expert

The Crux Expert Is Insanely Light

Specialized calls the Crux “the lightest gravel bike in the world,” and although the brand is referencing the S-Works edition (with a frame that weighs less than 1.6 pounds), the Expert is no slouch. With a carbon frame, fork and seatpost, the Expert weighs in at a feathery 17.86 pounds.

I didn’t think about it too much when cruising, but when I hit gnarly climbs, the only thing I had to worry about was my own willingness to open the suitcase of courage — not the sleek, hollow-boned peregrine falcon beneath me.

crux expert bike
Steve Mazzucchi

The Crux Expert Is Super Smooth — and Speedy

My buddy Winter Underwood is one of the smoothest city cyclists I know. His daily driver is a one-of-a-kind BMX-style bike he built himself, and the way he rides, you would never guess it has no brakes. He’s a longtime admirer of Specialized, so I had him spend several weeks with the Expert — big shoutout to the brand for letting us hold onto the bike as long as they did! — and one thing that jumped out to him was how fluid and fast it is.

“I've always liked Specialized bikes, even though they have been too expensive for my budget, but I now understand why,” he says. “The aggressive handlebar set-up and SRAM Rival eTap AXS shift levers allow smooth shifting when you're in the proper pedal position and speed to go faster, the wide tires grip the road and the hydraulic disc brakes are amazing. I never took the bike on full gravel roads but it’s pretty solid to ride in the city, handling potholes and rough roads. The bike is pretty fast — I was able to hit 33 mph on flat ground according to Strava, and 46 mph coming off the Verrazano Bridge during the Five Boro Bike Tour — and I’m pretty sure I could hit 50.”

crux expert handlebars
Steve Mazzucchi
close up of the crux expert back tire, spokes, and pedal
Steve Mazzucchi

The Crux Expert Is Ready for Adventure

With 700x38 Pathfinder Pro 2B tubeless tires (and 47c/650b x 2.1” tire clearance), cyclocross-inspired geometry and a generously ranged 1x12 drivetrain, this bike is made to go just about anywhere. In my experience, it’s more than capable of tackling not only all kinds of terrain, from asphalt to dirt to gravel to giant mud puddles, but also all kinds of weather — in a hurry.

I learned that last part first-hand when I rode the Crux from Chelsea up to a protest in Harlem, a distance of about six miles. By the time the action was over, it was late at night and drizzling heavily, but I opted to just haul ass home rather than take the subway. I distinctly remember zipping through a dark, up-and-down stretch of Central Park that was covered in wet leaves and looking pretty dodgy, but the Expert didn’t miss a beat. When I was locking up outside a bodega on 14th Street, I saw some people exit the subway and recognized them from the protest. In other words, even when the weather is crap, this bike can outpace a speeding subway train.

What’s Not So Great about the Specialized Crux Expert

The Crux Expert Is Rather… High Maintenance

This part of the review forms the basis for part of the headline, because for all its wonderful features, the Crux Expert at times leaves one longing for something a bit less... sophisticated. Now, every bike is different, and this one may have just had a run of bad luck. But here’s Winter’s rundown of some issues encountered during pretty normal testing: "The screw in the headset below the top cap got loose over time, and the top cap screw was stripped and had to be replaced. Without any hard riding, a spoke on the back wheel broke. Getting the spoke replaced was more difficult because of the tubeless tires. They had to take off the tire to get the broken spoke out of the rim, which was very messy and a lot to clean up and re-seal."

      Also, as fantastic as wireless shifting is — truly, the responsiveness and precision is unmatched — you do need to periodically charge the electronic derailleur to keep from getting stuck out on the road without the ability to shift, which would suck. And as much as I am whining about bells and whistles, I would love to see this bike come with a dropper post — it is, thankfully, dropper post compatible.

      wirelessly controlled derailleur on the crux expert bike
      Steve Mazzucchi

      The Crux Expert Is Pricey

      As feathery, fast and fun as the Crux Expert is, $6,200 is not exactly small change. If you are just getting into gravel riding, there are good bikes at more approachable price points, including the aforementioned Crux Comp ($4,200) and two we have reviewed recently: State’s $2,000 4130 All-Road XPLR AXS and Cannondale’s $4,250 Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty. Now, are they as light as the Crux Expert? Not exactly. The State bike weighs about 26 pounds and Cannondale’s weighs 23.

      The Verdict on the Specialized Crux Expert

      Despite the technical difficulties, Winter remains a fan: “I really enjoyed riding this bike and it would be my go-to if I could afford it. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a great gravel bike even if they are mostly road riding. I would rate this bike a 9 out of 10. Very fast, very light, so worth it!”

      I tend to agree. It’s damn near impossible to go ultralight without seriously lightening your wallet in the process. But if you have the means, and you’re serious about gravel biking — or desperately want to climb without feeling like your choice of wheels is dragging you down — the Specialized Crux Expert is worthy of serious consideration.

      Specialized Crux Expert
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