Having had a go at cyclocross racing at the end of 2018, I decided that when I made a comeback for the 2019-20 season I wanted to do so on a cyclocross specific bike. And that plan became a reality when I got my hands on the brand new Liv Brava SLR for 2020; a beautifully crafted women’s specific bike for cyclocross racing and gravel riding.
How is a cyclocross bike different to a road bike?
When I first saw a cross bike I just couldn’t see what the difference was between a cyclocross bike and a road bike but upon further research, I realised there were very distinct differences. These differences include the tyres, frame design, brakes, gears and pedals.
I’m currently riding the Liv Avail Advanced Pro 1 2020 which has seen an increased clearance for tyres (it comes with 700×32) whilst the Brava comes with 700×33 – both models are tubeless. While the Avail is an endurance road bike, the increased clearance on the Brava is a feature to accommodate large tyres for increased grip and to make sure you can keep on moving when your wheels inevitably get loaded up with mud!
The frame geometry in cross bikes are also slightly different. The Brava top tube is shaped for mount and dismount ease as well as shouldering comfort, all things that you need to (attempt to) nail when racing cross.
The Liv Brava SLR 2020 Design
The 2020 version of the Brava SLR is a slick black. Previous versions included injections of colours such as orange but this one, it’s all black which I think looks premium. I’m pretty sure it also means it won’t look quite as bad when it inevitably will get muddy!
First Impressions of The Brava SLR
My first ride was about a mile from the Giant Loughton store to home of which I walked half and rode half due to not having taken a helmet. The Brava immediately felt different to my regular bike though. The first things I noticed were that the handlebars were narrower and the gears were different to previous bikes I have ridden.
I then took it out for a spin around my local park to get used to how it rides and to practice with the gears. I felt a lot more adventurous knowing I could ride on the path, on the grass or anything the park threw at me to be honest.
Training For Cyclocross Racing
Although everyone says the best way to get into cyclocross is to race, I do think there is a place for training in between races and pre-season. The sessions ensure you build the right type of fitness for cross racing. They also teach you skills such as mounting, dismounting, running with the bike or tackling hurdles.
Being on a new bike, the training sessions also gave me a chance to get used to it and figure out how it would feel come race day. There was one session I spent ages riding around in a circle because I couldn’t get down into the easiest gear. I hadn’t yet worked out that you had to push harder than normal for an easier gear (two clicks) and one click to go up gears.
Added Extras For Your New Bike
Although the bike comes with two water bottle mounts, I don’t need those for cross. If I do get out on a longer gravel ride I will definitely put cages on, or just use a backpack with a hydration pack. I just got the Osprey Seral 7 hydration pack made specifically for cycling adventures.
With the Brava SLR being the 3rd bike in my current collection, I was running short of Garmin mounts. I thought the out front mount was the only one that came with my Garmin Edge 820 but when I looked in the box there were two stem mounts. The stem mounts are much better for cross anyway as my Garmin is less likely to get knocked off.
- Height: 164cm / 5ft 5 inches
- Weight: ~70kg
- Usually rides: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2019
- Cyclocross Experience: Took part in my first race in 2018 on a mountain bike (Liv Obsess Advanced 2 2019). Well practiced in coming last but totally enjoyed every event.
- Pedals: combination – flat one side, spd mtb the other
- Shoes: Salomon Supercross Gore Tex
- Loves: Cake
- Hates: Hills
Racing on the Brava
After a couple of weeks of cx training evening sessions, it was time for me to toe, or wheel the start line, of my first cyclocross race of the season. I can easily say I chose the BEST event to get back into the swing of things – the Central Cyclocross League ran their round 3 event, hosted by Velobants CC at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes. They wanted it to be a record breaking event by having 100 women entered and racing (beating the record of 80 something I think) but they exceeded expectations with 161 women racing on the day!
I was a little nervous racing at this event, due to the sheer numbers and after having a run in with a man on the sighting lap! Racing on the Brava was going to be very different than the Obsess I used last year but it turned out to be a great ride. I could handle corners much better, the Brava made up for my lack of fitness with added speed and it was much easier to lift as I ran and jumped over hurdles and ran up the stairs on the course.
Racing is for everyone…
In my last race, I finally got to meet fellow Liv Cycling UK Ambassador Debbie Bradley. Debbie is the 2014 ITU Sprint Distance Duathlon World Champion and blogs over at Duathlon Girl. Here is what she shared with me about riding and racing on the Brava…
“The BRAVA what can I say? The most fun I’ve ever had on a bike! I got my BRAVA SLR (2018 model) late 2017 with the sole intention of having a bike to ride with Lillie, but then I was introduced to cyclocross! With only 6 races under my belt I’m hardly experienced but I trusted this bike from day one. It took some time to feel comfortable in position on my time trial bike but this bike is different. We’ve tackled all kinds of terrain (gravel, mud, trails) and when my competitive edge has kicked in this bike has responded beautifully. Precise steering and responsive disc brakes make it a perfect choice for off-road fun.”
Debbie – Duathlon Girl
Liv Brava SLR 2020 – General Specification
Riding Frame Size: Small
Frame material – The Brava SLR has an aluminum frame which means although it is said to be lightweight, in comparison to a carbon bike, it feels heavier than it probably is in reality. Although you can find cyclocross bikes with carbon frames, aluminium frames are still popular as they are lower cost (in comparison to carbon) and more durable… which is probably a good thing when it comes to cross.
Chainset – The mountain bike I rode in 2018 for cross had a double chainset up front like most road bikes, however, the Brava has a single chainring setup. I’ve heard this is to reduce weight, reduce the risk of mechanicals (no front derailer) and it’s one less thing to get clogged with mud, right?! There is also just a single shifter on the Brava which has taken some getting used to! And with 11 gears, there is plenty enough to deal with the mixed terrain encountered on cyclocross courses.
Brakes – Fitted with hydraulic disc brakes giving you a whole new level of control. With the brakes being away from the rim of the wheel it reduces the risk of being clogged with mud or dirt as well as allowing the for greater tyre clearance. Disc brakes are becoming more and more popular in all disciplines although they do come at a slightly higher cost.
Cable routing – All the cables are routed internally on the Brava but I do know the mechanic that built the bike for me added a few discreet cable ties to neaten up the cables, around the handlebars, even more. Most cross bikes will (or should) at least have the cables routed above the top tube, rather than below, for comfort when shouldering the bike.
Saddle – The Brava comes with the Liv Contact (forward) saddle which has been on all the Liv bikes I have ridden. Lucky for me, I get on with this saddle but by all means a saddle is interchangeable if you find that application of chamois cream and decent bib shorts aren’t doing the trick.
What else can I use a cyclocross bike for?
I’m hoping that if time permits, I will get a chance to go on a few longer rides. I live in Epping Forest which is such a beautiful area and great from exploring on a cross or mountain bike.
Cyclocross bikes like the Liv Brava SLR 2020 also make pretty decent commuter and winter bikes. The position is quite upright, and the wheels are designed to take on various terrains. It also means that you have a bike ready to join in all the cyclocross racing shenanigans! 😉
Are you thinking of adding a ‘cross bike to your collection?