|Cyclingnews TV News Tech Features Road MTB BMX Cyclo-cross Track Photos Fitness Letters Search Forum|
Road test: K2 Enemy
K2 Enemy Cyclo-Cross bike
By Rob Karman
The first word that comes to mind when I think of the K2 Enemy is versatile. This bike is designed to be set up just about any way you could possibly want to with both top and down tube cable routing, hydraulic disk brake cable guides, disk brake tabs, rack and fender mounts, even a water bottle mount on the underside of the down tube for super long rides. It's really more of a 700c Mtn bike than a pure cyclo-cross bike, but even so I found it to be quite capable in 'cross racing while notching up my only podium finish so far this season.
Behind Enemy Lines
K2 borrowed design aspects from both its road and mountain frames as well as the expertise of elite American 'Cross racer Jonny Sundt to create the Enemy. 7000 series aluminum is obviously a great choice for a cross bike; light weight, impervious to the damp conditions so prevalent in 'cross, and cheap enough so you can afford a spare bike.
The Enemy uses a similar top tube to K2's road bike line which K2 calls a Reflex Flat Oval shape. I call it a God Send when carrying the bike over long distances as the wider shape distributes the weight of the bike over a larger area on your shoulder. It's real design purpose it to reduce side to side flex in the frame and it accomplishes that as well. In fact all of the tubes are large diameter, more akin to a mountain bike. When sprinting out of the saddle I found the bike to be plenty stiff for quick starts and accelerating back to speed after corners and dismounts.
I think the thing that I'm most excited about is the inclusion of disk brake tabs. I feel this is a long time coming. Yes, disks will add some weight. But in a really muddy race I think the braking control advantage will far outweigh the weight penalty. I also think that disk brakes will continue to get lighter in the future and by buying a frame with disk brake tabs now, you'll be making a good investment that you can use when you switch to disk brakes in the future. My ideal setup would be to have one bike set up as light as possible with cantilevers for dry days, and my spare bike setup with disk brakes as a secret weapon when it gets really muddy. One drawback is that they choose to use 130mm dropout spacing so you will have to either modify the rear disc hub to fit or spread the frame apart to fit a 135mm hub. I would have preferred the Tom Ritchey method of spacing the dropouts at 132.5mm so it is only a little bend in either direction to fit standard road or mountain hubs.
Enemy at the Gates
At first I thought K2 was out of their mind using a sloping top tube for a cross bike and on my first couple of rides it frustrated me as I had difficulty shouldering the bike quickly and smoothly. After getting used to it, it has become almost a non issue though. I just need to lift the bike about an inch higher for the top tube to clear my shoulder. The slope is fairly slight and only really noticeable to me now on high speed dismounts where you want to transfer your weight unto the top tube via your right arm (anyone who has read Simon Burney's book on cyclo-cross knows what I am talking about here). I feel like I am reaching down quite a bit which shifts my weight slightly more to the right. It has not caused me to crash or even get a little squirrely on the dismounts, it just feels a little funny since I learned to dismount on a traditional geometry bike.
The steering was a little slower than on my other cross bike due to the 71 degree headtube angle on my size small test bike, but it was not bad. It handled very well off road in fact. Larger sizes use a 73 degree head angle.
I had a little trouble deciding what size frame to get as they are only available in 5 sizes (XS to XL). I ride a 54cm road bike and looking at the geometry chart, the medium was just a tad too big and the small just a tad too small. I wish there were more sizing options, but I realize that cyclo-cross is a pretty small market and it is much more economical for the manufacture to make fewer sizes.
Enemy of the State
The component spec is well thought out with a dependable Ultegra rear derailleur, inexpensive 105 STI shifters, Time ATAC Aluminum pedals, Avid brakes, TruVativ Elita 'Cross cranks, and Ritchey parts almost everywhere else. The 105 shifters worked much better than I imagined. I'll admit to being a Dura Ace snob and the fact that I haven't ridden components of the 105 level in years. And while they are obviously not as light and svelte as DA, I was amazed at how well they worked. Avid Shorty 6 cantilevers are a proven choice that you just can't go wrong with. One other item of note are the Ritchey BioMax bars. These are my new cyclo-cross bars of choice after riding them on this bike. A slight backwards bend on the tops feels much more comfortable and gives you better control when bunny hopping or dropping down steep descents.
The wheels are an all Ritchey affair with their hubs, rims and tires. The Off Center Rim to even out the dishing on the rear is a great idea in general and an even better idea with the abuse wheels take on a 'cross bike. First thing I did though was lose the wire bead tires. I like the Speedmax tread, but the wire bead version was too heavy and made the bike feel sluggish both accelerating and cornering. They are great for training though if you want a little extra weight to make your bike feel faster when you switch to lighter tires on race day. The wheels overall are on the heavy side, but most of that bulk is at the hubs at least. If you have a good set of race wheels for your road bike I'd recommend them for race day on smooth courses and using the Ritchey K2 wheels as spares in the pits or for rough courses as they are built quite well.
The bike came set up out of the box a little funny. The brakes were set up standard road style with the rear brake being controlled by the right lever. As all cyclo-crossers know, this is a bad thing. If you buy this bike, get your dealer to route the brakes for "left=rear" if they have not already done so. You'll thank me on your first downhill barrier dismount. The other thing that puzzles me is why they chose to route the cables down the down tube when top tube cable housing stops are just sitting there empty. A good ride through clay mud will mess up the shifting on any bike with down tube cable routing. Didn't we learn our lesson in the 80's with chainstay mounted U-brakes? When I asked K2 Marketing Director Skip Reys about the choice of the bottom pull rear derailleur his response was "Concerning the cable routing, there is not a top-pull front derailleur that works to our satisfaction with the exception of 2001/2002 XTR (it's the only derailleur that accepts a 48 tooth chainring). We have tried EVERYTHING, and understand the advantage of top tube routing...that is why the top tube routing bosses are on the frame....we are optimistic."
I can understand the cost prohibitiveness of XTR on a bike at this price point, but I wish there was another way... and there is! Just ditch the front derailleur and go with a single chainring set-up. This is the favored set up by most top riders due to less chance of dropping your chain and having less moving parts to get gunked up in the mud. Also, there are empty cable guides to run the rear derailleur cable along the top tube and down the right seat stay. If you live and race in a muddy environment, I'd recommend using them.
At 22.9 lbs (10.4 Kg) it's a little heavy due mostly to its mountain bike style build and heavy wheels, but the frame itself is only 3.7lb (1.7 Kg) and 1.8lb (820g) for the fork, so changing out the wheels will help a lot. All in all the Enemy is a great value for the price. For the amateur Cyclo-Crosser it is ready to race right out of the box and can easily be upgraded as you get more involved in cyclo-cross. You can also make it do double duty as a commuter or touring bike, or even a skinny tire mountain bike (White Bros makes a 700c suspension fork). For those who think cyclo-cross IS the season and everything else is just training, you should have an Enemy at least as a spare bike (or mud bike with disks) at this price.
The frame is also available separately for those who want to build it up exactly to their liking or if you just want to use up some parts from one of the boxes in your garage.
Frame set or complete bike, either way I found the Enemy to be more friend than foe.
Pro: lots of set up options, disc brake tabs, good value
What do you think of the K2 Enemy? - Tell us your thoughts