Van Dessel have a cult following, especially when it comes to American cyclo-cross. Proprietor Edwin Bull has Belgian ancestry, and he calls on this to successfully meld an old-world aesthetic with a new-school 'cross geometry that works well on US courses.
The Full Tilt Boogie is the brand's latest cyclo-cross flagship, notable for its tube-to-tube carbon construction. It proved fast, comfortable, light (17.08lb) and durable, and we enjoyed our time on it. However, it’s pricey compared to its similarly equipped competition.
Ride & handling: High-performing blend of sharpness & stability, front end stiffness & rear flex
The Van Dessel's forward-biased geometry, with a steep (74-degree) seat angle that puts more weight over the front wheel, takes a while to get used to but proved to be an advantage both during hard cornering and when slogging through deep mud or sand. The massive fork and tapered front end with large tube junctions remained stable when pushed through corners and we never experienced any sort of brake chatter.
If the front of the Full Tilt Boogie sets the tone of the ride – it helps to hook a line in a corner and tracks through rough terrain – the rear is happy to play a supporting role. The stiffness of the bike tapers from the head tube to rear dropout. As a result, the rigid front lets you pick the line you want and hold it, while the softer rear is happy to follow in its tracks. It’s something you can feel the bike doing, and quite nice on a rough course.
If the whole bike was as stiff as its front triangle, it would have to be labeled as harsh, but the graduated feel works well. Heavier riders may be worried by the rear end wiggle, but this isn't a ProTour sprinter’s bike and in 'cross a bit of flex is often a good thing, especially if it’s well placed. The oversized down tube allowed by the BB30 bottom bracket shell and SRAM’s BB30 Force cranks serve to give the drivetrain an efficient feel and offset any negatives associated with chainstay flex.
Frame: Well thought out 'cross specific features, but we'd like at least one bottle boss
The Full Tilt Boogie shares the same geometry as Van Dessel's carbon-stayed alloy Gin & Trombones. A 7cm bottom bracket drop and 72-degree head angle bring both sharpness and low-slung stability to the package, while the 74-degree seat angle (on our 54cm test model) puts the rider further into the front center of the bike. The chainstays measure 425mm.
The top tube has a reinforced center section to protect it against crash damage – specifically in the instance of the bars swinging around and smacking it. Another neat feature is the alloy tube moulded into the crown of the oversized fork that allows for the mounting of a bolt-on brake boss. While, we didn’t feel the need to use one, a fork-mounted boss is a proven way to improve braking performance and eliminate chatter.
Mud clearance front and rear is quite good, and we appreciate the thought put into the cable routing on this bike. The rear derailleur is afforded a length of housing that runs from the top tube. This does increase initial drag but should pay off in the long run by preventing contamination. Like most ’cross bikes, the Full Tilt Boogie is still a good candidate for a Gore Professional or fully sealed cable system.
The front derailleur cable is run along the down tube and comes with a barrel adjuster, which is appreciated. Despite being in the path of mud, the straightforward cable routing offers performance that’s on a par with top tube routing even when dirty. The only real drawback is loss of arm hair should you shoulder with your forearm under the down tube. The rear brake cable follows the top tube and also has a barrel adjuster.
The Full Tilt Boogie has no bottle bosses. While this gives a 'pro' look, the UCI's decision to allow feeding during races means we'd welcome at least one set. Taking a feed brings its own problems – generally, it’s done in a crowded pit and only on certain laps – but it can mean the difference between winning and losing. The safest solution to this is to carry a bottle on your bike, as Tim Johnson did during the 2010 US Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross rounds in Louisville, Kentucky. He stayed hydrated but kept out of the mêlée in the pit, which could have potentially caused a race-losing mistake.
Equipment: SRAM Force is our top pick for 'cross but stem & wheels are disappointing for the price
The Full Tilt Boogie is offered with just about every component permutation imaginable, from SRAM to Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, to Campagnolo Super Record. Our test bike came with what might be the perfect cyclo-cross group: SRAM Force, which packs 97 percent of the SRAM Red group’s performance into a reasonably affordable package.
The DoubleTap shifters work well for ’cross because they’re rebuildable and offer a fixed brake lever, which helps ground the rider in their cockpit. Most SRAM sponsored pros ride a ‘pro’ model Red front derailleur with a steel cage, which is essentially the Force model with a different finish. And the Force rear derailleur is a solid piece of hardware; we most appreciate it for its unsprung B-knuckle, which seems to offer more stability to the drivetrain that those that pivot.
The last argument we have for Force is the dedicated in-line BB30 crankset, which offers benchmark stiffness, massive heel clearance in the mud and a clean, group matching aesthetic. As for durability, yes, the BB30 bearings may be more susceptible to contamination, but the SRAM bearing covers paired with liberal use of grease upon installation and careful attention to where you point the power washer should see them last a season, even in the worst conditions.
Van Dessel offer SUNRinglé Vista tubular wheels and Vittoria XM 320tpi tires with roughly 60 percent of their component kits. While tubular tires are a huge performance benefit for cyclo-cross, the quality of the 32-spoke traditional wheelset that’s built with un-machined, pinned rims leaves something to be desired at this pricepoint.
Custom yellow TRP EuroX brakes complement the SRAM package and look ultra sharp, though we'd have preferred to see Van Dessel offer SRAM’s new ultra powerful Shorty Ultimate cantilever brake. The build is finished with a Selle Italia SLR FSA Energy handlebar, SL-K carbon seatpost and OS-190 stem. We've no issues with the bar or post but, as with the wheels, we were somewhat disappointed with the pedestrian level of the stem given the price of the bike.