First ride: Van Dessel Gin & Trombones

When we last tested Van Dessel's popular Gin & Trombones 'cross bike, we found it to be a reasonably light, exceptionally comfortable, and perfect handling racer – if perhaps a bit flexy up front. For the 2010 season, Van Dessel has swapped in the far beefier and broader top tube from its road-going Hellafaster plus a tapered 1 1/8"-to-1 1/2" head tube with matching all-carbon fork, all in the name of increasing front-end precision.

Thankfully carrying over are the cushy carbon fiber seat stays, the excellent geometry, and Van Dessel's thoroughly accommodating a la carte build kits – options not only include component group but individual parts, wheels, sizes and even gearing. Price has gone up US$100 but is still a very reasonable US$1,100 for the frame, fork and headset.

So does it work?

Based on our initial test rides so far, seemingly yes. There's notably less twist up front when out of the saddle and motoring hard and steering precision is sharp and accurate – just point and shoot. Likewise, braking feels more solid than before what with the ultra-stout 1 1/2" lower steerer diameter and enormous fork blades.

Bottom-end stiffness has gone up a bit, too. While last year's tester was already equipped with a BB30-compatible bottom bracket shell, production versions still made do with a standard threaded setup. 2010 frames, however, are now so equipped across the board and while the rigidity improvement is subtle at best over standard external-bearing cranksets, the BB30 configuration does yield weight savings and extra ankle clearance.

Just as before, handling is spot-on with a bottom bracket height that's neither too high nor too low and front end geometry that's equally happy being steered or leaned into corners. The semi-compact layout also still leaves plenty of room to pass your arm through during run-ups.

This latest Gin & Trombones seems to have lost a bit of the front end comfort we fell in love with before, though, as rough terrain still feels awfully, well, rough, as opposed to the buttery soft ride of the previous iteration. Frame weight has gone up, too, from 1,450g for our earlier 54cm sample to 1,610g for this newer – and smaller – 52cm tester. The matching fork adds 490g with an uncut steerer tube.

That being said, the 2010 Gin & Trombones still strikes us as a sharper-edged race machine and for now we're willing to make the trades – so far, so good.

We'll come back with a more in-depth report once we've logged some proper race time on it. With still nearly two months of racing on the US 'cross calendar yet there will be plenty of opportunities to test the Gin & Trombones' mettle – and cough up a lung or two in the process. Hup hup!

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