Review: The Specialized Crux DSW Feels Like All the Bike You Need

Pros

Shares the same geometry and tire clearances as the carbon Crux gravel and cyclocross bike.

Available in both frameset and complete bike options.

Cons

Price bumps up against entry-level carbon bikes.

Stock build could use some comfort upgrades if you’re riding for more than a few hours.


Size Reviewed

52

Weight

9.2 kg (20.2 pounds)

Price

$2,600

Brand

Specialized


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The formula for building an aluminum gravel bike is fairly straightforward. Build it to meet a price point, offer two paint schemes — one conservative and one that’ll pop on the sales floor — and print money. After all, an aluminum gravel bike is often one’s entry into cycling, not just gravel biking. So what’s up with this Specialized Crux DSW, which Specialized postitions as a premium alloy gravel bike?

Specialized says its new Crux DSW gravel bike is the lightest aluminum gravel bike frame ever made. That’s a heady claim, but at 1,399 grams for a 56 cm frame, that weight means most traditional carbon gravel bikes are only about 1 pound lighter (~400 grams) than this.

Better still, the Crux DSW shares the same geometry and tire clearances as the Crux gravel and cyclocross bike. That makes it a compelling option not only for folks who might not want carbon fiber, but for just about anyone looking at a gravel bike.

Below are build details, prices, comparisons to other gravel bikes, and my riding impressions aboard the Specialized Crux DSW. But I’ll spare you the details: aluminum bike fans are going to adore Specialized’s latest gravel bike.

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Look from a distance, and the Crux DSW looks awfully similar to the carbon version of the Crux. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)

Quick hits: Seven things to know about the Specialized Crux DSW

  • Crux DSW is an aluminum version of the carbon Crux.
  • A 56 cm frame is “lightest alloy gravel bike ever made,” at 1,399 grams.
  • Max tire clearance: 700c x 47 mm or 650b x 53 mm.
  • Features a SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger (UDH).
  • Geometry carries over from carbon Crux.
  • Available in both frameset and complete bike options.
  • For more: specialized.com

Build details

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Can I just say that I loved this lilac over cream of this Crux DSW? (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)

The launch of the latest generation Specialized Crux carbon bike really stirred the pot amongst gravel bike fans out there. The Crux was lighter than just about any other gravel frame out there at 825 grams for a painted 56 cm frame. The S-Works model managed to be even 100 grams lighter than that, making for a gravel bike that was lighter than many top-tier race road bikes.

Rather than carbon fiber, the Crux DSW uses Specialized’s familiar DSW aluminum frame construction. DSW–short for D’Aluisio Smartweld–essentially means the bike uses hydroformed aluminum tubes without old-fashioned mitering. The DSW process shaves weight by shaving all material that isn’t necessary while ensuring plenty of material at weld points.

The Crux DSW also uses a hydroformed one-piece downtube and bottom bracket area. This is relatively uncommon among alloy frames, as doing so adds considerable complexity and cost to the build process. In the case of the aluminum Crux, however, it allows Specialized to keep the weight down while having greater control of how the bike’s ride quality.

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Clean cable management. External cable routing to boot! What a novelty. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)

Like the carbon Crux, there’s hardly anything proprietary going on. No internal cable routing at the handlebars, rather routing brake hoses and shift cables through the down tube and seat stays to accommodate both mechanical and electronic shifting. There’s a round 27.2 mm diameter seat post with a standard seat post clamp. A BSA-threaded bottom bracket complements the rest of the system.

This Crux DSW comes with a SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger (UDH), allowing easier hanger replacement and compatibility with whatever 13-speed SRAM direct-mount derailleurs there might be.

Up front, the Crux DSW uses the same 12r carbon fork as the rest of the Crux lineup. There are three bottle cage mounts (two in the main triangle and one just ahead of the bottom bracket), and not much else. It is a Crux, after all.

Geometry

Size (all measurements in mm unless notes)49 cm52 cm54 cm56 cm58 cm61 cm
Stack530547560578598621
Reach375382388397405415
Wheelbase100810141023103310451059
Chainstay Length425425425425425425
Head Tube Length100115130147167190
Head Tube Angle70.5°71.25°71.5°72°72.25°72.5°
Fork Rake/Offset505050505050
Seat Tube Length466496521546576606
Fork Length, Full401401401401401401
Front Center594600608618630644
Seat Tube Angle75.5°74°74°73.5°73.5°73.5°
BB Drop747472727272
Trail746967646260
Top Tube Length, Horizontal512539549568582599

As mentioned, the Crux DSW shares its geometry with the rest of the Crux family. It isn’t a pure gravel bike. Rather, it kind of fits in the intersection of a gravel bike, a road bike, and a cyclocross bike. The 72 mm bottom bracket drop is high for a gravel bike but about standard for a cyclocross bike.

As far as fit is concerned, the Crux DSW isn’t a particularly upright bike. There’s more room to keep the bars up than the most racey gravel bikes out there, but fit geometry is still on the aggressive end of a gravel bike, and firmly in the ‘performance gravel’ side of things.

Builds, specs, and pricing

BuildSpecsPrice
Specialized Crux DSW CompSRAM Apex XPLR groupset$2,600/£2,300/€2700/$4,000 AUD
Specialized Crux DSW FramesetN/A$1,700/£1,500/€1,650/$2,500 AUD

Specialized offers the Crux DSW in a frameset and just one complete build. The framesets are available in three colorways, while the complete SRAM Apex XPLR comes in two options. That bike gets a mechanical drivetrain, hydraulic shifting, and Specialized Pathfinder Pro tires. It’s nothing special, but the build checks all the boxes.

Riding the Specialized Crux DSW

Specialized Crux DSW Apex review-22
Looking for a Crux logo? You’ll only find it predominantly in one location: on the drive side fork blade, down by the dropout. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)

Specialized sent over a 52 cm Crux DSW in its lone Apex XPLR build. Set up tubeless and without bottle cages, pedals, or any accessories, my bike weighed in at just 9.2 kg (20.2 pounds). That doesn’t sound all that lightweight, but that is just as light as a large percentage of entry-level carbon gravel bikes, and roughly 600 grams off of a Crux Comp with carbon fiber.

Handling is awfully similar to the carbon Crux. It’s a quick-handling bike in my experience, taking just a touch more work to keep going in a straight line than a more traditional gravel bike. It doesn’t feel quite as settled as on gravel roads when compared to something like an aluminum Canyon Grizl, which I attribute largely to its more all-rounder geometry. At the same time, however, that geometry means the bike feels spry in tight singletrack, with a front wheel that doesn’t wander too much.

Hey Crux DSW, you’re cyclocross roots are showing. Not that that’s a bad thing!

Specialized Crux DSW Apex review-21
Specialized’s flared drop handlebar offers solid ergonomics and a just-right amount of flare. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)

For an aluminum bike with an aluminum seat post and handlebar, I found the Crux DSW to be comfortable… enough. The ride is firm, with a small amount of flex at the seat post. Considering the build, there isn’t much to complain about. Those riding most of their time on gravel, however, will likely want to look into either wider tires, some sort of suspension seat post, or some carbon fiber there.

Truth be told, I quite liked how this bike handles. I think there’s a great balance to how it moves from gravel to singletrack to dirt to road and everywhere in between. It’s about spot on for someone who spent most of their time riding drop bar bikes and wants to hit some gravel. This is an attribute shared with the carbon version of the Crux, thankfully caring over seemingly unfiltered.

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SRAM Apex mechanical shifting might be SRAM’s best mechanical shifting yet, with positive shift feel and quick shifts even from this entry-level groupset. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)

There’s a decent, if unremarkable, parts kit to be found here. SRAM’s Apex XPLR drivetrain with mechanical shifting might be the brand’s last holdout in drop bar drivetrains, but it doesn’t feel like an afterthought. SRAM’s DoubleTap shift logic–using one paddle to control upshifts and downshifts–will likely require some time to get used to, but it is accurate and you can feel each shift. Braking is easily controlled, and lever ergonomics are modern and comfortable as well.

Similar praise can be heaped upon the touchpoints, namely the handlebar, bar tape, and saddle. The Supacaz bar tape is grippy enough, and while it isn’t especially cushy, it has proven durable over the years. The bars offered multiple comfortable hand positions for gravel and blended in neatly with the aforementioned Apex shifters. No complaints about the Specialized Power saddle either

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The G540 rims feature a 25 mm internal width. Inflated to 30 PSI, the Pathfinder Pro tires measured to 39 mm. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)

The DT Swiss G540 rims and Specialized hub are serviceable if unremarkable. The 38 mm Specialized Pathfinder Pro tires set up tubeless with a floor pump, and the wheels didn’t seem to come out of true even after some nasty bottom-outs from the rim hitting the ground. They are on the heavy side, however; a quick wheel swap to a roughly 1,400 g Hunt 40 CGR wheelset saved 600 g (1.3 pounds).

Frankly, the Crux DSW benefits greatly from a lighter set of wheels, regardless of whether they’re aluminum or not. The bike isn’t about being a weight weenie, but the difference is tangible in how much easier it is to maintain higher speeds after swapping. Were this my bike, the wheels would be the first thing I would want to change.

The Crux DSW vs the competition

The Crux DSW functions both as a gravel bike and as a cyclocross bike, giving it an intriguing position in the market. Amongst aluminum cyclocross bikes, there’s the Squid Squidcross… and not a whole lot else. But as cool as that bike is, the Squidcross is considerably more of a DIY situation.

That leaves aluminum gravel bikes for the Crux DSW to compete against, namely the Canyon Grail AL, Cannondale Topstone, Giant Revolt, Specialized Diverge AL, and State 6061 All-Road among others. The Crux DSW is a decidedly more premium frame than those bikes, however, feeling more responsive and tight-feeling bike than those options with similar build kits. You pay for that privilege of having “the lightest gravel bike ever made,” however.

Perhaps the most intriguing competition comes from entry-level carbon gravel bikes. At $2600 US, a complete Crux DSW Comp is knocking on the door of that discounted, previous model year carbon fiber version of all of the aforementioned bikes. That makes the Crux DSW a tougher sell, and one I suspect most folks will go toward carbon fiber.

It’s also worth mentioning that against those carbon fiber bikes, the Crux DSW’s aluminum construction is inherently less energy-intensive than that of carbon fiber. Aluminum is also one of the most easily recyclable materials in the world. The same can’t be said for carbon fiber. That doesn’t make one material better than the other, but it is worth considering as you shop for a bike.

Conclusion

vert Specialized Crux DSW Apex review-12
The Crux DSW goes about its business without complaint and does a great job of it too. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)

I’m not convinced this aluminum Specailzied Crux DSW is going to be a big seller. Its price comes awfully close to entry-level carbon fiber bikes, after all, and there’s a cachet to carbon fiber that aluminum can’t usually match. Aluminum is and will likely continue to be seen as less than, at least until the gravel pros start reaching for a Crux DSW over an S-Works.

That said, there’s a sense of personality that is unique to this bike. You feel every bit of the bike buzzing along on dirt roads, eager to get you moving faster. Further, I found myself pushing the bike more than I do some other bikes not only because I felt comfortable in its handling, but because I knew I could afford to replace the bike if I needed to.

In the case of the Specialized Crux DSW, there are going to be a lot of happy riders. It made me just as happy as any gravel bike I’ve ridden in recent memory, and it costs multitudes less than many of the bikes I have the privilege of riding to boot. So while you might aspire to the carbon version of a bike, there’s little lost with the Crux going aluminum.

Gallery

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This sot white with lilac logos is fantastic. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
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All Crux DSW bikes feature a SRAM UDH, the first drop bar bike from Specialized to offer it. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
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SRAM’s Apex cranks worked without complaint and installed easily to the frame’s BSA threaded bottom bracket. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
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The Crux DSW features the same 12r carbon fork as other Crux models. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
Specialized Crux DSW Apex review-35
Short reach, shallow drop for these handlebars. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
Specialized Crux DSW Apex review-33
The Specialized Power Comp saddle proved comfortable over multiple 3+ hour rides. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
Specialized Crux DSW Apex review-32
No complaints for the Specialized Pathfinder Pro tires. They’re good all-rounders, though were it my personal bike, I’d want to go even wider. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
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The Crux DSW’s rear dropout feature some chunky welds, but nothing out of the ordinary for an aluminum frame. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
Specialized Crux DSW Apex review-28
All Crux DSW feature the same style of low-profile thru axle. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
Specialized Crux DSW Apex review-25
I quite like that Specialized has its brand name on the bottle cage bolts, though its 3 mm Hex botls strip are somewhat easy to strip if you’re not paying attention. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
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E5 indicates the quality of aluminum Specialized uses in its alloy frame hierarchy. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
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Specialized claims max tire clearance of 700c x 47 mm; there’s plenty here around this 40 mm tire. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
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The Crux DSW receives a BSA threaded bottom bracket. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
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Look closely and you’ll see coverage applied along the entire bottom bracket area. Nice to see, Specialized. (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)
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Specialized makes little effort to hide the welds here. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; be proud of your aluminum! (Photo: Alvin Holbrook/Velo)

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