If there is one thing I really enjoy doing, it is riding all kinds of bicycles. I find it fascinating to experience the intentions of the designers, and then evaluate whether or not they succeeded. Being in the sport since 1987, I have ridden a lot of bicycles. Some great, some so-so, and some downright miserable to ride. Regardless of the the outcomes, I am always eager to try a new steed. When asked to give the new Foundry Harrow Cyclocross bike a hard test ride and evaluation, I jumped at the opportunity.
Foundry is a brand owned by QBP out of Minnesota, the largest bicycle parts distributor in the United States. The Foundry Harrow is Foundry’s latest model and is marketed as their “no-nonsense, pure cross racer”. Unlike other companies’ “cross” bikes, you will not find mounts for racks and fenders on this race bike.
Foundry’s motto is “a bicycle is a tool” used for competing and adventure. The bike’s appearance and name reflect this motto. The highly understated appearance looks tool-like. It is raw carbon-fiber with very minimal graphics consisting of the Foundry stamp and some tool-like rivets and shields. It looks like a tool made for a tough job that won’t lose it’s value or ability to perform once scuffed and soiled, just like any quality tool should be. The word “Harrow” is defined as “a farm implement for breaking up and smoothing out the surface of the soil”. As you will read, this is a very fitting name. This bike looks like it was forged in a foundry, tough and utilitarian and designed with a single purpose…to do a job and do it well.
The geometry of the Harrow is strikingly similar to the Cannondale SuperX. The only differences are a bottom bracket that is 2mm higher and a wheelbase that is 5mm longer. I find this intriguing for a few reasons. It seems to me that in the world of cyclocross there are European style courses and American style courses, both with unique demands. European courses tend to be wide open, smooth and sweeping with lots of mud and sand. This kind of course begs for a cross bike with a longer wheelbase and less aggressive geometry. On the other hand, our American courses are tight and twisty with lots of hairpin turns and bumpy grass. These courses are best suited for a more aggressive, criterium-like geometry with some vibration dampening qualities built into the frame. Cannondale has been an unparalleled innovator in this category with the SuperX cross frame. It uses aggressive criterium geometry and the SAVE micro-suspension technology in the rear triangle. In a nutshell, the SAVE technology accomplishes significant vibration dampening through clever shaping of the rear triangle tubes. By flattening the tubes and shaping them in a very deliberate way, the ride quality on harsh, bumpy surfaces is greatly improved without losing power when stomping on the pedals. Not only does this vibration dampening feel less fatiguing, it also improves control in the turns by keeping the tires in better contact with the ground rather than bouncing and skipping through the turns. Foundry has taken this technology and incorporated it into the Harrow in their own unique way.
Some of the features on the Foundry Harrow include the following:
- A large diameter, square down tube that blends into a super stiff PF30 bottom bracket. The seat tube also flares at the bottom bracket. These two features give the Harrow a very stiff power transfer from the cranks to the wheels.
- The next well planned feature is the gently curving, flat top tube. Unlike Cannondale’s round top tube, this flat top tube is very easy on the shoulder when running up a steep incline, a feature missed by a lot of cyclocross bikes on the market today.
- In stark contrast to these rather beefy features is the noticeably slender seat stays. These slender seat stays are designed to flex and absorb the shock from bumpy grass and tree roots and keep the bike tracking instead of skipping through the turns.
- Hayes mechanical disc brakes. Awesome. Powerful. Always there. The downsides to using disc brakes include added weight, finicky adjustment characteristics and potential pad wear issues in really crummy wet and muddy conditions. This pad wear issue is not a big deal with self-adjusting hydraulic brakes, but can be an issue with the lesser expensive mechanical disc brakes on most cross bikes up until now. As you will read later, I like these brakes enough to ignore the added weight and gamble in foul weather. 98.6% of the time, these brakes will make for a very positive difference for your racing and training experience.
- Foundry’s own “Whisky No.9 Thru-axle fork”. This is a full carbon fork that uses mountain bike thru-axle technology. Instead of a skewer to hold the hub to the fork, this system uses a large diameter hollow axle. This axle inserts through the fork through a closed hole instead of an open dropout. This technology essentially mates the two ends of the fork, the hub and the axle into a single fused unit. The end result is twofold. First, the steering will be more exact with less flex when the bumps and G-forces try to torque on the front end of the bike. Secondly, the alignment of the front disc brake will be repeatable. If you have ever owned a disc brake bike that required adjustment every time the front wheel was put back on, you will understand the value of this thru-axle feature on the Harrow.
- Lowered chain stays. The chain stays have an obvious drop where they exit the rear dropouts. This again is adopted from mountain bikes and prevents excessive chain slap when going over big bumps.
So now to the test ride/hammer session.
I figured the best way to evaluate this bike was to take it to my favorite park and ride my favorite imaginary cyclocross race course, one I have ridden many, many times before on my trusty, antiquated cross bike. It rained all day and the grass was wet and slippery, so the Harrow had its work cut out for it.
My first two laps were easy and controlled while I learned the bike’s features. My first impression was “smooth”. The rear triangle wasn’t sending shockwaves up my spine despite the more vertical seat tube angle. This was a nice change from my older aluminum frame that was less forgiving even though it had a very relaxed seat tube angle. This bike is the entry level Harrow with Shimano105 shifters and derailleurs which functioned very well and matched the blue collar image of the Foundry brand and the sport of cyclocross.
Next was my first hard corner around a park sign. Having been through this turn countless times, I had memorized the feel and tracking of this turn on my cross bike. Now on the Harrow, my immediate thought was, “That felt like I was on a rail!” I know that is cliche’. Trust me, I didn’t want to write it, but that is actually what it felt like. After hearing that dumb cliche’ too many times to count, I truly know what it means now. I don’t know if it was the thru-axle fork, the tighter wheelbase or something else entirely, but it was damn cool and got me really excited about the next 45 minutes I had planned for this bike. One thing is for sure. It WASN’T the wet grass and tree leaves!
Next was a fast downhill section leading to two tight turns, one being off-camber. Each time through this section I found greater confidence in the disc braking. I was able to delay the braking until the last possible moment because I KNEW my brakes were there and I knew what they could handle. This is an enormous leap from the “brake early just in case” mentality I have had to keep for safety and sanity with my old cantilevers. These brakes are definitely the future of cyclocross and can only give a rider an advantage over other riders on cantilever brakes.
My following observation came only near the end of my ride when I attempted to push the envelope of speed through the turns. On my more relaxed, longer wheelbase cross bike, turning is different. If I push the boundaries on my old bike it is the front tire that gives away and slides out. This is nerve racking because if the front end slides you lose your ability to steer and recover, but that was my reality and what I was used to. The Harrow displayed a characteristic that I can only call “balanced”. Instead of the front washing out a “lot”, I felt the front go a “little” and then the back end immediately go a “little”, and then I was right back on the rail. It was something I had seen on videos in super slow mo, but could never do myself. Whether it is the geometry or wheelbase or balance of the two, I don’t know, but the Harrow has it and I really like it.
Typically, by about the 45 minute mark in my training sessions, I have looked at my watch a half dozen times and counted down to the end of my pain and suffering. On this cold and dreary day I chose to ignore the 45 minute mark and throw down a couple more laps. I just didn’t feel like I had explored all of the new limits this racing implement had to offer. I was excited to know that cross racing doesn’t have to be cumbersome and reserved. It can be fast and aggressive given the right combination of design features. I have been told that I may extend this evaluation of the Foundry Harrow into this weekend for a race. I can honestly say that I haven’t looked forward to racing this much since early September.
Now for the down side of this bike, because a review is only believable if the review is honest and critical. This bike has a bit of a weight problem. It’s stock weight for the 54cm Shimano105 version is a hefty 21.5 pounds. On the bright side, this is not inherent due to the frame and fork design. This is a build problem. This particular version of the Harrow is a racing pedigree that has been overloaded with heavy components. The wheels, being accelerated over and over in a cross race, are the most important and need to be light. These wheels are not. This was the only distraction I had during my entire hammer session. It took too long to get up to speed and that was frustrating. The other components with a weight problem are the seat post, stem and bars. These aren’t quite as problematic until you throw this bike on your shoulder for a run up, but add significantly to its bottom line on the scale. Equally heavy are the FSA Gossamer cranks. These are very stiff and strong, but by today’s standards they are heavy. Added all together, these components make this bike affordable but chunky. It is remarkable that such an overweight bike could have such a profound impact on me as a competitor. I really was blown away. It makes me wonder what a few upgrades, done incrementally, would do for this already impressive race machine. Could there be a continuation of this review with component upgrades? Hmmmmm…
For those who like the sounds of the Harrow but feel let down by the weight issue, there are two other upgraded versions with considerable weight savings featuring Shimano Ultegra and SRAM Red components. On the other hand, who is ever REALLY done building a bike? This Shimano105 version could be an affordable entry into the cross world with a whole lot of opportunity for exciting and game changing upgrades. The Shimano105 group serves as a very utilitarian and user friendly package on this bike and has no need for an upgrade. Given that, this Foundry Harrow provides a great foundation for a great ride now with an incrementally upgradeable future.
My overall impression of the Foundry Harrow is very positive. I like the understated image and looks, the blue collar attitude and the utilitarian concept. It goes against the grain of the industries shiny, colorful reputation in a bold and cool way. Ultimately, though, it is the ride that counts and the Harrow’s ride has me thinking about doing another hard training session before this weekend’s race, and that is just totally illogical! It’s weight problem is not a deal breaker in my mind. The upgraded versions solve the problem right away, and the Shimano105 version leaves the door open for one’s own imagination to solve the issue. Either way, it is a cool bike with a fantastic ride and race feel. This Shimano105 version is the perfect canvas for an awesome build, and with artists like Nick Moroder of BELGIANWERKX at the helm, you absolutely cannot go wrong!
Impressions After Racing
I attended the Cam-Rock CX Classic in Cambridge, WI over the weekend and registered for two races. This course was mostly flat and fast with less tight turns than most American courses today. Much of the course was on a cross-country ski trail that was well worn in with a lot of half exposed tree roots and nasty rocks. These roots and rocks essentially defined my weekend as well as brought a couple of important facts to light about this bike.
The start of my first race was exciting because, for the first time, I wasn’t getting left behind in the technical sections. The Harrow far exceeded my personal cross bike in handling and agility. I found myself time and time again approaching tight turns a bit tentative because I was at speeds I normally can’t maintain on my personal race bike. On the Harrow, however, I came out clean on the other side every time. My confidence was building fast as I continued to race further up in the pack than I was used to.
This is where the fun ended in my first race. I pinch flatted the front tire on a rock or root and I was a long way from the pits.
There is a lesson in this story, however, regarding the Harrow. If you flat the front tire and expect to get help from neutral support with another wheel, it probably won’t happen. The Harrow’s thru-axle fork is an awesome feature on this bike and makes it stand out, but it is a new feature in the cross world and neutral support probably won’t be able to help you. Have a spare wheel and put it in the pits before you race. Additionally, changing out a thru-axle wheel will probably take three or four times longer to complete than a typical wheel swap, but at least you can finish your race. In my case, I flatted a long way from neutral support and with no spare wheel with me, I chose to save it for the next race. After replacing the tube, I put the wheel back on the Whiskey No.9 thru-axle fork. True to form, the disc brake was perfectly aligned and ready to go.
Race number two. This race went better and I found myself actually gaining ground in the technical sections of this course. The Harrow was predictable and repeatable through every turn and I found myself in third place after three laps. Could this be my day to place better than I had before? Seventh was my best finish to date in this category. Could this be the big debut for this Foundry Harrow?
Almost! Another flat got me again, only this time it was the rear wheel and I was much closer to the pits. Neutral support could help me this time, and I was able to finish strong and still in tenth place. Not bad for losing a couple minutes with a tire issue.
Despite my own bad luck, the Foundry Harrow was a pleasure to ride and race. True to it’s name, the Harrow “smoothed out the surface of the soil” and made for a very comfortable ride. This smoothness allowed me to concentrate on my tactics and effort instead of the limitations of my machine. Like a well made tool that fits perfectly in your hands, this racing implement felt great and responded to all of my commands perfectly.
In addition, I found myself being a lot more social than normal at a race because I was answering so many questions about the bike. If there is one thing cyclocrossers like to do, it is talk bike. This bike is ironically eye-catching despite it’s intentionally understated surface, where the frame’s shape and form take precedence over any thought of paint and color. The Foundry Harrow looks like a forged and crafted cyclocross machine, artful and intentional in every detail. If Foundry’s mission was to create an understated yet artful sculpture, they did it. If they were also trying to create a fully functional race machine with all of the latest frame and component technology at a reasonable price, I’d say they just killed two cows with one tractor.
Arlen Spicer is a Cat 3 Team Belgianwerkx member. He’s been road riding since college. This is his first year cyclocross racing. He’s already a pretty good Cat 3.