Nationals Bike Check: Eric Brunner's Blue Norcross
Eric Brunner's Nationals-winning bike from the reborn Blue brand now based in Colorado
Since its inception, this publication has been all about the concept of being BACK. And while it usually applies to riders returning to their potential, there is no reason it cannot also apply to cyclocross bikes as well.
Bike brand Blue was a big deal in the ‘cross world in the early 2010s, with Jonathan Page riding the brand’s bike and helping design a Norcross frame that folks still talk about longingly. (I still use my Norcross as my commuter … love that bike). Then, seemingly as soon as it rose to prominence, the brand disappeared.
Blue made a brief reappearance in 2014 when the brand was purchased by a California company, but that attempt to reboot the old bikes was short-lived.
Finally, in 2019, Blue was BACK, again. This time, with a bit more passion and more of a plan to stick around.
Back during the 2019 Unbound Gravel Expo, I noticed a Blue Competition Cycles tent and I HAD to stop by and see what the story was. I, after all, fell in love with ‘cross in part because of how much fun the Norcross was to ride off-road. There, I met current owner Orli Chinea. As it turns out, he was a former employee of Blue who cared about the brand so much, he teamed up with another person to purchase the brand and move its headquarters to Colorado.
During our chat, he also mentioned he was planning on sponsoring a cyclocross team. Enter Eric Brunner and the Blue-Build program that had its first big moment at Cantigny Nationals last weekend.
After “team dad” Grant Holicky made the connection with Chinea, Brunner stepped in to take on a bigger and bigger role with the team to the point where it is now his. “I’m really proud of the team. Managing it is much more difficult and complex than I expected, but worth it to have a program I call my own. Grant Holicky has helped a lot as the director of the team, giving me advice, and being ‘team dad,’” Brunner said.
This, however, it not per se a story about the Blue-Build team, it is a story about the Blue Norcross, and specifically, the one Brunner won Elite Nationals on. For starters, when Chinea restarted the brand, he had to bring back the Norcross, right?
Brunner offered his two cents at the time. “I gave a lot of input when we were designing the new bike. I actually mentioned giving it a new name since it’s so different from the old version, but Blue ended up keeping the name.”
The name is the same, but Brunner was quick to point out Blue went in a different direction with the design. You may have heard this one before, IDK.
“The front end of the bike is really stiff and it steers well,” Brunner said. “The head angle is pretty slack, which I know is ‘non-traditional’ or ‘gravel’ geometry, but I think that it works quite well for most off-road and ‘cross riding. It puts the front wheel a bit farther forward, which helps to counteract understeer or washing out the front wheel.”
Brunner pointed out that he likes the look of the redesigned frame thanks to its sleek, fast look—although that may just be because he was, like, riding it really fast the second half of this season.
Like nearly all modern carbon bikes, the frame features internal routing through both the frame and front fork.
The rear features the dropped rear triangle design that has become common on modern bikes, and the top tube has a nice little nook to provide additional comfort when shouldering the bike.
One interesting aspect that stood out, at least to me, that contrasts with Brunner’s preferred aero riding position is the relatively boxy down tube. It does, however, have two sets of bottle bosses, which makes it a candidate for cross-over use for gravel during the offseason, unlike some bikes we have seen recently.
Finally, one of the reasons the original Norcross was a beloved favorite for many was because it had a healthy amount of tire clearance, allowing ‘cross racers to use it for gravel back when using a ‘cross bike for gravel was cool. The new Norcross keeps that ethos for claimed clearance up to 700c x 45mm tires.
“Great tire clearance too, which I came to appreciate more at Nats after seeing some bikes that couldn’t roll due to mud buildup,” Brunner said.
Moving past the bike itself, Brunner’s Norcross build is interesting among North American ‘cross bikes. Nearly all Shimano-sponsored riders have switched to riding the GRX off-road groupset, but Brunner takes the more Euro approach of running Dura-Ace.
“I chose Dura-Ace mainly for the gearing,” he said. “Dura-Ace is also so light that there’s not really a weight penalty to adding the front derailleur and extra chain ring. I think the GRX stuff is great, but Dura-Ace is just a bit more premium.”
“I’ve used 46/36t chainrings with an 11-30t cassette all season. I prefer the double because I like to be able to maintain high cadence, even on short steep climbs. The double makes this possible without sacrificing the high end of the gear range or tight spacing between gears. With my current setup, I’m using basically every gear with some regularity.”
While the 46/36t ‘cross combo is a special order for Dura-Ace, the GRX groupset currently offers only a 48-31t combo for the RX810-2 spec. Brunner indicated he might consider it in the future if it is tailored more for ‘cross, “I think it would be cool to see a hollow GRX crank that’s lighter, with an XTR/Dura-Ace style finish and more chain ring options.”
Also unique on Brunner’s bike is the aggressive, aero cockpit. If you’ve seen Brunner race this season in his compact position inflicting massive amounts of suffering on his competitors, you know. While Brunner is a tall dude at around 6’ tall, I swore he must be on 38cm bars.
Nice guy that he is, he helped answer that question. “My bars are 40cm with a 120mm stem. I just measured for you and they are 39cm center-to-center in the hoods and 41cm center-to-center in the drops. I like my fit to be similar to my road bike.”
Brunner is running a cockpit from FSA brand Vision. He has the aero Metreon 5D ACR Integrated carbon handlebar with a 120mm stem.
Also a bit of a departure from the North American norm is Brunner’s tire choice. Tires from A Dugast are more common in Europe, but they are making inroads in the States thanks to the work of the previously mentioned Jonathan Page, who reps the brand in America. Not surprisingly given the conditions, Brunner ran Rhino tubulars on his Dura-Ace carbon tubular wheels.
“I’ve switched over to Dugast tires this season and it’s been a great experience. There’s a reason that 80 percent of the top riders in Europe are on them,” Brunner said.
Wrapping things up in the story of Brunner doing things differently than his American counterparts, after winning his first Elite National Championship, Brunner has decided to forego racing in Europe for the next month to stay at home in Colorado and prepare for Fayetteville Worlds. Brunner has had a long year after racing on the road with Aevolo (you may have heard of them), and he hopes the rest will allow him to get his best result at Worlds before starting to look to 2022 for his Blue-Build team.
Read below for full specs on Brunner’s gold-winning (silver) Blue Norcross.
Eric Brunner’s National-Champ Blue Norcross Specs
Frame: Blue Norcross, BLUE-TEC high-modulus UD T-800/T-700 carbon
Fork: BLUE-TEC high-modulus UD T-800 carbon, 12mm thru-axle, flat-mount disc
Shift/Brake Levers: Shimano Dura-Ace ST-R9170 dual-control levers
Brake Calipers: Shimano Dura-Ace BR-R9170 hydraulic disc
Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace FC-R9100
Chain Rings: Shimano, 46/36t
Front Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace FD-R9150
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace RD-R9150
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace, 11-30t
Wheels: Shimano Dura-Ace R9170-C40 carbon tubulars
Tires: A Dugast Rhino tubulars, 700c x 33mm
Handlebar: Vision Metron 5D ACR Integrated with 120mm stem, carbon
Seatpost: Vision Metron, carbon
Saddle: Velo, alloy rails
Pedals: Shimano M9100 XTR SPD
More Info: rideblue.com