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KHS Flite CX 300

Review: KHS Flite CX 300

Elaine Bothe's picture

Right Out of the Box

4
First Impressions

Usually when I get a bike to review it's like the best present ever! Ready to ride, thanks to Scott's hard work and organization, the new paint smell, the reflectors still on the wheels, the clean bar tape and seat, a sleek assemblage of excitement and potential. The first time I saw the KHS CX 300 it wasn't quite so exciting, the poor thing, up on a stand with brake cables hanging, the handlebar bare except for the brake levers and shifters, miscellaneous pieces of tape, and the headset all loose.

The state of assembly aside, the KHS CX 300 looked like a puppy that's been crated for a while, just itching to go outside for some fun. KHS reinterpreted the typical red-white-black color scheme on the CX 300 to make it mostly black, bold and racy. White is reserved for massive graphics, bar tape and seat. The frame and fork is mostly black, reserving the screaming bright red for the rear triangle and accents. Upon closer examination--logos other than KHS are much smaller-- the sporty touches such as the one-piece carbon fiber fork, the carbon fiber seat post, lack of fender eyelets, Mavic rims and SRAM Rival shifters and deraillieurs give the impression this is a competition-ready bike ready to rumble.

Ease of Assembly

The KHS CX 300 is a more labor intensive assembly than usual. Especially the brakes, which were difficult, I mean impossible, because of the weak spring tension. Scott worked his way through a box of parts that came alongside the frame and wheels, and we both eventually gave up on the brakes. One of our favorite local bike shops, 7 Corners Cycles in Portland, figured it all out for us (and topped off the grease in the hubs) and handed me a shiny racy looking bike ready to ride.

Bling Factor

The graphics on the KHS CX 300 could not possibly be larger. They're so big they become pattern, and a good looking one at that. And the red paint is a worthy contender in the manufacturer's competition to see who can make the brightest red ever. Those aspects aside, this bike has a quieter feel, it doesn't scream bling. "Speak softly, but carry a big stick" is the visual philosphy of the CX 300.

Road Test Ride

4
Climbing

Hills are fun! And the KHS CX 300 is a delightfully pleasant surprise on a properly paved road climb. My road test took the willing CX 300 up into the West Hills of Portland for a hilly interval workout. I added some extra air to the stock Kenda Small Block 8 tires and was pleased how fast they rolled on pavement. The CX 300's wheelbase and chainstays are much longer than a typical road bike, and longer than my regular 'cross bike but the CX 300 climbed really well. The super stiff aluminum frame has a lot of influence, no doubt, as do the light wheels, low rolling resistance for 'cross tires and overall relatively light weight. I shot right up those big hills.

Cornering

The KHS CX 300 thinks it's a road bike. Too bad the criterium season is over for the year, this bike would be great fun in a fast tight crit race. I flogged it through some quick paved sweepers, and I felt very comfortable tossing the bike into those fast apexes even though this was just my first ride on the bike. The CX 300 held the corners easily with no hint of twitchiness, even when I needed to change up my line when a squirrel popped out from behind a bush. (Don't worry, I missed it.)

Tight corners, however, were problematic for me, but not because of any real fault of the CX 300. KHS and coincidence can take the blame because of the unusual sizing selection. Most manufacturers' 54 cm frame size fits me pretty well, some feel longer and some feel small but usually within a rideable range. There seems to be a trend toward small bikes though, and KHS answered by offering a good choice of XS and S bikes 49 and 52 cm, respectively. But then, oddly, the M size jumps up to a 56 cm, then on up into L (58 cm) and XL (61 cm) sizes. Which leaves me personally swimming on a bike way too large in danger of injuring myself or cramped on a bike too small, my big feet frequently hitting the front wheel, and my head and shoulders draped well over the handlebars.

Handling

The KHS CX 300 handles nicely and predictably, holding straight lines and cornering with aplomb. The brakes feel squishy at the levers, though do a decent job of feathering speed. Dropping anchor completely is a little too easy and I skidded once or twice on the pavement under emergency braking. I didn't have full confidence on very high speed descents (30 mph or more) partly because the bike is a little small for me and I felt a bit of front end shake. But rarely in a proper cyclocross race are you flying down a hill at 30 mph.

Ride Feel

The ride of the KHS CX 300 is lovely. This is partly due to the easy rolling Kenda tires, but mostly because of a wonderful balance of stiffness and quality of the aluminum frame and the compliant carbon fiber fork and seat post. No annoying vibrations were apparent at the saddle or at the handlebars. Nothing. You can feel the road, but it won't beat you up. This is a bike that I could spend a long day riding, except for the previously mentioned fit issues.

Dirt Test Ride

3
Climbing

The KHS CX 300 is great at climbing on dirt, too, to my delight. Hardpack singletrack and gravel, super soft dirt, either way, no problem. The Kenda Small Block 8 tires rolled really well over the hardpack, and in the soft stuff, after adjusting the air pressure.

Cornering

The KHS CX 300 managed the fast sweeping corners on dirt and gravel nicely, though in all fairness to the bike, I couldn't flog it through the tight switchbacks on our trusty Powell Butte dirt course like I normally would because my feet kept hitting the front tire. That part aside, I enjoy how the sporty geometry including a steep head tube angle and a relatively shorter wheelbase of the CX 300 feels -- very quick yet predictable through last-second line adjustments.

A possible downside to the CX 300's sporty geometry is that I did get some front end chatter on the downhills as I braked hard into a tight corner. This may also be due to the combination of the grabby Avid Shorty 4 brakes and the integrated front brake cable hanger, which has apparently caused issues on other bikes. Another contributing issue may be the lack of tire traction under braking made me skid frequently on the dirt.

Handling

When the trail is relatively flat and tight as you want it (like many cyclocross courses), the KHS CX 300 is quick and agile. And a lot of fun! Once the trail turns downhill, on dirt the CX 300 is good but isn't quite as confidence-inspiring as it is on the road. A grippier set of tires could help a lot, as well as more easily-tuned brakes.

After some headset adjutments and other tuning, my next ride out on the KHS featured some screaming bumpy corners and soft downhills. At race speed, the KHS opened up and felt a lot more solid than while I was putting around worrying about the brakes. The corners felt solid, even though the dirt was deep dust and straw. Surprisingly to me, the Kenda Small Block 8s held much better than I thought they would, perhaps because the dust was so fine.

Ride Feel

The KHS CX 300 is also very comfortable on the dirt. Gravel roads don't beat you up, amazingly for a bike with such sporty geometry. Again, the aluminum frame's stiffness and the compliance of the carbon fiber bits combine for a pleasant ride. The CX 300 doesn't get thrown off line by the bumps, literally, just point it and go. Also, the CX 300 responds very well to wishful thinking... when you get in too hot in a soft corner and you stare hard where you want to go, even though the bike is pointed off course on a slippery off-camber downhill corner, you end up not crashing and powering on through. Fun!

Trainer Test Ride

4
Ride Feel

As expected with the stiff aluminum frame of the KHS CX 300, a trainer warmup before a race was comfortable and rock solid. There was no discernable frame flex at the chainstays or the bottom bracket. Had I bothered to swap out the whole rear wheel with the Kendas to a trainer wheel and slick tire rather than just the skewer, the ride would have been smoother. And quieter. But it was perfectly acceptable, comparable to the vibrations I get on my road bike, and probably due to my trainer, not the CX 300.

Race Test Ride

4

I did get to race this bike! Despite my concerns about the bike being too small, I set up the KHS CX 300 into the pits at a hot, dry, hilly early season 'cross race. After a decent start, the heat and the hills got to me and I wasn't riding very well. So, for fun, I ran into the pits to send in the ready and willing backup who's been waiting to the big chance in the spotlight.

Well, the KHS CX 300 proved more than race ready. I climbed the steep hill than I had to run up on my old cross bike and the other hills were easier. The soft dusty corners were more predictable with fewer almost-washouts. The downhills that had a good runout at the bottom were great, and although I felt the front end chatter it didn't get in the way of the race. It was just a bit annoying.

Is it more than the Kenda Small Block 8s? I rode faster on the CX 300 and was gaining on place or two. Rats! I should have been on this bike in the first place! And I didn't hang up my foot in the wheel once.

We Liked

The KHS CX 300 is a huge improvement over the previous version. It's a proper and appealing full-on race bike that's a hoot to ride. I particularly enjoyed its climbing and cornering capabilities and the lush yet sporty ride feel. I loved the CX 300's unexpectedly wonderful road manners, this would be a potent criterium weapon with some light race wheels and sticky rubber.

I liked the CX 300's light weight, particularly the sleek saddle (if it works for you--it didn't for me but it is as light than my new purebred race saddle) and the good quality Mavic rims. If you are just starting out, these wheels are race ready, and you won't grow out of them quickly. The carbon fiber seat post is a delightful bonus.

And, the price! You sure get a lot of versatility and excitement for your buck.

We Didn't Like

I did not like how the sizing gap prevents the KHS CX 300 from being a true candidate for my personal fleet.

I also didn't like the slight front end chatter and the brakes. I would prefer a brakeset that is more positive in feel and much easier to adjust as your brake pads wear, cables stretch or as general maintenance.

Other quibbles are pretty minor and not by any means deal breakers. I would like to see the cables routed along the top of the top tube rather than the right side. I often use my knees to help steer the bike sometimes, squeezing the top tube to get in an aero tuck, and I move around a lot on the bike. I'd be pretty scratched up at the inside of my right knee if I didn't pay attention. I moved the little rubber bumpers to the middle, so I hit those instead of the exposed cables.

I'd also like to see KHS spend the extra pennies for more grease in the hubs, bottom bracket and I imagine, the headset. Gritty hubs will make a bike's road feel suffer, and a smoothly spinning hub makes a bike feel like a million bucks. Aside from being a potential safety issue, properly lubed BBs pedal easier, and lubed headsets can make the bike handle more positively and may reduce front end vibrations.

Upgrades

I highly recommend having your new KHS CX 300 assembled properly at your trusty local bike shop. While they're putting all those parts together, have them repack all the bearings and moving parts before you even take it for a ride. The parts will last longer and your CX 300 will be much more enjoyable right away.

The KHS CX 300 is race ready out of the box, though to make it more effective, I recommend swapping out the brakes. The SRAM Rival shifters/brake levers will work with a range of high quality brakes that will make all your stopping efforts more comfortable.

Other upgrades would be budget- and preference-based. Though the stock saddle is very light, if it gives you blisters, it's not going to be fun. Swap it out for your favorite, even if it weighs a bit more. And lighter wheels are always bonus, though delightfully for the KHS CX 300, nicer wheels are an option, not a necessity because the stock ones are pretty good.

The Final Say

If the versatile KHS CX 300 fits you, go for it! Shorter riders and many women will appreciate the small sizes, and this bike is a great option for someone who is starting out in cyclocross and wants to work hard to ride well but also wants to do road rides or even a race or two. You won't grow out of the CX 300 quickly. Just make sure you get it assembled properly.

Twisty, dynamic, hilly courses will suit the CX 300 best of all, and you'll have a blast squirting out of the corners and up the hills. Even though the 300 CX doesn't stop quite as well as it goes, the characteristics that make it climb so well will also make it sprint and accelerate well, too. Hole shot anyone?

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