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A Guide to Cyclocross Bikes — Best Option for Ultimate Off-Road Racing

From their early origins until now, cyclocross bikes have not changed much. In fact, road bikes and cyclocross bikes look a lot the same at first glance. Thus, the question arises as to why you should choose cyclocross bikes for off-road racing.

In today’s article, I am addressing exactly this topic – the need for cyclocross bikes. In order to make sure you are clear about the importance, I have added sections such as what’s new in today’s cyclocross bikes, how you can use them in CX races, and most importantly, what’s the difference between cyclocross and gravel bikes. 

Understanding these concepts will give you a clear idea of cyclocross bikes. Aside from that, you can also decide whether or not it is actually necessary or if another bike would be a better fit.  

What are Cyclocross Bikes

Cyclocross Bikes

You might have heard of cyclocross racing. It is different from the track racing we usually see and requires a different kind of bike that can perform on both tracks and is capable of moving through obstacles. 

Cyclocross bikes, often known as CX bikes, are the bikes that are used in cyclocross racing. These bikes are specifically designed for these events and are similar to racing bikes with some changes in their frame. 

They are designed in such a way that it resembles both mountain bikes and racing bikes. The top frame tube in these bikes is nearly straight, while the handlebar position is higher as compared to racing bikes….  Yes

Exploring the Latest Developments in Cyclocross Bikes

The rise in popularity of dirt bikes has had a considerable influence on the appeal of specialist cyclocross bikes. Given the modest market for pure cross bikes, several manufacturers, like Santa Cruz, have decided to either combine their lines or promote a single bike for both gravel and cross. 

In contrast, prominent companies such as Trek and Canyon continue to provide specialist cyclocross racing bikes in addition to their dirt bike options. Cannondale is one of these businesses, offering the SuperSix Evo CX in two configurations: racing cross and gravel. 

After modifying the geometry of their well-liked Crux cyclocross bike, they are now marketing it as both a lightweight gravel bike and a cyclocross-ready bike.

Many larger brands are adopting this strategy as the demand for gravel bikes grows. Riders looking for pure cross-racing bikes will have to shift to smaller brands. However, the majority of riders will be perfectly satisfied with bikes that are marketed as multi-purpose.

All in all, if you look at the new features of cyclocross bikes, you can easily identify two major improvements.

1. More Affordable Materials

In recent years, carbon fiber rides have become more affordable and of higher quality. Carbon fiber is the frame material for mid-range and top-end cyclocross bikes. 

One example is the Giant TCX Advanced Pro 2 with a carbon frame that costs $2,600 for a race-ready version.

2. Modernized Geometry

A large number of bicycle manufacturers keep lowering the bottom bracket height on their models for better all-around handling. There are bikes available from manufacturers like Trek and Cannondale featuring drops between 66mm and 70mm. 

The Canyon Inflite CF SL and Ribble CX SL are two examples of cross bikes in the European design that nonetheless have a traditionally high BB (and more generous pedal clearance).

Getting Started in CX Racing: Essential Tips for Beginner Cyclocross Racers 

The racing world is competitive, and if you want to succeed in it, you must prepare well. Additionally, you need to develop a complete strategy. My experience has taught me some key points that can help you win any CX race with ease. So, let’s talk about my strategy in depth.

1. Join a club

Go through the cycling club websites and choose one suitable for you. Once you’ve joined, the resident CX enthusiast will direct you to races and provide advice on gear and technique. You can train together and share lifts to races.

Many clubs also hold midweek group sessions where you can hone your dismounting, running and remounting skills. 

2. It’s about the bike        

Cyclocross bikes are built for navigating the tight turns of a cross course, not for all-day comfort. They usually have a shorter frame reach (though this is not always the case), a taller bottom bracket to improve ground mud clearance, and plenty of clearance around the wheels to prevent mud buildup. 

They’ll also have knobby cyclocross tires and lower gearing than a road bike. Of course, there is no reason why you cannot compete in cyclocross races on a road bike, especially if it has disc brakes, which offer better braking in the rain and won’t get clogged with mud like standard rim brake calipers. 

A road bike’s geometry is sufficiently similar to a cyclocross bike for it to be more than practical. The greatest gravel bikes can also handle cross-racing superbly because, especially with gravel bikes that are more race-focused, the gap between the two is rather minor. 

Flat-bar bikes are also accepted for local races. This means you can even ride your mountain bike right away as long as the tires are below the legal limit for width.

When competing in cyclocross races, some riders find it advantageous to drop their saddle height by 5 to 7 millimeters since it will make it simpler to move around on the bike, make minor adjustments, and get on and off.

 3. Gear idea

Many cyclocross racers prefer to wear a skinsuit, but a road jersey and bib shorts will suffice. A pair of off-road shoes, however, is required. The best cyclocross shoes, combined with clipless pedals, will significantly improve your performance and enjoyment.

They’re easier to clip into and out of the double-sided pedals, and they’re less likely to become clogged with mud. Some riders may also be able to improve their control on technical terrain if they ride clipped-in.

4. Ring the changes

Although a 2x setup will get you around a cross course with ease, single chainrings are becoming more common at races. They’re a simple and dependable option for rough, chain-rattling terrain, and they’re also easier to maintain.

It is unnecessary to use huge gears when traveling at lower speeds. The use of a 1x crankset with a 40-tooth chainring will enable you to get up steep banks quickly, while the use of an 11-40 ratio will keep you from spinning out on the flat parts of the course. If you do not want to spend a great deal of money on a separate cross bike, you should consider converting your gravel bike into a 1x. 

5. Low and wide

If tires are inflated incorrectly, even the best cyclocross bikes won’t be able to retain momentum and traction through mud and wood.

It is reasonable to start at 30 psi in dry, swift conditions. However, keep in mind that the tire pressure on a bike can vary greatly depending on factors such as skill, weight, and tire tread pattern. 

Wet mud, on the other hand, requires 15 PSI. The maximum width allowed in UCI races and national prize competitions is 33mm. You may use 35mm or 38mm tires in regional competitions in the UK.

Comparing Cyclocross Bikes and Gravel Bikes: Exploring the Key Differences

The gravel category has emerged as one of the brightest lights in the cycling industry in recent years, with brands and consumers alike discovering the potential of wider tires and an exploratory spirit. 

Gravel cycling can take you off the beaten path, limit your interactions with distracted drivers, allow you to tackle a variety of terrain, and also let you float back and forth between on and off-road. That cross-compatibility is a compelling selling point for riders looking to add a new bike to their fleet.

The appeal of the gravel bike isn’t just that it’s a bike to add to your collection; its versatility across surfaces means that many riders are drawn to one as a single bike for all purposes. You don’t have to go back very far to remember another type of bike that was seen in the same way.

Before the gravel category took off, cyclocross bikes filled a similar niche, and when gravel emerged as a distinct category, many people assumed that gravel bikes were the same thing under a different name, cleverly devised by the industry to sell more bikes.

While there are some similarities between gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes, it’s a stretch to say they’re the same thing. Let’s take a closer look at where they intersect and where they diverge. 

1. Comfort & Stiffness

Cyclocross events, as previously noted, are made up of relatively short (30 to 90 minutes) high-intensity efforts that include constant severe braking into turns followed by quick accelerations and loops after torturous laps. 

As a result, cyclocross bikes are often constructed with a sturdier chassis to optimize the rider’s pedaling force and direct every last watt towards forward movement. After all, every second matters in a race. However, this might result in an incredibly rigid bike.

Some riders especially want a rigid frame with lots of road or dirt input, while others do not. As a result, the majority of gravel bikes feature more comfort-oriented construction. 

For example, carbon layups and unique tube shapes work together to mitigate the effects of vibrations and big hits from the dirt, resulting in a more comfortable riding experience over the course of a long ride on tarmac, gravel, dirt, and every other surface. 

Now that we’ve discussed the five most fundamental distinctions between a gravel bike and a cyclocross bike, let’s return to our initial question: Isn’t it feasible to use one of the bikes for both gravel riding and cyclocross racing? In a nutshell, you can. 

Cyclists frequently haul out their cyclocross bike for their favorite gravel road ride, and in a pinch, a gravel bike will get you to the cyclocross course’s finish line.

However, as you may have deduced from the preceding information, cyclocross bikes are best suited for cyclocross racing, whereas gravel bikes are a much more versatile option for various types of mixed-surface riding. 

If you can only have one, we recommend that you consider all of the different types of riding you intend to do this season and prioritize accordingly. Whatever type of bike you choose, we guarantee you’ll have a good time getting dirty. 

2. Geometry

The biggest difference between a cyclocross bike and a gravel bike is its geometry. Cyclocross bikes are built for racing on cyclocross courses, which might contain dirt, sand, rocks, and even snow. 

They also contain run-up parts that racers must dismount, as well as hurdles that must be hopped over by dismounting or bunny-hopping. As a result, the bottom bracket height of a cyclocross bike is greater than that of a gravel bike or even a road cycle. 

A cyclocross bike also has shorter chainstays and a lower stack height than a gravel bike, resulting in a more aggressive riding posture and far more nimble handling.

Because the constraints of a cyclocross racetrack are so narrow, riders must slow down rapidly, roll into a tight bend, and then rocket up to speed quickly—a procedure that must be performed numerous times throughout a race.

Riding on open gravel roads, or even a combination of paved and off-road terrain does not often entail such frequent, tight turns and rapid accelerations. This style of riding also does not need the rider to get off his or her bike. 

It does, however, involve far longer segments of the road where the cyclist will be traveling at faster speeds for longer periods of time. A gravel bike is substantially more stable than a cyclocross bike because of its larger wheelbase, longer chainstays, and lower bottom bracket height. 

Again, gravel bikes are generally designed for versatility and comfort over the course of an all-day riding adventure, so they have a taller stack height to allow for a more upright riding position.

3. Gearing

As we described above too, a cyclocross race is a very short but extremely hard effort. The gearing needs of each racecourse will vary, but in general, a cyclocross bike does not require as many gears as a gravel bike or even a road cycle. 

A 46/36 chainring combination with an 11-36 cassette or something similar is the most common gearing arrangement for a cyclocross race bike.

This allows the cyclist to maintain a consistent pedaling speed and power during the high-intensity exertion of racing while reducing gear hops to guarantee smooth and precise shifting. 

A 46-tooth chainring may appear tiny to experienced road bikers at first but keep in mind that the highest speeds of the cyclocross race course are lower than those of a regular road or gravel ride.

The world is your playground when it comes to gravel riding, so you’re not limited to the areas between the cyclocross racetrack’s boundary tape. This means you may ride over any terrain, including short, sharp ascents as well as long, sinuous ascents, just like on a road bike. 

Hard-packed soil, loose sand, and everything in between will be included in off-road riding. That’s why gravel bikes often feature a broad gear range, allowing you to not only tackle any climb but also have enough stamina for a long descent back home or a fun yet competitive sprint with your buddies. 

For 1x drivetrains, expect a chainring with 38 to 42 teeth and a cassette with an 11-42 spread or something close (bikes with a single chainring). Popular dirt bike chainring combinations for 2x drivetrains include 50/34 and 48/32, which are typically combined with 11-34 or comparable cassettes.

4. Storage Solutions 

A cyclocross race usually lasts 30-90 minutes and is very intense riding. So the cyclist does not need to carry the equipment they usually carry for road or gravel riding. These include, for example, a kit to change a flat tire, food, and water. 

For a lighter chassis and higher speed, a cyclocross bike eschews the storage elements that hold these components. It’s all about getting to the podium!

A gravel bike, on the other hand, has plenty of storage space for the rider to carry groceries, fluids, tools, spare tubes, and anything else a rider might need during a long day on the saddle – especially if they find themselves off the saved track. 

Also, gravel bikes often include rack and fender mounts, adding to their versatility for work and wet-weather riding.

5. Wheel & Tire Sizes

The de facto cyclocross wheel size is 700c and will fit most road bikes. Some bike manufacturers sell bikes with 650c wheels to accommodate smaller riders, but most companies have modernized their bike geometry so every rider can use 700c wheels. 

Cyclocross races sanctioned by the UCI, the global governing body of the sport, require bicycle tires to be no wider than 33mm. However, for events not sanctioned by the UCI, regulations regarding tire size restrictions vary by country or federation. 

In fact, most local events are likely not UCI sanctioned, so we highly recommend checking with your racing league to see what tire size restrictions apply. 

Most bike manufacturers optimize their cyclocross wheel performance to the 33mm standard, regardless of different local regulations. As a result, most cyclocross frames can only fit tires up to 33mm in diameter.

Gravel riding is all about exploring, having fun, and chasing sunsets on any imaginable terrain, so most gravel bikes are designed with versatility in mind. The most common wheel size for gravel bikes is 700c. 

However, some gravel bikes, such as the Breed, are designed with dual wheel compatibility so they can roll on  700c or  650b wheels. This means that buying a bike like the Breed basically means buying two bikes in one. 

The 700c wheels usually have clearance for tires up to 2mm or so. 650b wheels, on the other hand, have the smallest circumference, which allows the use of wider tires, usually around 50.8mm (common on many hardtail mountain bikes). 

The wider tires combined with his 650b wheels provide better traction, especially in muddy and rocky terrain.

Top 5 Best Cyclocross Bikes for All Levels of Riders

There are all excellent Cyclocross bike options, but it’s important to remember that the “best” bike for you ultimately depends on your specific needs and preferences. 

Each of these bikes has its own set of features and benefits, and it’s best to test-ride them before making a decision. When choosing a Cyclocross bike, it’s also a good idea to consider budget, intended use, and desired features (such as tire clearance, frame material, and components).

1.Cannondale SuperX Apex

The Cannondale SuperX Apex is a high-end cyclocross bike built for racing and aggressive riding. The bike has a lightweight carbon fiber frame and fork that allows for easy maneuverability and a responsive ride. 

The SRAM Apex 1x drivetrain offers precise and efficient shifting, allowing you to maintain speed and momentum even on difficult terrain. Furthermore, the hydraulic disc brakes provide exceptional stopping power, which is critical for racing and aggressive riding. 

The “OutFront” geometry of the bike provides stability and control, allowing riders to maintain speed and control while descending steep slopes and navigating technical terrain. 

Overall, the Cannondale SuperX Apex is an excellent choice for experienced riders seeking a high-performance bike capable of meeting the demands of racing and aggressive riding.

2. Specialized CruX Expert

It’s a tough and versatile cyclocross bike that’s great for racing and training. The bike has a lightweight carbon frame and fork for a smooth and responsive ride.  

The Shimano Ultegra 2x drivetrain provides smooth and efficient shifting, allowing you to keep your speed and momentum on any terrain. The hydraulic disc brakes provide consistent stopping power, which is critical for racing and training. 

The bike’s “Rider-First Engineered” design ensures consistent performance across all frame sizes, providing riders of all shapes and sizes with a comfortable and efficient ride. 

Overall, the Specialized CruX Expert is an excellent choice for riders seeking a versatile and durable bike capable of handling a wide range of riding styles and terrain.

3. Boardman CXR 9.2

It is a high-performance cyclocross bike built for racing and fast riding. The bike has a lightweight carbon frame and fork for a fast and responsive ride. The SRAM Force 1x drivetrain provides precise and efficient shifting, allowing you to maintain speed and momentum even on difficult terrain. 

The hydraulic disc brakes offer exceptional stopping power, which is critical for racing and fast-paced riding. The airframe design of the bike reduces drag and improves aerodynamics, allowing riders to maintain speed and control in any condition. 

Overall, the Boardman CXR 9.2 is an excellent choice for experienced riders seeking a high-performance bike capable of meeting the demands of racing and fast-paced riding.

4. Ribble CX SL Pro

It is a lightweight and flexible cyclocross bike that is ideal for racing, training, and adventure riding. For a quick and responsive ride, the bike sports a lightweight carbon fiber frame and fork. 

Shimano Ultegra 2x gearboxes provide smooth and efficient shifting, allowing you to retain speed and momentum on any terrain. Hydraulic disc brakes offer constant stopping force, which is critical for racing, training, and adventure. 

Riders may utilize different tire sizes to meet their riding demands because the bike offers a wide variety of tire alternatives, making it a versatile choice for varied riding styles and terrains. 

Overall, the Ribble CX SL Pro is an excellent choice for riders seeking a lightweight and adaptable bike capable of handling a broad range of riding styles and terrain.

5. Trek Crockett 7

The all-aluminum Crockett frame is paired with an IsoSpeed carbon fork, one of Trek’s more tried-and-true designs that adds just enough flex and stability to the ride. 

The bike is outfitted with SRAM’s Force 1 groupset, but Trek has swapped out the cranks for Praxis Albas and a narrow, wide, direct-mount 40-tooth chainring. 

Trek’s in-house component brand, Bontrager, handles the rest of the bike’s kit. The Crockett has the feel of a taut race bike, but the 72-degree head angle and 73.6-degree seat angles make it comfortable almost anywhere. 

The Crockett’s low 8.6kg weight is impressive for an almost all-alloy bike, and it will make you consider the relative advantages of more exotic frame materials.

The Takeaway — Cyclocross Bicycles

The similarities between cyclocross bikes and road bikes are undeniable. But there are definitely some features (as discussed above) that make this bike unique for off-road racing. 

Finally, I hope this article helped you understand whether cyclocross bikes are right for you or not. If you still have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments. It will be my pleasure to answer your questions.

Cyclocross Bikes — Frequently Asked Questions

Is a cyclocross bike good for road riding?

Cyclocross bikes are ideal for road riding, especially when racing. They have all of the components necessary for efficient riding, but they also have a smaller frame for improved handling and control. 

Cyclocross bikes are frequently built with a lighter and faster cyclocross frame design than other types of bicycles.

What is a cyclocross bike good for?

Cyclocross bikes are heavier than road bikes and have more fenders because they are designed for riding in adverse conditions. CX bike wide rims allow them to handle better in deep ruts, allowing you to complete a full road ride without stopping. 

Cyclocross bikes aren’t just for road riders; they’re also great for mountain biking, especially if you live in a hilly or rough terrain area. They are also ideal for beginners because they provide a more forgiving riding experience at lower speeds than other bikes.

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Hey Folks! I’m Jacob. I am a passionate, adventurous cyclist and my biking philosophy is to have fun, I felt the need to share my knowledge and learn more about bikes. I always ensure I adhere to all road rules. I hope that you will give biking a try. It’s a great way to get fit and have fun.

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