Built for racing off-road but also perfect for the year-round commute, cyclocross bikes are incredibly versatile – combining the fun of gravel and dirt with all the benefits of a road bike set-up. Cyclocross – also known as CX or ’cross – is a truly inclusive sport with an increasing number of events on the calendar to inject more drop-bar enjoyment into the winter months. CX bikes are super adaptable, also providing access to bike-packing style adventures, making them a great investment.
CX bikes can look as racy as their tarmac-loving counterparts – but there’s a crucial difference; while their wheels match a road bike’s rim circumference at 700c, their tyre size allowance sets them apart. Wider tyres with more tread provide more grip to keep you rubber side down on gravel and mud which; when combined with aggressive race geometry, makes CX bikes race-ready in any condition.
Cyclocross racing features ‘shouldering’; the unique practice of dismounting, slinging your bike over your shoulder and running with it to overcome non-rideable obstacles throughout the race. There’s nothing else like it in bike racing, and for this reason in particular, you’ll want a lightweight frame.
Aluminium is your weight-saving material of choice if you’re on a budget, and Cannondale’s CAADX Tiagra is a superb example of good value-meets-quality alloy. At under 10kg, it’s light for its price tag, £999, while internal cable routing combined with a 2×11 drivetrain and excellent handling also contribute to making this a great CX starter.
Carbon is pricier, but has the edge on alloy in both responsiveness and weight-saving, although that step-up comes at a hike in price as well as specification.
THE KIT YOU NEED
In wet race conditions you need brakes with excellent stopping power; and CX bikes are generally kitted out with disc brakes to deliver accordingly. These are either cheaper, mechanical (cable operated) systems or hydraulic (with a sealed, fluid system), which offers better, more consistent performance, and usually notches up the price, too.
The Specialized CruX Sport E5, at £1,750 is a great sub-£2,000 option (check out more CX/gravel bikes in this range here) with hydraulics, bolstered with quality Shimano 105 componentry. Also featuring aggressive geometry with its short stem and steep head tube angle, this is an all-round performer made for CX racing.
A groupset you can rely on season-round is a must – parts that perform in challenging conditions deliver peace of mind so you can focus on the ride and, investing in a good groupset will not only help win the race, but also stand the wet, muddy test of time. While more budget delivers better component performance, some set-ups offer great value for money. The Cube Cross Race, available for £999, runs Shimano 105, considered to be the first performance option in Shimano’s range. And with a light, stiff frame, it combines quality parts with German design rooted in off-road riding.
With cyclocross builds around the £1000 mark, the spec tends to seek out the best frame and groupset that the price point can deliver, so upgrading wheels later on is an easy way to save weight along the line – and it can be done at any time. A sub-£1,000 price also makes bikes eligible for the government’s Cycle To Work scheme, a tax efficient way to buy your next bike.
Given the multiple uses that a cyclocross bike offers, it’s worth considering additions to make your ’cross bike your new ticket to adventure. With a pair of slick tyres to make road rides smoother and bike bags big enough to carry a little luggage, with a CX bike the world really is your oyster.