Your Guide to Cyclocross and the Best Cyclocross Bikes

Cyclescheme, 16.08.2017

Your Guide to Cyclocross and the Best Cyclocross Bikes

A drop-handlebar bike designed for racing around muddy winter fields isn’t the obvious choice for commuting - but it is a good one.

The arrival of disc brakes on cyclocross race bikes (following a decision in 2010 by the sport’s governing body, the UCI) also fuelled a rise in the popularity of cyclocross bikes as buyers warmed to the possibility of powerful and faff-free braking in all weather conditions.

Manufacturers have responded to this awakening by tweaking the kinds of bikes they offer to suit how riders use them, often giving them new labels such as “adventure” or “gravel” bikes to flag up the differences.

Cynics might say that what we are really seeing is an update on the traditional touring bike, and they may be on to something. Whatever you want to call them, this is a class of bicycle that will do the weekly commute with style, but can also earn its keep at the weekend with a little light touring, road riding, bridleway exploration or even, if you fancied it, an actual cyclocross race.


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Cyclocross Bikes vs Road Bikes

Cyclocross bikes are essentially road bikes redesigned for off-road racing (however there’s no reason you can’t use a cyclocross bike as a road bike). That hybridisation has had some happy consequences.

Compared to a road bike, a cyclocross bike typically has:

  • Fatter tyres
  • Bigger frame clearances
  • Better brakes
  • Lower gears
  • A slightly more upright riding position

All these are positives for commuting – never mind the fact that almost all cyclocross bikes under £1,000 have eyelets for mudguards and a luggage rack.

Cyclocross bikes cost from about £500 and go up from there, with more choice as you approach 4 figures. All bikes at those prices will have a frame made of lightweight, butted aluminium tubes. The fork may be all-aluminium or, to save weight, carbon fibre fork blades on an aluminium steerer tube. The frame and fork will be designed with bigger clearances so there's room for 32mm or wider tyres, even when they're covered in mud. This also means that there will be ample room for mudguards.

Cyclocross bikes use 700C wheels, like road bikes and most hybrids. Unlike some spindly road wheels, 'cross wheels tend to have 32 spokes for durability. The rims are a little wider too, in order to accommodate those fatter tyres. Cyclocross tyres have a knobbled tread for off-road grip. These create extra drag on tarmac, so for commuting it's more efficient to use a street or touring tyre in the same width – for example, Schwalbe Marathon or Continental Contact.

Cyclocross bikes always used to use cantilever brakes, in which a yoke pulls wide-profile brake arms onto the rim. Many still do. Cantilevers don't hug the tyre like a sidepull brake, so don't clog with mud or restrict the fitting of a mudguard. These days many 'cross bikes come with mechanical disc brakes such as Avid's BB5 or Tektro's Lyra.

These are a bit heavier than cantilevers, but they work better if the wheel rim gets wet, muddy or bent, and they don't slowly abrade the rim like cantilevers. For commuting, they're a definite step forward. Discs don't limit mudguard room either, although the mudguard stays may need bending around the calliper.

Cyclocross bikes require lower gears than road bikes to suit the slower off-road speeds. Since road bike gears are arguably too high for anyone but racers, that's good news for commuters too. The 8- or 9-speed cassette will have a wider range than the 12-25 you might find on a road bike; 11-28 or 11-30 is more common. The bigger the cassette goes the better, as that means lower gears for climbing. While cyclocross chain sets with smaller chainrings exist, on 'cross bikes under £1,000, you'll usually get a standard road compact double or road triple.

We receive a lot of questions about cyclocross bikes, so we’ve done our best to answer a few of the most common ones below.


 

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How Much do Cyclocross Bikes Weigh, and Can You Use Cyclocross Bikes for Commuting?

Weight is important when it comes to cycling, especially when you commute. If you have to use public transport and cycle, you’ll want a bike that’s going to be light and manoeuvrable. On top of that, a light bike is easier to cycle uphill on, and if you’re going to be cycling to and from work five times a week, having a lighter bike will just make your life that bit easier.

The average ‘cross bike weighs around 8 kilos. You can get lighter models, although 8 kilograms is certainly light enough for all your commuting needs. If you also plan to ride for sport in your spare time, a lighter bike is a smart purchase.

How Durable are Cyclocross Bikes?

Cyclocross bikes frequently defy expectations of how tough they are. This is largely because they resemble a road bike more than a mountain bike, and it’s expected that they will struggle with rough terrain. However, they are more than sturdy enough for most trails.

They may not survive a course designed for downhill bikes, but you can do more on your cyclocross than you might expect.

How Fast are Cyclocross Bikes?

Cyclocross bikes are deceptively fast. Depending on what level you are at, the pace of a cyclocross bike can be indistinguishable to a road bike. If you’re just starting out or just cycle for commuting, then you will probably achieve the same speed on a ‘cross bike as a road bike. If you cycle competitively, you will probably notice that road bikes have the edge on ‘cross bikes when it comes to pace.

Why are Cyclocross Bikes so Expensive?

‘Cross bikes do typically cost more than their counterparts. This can often stop people from taking the leap. We think their higher price tags are completely justified on account of the fact that you essentially get three bikes in one: a road bike, a touring bike, and an off-road bike.

If you were to buy a high quality version of all three bikes, it would cost you far more than one good cyclocross bike. With our salary-sacrifice scheme, you can pay for a top-quality cyclocross in monthly instalments, and you’ll save money on the overall cost.

The Best Cyclocross Bikes

We’re going to round up some of the best cyclocross bikes available at the moment that you can get at a reduced price through our cycle to work scheme.

Best Cyclocross Bike Under £500

VooDoo Limba

It’s rare to find a cyclocross bike under £500 but they do exist. This one has an aluminium frame and steel fork, both with the fittings you want for commuting. Gearing is 2x8-speed, using Shimano ST-2400 integrated brake and gear levers and featuring typical road bike ratios. The brake are budget mechanical discs from Tektro, while the wheels are chunky 35mm Kenda tyres that will cope with a range of surfaces.

voodoo limba cyclocross bike 

Available on Cyclescheme via Cycle Republic.

RRP: £425

 

Lower rate taxpayer

Higher rate taxpayer

RRP

£425

£425

Cyclescheme price

(inc. ‘Own it later’ fee)

£301.75

£259.25

 

Best Cyclocross Bikes Under £1000

Marin Nicasio

The Nicasio’s frame and fork are slender because they’re chrome-moly steel, which is a little heavier than aluminium but able to take a few knocks. Frame and fork are rack and mudguard ready, and although fitted with 30mm tyres there’s room for up to 40mm. Gearing is 2x8 Shimano, using Shimano Claris integrated shifters; they’re a step up from ST-2400. A square taper bottom bracket offers old school reliability, while the brakes are budget Promax mechanical discs.

 marin nicasio cyclocross bike

Available on Cyclescheme via Marin retailers.

RRP: £700

 

Lower rate taxpayer

Higher rate taxpayer

RRP

£700

£700

Cyclescheme price

(inc. ‘Own it later’ fee)

£525

£455


Trek CrossRip 1
 

Pitched more as a do-anything bike than a cyclocross bike per se, the entry-level CrossRip has an aluminium frame and fork with all the necessary eyelets; it will even take a front rack. The gearing is another step up the groupset hierarchy: 2x9 Shimano Sora, equipped with a slightly smaller (48-32) chainset that’s an improvement for real-world riding. Both pistons of the TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes move so they’ll need adjusting less often, and the wheel rims are tubeless tyre ready.

 Trek CrossRip 1

Available on Cyclescheme via Trek retailers

RRP: £850

 

Lower rate taxpayer

Higher rate taxpayer

RRP

£850

£850

Cyclescheme price

(inc. ‘Own it later’ fee)

£637.50

£552.50


Genesis Vapour CX10
 

It will take mudguards and a rear rack, and its auxiliary bar-top brake levers are just as handy in traffic, but the Vapour CX10 sticks closer to its cyclocross roots than its commuter-focused Genesis Day One stablemates. An aluminium frame and carbon fork reduces the weight further for better performance off-road. It’s equipped with 2x9 Shimano Sora, again with a smaller (46-34) chainset for a more practical spread of gears. Tyres are 33mm.

 Genesis Vapour CX10

Available on Cyclescheme via Genesis retailers.

RRP: £899.99

 

Lower rate taxpayer

Higher rate taxpayer

RRP

£899

£899

Cyclescheme price

(inc. ‘Own it later’ fee)

£674.99

£584.35

 

Cannondale CAADX Tiagra

Looking like a race-ready cyclocross bike, the CAADX Tiagra nevertheless makes a nod to utility use. There are mudguard mounts and a removable seat-stay bridge on the aluminium frame, and the carbon fork has hidden eyelets too. Gearing is another step up: 2x10 Shimano Tiagra, with a 46-36 chainset designed for ’cross racers but handy for any cyclist annoyed by the traditional compact double’s cadence gap. The 35mm cyclocross tyres will buzz a bit on tarmac.

 

 Cannondale CAADX Tiagra

 

Available on Cyclescheme via Cannondale retailers.

RRP: £999.99

 

Lower rate taxpayer

Higher rate taxpayer

RRP

£999

£999

Cyclescheme price

(inc. ‘Own it later’ fee)

£749.99

£649.35

 


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