What is a Cyclocross bike?
Cyclocross bikes are drop handlebar, fat-tire road bikes specifically designed for muddy off-road racing.
However, due to the wide tires, ruggedness, and comfortable yet fast riding position, this style of bike is extremely capable and can be put to many different uses.
From everyday commuting and weekend camping to light off-road and long-distance touring.
Bikes in the Cyclocross category can be everything from highly tuned race machines to multi-use workhorses more tuned for the beginner than the veteran.
How does a novice cyclist decide which Cyclocross bike to spend their money on? Look no further than this buyer’s guide to a small selection of Cyclocross bikes around the $2000 price point.
We want to make sure that you can identify which end of the scale a cyclocross bike might be more suited to. We will offer an easy entry into a category of bikes which can be a minefield for the uninitiated.
Some terms to know.
These are a few terms which you will come across in this article which may need further explanation.
- Cyclocross is a cross between road racing and mountain biking. Competitors race laps around a course featuring a variety of surfaces (pavement, grass, sand, gravel, dirt, etc.) while negotiating a number of obstacles that may require them to dismount and remount their bicycles. Races last from 30 minutes to 1 hour and are often completed in the winter season when road racing is off.
- Tire/mud clearance refers to the space between the frame and the tire, this clearance allows the rider to continue even when mud begins to build up.
- Disk brakes A disc brake is a type of brake that uses calipers to squeeze pairs of pads against a disc or rotor to create friction This action slows the wheels efficiently in all conditions. These began as mountain bike brakes since their power was not affected when wet, meaning they are now perfect for Cyclocross.
- Hydraulic disk. This term refers to the means of transferring the riders brake input to the caliper. Hydraulic brakes use brake fluid which is an efficient and weather-proof means of braking.
- Cable disk. Similar to a standard bicycle brake, these are operated by pulling a metal cable which means they are less powerful and more prone to rust, not ideal in wet and muddy conditions.
- Finishing kit refers to the handlebar, Seatpost, saddle and other additional items making up a complete bike outside of the wheels, gears, drivetrain, and frame.
- Tubular rims/tires (Tubs) These rims do not have the normal hook attachment for tires and rely on glue (or specific tape) to hold a tire/innertube combo in place. They provide excellent traction and allow low pressures to be used. The gold star for Cyclocross.
What do you NEED?
The first thing to consider when buying a bike or anything else for that matter is to understand what you want to get from the purchase.
In terms of a Cyclocross bike, your needs will determine which model you should buy and will help you to enjoy your purchase for longer.
For example, if you need to commute on this bike and want to race on the weekends casually then you will need to aim for a bike that has mudguard mount points. You won’t enjoy the bike if it doesn’t perform where it is used the most.
Similarly, if you want a race-ready Cyclocross bike and purchase something that has six bottle-cage mount points but doesn’t have enough mud clearance then you will be similarly disappointed.
With all that in mind, here are some Cyclocross and similar bikes to consider on your hunt.
Cannondale CAADX 1 2021
$1850 available from Rei.com
The Cannondale CAADX has a long history of quality from this high-end manufacturer. The Alloy frame is as good as any at this price point and will serve you well.
The complete bike weighs 22lb without pedals so is around where you will want for a starter cyclocross racing bike. The full carbon fork with tapered steerer is a nice touch and this will make sure the handling is responsive on the race track.
The bike comes equipped with Shimano GRX throughout which is considered the work-horse of the Shimano range. This seems to be how most bikes at this price will be equipped so the CAADX can’t be faulted there. The inclusion of hydraulic brakes is a very nice addition and this is the cheapest we will see those included.
The CAADX is a little confused as to its intended use though, the cranks feature a 46 and 30 tooth chainring which offers great gear selection but will not function well on the race track as mud fills the front mecIt’shanism.
The 46 tooth top ring will likely remain unused except by commuters who will find rear mudguard mount points but none on the front!
The CAADX has some fairly underwhelming finishing kit and the overall design of the bike graphics are dated in my opinion.
The price on the Cannondale CAADX is very appealing especially with those included brakes but its not easy to choose this bike since it doesn’t do everything a racer or a commuter/ tourer would need.
It’s not a bad bike by any means and will certainly offer a great ride to many but with more comprehensive choices on the market, it’s not our choice.
Great for those who have maxed out their budget to $1850. Also, consider the 2019 version which can be found on sale here for just
$1344 but be aware this doesn’t include the hydraulic brakes that were so awesome on the 2020 model.
When you hear the word Cinelli, you probably think of high-end Italian road bikes, or tricked out fixed gears racing in the Red Hook Crit. But what if we told you Cinelli also makes a sweet cyclocross bike, and that it is also under $2,000? Does it sound too good to be true? Well, it is not! Let’s break down what the Zydeco offers, and why it might be the right choice for you.
The Cinelli Zydeco is marketed as a gravel bike, but it definitely will still shine on the cyclocross course. It is constructed from triple-butted “Airplane” aluminum made by Columbus, a company that makes high-quality bicycle tubing for all sorts of bikes.
The Zydeco features internal cable routing, which makes the bike’s lines appear cleaner, and also prevents the cables from getting in the way when you are carrying the bike if you are jumping over an obstacle or running it up a steep hill. It comes with mechanical disc brakes, but you are able to upgrade the disc brakes to hydraulic in the future if you would like.
The frame’s geometry is designed to make the Zydeco feel more aggressive than your standard run-of-the-mill gravel bike, which is what makes it perfect for a cyclocross bike. You will be able to throw this bike into the corners and rocket out of the turns with solid acceleration.
The paint job really looks sweet on the bike, which is great because after a ride there’s nothing better than looking at, and appreciating, your fine-tuned racing machine.
Cinelli has had a long-standing association with speed and quality, and we think you will find both of these characteristics in the Zydeco. If you are interested in purchasing the Cinelli Zydeco, you can do so on Amazon.
Trek Crocket 5 Disk 2020
$2399 Available from Trekbikes.com
Let’s just say it now, the Trek Crocket 5 is more expensive than $2000 so it shouldn’t really be included here. The Crocket 4 is available for $1680 but this suffers from being built to do cyclocross, gravel, and commuting, so is a jack of all trades, master of none.
The Crocket 5, however, is the first truly excellent cyclocross specific bike in the range. The 2019 version is currently available at just $1999 so perhaps this s a choice for those who can’t find the extra money.
The Crocket 5 from Trek is an excellent bike, the frame is of the highest quality aluminum and is finished extremely well with smooth welds and beautiful paint.
The complete bike weighs just 19.5lb so you will never feel that the bike is holding you back when you race this bike.
There are mudguard mount points but these are removable so you need not carry them whilst racing. Another nice touch is the quick remove bottle cage which means you can take this bike for long rides in the week and remove the cages to save weight on race day.
The 1x 11 drivetrain has a cyclocross heritage as this makes the bike much more likely to see the finish line in the event of a muddy day, but doesn’t hamper the overall range of the gears. (just the amount of)
The finishing kit on the Trek is beautiful and will not let you down. The only downside to this bike is that for those looking for a do-everything bike, this is not it.
The High bottom bracket (280mm) and head angle show that this bike is made for cyclocross eevn if the Trek website advertising says otherwise.
The only other downside is that price tag, get one at the end of the season or grab a 2019 bike while they are still in stock to attack the cyclocross scene asap.
Raleigh Tamland 1
$1999 Available from RaleighUSA.com
Raleigh may conjure up 1960’s British bikes for some but Raleigh has made a bit of a come back recently with some excellent bikes to suit any need. The Tamland 1 is a steel bike which means that it is not going to get you to the top of the podium at a cyclocross race.
Now that that has been said if you want to try some cross racing but wish to spend the rest of the time (the majority) commuting, touring or gravel riding then the Tamland may be the best bike for you. The steel frame adds weight but offers a level of comfort and surefootedness that an aluminum bike cannot.
Steel is also likely to last a lot longer than an aluminum bike and will retain its ride feel when Aluminum has lost theirs. The Tamland has mounts for every conceivable addition from bottle cages to low rider front panniers.
The wheels on the Tamland 1 are a standout high-quality inclusion with a pair of HED Tomcat sealed bearing wheels.
The frame features bolt through axles on both front and rear which really shows how much thought Raleigh has put into this, they will offer excellent steering response and stiffen up the usually wavy feel associated with the rear of a (quick release) steel bike.
It would have been nice to see a hydraulic brake included on this model but alas we have a nice pair of cable operated disks instead. This omission is likely due to the extra costs associated with building in steel now that Aluminum is so cheap to manufacture.
Overall the Tamland 1 could be a good but casual way to dip your toe into the world of cyclocross whilst having a bike that really can do everything, albeit slowly.
A large portion of the budget on this bike goes into the excellent frame and fork which will serve for years to come if you can put up with the weight penalty it charges.
Orange RX9 S
$1688 Available from Aventuron.com
Orange has a long history of building excellent quality full suspension mountain bikes from sheet aluminum. This bike is neither made from sheet aluminum nor is it a mountain bike, so can it be any good? The RX9 S is specifically marketed with no pigeonholing such as cyclocross, gravel or touring.
This is a little vague, to say the least, and hints at the fact that Orange don’t make specific bikes for all of these categories. They make just the RX9 so have had to compromise in its construction.
As a cyclocross bike, it wins in some areas such as the bolt-through front and rear wheels but lets us down in others such as the lower than ideal bottom bracket height (for cyclocross).
The sizes offered by Orange may not suit everyone as the choices are small, medium or large and not the 2cm increments of larger companies.
This is a big issue since this is essentially a road seating position and should be as close to perfectly fitted as possible. Some body-types simply won’t fit this bike so be careful when the store suggests you buy a medium.
The bad news continues as the bike weighs more than the other aluminum bikes seen here and the groupset lags behind in the value department.
It really seems like this bike is designed to suit gravel/bike-packing riders and then vague marketing seems like a cheeky way to make some sales from unsuspecting cyclocross buyers.
The good sides for the Orange RX9 S are that it has a full complement of rack and mudguard mounts and really can be used on any terrain.
The RX9 is cheaper than other bikes on the review but is supplied with cable operated disks and lower quality components elsewhere too.
Don’t expect this bike to win-out in any category versus a specialist like the Trek but also don’t knock the stability that this bike will offer when hitting the really bumpy stuff.
Orange knows how to make a bike handle off-road and this is no exception. There are style points to be had for owning a small British company’s bike for the hipsters out there if that floats your boat.
If you want only one bike to use for all styles then this may be the bike for you if you can get one to fit that is.
Specialized Crux E5
When you think of high-quality bikes Specialized must always be considered among the top-ten in any category. The Crux E5 is no exception to this rule.
The Crux is a great looking bike in our eyes and has subtle hints of quality throughout. This is however aimed at those looking to get into cyclocross racing in a big way.
The Crux E5 knows its intended use and has had its components cleverly chosen to reflect this. A large portion of the speed and maneuverability on a cyclocross race bike comes from using Tubular rims and tires, these are specific rims and tires used for racing and would most commonly exist on race only wheels.
Specialized have therefore spent the least money in this build on the wheelset since they fully expect the user to purchase another set for racing.
There are positives and negatives to this action. On the plus side, the rest of the components on the Crux E5 are excellent.
From the excellent Praxis cranks and the SRAM 1×11 drivetrain to the Sram hydraulic disk brakes. The negative side is that the wheels supplied with the bike are a touch sub-par.
The fork and frame use a standard quick-release skewer for attachment which is a bit of a let down since a modern bolt through would have offered a stiffer more secure attachment.
The lifespan of a set of wheels may only be a few years (especially in cyclocross) so this isn’t a bad choice but it does mean that there is likely a large additional purchase looming after spending nearly $2K on the Crux.
The Quality of the frame, fork and finishing kit are excellent as are the after-sales and warranty procedures from Specialized. The weight was not listed so we can’t comment but suspect it to be a bit heavier than the Trek.
Overall its an extremely nice cyclocross bike designed to suit the rider who knows what they are getting into and either already has race wheels or is prepared to do so.
Going back to the start of this article, know what you need and want your bike to do before you attempt to make a decision.
I can find reasons why each bike might suit a slightly different niche of cyclocross rider with different experiences and different ideas about how their fun in the sport is to be had.
I for instance once rode a single speed cyclocross bike in a race series just to see if I could finish NOT LAST, and I had fun doing it.
Others will want to win races and won’t want their bikes to be the reason that they didn’t. Set yourself a budget for the bike but don’t be afraid to break the budget to get everything you want.
Upgrading a bike after the initial purchase to bring it up to what you wish you had bought will be a much more costly experience in the long run.
If you are starting out cyclocross you will need that extra money for your new race wheels pretty soon.
My name is David Mckinven AKA Wheels of Karma. Bikes have been my life and have taken me to rural Africa as a bike mechanic teacher, Dubai as the SBC workshop manager and to work for as long as I care to remember.
I have written for Cyclist magazine and a host of online publications. I truly believe that bikes can save our planet and that small changes will make all the difference.