How to convert a cyclocross bike for gravel or road use
As cyclocross season winds down, our attention turns to Spring riding - maybe one of the increasingly popular gravel events like Redlands Strada Rossa, Dirty Kanza; or group road rides, and so on. Riding your cyclocross bike in the "off season" in these types of events is a great way to stay in touch with the fit and handling of your race machine - but the components and setup that are ideal for cyclocross won't be for other types of riding.
But don't hang up your 'cross bike just yet - with some quick changes you can easily modify it to be better suited for these types of events. Here are some easy, economical, and fast tweaks you can use to transform your cyclocross bike into a gravel slayer.
Expand the range of your drivetrain
Cyclocross demands an intense effort for a short period of time. As a result, you can use a drivetrain that doesn't have much range, instead optimizing for smaller gaps between each gear. You might even have a single chainring "1x" drivetrain on your 'cross bike, which really helps ease of maintenance and simplicity.
For gravel rides that can take 4+ hours, however, you're going to want a rider range drivetrain. Riders using 1x setups might wish to switch to a compact road double crankset instead. You'll have a top end that allows you to keep up in a pack on the road, while still retaining low gears for multi-hour grinds.
If you don't want to mess with a crankset change, using a wider-range cassette works too. Devices like the Wolftooth Goatlink or Roadlink can help you push beyond what would normally be the largest cog that works for your rear derailleur.
Put the water bottle cages back on
In cyclocross you'd almost never eat and drink on the bike (barring a few hot early season races) because the races are just too short and it's hard to take your hands off the bar. But you'll need to fuel up for longer gravel rides. Put your bottle cages back on if you've removed them for racing, and consider adding a "bento box" carrier for snacks to your top tube for gels or energy bars.
Mount wider tires
Cyclocross bikes are often limited to a maximum tire width of 700x33 to follow the rules, but there are no such rules in gravel riding, so leave your cyclocross treads at home. Wider, higher air volume tires are more comfortable on multi-hour rides. Use tires up to the limits of what your frame and fork can accommodate (don't forget to leave a little room for mud clearance). If you aren't already tubeless, now is a great time to switch to a tire that uses sealant for puncture resistance, which is ideal on long rides in the middle of nowhere.
Gel handlebar tape
Longer rides put more pressure on your wrists and hands. I like to use a handlebar tape with a gel base to absorb shock, or even a separate gel pad underneath the tape. This adds a few grams but ensures comfort on all-day adventures.
Don't forget the pump and tools
While a DNF in cyclocross is disappointing, you're never further than a short run back to the pit or car - so need to carry anything for repairs. Gravel rides, however, can take you far away from help, or even a cell phone signal. Make sure you are prepared with a pump, CO2 cartridges, multitool, spare tubes, and so on before rolling out on your first "grinder".
Raise the handlebar
Your lower back might appreciate this subtle change compared to the aggressive position of your race bike. Simply swap a headset spacer or two to raise the bars a bit for more comfort on very long rides. It's easy to change back for snappier handling when cyclocross racing returns.
With these subtle changes you'll have your cyclocross bike ready for gravel and adventure riding in no time. I hope to see you out there this Spring!