With many riders unable to race during 2020, everyone's bike magically became one year older, and "upgradeitis" strikes us all from time to time. Cyclocross is very inclusive, and not having the best bike should NEVER stop you from giving the sport a try. Bring whatever bike you have! Once your skills and fitness begin to grow, however, you'll want the right equipment, and there's something to be said for the confidence that can come from riding a modern, lightweight, high-performance cyclocross bike.
Today's cyclocross bikes are faster than ever, with technologies like carbon fiber frames, electronic shifting, and even built-in "micro-suspension" to take the edge off bumps and improve rider control. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the high-end options available in 2021 for serious cyclocross racers:
Ridley X-Night SL
You'll find Ridley cyclcross bikes underneath riders like Eli Iserbyt and Denise Betsema from the Pauwels Sauzen–Bingoal team. Their top-end race machine is the X-Night SL, highlighted by "F-Steerer" technology which hides all the cabling inside the head tube - very sleek.
No suspension gimmicks or excess, just a pure race bike proven at the highest levels of European cyclocross. Ridley bikes are known for having high bottom brackets (more crank and pedal clearance when riding deep ruts) which is different than some "American-style" bikes that have lower BBs - those deep ruts are less common. Lower bottom brackets mean that the saddle can be lower to achieve the same leg extension. Neither is right or wrong, just different - something to consider.
Ridley's X-Night SL Disc with Shimano GRX
The Boone is Trek's top-end cyclocross race model pictured at the top of this article. As ridden by the Trek Baloise Lions team, (including World Champion Lucinda Brand, Toon Aerts, and Lars van der Haar) the unique feature of the Boone is Trek's IsoSpeed decoupler.
IsoSpeed is really unlike anything else found on competitor bikes. In the frame, this technology attempts to decouple the seat tube from the top tube (which would normally be a fixed in place weld or bond) allowing the seat tube to flex with the forces of the road.
There's also a front IsoSpeed, which works in similar fashion, allowing the steerer tube to flex, absorbing bumps without moving laterally. Does it work? It certainly doesn't hurt, having been ridden to the recent cyclocross world championship by Lucinda Brand and developed with input from some guy named Sven Nys.
If the Boone is too rich for your lifestyle, check out the Crockett cyclocross bike, which has also been recently updated by Trek. You get an aluminum frame instead of carbon, but it's still totally race-worthy, and keeps some of the key features of the Boone, including really slick and clean cable routing plus a chain keeper.
Specialized's race-ready cyclocross family is the Crux. YMMV, but the Crux might be the #1 model that I see at my local races (Southern California) thanks to the strong retail presence Specialized has in this area.
The big "S" has some technology - FutureShock - along the lines of Trek's IsoSpeed, but it's thus far reserved for the Diverge "gravel" bike, and hasn't reached the Crux line of cyclocross bikes yet. Crux complete bikes sell for about $3,000 - $8,000, depending on the level of components selected, or you can splash out for the "S-Works" version, a $5000 frame-only option highlighted by some pretty wild paint.
Maghalie Rochette, 3x Pan-American champion, is one of the pro riders you'll see on board the Crux, as well as Stephen Hyde, as part of the new racing arm of the Steve Tilford Foundation.
Giant TCX Advanced
Giant's TCX Pro is an easy recommendation for riders looking to upgrade to a serious race machine. They're readily available and supported through a large network of dealers throughout the United States and as one of the more popular models on the market, you'll have plenty of company at the races.
Giant calls their carbon fiber bikes "Advanced", and complete bikes go for $2,700 to $5,450, or framesets for $2,300 (a price that looks downright reasonable compared to the Specialized S-Works Crux.)
The TCX Advanced Pro 2 might be the sleeper bike on this list: a lighter frame and fork than years prior, race-ready SRAM 1x11 group, and they addressed one of my gripes about previous models, the proprietary D-Fuse seatpost. D-Fuse is neat idea that smooths bumps for rider comfort and control, but limited your replacement aftermarket seatpost choices. The new models also accept a plain round 30.9mm post if you prefer. Good call, Giant!
Cube is well-known throughout Europe but somewhat less popular in the United States. As a sponsor of the Europe-based Tormans cyclocross team, they have athletes like Quinten Hermans and Kevin Kuhn in the fold.
As with Ridley, Cube has adopted a head tube and fork steerer design that sleekly hides all the cables, making washing and cleaning your bike a breeze.
Something I love about the Cube line is they haven't abandoned metal entirely; you can get an Aluminum-framed Cube at a reasonable price which is a perfect entry point into cyclocross.
As with many other brands affected by COVID-19 driven supply chain problems, Canyon has had difficulty getting and keeping some models in stock (as of this writing, all Inflite cyclocross models are listed as "Spring 2022" availability, so don't count on getting one for next weekend - plan ahead.)
Canyon's Inflite in Team Replica Alpecin-Fenix paint
Canyon sponsors some elite athletes like world champions Mathieu van der Poel and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. You get all the standard features - disc brakes, throughaxles, carbon frame and fork... all the table stakes at this point; plus a unique "look" that's very recognizable on the race course - Canyon's distinct "kinked" top tube. You'll either love it, or hate it, choose wisely.
Cannondale just refreshed their cyclocross race bike line-up, introducing a new top end model called the SuperSix EVO CX, inspired by the aero features and cable routing of the SuperSix road bikes. Curtis White will be one of the athletes on this new platform.
Cannondale already had one of the more forward-thinking CX bikes out there with their SuperX, which adopted some geometry and features that were very different from the rest of the market at the time of release. The new SuperSix EVO CX is no different - some riders may be put off by the Ai (Asymmetric Integration) frame and rear wheel, which works great for allowing very short chainstays and additional tire and front derailleur clearance, but requires a rear wheel dished for the system, which means modifying wheels before they'll work on the platform.
What can't be denied, however, is the performance - the new Cannondales are very light, aero, fast machines focused on racing, and have a bonus of big tire clearance for riders who want to do double-duty in gravel races.
Modern bikes are so good that there are very fine differences between models, and the top-of-the-line bikes from these brands are ALL great bikes, so choose one that suits your preferences. Is your dream bike on this list? Let me know using @RideCX on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and I'll see you at the races.