How-to choose, build, or buy a cyclocross bike

With hundreds of cyclocross bikes on the market, how can you choose the right one for your needs? Should you start with a bare frame and build up a custom cyclocross bike to your specs - or go for an off-the-shelf complete bike? 

Cyclocross' incredible growth rate means major manufacturers like Trek, Specialized, and Giant now include a range of complete cyclocross bikes in their line-up, and you'll find these bikes for sale at your local dealer. You'll also find great bikes from more niche brands like Niner or Ridley. If you aren't comfortable working on your own equipment, buying a complete, off-the-shelf bike is probably the right approach for you. 

If you are a bit more tech-savvy, however, starting from a frame and building a complete cyclocross bike from parts you select has some important benefits. Every last detail will be selected and built to your exact specs, allowing you to invest where it matters - chainring ratios that perfectly suit your local terrain, higher-end, purpose built tubular or tubeless wheels and tires, and so on; while saving money elsewhere.

Factors to consider when building or buying your cyclocross bike: 

  • above else, consider fit. Your new bike should be comfortable, handle well, and feel natural under you. Fit is much more important than which seatpost comes on your bike, for example. 
  • Invest your limited budget where it has the most impact - wheels/tires, and then contact points - handlebar, saddle, pedals, are my recommendation. Notably, wheels/tires are typically the best upgrade for cyclocross bikes.
  • Go low-to-mid market on parts that have a short lifespan. It doesn't make sense to use high-end chains on cyclocross bikes, for example, because they wear so quickly and don't offer much performance difference compared to a lower-end model (it's unlikely you'll be able to tell the difference between two different chains when both are packed with mud or sand).
  • Similarly, rear derailleurs for cyclocross bikes, along with chains, are one of the easiest items to damage. It doesn't make sense to use a Shimano Dura-Ace rear derailleur on your 'cross bike - use a 105 or Ultegra model instead.
  • Shop with weight in mind. The individual weight of a single part may seem insignificant, but together, adds up to pounds on your complete bike. If two sets of cantilever brakes are a similar price and offer comparable performance, why not choose the lighter of the two? 

Confused by the process of selecting gearing, tires, or other parts for your next bike? RideCX can help, please call or write any time for personalized advice.