This article originally appeared on BikeRadar
The Trek Boone, Cannondale SuperX and Focus Mares are the best cyclo-cross bikes of the 2016-17 season. As with any type of bike, you can buy at a number of price ranges, but here we've focused on high-end cyclo-cross race bikes. For about £3,200 / US$4,000, you can get a top steed with hydraulic discs and usually a SRAM Force CX1 or Shimano Ultegra drivetrain. Many brands also offer the same frames as below with more affordable groups as well.
Our testers rode, raced and scored these six bikes. The Boone 7 Disc earned top marks for its bump-deflecting IsoSpeed Decoupler frame and race-ready details, from the Force CX1 hydraulic group to the tubeless wheels to the integrated Garmin mount. The plush framesets of the new Cannondale SuperX and Focus Mares impressed us, too.
While hydraulic brakes for road bikes remains a debated issue, it's really a no-brainer for cyclo-cross. Compared to 'cross cantilever brakes in dry conditions, the huge difference in power and modulation is laughable. And in wet conditions, comparing hydraulic disc to cantilevers is like comparing air travel to walking; it's not really fair. So with that considered, discs are the standard for 'cross bikes; it's just a question of your preference for Shimano or SRAM.
We put six bikes through their paces in riding, training and racing
Similarly, some riders prefer 2x systems to 1x for cyclo-cross. We appreciate elements of both. It's nice to be able to make a big change in gearing with a single action at one shifter (at the left), such as right before a hill. But a 1x system simplifies your options; there's no worrying about gear ratios or crosschaining — you just shift one lever up or down.
Be sure to check out the chart at the bottom of this article where we break down the bikes' scoring for frame, brakes, drivetrain, wheels/tires, cockpit and handling.
Trek Boone 7 Disc
BikeRadar score - 4.5 out of 5
The Trek Boone 7 Disc
Price: £3,299 / US $3,999 / AU $ N/A
- Bump-eating IsoSpeed Decoupler frame
- Force CX1 brakes and drivetrain are a plus
- It's a shame that the bike is fitted with standard clincher tires
The key feature of the Boone 7 is its IsoSpeed decoupler, the pivot point at the junction of the seat tube, top tube and seatstays that allows the seat tube to flex more freely. Besides more comfort, what this means is the ability to stay seated and pedal efficiently more often on a rough course.
It's difficult to overstate how drastically the IsoSpeed Decoupler flattens choppy sections of a course. While your tires are still doing the lion's share of the work keeping traction, the frame's ability to suspend your body keeps the engine better engaged.
Complementing the smooth-is-fast damping is the bike's geometry, with a low bottom bracket (68mm drop) keeping your center of gravity down in the bike.
SRAM's Force CX1 drivetrain uses a clutch derailleur to keep the chain taut and largely quiet, although a padded chain protector comes standard on the frame.
We love the attention to detail, whether it's the little rubber stops in the cage-bolt mounts allowing for a comfortable grip when grabbing and shouldering the bike, or the Garmin mount that snaps around the handlebar at the stem. We just wish Trek would include tubeless tires instead of regular clinchers on the tubeless-ready wheels.
Focus Mares Force 1
BikeRadar score - 4.5 out of 5
The Focus Mares Force 1 is an all-around excellent race bike
Price: £N/A / US $4,300 / AU $ N/A
- Great 'cross race geometry in comfortable carbon layup;
- The wide-range gearing with clutch derailleur is great for 'cross
- The head tube might be too short for some
For the somewhat schizophrenic equipment demands of cyclocross, the Focus Mares Force 1 is an excellent machine. It's stiff when you stomp on it out of corners, yet it damps rough chatter. It's old school in the short head tube, but new school in the relatively slack front end and execution of the latest technology. Plus, it has some cool features like RAT axles and internal routing.
Internal routing is a feature you've seen touted on a million road bikes. But for cyclocross, a 'clean' design isn't just about aesthetics. Having the cables hidden from your eyes means they are hidden from mud and muck and other forms of shift-performance-deteriorating grime. Plus, grabbing the down or top tubes to run with the bike doesn't mean grabbing a bunch of cable, either.
SRAM's Force CX1 groupset is great for 'cross, primarily because of the clutch derailleur on the 1x system. Imported from mountain biking, a clutch derailleur pulls back forcefully on the chain, keeping it taut and greatly reducing chain slap and the chance of dropping your chain. Focus also borrowed another trick from MTB — the Mares uses ISCG-05 mounts to hold a guard that provides 360-degree protection against a dropped chain wrapping around the frame.
As for the fork and frame, Focus' carbon engineering delivers a light package that both accelerates eagerly and damps some vertical chatter. Granted, the big tires do most of the smoothing — more on that below — and the split-tube seatpost I'm sure contributes to the comfort with some flex. Still, the frameset feels like an ally rather than a foe when rattling around a 'cross course.
As for RAT (Rapid Axle Technology), what this means is a thru-axle design that just requires a quarter turn to engage or release in the frame or fork. (It works with any thru-axle compatible wheels, so don't worry about wheel changes.) While not as svelte as the flush-mount design that requires an Allen key to service, it is so much easier to live with. Just flip open, turn 90 degrees, and pull out.
Cannondale SuperX Ultegra
BikeRadar score - 4 out of 5
The Cannondale SuperX was redesigned for this season
Price: £3,520 / US $3,499 / AU $ N/A
- The SuperX's premium carbon frame offers excellent ride quality and great handling
- The slimmed down fork is another improvement to this year's bike
- It's a shame that the stock wheelset is not tubeless compatible
Cannondale's SuperX has a reputation as a winning cyclocross machine. It's won us over in the past for its good manners and ride quality. The SuperX received an overhaul for this season, and the majority of the changes are for the better.
The quick-release axles were replaced with thru-axles and the bolt-on seatpost collar was scrapped in favor of an integrated binder bolt tucked under the top tube.
Other significant improvements include a slimmed down fork that's more comfortable over rough courses and improved tire clearance (up to 40mm!) that make it more capable in the mud and versatile as a gravel bike.
The Cannondale SuperX's already great frameset finally got thru-axles this season
Cannondale applied its "Outfront Steering Geometry" from its mountain bike range to the redesigned SuperX. Marketing-speak aside, it's a concept that should be familiar to riders with a mountain bike background. A longer front center and slacker head angle allow the SuperX to handle better at speed. A fork with more offset, 55mm in the case of the SuperX, keeps the steering light.
The Shimano Ultegra brakes and drivetrain are solid performers, but the lack of tubeless-ready wheels and thru-axles that require a 5mm Allen key hold the bike back.
BikeRadar score - 4 out of 5
The Foundry Flyover had us reconsidering some of our stereotypes about titanium
Price: £ N/A / US $4,695 / AU $ N/A
- The Foundry Flyover is a responsive, stiff and smooth ride
- Proper specs and a gorgeous finish befitting of titanium
- It's not the lightest or most aggressive bike
Foundry's titanium Flyover has a different take on the typical cyclocross race bike. While the standard for high-zoot racing today is swoopy carbon frames, and the Minnesota-based company has a few, it differentiates with a full line of svelte titanium frames and bikes built for going fast and hard to the finish line. Even though the Flyover is Foundry's cyclocross competition bike, it has a few touches that give a nod to everyday practicality.
While some bike brands have made their names in titanium, such as Litespeed, Seven and Moots, Foundry is a relative newcomer on the scene. What's interesting (and refreshing) is that the complete Flyover at US$4,695 comes in at a price close to a frame alone from more boutique builders. In contrast to its modest (for titanium) price tag, the construction and finish look impeccable and sophisticated, with clean, stacked welds and a gorgeous sky blue paint job that partners with just the right amount of the brushed titanium's illustrious beauty.
The Flyover's chainstays are pretty tidy at 425mm, which encourages aggressive riding and steering from the hips through your feet.
Off the bike, picking up the Flyover, whether shouldering or suitcasing, felt wonderful and nostalgic at the same time. The thin, straight titanium tubes felt small in my hand like a chromoly frame, but the heft and lack of any superfluous cables or anything in the front triangle made it simple and as mindless as jumping off a moving bicycle can be.
While titanium may or may not get the wrongful rap of being overly flexy, the Flyover is anything but. Stomping on the pedals is rewarded with quick, purposeful response. Wrenching on the Zipp handlebars and leveraging all my weight trying to sway the bottom bracket proved fruitless with zero rubbing or unwarranted movement. Granted there's a load of clearance between the stays and the 33mm Clement tires. Also, the chainstays are pretty tidy at 425mm, which encourages aggressive riding and steering from the hips through your feet.
Giant TCX Advanced Pro 1
BikeRadar score - 4 out of 5
The Giant TCX Advanced Pro 1 is a 1x machine with Shimano Ultegra Di2
Price: £ 3,499 / US $4,400 / AU $5,299
- The TCX Advance Pro 1 is a light, stiff and smooth carbon frame
- Ultegra Di2 shifting is included
- The front brake hose routing is slightly odd
Built for going anaerobic in the slop, Giant's TCX Advanced Pro 1 cyclocross bike boasts a composite frame, thru-axles front and rear, Schwalbe tubeless tires and a 1x11 Shimano Ultegra Di2 drivetrain.
Typically, fast, responsive bikes make you pay the price when the road or course is anything but smooth. The TCX Advanced Pro 1 manages to pull off the elusive combination of speed with a ride that subdues the bumps and hits. It was quite interesting feeling the quickness and acceleration of the TCX, but then not feeling the jarring.
The D-shaped D-Fuse SL seatpost made me a believer. Tricky seatpost, carbon layup, or forgiving seatstays, the TCX did an admirable job of muting the buzz, rounding the edges off hits and even keeping the wheels tracking.
There were a couple things that had me wondering about the TCX. First was the 1x drivetrain. My curiosity wasn't about the gearing but rather the inclusion of the front Di2 shifter. While Shimano doesn't currently offer a front hydraulic brake-only lever the way SRAM does, here you are effectively paying for something you don't need or get to use. I do acknowledge that you could throw a front derailleur and second ring on the bike, so I guess it's good to have options. But unlike SRAM's Force CX1 drivetrain that has a clutch derailleur to keep the chain taut, here you just have a normal Di2 derailleur, so chainslap is the same as a regular bike.
Giant's TCX Advanced Pro 1 has the goods where it counts, and that's in the ride. That said, there are a few little quibbles that had me scratching my head. Are any of them dealbreakers? No, especially if all that matters to you is embrocation, muddy conditions and going as fast as possible in what for many people is the off-season.
Ridley X-Night SL Disc
BikeRadar score - 3.5 out of 5
The Ridley X-Night SL Disc
Price: £ N/A / US $4,300 / AU $N/A
- The Ridley comes with a solid parts spec and stiff frame
- Performance is agile particularly on tight courses
- There is a bit of brake rub present
No other company can lay claim to a cyclocross pedigree like Ridley. This Belgian company lives for the sport and its bikes reflect its unique approach to cyclocross.
The X-Night SL Disc Ultegra is no exception. Despite the full carbon frame, tubeless-ready wheels and tires and hydraulic disc brakes, this Belgian company still relies on its traditional high and tight frame geometry.
One can argue that the Ridley's high and tight geometry is a matter of personal preference, or that it's suited to the type of races the bike was actually designed to handle — European cyclocross courses.
And it might have been asking a lot for the Belgian brand with a deep sense of tradition to embrace disc brakes, but if you're going to do it, then go all the way with thru-axles at both ends. Their absence makes the X-Night SL dated in comparison to its peers, and results in a small but noticeable amount of brake rub when mashing up climbs.
Also consider — Specialized Crux
We were unable to secure a Specialized Crux for a long-term test this time, but past BikeRadar tests have proven the bike to be a good option for many riders.
Now if only we could find better motors for these bikes...