Summer is over, temperatures are dropping and the nights are getting longer. This can only mean one thing. “Cross is coming” and it’s time to get prepared for the muddy battlefields of your local cyclo-cross race series.
Although cyclo-cross has been around since the early 1900s, its popularity has seen a resurgence recently. The cyclo-cross season traditionally takes place in autumn and winter, so all weather conditions can be expected.
Racing is intense and usually lasts between 30 minutes to an hour, on short off-road courses that feature steep climbs, tight corners, low barrier obstacles, off-camber sections and, of course, mud. Lots and lots of mud.
Cyclo-cross bikes: everything you need to know
Any drop-bar bike with ample tyre clearance will work for ‘cross. However, cyclo-cross-specific bikes have some important design considerations to offer the best performance. As they are only designed to be ridden for short periods, a thoroughbred race machine will have an aggressive and lively ride characteristic.
Cyclo-cross race bikes differ from road bikes as they have a short wheelbase and short chainstays to help navigate the frequent tight 90º and 180º corners – although this must be balanced against a slacker head angle for off-road stability. Traditionally, cyclo-cross bikes featured higher bottom brackets, but modern trends see these becoming lower to promote cornering control.
Although racing is fast and furious, cyclo-cross speeds are lower than on the road, so smaller gear ratios are more suitable. For some time, a double chainset with a 46/36 was the norm, but in 2017 SRAM released their first 1x transmission and Shimano soon followed suit.
This uses a single chainring on the front paired with a wider-range cassette at the back. The idea is that the gear range stays the same while simplifying the drivetrain and saving some weight. The drawback of a 1x system is that there are larger jumps between gear changes.
Until 2010, cyclo-cross riders were afflicted by UCI rules forcing them to use cantilever brakes. Unsurprisingly, when the UCI changed their rules and allowed disc brakes, manufacturers and riders were keen to harness the superior modulation and braking power. Rim brakes have almost been phased out and are now the reserve of the traditionalist.
For racing, the UCI restrict tyre size to a maximum width of 32mm. However, there are plenty of larger options that will offer more grip if you only plan on playing about in the local woods.
Cyclo-cross tyres come in many different tread patterns suited to all conditions, from dry hard-pack to sticky mud, so it is important to choose a tyre that suits the riding conditions. Ample mud clearance between the tyre and frame is a necessity as a grass race course can quickly become a swamp after a couple of hours racing.
Tubular tyres are the favourite of professionals and serious amateurs and are glued to the rim to allow very soft tyre pressures which maximises grip without the worry of punctures. These days most bikes come with tubeless-ready wheels and tyres. Although they may not have the same supple feel of tubulars they are a lot easier to set up and can still be run at low pressures.
A high-end race bike may forgo luxuries or practicalities such as bottle cage, rack or mudguard mounts as they aren’t needed during short cyclo-cross races. However, some manufacturers promote the versatile capabilities of a ‘cross bike and include these features to suit commuting or general winter riding.
Other features to look for include internal cable routing to keep cables tucked away from dirt and make carrying the bike over obstacles more comfortable. Chain guides, narrow-wide chainrings and clutched derailleurs to stop the chain falling off when riding over rough terrain. 12mm thru-axles are becoming increasingly common as they are significantly stiffer than regular quick-release skewers.
The best cyclo-cross bikes you can buy today
Ridley X-Night SL Disc Ultegra
The Ridley X-Night SL Disc Ultegra is an uncompromising approach to a cyclo-cross race bike from the Belgian specialists
Frame material: HM/HR Unidirectional Carbon | Groupset: Shimano Ultegra | Sizes: 41cm, 48cm, 50cm, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm | Weight: (claimed) Unpublished
Cyclo-cross is celebrated passionately in Belgium so it’s not surprising that the Flanders based Ridley take cyclocross bikes very seriously.
Ridley is keen to differentiate the X-Night SL Disc from other types of drop-bar off-road bikes. Stating that the X-Night SL Disc is an uncompromised agile race bike that has been finely tuned for competition using the feedback of multiple cyclocross world champions; one of whom is rising Belgian star Eli Iserbyt.
Manufactured using Toray carbon, Ridley has saved 200g over their slower end carbon X-Night frame by using specific combinations of carbon grade which gives them control of the frames stiffness characteristics.
Conforming to all modern standards the X-Night SL has 12mm bolt-thru front and rear axle as well as flat mount brake calipers. Ridley achieves fully integrated internal routing using their F-Steerer giving the X-Night SL Disc a very clean cable-free appearance, provides easy carrying and combats mud ingress.
A Shimano Ultegra drivetrain is paired with an FSA Gossamer double chainset. A set of Fulcrum Racing 700 roll on a set Donnelly MXP Folding 33mm tyres. Finishing kit is from Ridley’s own brand Forza.
Specialized S-Works CruX
You will need deep pockets but the Specialized S-Works is about as good as a cyclo-cross bike gets
Frame material: S-Works FACT 11r carbon | Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace/XTR | Sizes: 46cm, 49cm, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm, 61cm | Weight: 900g (frame only, 56cm)
Everything about the S-Works CruX has been optimised for speed. Specialized use their highest quality FACT 11R carbon for the frame and has size-specific tubes and layups so that the balance of stiffness and compliance is maintained across frame sizes. This means that Specialized has been able to drop 400g from the previous S-Works CruX.
Specialized know where a cyclo-cross race can be won and lost, and a 72º head angle combined with a low bottom bracket promotes aggressive cornering ability. A large front triangle with a flattened top tube adds simplicity and comfort for portaging sections.
Mud clearance is a generous 8mm when using a 33mm tyre. Even the paint does more than brighten up a start line by using a hydrophobic finish to stop mud clinging to the frame to help keep the bike light lap after lap.
£8,249 is a lot of money but Specialized have spent a lot of time considering each component for optimum racing performance. The Roval CLX 50 Disc tubeless-ready carbon wheelset was engineered in Specialized’s “Win” tunnel and use DT Swiss 240 hub internals with CeramicSpeed bearings.
This 50mm deep wheelset weighs in at a feathery 1415g (claimed). The drivetrain and brakes are a cherry-picked selection of Dura-Ace and XTR 11sp DI2 driven by Specialized S-Works Power Cranks power-meter crankset. The bike is finished in Specialized S-Works kit and rolls on Specialized Tracer Pro 33mm tyres.
Cannondale SuperX Force eTap AXS
Cannondale has packed the SuperX with advanced features to make this a proven race winner
Frame material: Carbon | Groupset: SRAM Force eTap AXS | Sizes: 46, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61 | Weight: N/A
The SuperX may have remained relatively unchanged over the last few years but this is no bad thing. Cannondale has designed a feature-packed cyclocross frameset that has continually proved its competitiveness on the race scene.
Built from BallisTec Carbon which Cannondale use in their mountain bike range the frame features internal cable routing, 12mm thru-axles, Ai Offset Dish rear wheel and SAVE Micro Suspension. Cannondale's SAVE technology involves flattening the stays and optimising carbon layup vertical shock absorption is increased without losing any cornering precision or drivetrain stiffness.
An 83mm bottom bracket gives the SuperX excellent tyre clearance and short chainstays for manoeuvrability. Untraditionally, the SuperX has a slack head angle, this improves high-speed stability and is paired with Cannondale’s 'Optimized Steering Geometry' fork to maintain sharp steering characteristics required for cyclo-cross.
Cannondale has specced the SuperX with SRAM’s 2x12 Force eTap groupset and brakes. The wheels are Cannondale’s own carbon rims, hubs featuring DT Swiss internals and use Vittoria Terreno Mix TNT 33c tyres. The rest of the finishing kit is a mix of alloy and carbon parts from Cannondale and a titanium railed Fabric Scoop saddle. Included is Cannondale’s Wheel Sensor, developed with Garmin the small spoke mounted unit will record speed distance and ride time automatically. View Deal
Trek Boone 7 Disc
The Trek Boone 7 Disc is a sharp race-ready bike that won't leave you feeling punished when riding hard over rough ground
Frame material: 600 Series OCLV Carbon | Groupset: SRAM Force eTap AXS | Sizes: 47cm, 50cm, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm, 61cm | Weight: (claimed) 7.92kg (56cm)
Trek know what it takes to make a winning race bike and the Boone 7 is no different. Trek boasts that the new Boone 7 is their lightest and fastest cyclo-cross bike.
This speed can be attributed to the front and rear IsoSpeed decoupler. Originally appearing on their Domane endurance road bike in 2012, Trek now uses this technology across a wide range of bikes.
At the front the decoupler sits in a rocker cup located in the top of the headset and allows the steerer tube to flex, this creates compliance without affecting steering. In the rear, the IsoSpeed decouples the top tube and seat tube to promote seat tube flex. Not only does this dampen impacts but allows the rider to maintain a better riding position on rough terrain resulting in improved cornering control and stability.
Other cyclo-cross features include tidy internal cable management, chain guide and Bontrager's Quick Connect removable bottle cage which makes fitting and removal of a bottle cage fast and tool-free.
The Boone 7 comes with SRAM’s wireless electronic 12-speed drivetrain and has some premium wheels and finishing kit from Bontrager. Stem length, handlebar width and cranks are scaled based on frame size to assure a comfortable fit. Tyres are Bontrager’s well rounded CX3 Team Issue with a 32mm diameter.
Giant TCX Advanced Pro 2
The Giant TCX Advanced Pro 2 is a superb entry into cyclo-cross racing and a platform worthy of upgrades when the competition heats up
Frame material: Advanced grade carbon | Groupset: SRAM Rival | Sizes: S, M, ML, L | Weight: Unpublished
The Giant TCX range of cyclo-cross bikes have been around for a while and retain popularity thanks to their excellent ride characteristics.
On top of this well-mannered ride quality, the TCX Advanced Pro 2 is also superb value for money. While the spec might not be particularly exciting or glamourous, Giant have invested money where it’s most important.
The TCX Advanced Pro 2 is a perfect bike for riders transitioning into racing and are looking for a worthy platform to upgrade as skills advance and competition becomes more serious.
The TCX Advanced Pro 2 frameset uses Giants OverDrive 2 oversized headset bearings for front end stiffness and a D-Fuse SL carbon seatpost which Giant claims has 12mm of flex to absorb vibrations and reduce fatigue. The frameset also features 12mm axles, ample mud clearance, an enclosed 1x chain guide and internal routing.
The 1x groupset and brakes all come from SRAM’s Rival range. Wheels and the finishing kit is all Giant own-brand equipment including the carbon D-Fuse seatpost. The TCX Advanced Pro 2 comes with Maxxis All Terrane 33mm tyres which feature an aggressive tread pattern that will bite into slippery conditions. Bonus points for Giant setting up the tyres tubeless from the factory, saving you time and mess.
Vitus Energie CRX eTap
For the money, you will be hard pushed to find a bike as well-specced as the Vitus Energie CRX eTap
Frame material: Energie T-700 HM UD Carbon | Groupset: SRAM Force eTap | Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL | Weight: (claimed) 8.34kg (Medium)
Direct to consumer brand Vitus bring formidable value in the form of their 2020 Energie CRX eTap equipped race bike.
The Vitus Energie CRX frameset remains unchanged from last year, design continuing with a Toray 700 carbon fibre construction, thru-axles, flat mount brakes and internal routing.
Vitus include practicalities in the form of two bottle cage mounts, a front derailleur braze-on and mudguard mounts. Extending the Energie’s usefulness beyond the confines of the race track and into your daily commute or for longer off-road rides.
Being the top of the Energie range means that the CRX comes equipped with SRAM’s Force eTap groupsets as well as a set of Chain Reactions own brand Prime Black Edition 38mm Carbon tubeless-ready wheels. Finishing kit uses Zipp Service Course components and the tyres are 33mm skinwall Vee XCX tubeless-ready tyres.
Scott Addict CX RC
Scott Addict CX RC is a bike ready to brighten up the cyclo-cross start line with the performance to match
Frame material: HMF Carbon | Groupset: Shimano GRX RX810 | Sizes: 49cm, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm | Weight: (claimed) 8.15kg
With Scott’s Addict range migrating to the gravel scene, the Scott Addict CX RC now holds the fort as Scott’s only dedicated cyclo-cross race bike.
Scott my have whittled their cyclo-cross range to one model but it doesn’t mean they haven’t made some key considerations when designing the Addict CX RC which they claim is stiffer and more vertically compliant than previous generations. Scott uses replaceable dropouts to help save your frame should you crash or damage the thru-axle threads in a panic wheel change.
A chain catcher keeps the chain in check while an ovalised top tube makes for more comfortable carrying. Internal cable routing keeps everything tidy and is compatible with DI2 if you are planning future upgrades.
The Scott comes specced with Shimano’s new 1x GRX RX810 groupset and brakes. The rest of the build is supplied by Scott’s own brand Syncros. Tyres are Schwalbe X-One CX Performance in 35mm.
Stevens Super Prestige Disc
The Stevens Super Prestige Disc has race-winning credentials at a great price
Frame material: Carbon SL Fiber | Groupset: Shimano Ultegra RX | Sizes: 50cm, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm, 60cm | Weight: (claimed) 8.2kg
Stevens has a lot of confidence in their Super Prestige Disc frameset making the bold claim that it’s “probably the best CX bike frame in the world”. Having won multiple world championships amongst other accolades, the Super Prestige Disc certainly has the results to back this up, and given it's suitable for Wout van Aert, the Super Prestige clearly has a world-class pedigree.
Geometry is race-focussed and has been developed with input from their racing team. Steven’s claims their high modulus carbon have gives the Super Prestige Disc maximum stiffness without sacrificing weight.
A tapered seat tube gives the compliant properties of a 27.2 seat post and increases in diameter down towards the bottom bracket shell for improved drivetrain stiffness.
The Stevens Super Prestige runs a double Shimano Ultegra drivetrain with a chain guide that can be adapted for different chainring sizes. 12mm thru-axles keep a DT Swiss C 1800 wheelset secure and the bike rolls on Schwalbe X-One All-round Evolution 33mm tyres. Finishing kit is supplied by Stevens in-house Oxygen brand.
Santa Cruz Stigmata Rival
The new Santa Cruz Stigmata blurs the lines between cyclo-cross and gravel to create a bike that performs well in all dirty drop bar scenarios
Frame material: Carbon | Groupset: SRAM Rival | Sizes: 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm, 60cm | Weight: (claimed) 8.73kg
In 2015 the original Santa Cruz Stigmata helped establish many features that are now considered standards on today's bikes. For 2020 Santa Cruz has looked to expand the possibilities of the Stigmata beyond the confines of the ‘cross circuit.
In fact, with frame features such as bottle cage bosses, mudguard mounts and the ability to run 650B wheels combined with factory builds specced with flared bars and 40mm tyres you would be forgiven in thinking that this was nothing more than a gravel adventure bike.
However, the Stigmata will still perform admirably for cyclo-cross with a few modifications. Combining superb geometry with borrowed carbon layup technology from Santa Cruz’s Highball mountain bike and Danny Macaskill trials bike promises a robust, stiff and direct ride feel without sacrificing compliance on the rough stuff.
Mud clearance with 33c tyres will be generous plus clean internal routing and squared tubing make the bike easy to shoulder over obstacles.
Santa Cruz has made some small geometry refinements from the previous elite cyclocross racing platform. The head angle has been slackened, head tube lengthened, seat tube steepened and BB lowered to improve stability.
The Santa Cruz Stigmata Rival is specced with an Easton 1x crankset and SRAM Rival 11sp drivetrain as well as Rival disk brakes providing reliable stopping power. The wheels use DT Swiss 370 hubs which are laced to WTB Asym rims. Finishing kit comes from Easton’s EA50 range.
Focus Mares 9.9
The Mares 9.9 is a ready to race thoroughbred from cyclo-cross specialists Focus
Frame material: Carbon | Groupset: SRAM Force | Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL | Weight: (claimed) 7.95kg
With Focus’ founder Mike Kluge being a former world cyclocross champion and 25 years of experience racing, Focus know a thing or two about making fast cyclocross bikes.
Focus balances stiffness and weight in the Mares using carefully developed tube shapes and their Stable Stiffness Per Size (SSPS) production method. SSPS manipulates carbon layup for each frame size to produce a uniform ride quality.
Focus’ understanding of cyclocross is obvious with features like the Rapid Axle Technology (R.A.T.) axle design featured on the front and rear wheels. R.A.T. is a floating axle giving the stiffness of a bolt thru-axle and designed for super-fast quarter lever turn wheel changes which will save valuable time in the heat of a race.
1x systems are very reliable – however, Focus leave nothing to chance by including a chain guide to prevent chain drop on rough sections. Internal cable routing and a flattened top tube aid carrying the bike on portage sections.
The Mares 9.9 boasts a ready to race build featuring SRAM Force groupset, a DT Swiss C 1800 wheelset with 33mm Vittoria Terreno Mix tyres. Handlebars, stem and seat post use BBB components and the saddle is a Prologo Scratch.
Canyon Inflite CF SLX 9.0 Team
The Canyon Inflate CF SLX 9.0 Team stands out from the crowd with some unique design cues and a superb spec
Frame material: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano Ultegra Di2 RX | Sizes: 3XS, 2XS, XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL | Weight: (claimed) 7.6kg
Canyon has quickly secured cyclo-cross success thanks to the introduction of their carbon Inflite. Packed with features along with legendary value for money, the Inflite CF SLX 9.0 Team is a solid contender amongst off the peg race-ready rigs. If it's good enough for Mathieu van der Poel, it's good enough for us.
Firstly let's talk about that top tube kink. In terms of looks, it may divide opinions however there are practical reasons behind it. More seat post is exposed which gives the rider greater seated comfort (up to a claimed 15% more deflection with 110mm of exposed seat post) without resorting to a compact frame that would hamper carrying the bike. This odd shape also offers a comfortable place to rest the bike on your shoulder too.
The Inflite CF SLX sticks within fairly established cyclo-cross geometry to give the bike a classically lively feel. Canyon has considered the ride quality of their smaller 2XS and 3XS frame sizes and specced these with 650B wheels to give them the same handling characteristics as the larger frames.
Components are a tasty selection of Shimano 11sp Ultegra DI2, an Ultegra double chainset and carbon Reynolds Assault LE DB wheels with Schwalbe X-One All-round 33mm tyres.
Finishing kit uses Canyon’s integrated carbon H31 Ergocockpit CH bar and stem (frame size-specific) and carbon seat post with a Selle Italia SLR saddle.View Deal