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by Matt Wikstrom
April 30, 2012
Interest in cyclocross is slowly growing in Australia, and as the cold and wet of winter approaches, riders can look forward to ideal conditions for CX and a growing race calendar. In this article, I take a closer look at CX bikes you can get for under $2000.
A few years ago, there was no market for CX bikes in Australia and they were considered a foreign oddity. Now a dozen or more brands have at least one model on offer in the local market and there are plenty of bikes on offer for less than $2000 that will appeal to newcomers to CX. Of course, you can always pay less for a used road bike and convert it to CX, but you’ll be defeated by poor tire clearance (which traps mud between the frame and the tires) every time.
Choosing a CX bike
CX is really hard on a bike due to constant exposure to mud and water so expect to see accelerated wear and tear in the drive-train and bearing surfaces. Also expect to spend more time and money on maintaining a CX bike. Best advice here is to spend a bit more money up front for harder wearing parts, and that’s why I’ve limited my picks here to bikes equipped with Shimano 105/SRAM Apex or better.
A few thoughts on bike-fit and geometry
Any search for a new bike should start with frame geometry to ensure a comfortable and effective position. While there is some difference in opinion on bike-fit for CX, an experienced road rider can largely adapt their current fit for off-road purposes. There are however, a few considerations unique to CX that are best explained by Australia’s sole representative at the recent CX world championships, Lewis Rattray:
“Two main differences are a slacker head angle, for more control at lower speeds and a higher BB, to enable pedalling through corners and ample clearance of obstacles. Many riders (myself included) run their hoods a little higher on the handlebar, as well as a slightly higher stem position, as this gives much better control and I am able to grab a whole lot more of the hoods. At the same time, it gives me a more upright riding position, which helps through the technical stuff. Having less weight over the front and more weight over the back also provides more traction for the back wheel, which is important for churning through slop.”
As a starting point, consider a frame that is the same size as your road bike, but run a 1cm shorter reach that comes as a result of a shorter top tube, rather than a shorter stem. Most CX frames have a taller front end as a result of taller forks, but don’t hurry to cut down the steerer and slam the stem until you’ve ridden in the slop. Finally, consider dropping your saddle 1cm to lower your centre of gravity.
All of the bikes I’ve picked here feature an alloy frame and a fairly robust build kit. Cantilever brakes remain standard on most CX bikes, providing excellent braking power and feel, and are featured on most of the bikes below. However, some manufacturers are starting to offer models with cable-operated disc brakes, and while they may not be as powerful cantilever brakes, they are easier to maintain and worth considering, even in the sub-$2000 price range. On to my picks:
The Xact is the only bike in this group that is priced below $1500 and features a full SRAM Apex groupset
Frame: Triple-butted alloy
Fork: Carbon blades, alloy steerer
Groupset: SRAM Apex
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Complete specs: Apollo Xact
Geometry chart (all lengths are in mm):
The CAADX5 frameset offers 7 sizes and a BB30 bottom bracket
Frame: Butted alloy
Groupset: Shimano 105
Sizes: 44, 48, 51, 54, 56, 58, 61cm
Complete specs: Cannondale CAADX5
Focus also offers the Mares AX 1.0 that features cantilever brakes and an Ultegra groupset for $1999
Brakes: Mechanical disc
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, 3XL
Complete specs: Focus Mares AX 2.0 Disc
As always, Giant delivers a bike with upmarket specifications (SRAM Rival groupset) that defies its retail price
Groupset: SRAM Rival
Sizes: S, M, M/L, L
Complete specs: Giant TCX 1
Geometry table (all lengths are in mm):
One of my favourites of the bunch, I like both the colour and the race-like lines of the Kona
Sizes: 47, 49, 53, 56, 59, 61cm
Complete specs: Kona Jake the Snake
With the 4D, Merida offers a bargain-priced entry into disc-equipped CX bikes
Sizes: 48, 52, 55, 58cm
Complete specs: Merida Cyclo Cross 4D
The Boardman CX Pro: A highly spec'd cyclocross bike which provides excellent value for money. Note that the price here does not include GST or duty.
Fork: Full Carbon
Groupset: SRAM Force, FSA Energy Compact BB30
Sizes: 52.5, 54, 55.5, 57, 58.5cm
Complete specs: Boardman CX Pro
The Specialized CruX tips the scales with our price threshold, but it's a beautiful bike worth looking at.
Brakes: Mechanical Disc
Sizes: 46, 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61cm
Complete specs: Specialized CruX