How to Choose a Cross Bike
Having made the decision to return to cyclo-cross racing, my first and most obvious requirement was a bike! The previous season my enthusiasm for the sport had been rekindled after a 15 year break by simply turning up on a mountain bike and giving it a go, an option that I would recommend to anyone. Sooner or later, however, the inevitable research into which is the best choice of bike has to be undertaken.
This strangely exiting pastime, which is a by-product of modern consumerism, is usually met with incomprehension from those of a dissimilar persuasion. You inevitably immerse yourself in piles of brochures and bike mags, spend hours surfing the net and bore the pants of anyone who is foolish enough to listen to your exposition of the importance of serious mud clearance.
So, did all this analysis and fact finding make the final decision any easier and did I become an authority on the specifications of various makes of ‘cross bikes? The answer to the first was no. To the second? Well, in my household I like to think that I did, but more importantly the process of elimination was eventually completed, allowing me to make my mind up on a bike.
Deciding on what sort of ‘cross bike to buy boils down to a choice between a manufacturer’s complete ready to race machine and a bike built from scratch to my own specification. The self-build option naturally requires some knowledge of the parts and components needed.
There’s no doubt that the demands of cross racing are such that it lends itself better to customising than does road racing. On the other hand, the requirements are straightforward. ‘Cross circuits today are fast and open with some technical sections and perhaps one short sharp running section thrown in. Many of the Continental bikes that are now being imported reflect this trend in their designs and materials.
All the cycle shops I spoke to would happily supply a cross-specific model from their catalogue but appeared to have little experience in actually building up a bike from scratch. So is this an option for the novice? Well, no doubt if you’re like me and you’ve immersed yourself in the facts and figures of the subject, why not? A number of manufacturers produce ‘crosser frame sets, leaving you to choose equipment that will satisfy your wallet, your vanity or both.
While purists would argue that these are the only true ‘cross bikes, retaining the geometry and cable routing that separate such machines from the more mass-produced hybrid market, there are some excellent ready to race machines on the market these days. Before embarking down this road I took a good look round the car park of a local race meeting and found an even split between off the shelf bikes, usually owned by newcomers, and top-end race frames with highly personalised equipment.
Finally I came to the conclusion that a complete bike package was the easier and more affordable option. The hard work of deciding on components, finding and fitting them and making them work together has been done for you and, if the bike is any good, it will probably be better than anything you’d cobble together yourself. And if the worst comes to the worst, if I fail to make the grade as a crosser an off the peg bike will usually allow me to fix on a set of mudguards and a pannier rack and enjoy the open road at a speed more suited to my talents.
2007 Pinnacle Expede 1.0 pictured