Cyclocross, which is popular in Belgium, The Netherlands, and France, is taking the United States by storm. Cyclocross is a type of bicycle racing in which cyclists race through numerous laps of a short track. The track features areas of pavement, steep hills, mud, wooded trails, grass, and obstacles. At times the bike must be dismounted and carried as racers navigate obstacles before remounting their bike. Cyclocross cyclists typically compete during the fall and winter months, with some cyclists specializing in it and others competing in mountain biking, cross country, and other cycling events.
Cyclocross originated in the early 1900’s in Europe, spreading to the US in the 1960’s. It has grown in popularity since then and has developed a strong following. Many cyclists are choosing cyclocross bikes because they offer the best of both worlds – they are adaptable to many different weather and road conditions and have a rugged, strong design.
Cyclocross bikes, also referred to as cross or CX bikes are generally lightweight (though heavier than road bikes). Cyclists have to be able to dismount quickly and carry their bicycle as they navigate a number of challenging obstacles, so a bike that is light and easy to carry is critical. Therefore, their frames are constructed of aluminum and carbon fiber.
Cyclocross rules state that tires cannot be more than 33mm wide but if you aren’t competing, you can go a bit wider on a cyclocross bike without a problem. Tires are knobby and ready to handle mud, dirt, sand, and gravel without any problem and are designed to take abuse. By design, more of the tire remains in contact with the road, maintaining better traction even in slick or muddy conditions. The tires also have wide clearances at the rear triangle and fork to prevent the buildup and blockage of mud. Tubular tires are often used as they can be ridden at a very low PSI without fear of damage.
Most cyclocross bikes feature disk brakes, and it’s easy to see why. These brakes stop quickly and consistently, on different types of terrain and in wet and muddy conditions. The disk brakes also offer advanced control on descents. They aren’t affected by rim damage, another plus. By designing the bikes with the rear brake lever on the left sign of the handlebar, the rider can begin to lift the bike with one hand even as the other is still applying the brakes.
CX bikes are made with a higher bottom bracket. This places the pedals further from the ground, and less likely to hit obstacles when you ride. In addition, the cables are routed over or along the top tube. This keeps them free of mud and road debris.
Cyclocross bikes are made for aggressive riding. But due to their versatility, they are becoming increasingly popular choices for commuters. CX bikes have higher handlebars and seat riders with a more upright posture, which can help with lower back pain. The rider sits high in the saddle and many cyclists feel the ride is more comfortable than with a road bike. The tires also absorb a lot of road vibrations, which is particularly important if the roads in your city need work.
Performing well in all different weather conditions, cross bikes are a great choice for the amateur cyclist. With a cross bike, there’s no need to retire your bike during the winter months. It’s great fun to take it out on the snow and slush and ride, knowing you’ll still feel in control on the road. Modern CX bikes have added bottle cage mounts and mudguards and pannier mounts. No longer do you have to feel like you are making sacrifices when you ride.
Although CX bikes aren’t as aerodynamic as road bikes, most cyclists will not notice much of a difference in performance. And what you might sacrifice in speed, you may make up for with the ability to handle more difficult road conditions, especially if roads in your area are crappy.
If you choose a cyclocross bike, even if you don’t plan on riding CX, you’re likely to be pleased. These bikes are simply built to handle just about anything you throw at them, and they perform like champs in nearly any conditions. If you have to choose just one bike to ride, a cyclocross bike just can’t be beat.
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