So you’re thinking about getting into this cyclocross thing, or maybe you already are, and are thinking about a new bike. Here’s the Tativille perspective.
Let’s get something out of the way right now. If you’re reading this, it means you’re probably not a professionally sponsored cyclocross racer, and you’ll be buying your own equipment. And so you’re looking to get the most value for your money. It also means that it’s extremely unlikely that the very small performance advantages afforded by different types of equipment will have any bearing on your real life racing and placing (with the possible exception of tires, but more on that another day).
Furthermore, due to Chicagoland’s unrelentingly flat terrain and semi-technical course design, in most categories, what you will find is that the races are kind of like time trials with a chaotic start, and bonus points for advantageous staging. Which is to say... feel free to spend all the money in the world on a bike! There are many legitimate and admirable reasons to do this that have nothing to do with racing. But don’t be fooled by corporate marketing or competitors who will have you believe that a carbon frame, $200 brakes, or fancy wheels will be the difference between success or failure.
Too Many Options, or Too Few?
Even a decade ago, it was slim pickings when it came to purchasing a cyclocross bike. You could track down an expensive and esoteric European rig, made do with a trusty Surly Crosscheck, or give it a go with a Bianchi that sported commuting geometry. Today, there’s a cross bike available in every meaningful segment. Ranging from about $400 for a mail order steel single speed to $10,000 and up for the latest hydraulic-disc equipped wunderbikes... it can be a little daunting.
The good news is that, if you’re a loyal customer of your local bike shop - chances are that they’re now able to source any number of perfectly good entry-to-mid level cross bikes from their established portfolio of vendors.
These are all nice bikes, and not available in Tativille.
A wise dood once said, “Just get a bike that fits, and one that you love.”
When a Junkbike Fits Like a Glove.
Several years ago I came upon a sixty year old bicycle frame in a dumpster in my neighborhood. It was so rusty that you couldn’t read the name on the downtube, but I immediately identified it as an early 1950s Frejus. I dug it out, took it home, and began to examine it. The Frejus sported a frozen bottom bracket and cotterpin cranks, a frozen (steel) seatpost (coincidentally at precisely my saddle height), and a rear triangle so twisted that it took three cold sets to get it straight. I tossed on a set of wheels (also dumpster finds), an old saddle, a new chain, and some Challenge Grifo tubular tires that I found flat and abandoned at the Indian Lakes race and repaired with needle and thread. Total cost: $20.
The Frejus fit me like a glove. I rode it on training rides, on centuries, for three Ice Cross campaigns, and even raced it a few times. If I can stay within ten seconds of the lead group in a race on a sixty year old, brakeless FGCX, I really didn’t see much of a reason to upgrade.
Junkbikes are great. And if you don’t have the funds to buy something fancier, you really shouldn’t rule them out. Perhaps you might even go nuts, and spend five times as much as I did.
The Elephant In the Room.
But hey. I think a lot of folks are reading this article, and thinking to themselves, uh... yeah, but - who pays retail anyway? So let’s take a look at some of the other purchasing options. Excepting last years models (most LBS inventory cross bikes are gone by this time of the year), it really comes down to the internet vendors. And boy, have they gotten aggressive. In fact, there are some pretty amazing offerings available today, highlighted here:
Everyone values service and support differently, but on a pure dollar per component basis, the internet vendors are typically 40-55% less expensive than their LBS counterparts. That’s pretty undebatable, and pretty amazing.
The Motobecane Fantom Cross Uno, in particular is a bike that I regularly recommend to folks who are simply looking to experiment with cyclocross. It’s a perfectly functional machine, is very low maintenance, can easily double as a commuter, and can be resold easily and at a high rate of return. To me, it’s a no brainer dipping of the toe into the cyclocross waters.
The High End
There are so many pro level cross bikes on the market today that it doesn’t make much sense to even attempt a cursory review of the category in this article. And, truth be told, here in Chicago, there are other shops that do the high end thing much better than TATI. Or better yet, go straight to the source. Humble Frameworks, Spooky, Primus Mootry, Rock Lobster, Geekhouse, Erickson, Firefly, Curt Goodrich, Sycip, etc, etc.
But What Do You Sell?
Not a lot. I believe that cross bikes should handle well, be as light as practical, be durable as hell, and have tubular tires and handbuilt wheels for racing. I believe in carbon repair services, but really wish they weren't as universally needed as they are today. I believe that cantilever brakes are de rigeur, moto brake routing non-negotiable, and ATAC pedals superior to all other systems on the market. I believe that cross bikes, regardless of price, should look beautiful, corner effectively, and never, ever have BB30 or PF30 bottom brackets. I believe that every cross bike should be SSCX, FGCX, or Campagnolo. I believe in buying from stupid, tiny, one-man artisans with no website or telephone. I believe in suppliers that don't speak English. I believe carbon handlebars on cross bikes are nuts, but every seatpost should be trimmed to be least 1cm shorter than the manufacturer’s recommended length. I believe in metal cyclocross bikes and slammed stems. I believe in handbuilt cyclocross bikes. I believe in carbon fiber espresso cups, but not carbon fiber rims. I believe in second hand and third hand and fourth hand cyclocross bikes. And it’s for these reasons and more, that I’ll only ever be able to sell a few each year.