Posted in Cycle

What is cyclocross?

Cyclocross is a discipline that combines both off-road and on-road cycling. Typical cyclocross terrain includes grass, woodland trails, pavement, mud and even sand!

Rapidly growing in popularity, cyclocross racing is primarily an autumn/winter sport - with tens of thousands of fans attending races in Northern Europe. The attraction of cyclocross racing is the fast and frantic pace, around a lapped circuit of 2-3km in length. 

The good news is, you can do cyclocross all year round! A cyclocross bike is incredibly versatile and can make the perfect commuter, touring bike or do-everything ride.

What is unique about a cyclocross bike?

At first glance, a cyclocross bike looks similar to a road bike. However, there are many features that make them uniquely different, and more suited to the specific purpose of multiple terrain riding.

These differences include the tyres, frame design, brakes, gears and pedals. Below we take a look at these modifications.

Cyclocross bike frame design

The frame of a cyclocross bike has been adapted from a standard road bike frame, in a number of ways:

  • Increased tyre clearances on the frame and fork - A cyclocross bike frame has increased clearance for tyres on the front and rear of the frameset. This is so that you can use larger volume tyres, for increased grip and traction; as well as allowing the wheels to keep turning, even when they are carrying significant quantities of mud or trail debris in the tyre tread.
  • Frame geometry - Cyclocross bikes often have more relaxed geometry angles, to give them a more upright riding position than a road racing bike. This position helps with shock absorption off-road, but it also allows you to utilise the bike across multi-disciplines, such as touring and commuting.
  • Frame material - Many modern high-end road bikes are now made of carbon fibre, due to its light weight and vibration absorbing characteristics. Cyclocross bikes have followed this trend too, with many high-end models made of carbon. However, aluminium and steel frames are also still popular; because they provide a lower-cost option, and provide a more durable frame if the rider wants to use the bike for touring or commuting.

Frame sizing on cyclocross bikes

As with all bikes, the sizing of cyclocross bikes is vital to maximising comfort and performance when you are riding. This is especially important if you are going to be using the bike for long-distance touring or winter training as well.

Check out our Wiggle bike size guide for more advice on this area.

wiggle bike size guide

Cable routing on cyclocross bikes

On most modern road bike frames, rear brake cables and front derailleur cables are routed along the underside of the top tube - providing a cleaner look when you are seated in the saddle. On a cyclocross bike, however, you will often see these cables routed along the top of the top tube, or routed internally within the tubes. This is to reduce the chance of them being contaminated by mud and water, but also it makes the bike frame more comfortable to shoulder and carry.


Chainset types on cyclocross bikes

Many cyclocross bikes have a double chainset up front - similar to a road bike gear set up. Typically though, they are lower geared - such as a 46 tooth large ring and a 36 tooth inside ring. This is to deal with the more extreme off-road terrain that cyclocross riders encounter.

In recent years, many cyclocross bike manufacturers have actually chosen to switch to a single chainring setup; with the idea that the bike will have less clutter to gather debris without a front derailleur and a second chainring. A single chainring setup is also lighter and reduces the chances of mechanical problems.

Brakes on cyclocross bikes

The brakes on cyclocross bikes probably encounter the most challenging conditions of all bicycle brakes; with sand, mud and grass, as well as potentially large loads if the bike is being used for touring.

Traditionally, cyclocross bikes were fitted with cantilever or V-brake options; these provide more mud clearance than standard road bike calliper brakes, however, they still have a tendency to clog up and reduce effectiveness, when the conditions are wet and muddy.

Increasingly, we're seeing the best cyclocross bikes fitted with either cable or hydraulic disc brakes; these move the braking surface away from the rim (and mud!), and therefore reduce contamination potential; they also allow increased tyre clearance, because there is no brake bridge required on the seat stays or forks.

Top of the range cyclocross bikes now almost all feature hydraulic disc brakes. They are expensive, but then the ability to stop is quite important!

Cyclocross specific tyres and wheels

Cyclocross tyres are higher volume than road bike tyres - to provide increased cushioning, grip and puncture resistance. These tyres are often tubular or tubeless too, as this reduces the chance of 'pinch flat' punctures (when the inner tube is pinched by the rim on a heavy impact).

Cyclocross wheels are more like mountain bike wheels or 'gravel bike' wheels too; they feature a higher spoke count, for added strength and durability (this property also makes them great for touring and commuting).

What else can I use a cyclocross bike for?

Cyclocross bikes are not just reserved for use off-road. The relaxed geometry, strong frame, powerful braking and good tyre clearance, mean a cyclo-cross bike is a highly versatile machine. 'Cross bikes can easily be used for other disciplines within the sport; such as commuting, winter training, cycle touring and off-road adventures.

When you are considering our range of cyclocross bikes, you may want to consider what other uses you may have for the bike; some bikes have mounts for pannier racks and mudguards, as well as more powerful disk brakes that are ideal for touring with heavy loads.

Pick a bike with all the features you are looking for, and you'll be able to use it all year round!