Cyclocross on the Cheap: Race Hard, Save Money
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Saving money is a good thing. Unfortunately for our wallets, cycling is a hobby that puts a serious dent in the end-of-the-month Excel/Google Docs/Quicken ‘disposable income’ column. On top of that, now that cyclocross is seeing a surge in popularity manufacturers have started to jack up the prices on bikes, making this sport more costly than it needs to be. Fortunately, no one’s ever accused the NQB team of being frivolous with money. I ride a bike cobbled together with used/takeoff/ebay/borrowed parts, and as Nick’s cyclocross vs. road bike article points out, he rides a used Giant TCX. So here it is, Cyclocross on the cheap: we’re going to share a few quick tips on how to save a few bucks during CX season (you’re going to need it – race fees, remember?).
- Optics: I’m an unabashed fan of crazy euro-glasses; the gaudier the better, but for us lowly Cat5s, these glasses have no place here. Between the mud, sand, grit, rain, and snow your optics will get trashed. As evidenced by the fact that I’ve come in last in a race where I was clearly outclassed by the entire field, I have no shame left which is why I get my ‘cross racing glasses at Home Depot. Although a pair of nice Salice glasses looks amazing I can’t bring myself to destroy them, so an $8 pair of Dewalt Safety Glasses gets me through the cross season and when they get fully wrecked I feel no guilt in tossing them out. The 3m Tekk glasses work well too if you prefer a semi-tinted lens (not a bad idea for early season races). If you can get over the shame of wearing something from the hardware store you can save a few bucks. (Then again, I drive a Nissan Cube so my shame threshold may be different than yours.)
- Jerseys: Long-sleeved jerseys are expensive. I also really only wear long-sleeved jerseys for ‘cross so they’re kind of a niche item for me. If I’m riding road I prefer to just wear a regular jacket in the fall, so I couldn’t really justify buying long-sleeved jerseys just for the 5 or so races I’ll do each year. Instead, I hit up the local TJ Maxx (again, shameless) and picked up a few ‘Under-Armour’ type long-sleeved baselayers. These are usually available at a fraction of their MSRP and can help keep your upper body warm during cool fall races. In fact, I picked up two shirts for around $20. I picked up a Nike Pro Combat baselayer shirt and it’s incredibly warm – even on fast fall-time rides the wind barely gets through. Be forewarned though, the Nike Pro Combat series is made for athletes with actual biceps, so the upper part of the sleeve is a bit baggy on my noodle arms. Throw one of these baselayers under your jersey (but over your bibs) and you’re good to go.
- Lubrication: Want to save money in ‘cross? Keep your drivetrain slick. Lately, Nick and I have been using Finish Line Ceramic Wet Lube. I picked up a bottle at Bike Factory NH for about $8 (even cheaper online). A liberal application of this had my drivetrain humming, and since ‘cross destroys drivetrains (think of all the sand/mud/grit you’ll be going through) lubrication is a priority. This’ll help your chains and cassettes last longer. The only downside of this lube (that we’ve encountered so far) is that it’s hard to clean off. I don’t mind though, I’d rather put 5 extra minutes into cleaning given the fact that it does such a good job keeping things slick during a race.
- Bikes & Parts: I’m going to break a lot of my own rules here. After Cyclocosm’s (truthful) rant on “The Myth of the Infallible Bike Shop” I feel a little less guilty about sharing the following tips on getting a cheap (but respectable) ‘cross bike – My only note is that this is recommended for those who know their bike size and can ensure they get a proper fit if they buy online. For the purpose of this article, I’m not going to point out sites like Bikes Direct or Giant Nerd since those are fairly well known. Instead, here’s my not-so-secret stash of places to save on ‘cross bikes. First off, Amazon, who’s been trying to shoehorn their way into the bike game, has had a pretty respectable Diamondback Cross Bike. Granted, this breaks my rule about starting with at least a Tiagra groupset but you’re not going to do much better for $699. The good thing about this is it’s upgrade ready; with a BB30 bottom bracket, you’re going to have a good, modern frame that’s ready for a better component set once you realize how much you love cyclocross. If you want to take a cheap, fun crack at cyclocross this is the place to start. Next, there are a couple other sites that US readers (who are new to cycling) may not know of. First is Wiggle – as you’ll see on that page, a disc-braked Boardman starts under $1200. You will pay a hundred bucks for shipping, but that’s probably one of the cheapest disc-braked ‘cross bikes on the market right now (edit: stumbled across this Scattante disc CX bike. Cheaper…but ugly). Next up is Ribble, another UK-based parts company that sells parts. I’ve personally ordered tires from them before at a great price with no trouble. If you’re going to the trouble of building a CX bike, they seem to have some of the cheapest groupset prices around. Back to the US, I’ve also purchased (tubular) tires from Biketiresdirect in the past; their prices and options are pretty good. I also had to return an order and the entire process went smooth with new items in my hand pretty quickly. Some people have mentioned things like the Nashbar Cyclocross frame; the problem is that by the time you’ve paid shipping, and picked up the fork you need to go along with it, you’re already at $300. Couple that with wheels, groupset, etc and you’ve surpassed the cost of the entry-level Diamondback and you still have to assemble it. If you’re going this route, at least consider this Scattante CX frameset that comes assembled.
So there you have it; this is by no means a comprehensive list but it’ll get you on your way in cyclocross with a few extra bucks in your wallet. If this article helps you at all, please leave a comment and let us know how you saved – We’d also love to hear money-saving tips from other riders.