A cross bike as your only bike is an option

New to Cycling? Cyclocross Bike vs Road Bike Part 1

March 10, 2013 / by / 6 Comments

(Note: Thanks for coming to NQB!  If you’re new to our site, consider starting with our “New to Cyclocross & Cycling?” page, which will help guide you through our beginner articles in order.  If you appreciate what we have to say, please consider spreading the word about NQB on Facebook or Twitter using the buttons above.  Thanks! – Seth)

If you are like me, you were most likely bitten by the cross bug a couple years after being introduced into cycling. Again, if you were like me, very shortly after exposure to the world of cross, you thought to yourself  …”Hey, I need a cyclocross bike!” However, most of us don’t have the disposable income (or spousal approval) to have both a road bike and a cyclocross bike.  This poses an interesting question, Why not just acquire a cyclocross bike, and use it as your do-it-all? This is the route I chose, and in this 2 part article, I will go over some other the obstacles and questions I faced before making the leap.

Question: Do I even want a cross bike as my only bike?

Answer: Why wouldn’t you? Owning a cross bike doesn’t just limit you to racing cross, but with some small adjustments such as adding a fender (which is a common feature available on cross bikes, or at least the rack mounts to add one) you have a great commuter. And of course, swap out your eggbeaters for some road pedals, and your stubbies for slicks and you have a bonafide road machine.  Want to take it a little further? Buy yourself a set of decent road wheels and you are still ahead of the game. CX Bike + Additional set of wheels > CX Bike + Road Bike.

Now, I know what you may be thinking, What about cantilevers? Aren’t they supposed to be terrible?

Well this is a tricky one, the answer is yes and no. But they aren’t nearly bad as I expected. The thing that held me back for a while was worrying about stopping power on the road. Turns out they work just fine. Sure I’m not stopping on a dime, but then again I wasn’t doing that with the low level Tektros spec’d out on my previous road bike. As studies show, if set up properly the stopping power on cantis is great – it’s the other factors that come in to play that can sap your stopping power.

…Oddly enough, its off-road where cantis start to go downhill. On dry conditions they’re great, but as soon as things get murky and muddy its a different story. Hence the arrival of disc brakes being all the rage in cross racing right now (that’s another topic for another day). You will notice that discs haven’t caught on in the euro scene, so for cantis we’ve adopted this mantra “If they’re good enough for Nys, they’re good enough for me”.

Geometry: So there are some differences in geometry. Longer wheelbases and head angles mean more stability. Typically cross bikes are only meant to be thrashed around for 60 minutes, while most road rides are for multi-hour jaunts. As far as comfort goes, my feelings on the matter are this: I have never had any major issues with my rides being uncomfortable. Short or long. I kind of think the whole thing is a conspiracy theory among bike mags/industries, so they can pump out “comfort” bikes to rake in more money. Obviously an upright position is more comfortable than being in the drops for hours upon end, but here is where the overall fitness as a rider comes into play. Call me crazy, but I’d rather do 15 mins of core exercises a day than spend $2.5k on some dorky comfort road bike with a massive head tube. But this is the awesome part bout CX bikes, best-of-both-worlds scenario: You can be a little more upright, but still look more aggressive.  If you are like me, you probably only care about going fast and looking good while doing it. Your fit isn’t as aggressive as the pros, but it certainly isn’t as upright as a commuter.

Gearing Issues: So most cross bikes use a smaller front chainring. 48/46/42 x 38/36/34 This is all well and good if you are riding off road, but you might find your self dropping back a bit on your group-rides. (I am continually dropped on the downhill, something I wanted to change at first, but have found myself caring less and less about). A compact chainring set might be a decent choice, but you run the risk of being severely over geared while riding off road. That is unless you have a pie plate rear cog in the back – if only there was a gruppo that offered such a combination….Enter SRAM APEX. In my opinion the perfect option for the do-it-all bike. Compact up front, but enough options in the back to make a climber out of any Clydesdale. Some have argued about the crispness of the shifting as mentioned in a previous article. I am a big believer in SRAM. Personally, I love the feel of the levers and shifts so I always gravitate towards SRAM equipped bikes.  Another plus side is the price point. While it typically falls between Shimano’s Tiagra and 105 offerings, I feel APEX is superior in functionality to both groups. (I realized I might get killed for saying that, but it’s my opinion)

These are some of the things to think about before making the leap. Hopefully this is enough to help you resolve to make the leap. Thanks for reading, and make sure you read Part 2, where we discuss how to sell your current road bike, how to get a cyclocross bike, and what models to look at for pulling double duty.

Nick Digangi

6 Responses
  1. Gary

    I put down a deposit for a steel road bike from Geekhouse bikes in February. My spot in line should come up in less than 2 months and now I’m seriously considering opting for their tried and true cross model. The roads where I live that have less traffic are also in worst shape, potholes and gravel galore. Cross is not a thing here at all, so I’d likely set up the bike for road rides… Is this a viable option in your opinion? Or would the money later spent on separate cranks and wheels/tires be better spent on a more affordable built up cross bike from, say, the guys at All-City?
    Any reply appreciated!


    Jul.03.2013 at 9:31 pm
    • seth lincoln

      Hi Gary,

      I’m going to throw in my two cents here, but Nick will have something to add as well. I have a road bike too, so I have a little different perspective. Let me start off by saying: This is a totally doable option. You don’t even really need separate cranks or wheels. You could just pick up an extra set of chainrings and a new chain if you want bigger gears up front. As far as wheels go… both of us run our stock wheels most of the time. Nick has a set of Reynolds Shadows he can substitute; I have some Easton Circuits which I could throw on. Both of these are 1700~ish gram wheelsets that are reasonably priced, but I haven’t really found a need to use them.

      I’d recommend extra tires; my Crux came standard with a heavy mud-oriented knobby tire. I do a ton of road riding on the Crux so I swapped those out for a set of Challenge Open Grifo XS 32s – a file tread tire which made road riding just that much more enjoyable for me. At this point I easily ride my ‘cross bike as much if not more than my road bike just because of it’s versatility and durability. Nick’s going to talk chainrings and gearing since he wondered some of the same things when he switched to his TCX.

      I think the ‘crux’ (sorry) of the matter is this: Once you get a ‘cross bike, you’re likely to find yourself looking for trails and gravel. I don’t think we’ve even done a ride this season that didn’t involve some off-road trails somehow. After the switch most people really take a liking to the mix of terrain and never look back.

      Thanks again for your comment, I hope this helps!


      Jul.03.2013 at 10:29 pm
      • Gary

        Thanks for the reply! I’m currently riding an aluminum road bike that is 10 years old. I’m betting that regardless of which frame I choose I’ll be getting a better, lighter, more responsive ride. I’ll be scouting around on my next few rides to see if there are any trails or fire-roads that I could incorporate into a ride. I do not race so that’s not a factor in my decision, and unfortunately do 90% of rides solo, the few group rides I do are fast group rides (the kind where you wish someone gets a flat so you can rest a few mins). The geography is hilly, and I tend to enjoy the long climbs… Anyways, I’ll be getting in touch with the frame-builder to discuss my new-found curiosity and hopefully compare how different or similar the bike would be to what was currently planned for the road bike.

        Thanks again,

        Jul.05.2013 at 5:27 pm
        • Nick Digangi (Author)

          Hey Gary,
          Thanks for reading the article! I agree with Seth, he makes a great point that once you have a CX bike you tend to seek out trails to take it on. As for the gearing, initially I fully intended on getting a different crankset/chainrings. As time goes by I feel less and less inclined to do so. I am fine swapping out my road wheels (which I might not even do this year) and having a dual purpose machine. A cross bike would feel right at home with the potholes and you wont believe how fun gravel riding can be. The wider/grippier tires make commuting an option almost year round.
          In hindsight I wish some one told me how fun cross was before I made my purchase, and seeing how fast the sport seems to be growing it might not be long before races start popping up in your area. Ultimately, the decision is yours to make, buying a bike is a big purchase..I just wish someone had given me the other side of the story before I pulled the trigger. Hope this helped! Let us know how it goes!

          Jul.09.2013 at 10:24 pm
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  1. New to Cycling? Cross Bike vs Road Bike - pt2 | Not Quite BelgianNot Quite Belgian
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