How Do I Do The Cyclocross? (part 2 of a series)

On August 24, 2013 by Christian

It probably would have made more sense to run today’s article yesterday, because today’s article is about setting up your first Cyclocross bike, and obviously you need a bike before you can start riding through the grass with it. But life is full of things that don’t always make sense, so here’s the FLCX guide to setting up your first CX Bike.

Let me get this out of the way immediately. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY ON A BIKE. Go ahead and read that sentence again, a few times, if need be. Spending $1000 or more to try out a sport you might not enjoy is silly. So don’t do it.

You can, and many people have in the past, put together a bike that they rescued from a dumpster, and had a great time learning to ride CX on it. The best thing about CX in the beginner categories (4/5) is that you can ride any bike with any tire on it. You can ride a hybrid/fitness bike with flat bars. You can ride a fifteen year old Specialized 26″ wheeled hard-tail mountain bike with a Rock Shok on it. You can even ride your road bike with road slicks, if you’re really feeling masochistic, and you’re supremely confident in your bike handling skills, and the course is dry and free of mud. You can ride a fat bike with 3 inch tires- you’ll be a hero and everyone will cheer for you! You can even buy a used CX bike (although right now is the worst time to buy one, because everyone is trying to buy a used CX bike, and you know how capitalism works.) One thing to remember: a single speed CX bike is the cheapest option of all, and shouldn’t be ignored. They’re fun, and usually just about as fast as a geared bike, at least under the right person. Plus you can race the party race.

The bottom line is, all you need is a bike that fits you that can handle riding on grass, dirt, and sand, and doesn’t weigh a billion pounds. Many older steel framed road bikes, particularly those that were intended for touring, will work. Touring bikes have the advantage of cantilever brake studs being welded on the frame already, giving you more clearance for tires and mud than the caliper brakes on road bikes. Virtually all hybrid/fitness bikes also have cantilever brakes, making them ideal for conversions as well. V-Style brakes will work just as well, if not even better, than cantilever brakes, but don’t offer as much mud clearance. Obviously, disc brakes will work just fine, but they probably will not be found on your average $150 Craigslist special.

To make sure your CX bike fits you properly, there’s a vast amount of advice out on the internets, but as a general rule of thumb, you want a bike with a top tube that’s a little shorter (and a little lower) than the top tube on your road bike, and a stem that’s a little shorter too. You want the brake hoods to be higher, because that’s where your hands are going to be for 95% of the race. Watch this if you won’t take my word for it, it’s @resultsboy’s girlfriend last fall in Providence.

Or just watch it cause it’s NECX and it’s rad. Whatever makes you happy.


If you’re on a 29er or a 700c bike, there’s a world of CX tires out there. As with road tires, the more you spend, the higher quality and lighter they are. You’re probably going to start off on clinchers, and that’s fine to start with if you’re not certain that CX is something you’re destined to do for a lifetime- tubular tires are certainly better, but are also more expensive and more complicated to repair if a flat occurs. There are three basic types of tires- Mud tires, with the largest knobs, Intermediate or All-Around tires, and file treads. You should probably start off with the Intermediate or All Around type of tire, as it works the best in a wide variety of conditions.

If you’re on a 26″ wheeled bike, you can certainly ride whatever MTB tires came with the bike, but it will lighten the bike up if you switch to a narrower knobby tire.


Cantilever Brakes have been traditionally used on CX bikes for years because they provide more clearance for mud. They come in a variety of shapes and none of them will stop you like your road bike’s brake do. This shouldn’t alarm you, because you don’t want to come to a shuddering stop at anytime while racing, you just want to slow down enough to navigate around the corners.

V-Brakes are a lot more powerful than Canti’s, but have a lot less mud clearance. Since we don’t have a lot of mud in FLCX, many riders down here swear by them.

Disc Brakes are usually found on Mountain Bikes, and if your bike already has them, you’re stuck with them. They are being forced into CX by the bike manufacturers, so you’ll be seeing more and more of them. They work very well.


If your bike started with flat or riser MTB handlebars, you’re probably best off leaving those in place. If it came with bar ends, you will have to remove them to race. If it came with drop bars, you will want them to be the same width as the bars on your road bike. You’ll want to mount the brake levers a little higher than you have them on your road bike. Hopefully, the bike has shifters integrated into the brakes (brifters), if not, your life is a little more complicated, since you have to take your hand off the bars to shift. It’s 2013, most bikes have had brifters for years now. If you really want to make your flat barred bike into a drop bar bike, take it to a bike shop and ask them what you need. Bring money, too.


Read the very next story in the series!