Cyclocross is an odd sport. It’s something of a mixture between road cycling and mountain biking, and the bikes themselves are a hybrid mix of both. Rugged enough to be ridden off-road, yet borrowing many features from their tarmac-going cousins, they’re fast, tough, and a blast to ride.
And while the sport itself is spectacular (and surprisingly easy to get into), cyclocross bikes aren’t just great for racing. With relaxed geometries, powerful brakes, and space for big, grippy tyres they make ideal do-it-all rides, equally happy on- or off-road, whether you’re competing, commuting or touring.
Best cyclocross bikes: At a glance
How to buy the best cyclocross bike for you
What type of cyclocross bike should I buy?
Cyclocross bikes need to be versatile, but some designs prioritise racing, while others offer more concessions to other styles of riding such as commuting. Some designs can handle huge tyres which – while illegal in most races – boost the bike’s handling ability on much tougher terrain. It’s a good idea to decide up-front what type of riding you’d like to focus on; if you’re unsure, aim for a comfortable all-rounder rather than lumbering yourself with a stiff carbon racing bike that might be less comfortable than other options.
Which features should I look out for?
A light frame, strong wheels, and good brakes are a must. Disc brakes are pretty much essential on a cyclocross bike, with their superior modulation and swift stopping times. It’s now rare to find ‘cross bikes without them. Hydraulic is best, but cable-operated models can be good too.
When it comes to the frame, carbon is king, due to its low weight and ability to form complicated shapes. However, a decent aluminium frame with great components can beat a cheap carbon one with duff kit. Wheels will necessarily be tough, but if you pay more – the most effective performance upgrade – they can be light too, and some can be set up with tubeless tyres for increased puncture resistance.
As for the groupset – well it’s a matter of taste. Many cyclocross bikes employ minimalist single chainrings. Ditching the front derailleur halves your available gears, but keeps things simple, cutting down on maintenance, dropping some weight and securing the chain. Predictably, bikes with two chainrings are useful if you deal with hills on a regular basis.
Some cyclocross bikes – usually not the high-end carbon racers – include more practical features such as mounts for mudguards and a rack. These additions mean that some ‘cross bikes can double up as great commuting or touring options.
How much do I need to spend?
Cyclocross is a niche interest, so bikes start at a slightly higher price-point than standard road bikes. Around £600 and up will bag you a decent one; north of £1,200 you should be able to get almost all the most lust-worthy features, like hydraulic disc brakes, tubeless tyres and ultra stiff through-axles to attach the wheels. Above £1,700 you can expect to see carbon frames – for lower weight and greater rigidity.
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The best cyclocross bikes to buy
1. Ribble CX Tiagra: The best cyclocross bike for riders on a tight budget
Price: From £999 | Buy now from Ribble
An entry-level racer with no weak links. A decent aluminium frame and a carbon fork, a Shimano Tiagra groupset, and Mavic Aksium wheels; that’s a hell of a kit-list for well under a grand.
First the frame. With dropped seat stays and a tapered headtube, it could be mistaken for something a lot more expensive. With a pretty standard cyclocross racing geometry, it still manages tons of mud clearance, space that can also be used to fit mudguards with tyres up to 35c. The carbon fork drops weight and improves comfort, while bolt-thru hubs at both ends keep the whole chassis stiff.
The Mavic Aksium wheels are both extremely tough and light for a bike at this price, while the Challenge Grifo tyres will get an approving nod from seasoned cyclocross racers, even if their heavy wire beads make them a good first upgrade.
The Shimano Tiagra groupset is slick in both looks and operation, and although the Tektro MD510 mechanical brake callipers are a little basic, to their credit they still use the svelte looking flat-mount attachment system.
A great first racer, the Ribble would also make a super winter hack or commuter. Just don’t mistake this for code that it’s heavy or dull – it’s far from either.
Key specs – Frame material: Aluminium; Fork: Carbon; Weight: n/a kg; Gearing: Shimano Tiagra 50/34t, 11-32t 10-speed; Wheels: Mavic Aksium thru-axle; Brakes: Tektro mechanical disc; Additional features: Internal cable routing
Buy now from Ribble
2. Cube Cross Race: The best budget high performance cyclocross bike
Price: £1,119 | Buy now from Tredz
If you’re after a bike with fabulous handling even in the trickiest situations, then the Cube Cross Race could be the one for you. With mechanical disk brakes, Schwalbe tyres and Shimano 105 gears, the overall performance is no joke. This isn’t the only impressive aspect, either; despite its excellent agility and speed, the Cross Race manages to still provide a comfortable ride.
Thanks to the carbon fork and double-butted, smooth welded aluminium frame, the whole bike weighs a mere 10.4kg. This means that it’s both sturdy enough to deal with all the bumps and impacts that it will inevitably have to withstand, and light enough to carry on your shoulder should you ever encounter an obstac