Frames designed for Cyclo-cross reflect the sport’s blend of on- and off-road elements – from a distance they are identical to road bike frames but with design touches that make them more suitable for riding wet and muddy CX race courses.
Cyclo-cross frames – features
A typical Cyclo-cross frame will be characterised by extra clearance for wider (and usually mud-clogged tyres). As CX bikes don’t use caliper brakes a CX frame will have either metal bosses for cantilever brakes (located on the seatstays) or mounts for disc brakes – or both, to allow you run your preferred choice of stoppers.
Another characteristic of CX frames is cable routing. Because racers often hoist their bikes onto their shoulders for steep and slippy parts of CX race courses (which may also include obstacles such as railway sleepers), Cyclo-cross frames feature ‘over the top tube’ cable routing. This keeps the underside of the top tube clear for comfortable shouldering and also keeps the cables out of the way of mud and water (as opposed to their being routed under the down tube). Some manufacturers flatten their top tubes to make shouldering the bike even more comfortable, while bosses for bottle cages are absent on many race-orientated frames as they would get in the way of the rider shouldering the bike.
Cyclo-cross frames – geometry
Frame geometry on dedicated Cyclo-cross frames is differs to that of standard road bikes, with a shorter top tube and steeper angles offering a more upright riding position – akin to that of a mountain bike – for more precise handling in technical terrain.
Bottom brackets are traditionally higher to provide clearance over roots, rocks and other obstacles, although some more modern frame makers have broken with this tradition to offer a low-slung BB for stability at speed.
Which cyclo-cross frame is right for you?
As with ‘normal’ road bikes, Cyclo-cross frames are generally made from one of four materials; aluminium, carbon fibre, titanium and steel. However most riders find that an alloy frame suits their needs perfectly for the short annual ‘cross season. Cyclo-cross frames tend to be built slightly burlier than road frames so you won’t get quite the same payoff from spending more as you will with a ‘normal’ road bike, as generally light weight is not such a big factor with CX-style riding.
• Aluminium: For entry-level racers as well as anyone looking for a versatile winter commuter/trainer/tourer, a standard alloy-framed CX bike is usually plenty of bang for your buck.
• Carbon fibre: Competitive racers looking to gain every possible start-line advantage will opt for a carbon-framed bike and top-end components.
• Titanium: Longevity, ride quality and resistance to corrosion make titanium a popular choice for Cyclo-cross riders who want to have a light, comfortable and bombproof frame that will likely outlast any other material. The catch? The price tag.
• Steel: Many riders appreciate the comfort, ‘spring’ and style of a nice steel frame, and Cyclo-cross specific frames are available from niche manufacturers. However steel does bring a weight penalty so a frame like this is likely to be intended for double duty as a leisure tourer, rather than a podium-topping racer.