Cyclocross Bikes Vs. Road Bikes

Muddy  & Sloppy Cycling Conditions
Cyclocross bike. (Image: Janet Hill/iStock/Getty Images)

It was only a matter of time before mountain bike enthusiasts and road racers joined forces. When the weather around the country turned cold and wet and the road racing season ended, road cyclists took lightweight racing bikes with larger tire clearance and stronger brakes off-road, and cyclocross was born. This sport takes place in mud, snow and dirt, and is an exciting alternative to traditional road racing. The bikes are similar, but a few key differences highlight the needs of competitive cyclocross riders.

Born on the Road

The cyclocross bikes' frames strongly resembles those of traditional road bikes, which are built for speed and place the rider in an aggressive position with drop bars for multiple hand positions. Road bikes use caliper rim brakes and 700c wheels, and are built with minimal tire clearance for better aerodynamics and reduced weight. Road bikes can be built from a range of materials, but carbon fiber is ubiquitously present at the top levels of competition.

Blood, Sweat, and Mud

The cyclocross bike is a hybrid of off-road and on-road performance. Higher tire clearance in the fork and frame allow the use of much larger, knobbier off-road tires that keep their traction in unpredictable terrain. Rim brakes are less common, with most cyclocross bikes making use of a mountain biker's disc brakes, which provide more consistent braking power in wet conditions. A cyclocross bike still strives for the low weight of a road bike, since riders often need to portage their bikes over steep obstacles that they can't ride over.

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