CX bike recommendations for absolute beginner

Hi everyone

I’ve decided to give cx a go and would appreciate some advice on what sort of bike to start out on.

Ideally, I’m looking for an entry-level race bike - I have no interest in gravel or using it to commute on etc, so I’m fine with aggressive geometry/limited tyre clearance etc

I’m also on a tight budget, so have about £1500 to spend (plus I wouldn’t really want to spend anything more in case I don’t enjoy it!).

I’ve read that cx bikes are sized differently- is that right? I’m 5’ 10 and usually ride a 56cm bike in the road, but let me know if I should be looking at something smaller.

I’ve also been looking at second hand bikes - obvs would go for disc brakes, but seen some with excellent spec but with cantis - is it so much of a disadvantage to have cantis, or should they be avoided at all costs?!

Any recommendations or tips for a newbie like me much appreciated - thanks all

Canyon Inflite would be a great pick

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Welcome to the muddy side :slight_smile:

If you just want to give it a go, you can race on nearly any bike in the local races in the UK - if you have a hardtail mtb, that’d be fine for a first race.

If not, it depends on your aspirations - do you expect to race a full season, and make this a longer-term part of cycling? If so, I’d buy a new bike. If you’re not sure, or you’ll likely only do a few races now and then for fun, a second hand bike is absolutely fine. Cantis are worse than discs when it’s wet, but absolutely fine for the odd race, so if you can get a good bike cheap, do that.

Otherwise, bikes are a bit more expensive at the moment, but there should be plenty in your budget. I did my first races on a Planet x London Road, or they have a proper cross bike too. Also some of the other UK brands have cross bikes, the problem at the moment is often whether they have any stock.

Regarding size, I’d go for the same as your road bike, or one size smaller (maybe look at the geometry and discuss with the shop, if you can’t test ride it). Some people have their saddle a little bit lower, and maybe you wouldn’t run an extra long stem to help with steering, but apart from that, I think the setup is pretty similar.

The far more important thing is mud clearance! You want to be able to run knobbly tyres and have still lots of space for mud. UCI limit is 33mm, but in many local leagues you can ride wider - very wide is not so good when its muddy, but 35 is still fine. If you can, go tubeless (or tubs, but maybe not for just giving it a go) - often you want to run as low a pressure as in any way possible. But if you can only get normal clinchers, don’t worry too much about it.

Once the cross bug bites you, you’ll want a second bike anyway, so just get one and get started…

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I went a size down after peer recommendation. I can’t rightly say if thats right though, as for a change I blindly ordered the bike.

Forgot to say about gearing and pedals-

Gearing: you want low gears (i suppose how low depends on your power and how your races are). 1x is the way to go for me (less things that cam go wrong), but many people still like 2x with a smaller (cx) chainset. A cassette up to 32 or somewhere like that is common too, again depending on power, hills, and mud.

Pedals: dual-sided off road pedals, commonly SPDs or crankbrother egg beaters. Getting in and out of a muddy ine of the key skills. Some people like having a support platform around it, but that’s not very common.

Thanks - that’s a really helpful reply!

To go into a bit more detail, I’ve recently decided to switch discipline from TTs to cross (racing TTs on open roads was just becoming too risky and a couple of fatal accidents this year made me realise it’s a risk I didn’t want to take anymore).

I decided to move to cross because it’s a way I can keep racing (which I need to do) but within a relatively safe environment. I’m also kind of hoping that it’ll be a move away from the ‘arms race’ that seems to dominate TTing at the moment. I have no experience whatsoever of off-road, though, so it’s going to be interesting lol!

Anyway, so I am thinking in long term - I see myself racing cross almost exclusively from now on so perhaps better to buy a new bike.

However, unfortunately the budget is very much limited to £1500 which restrict things a bit when it comes to new bikes. Would you recommend ‘budget’ brands like Planet X where the components are slightly better, or cheaper components on a more recognised brand?


I’m probably biased, and they should pay me commission (they don’t, I have nothing to do with them), but after that London Road, I bought three more bikes from Planet X, and they are all excellent, with much better spec than the big brands sell you for twice the money. So no resevations to recommend them. I’d also recommend the other smaller brands - Dolan, and Ribble make nice bikes, also Kinesis are often seen at cross races. Lots more likely that I forgot about just now! IMO there is very little the big brands do better, apart from putting their brand name on.

I’d go with a cheaper bike for now - you’ll find out what you want from the bike after a few races, and long term, you really do want two bikes so you can change in the pits.

For example, while the LR bike I got was fine for a few races, I realised I wanted thru axles and internal cable routing. My TT racing mate took a while to come round to the idea of a twitchy nimble bike for cross. So I’d get one that looks ok, and then upgrade next season.

I honestly wouldn’t worry about particular brands or a new bike yet. My advice would be to join the Cyclocross Buy & Sell UK group on Facebook and see what’s out there. Maybe start off with an alloy bike with minimum Shimano 105 or SRAM equivalent. Ride a few races on it, and if you want to upgrade later on then keep it as a pit bike. Wouldn’t hurt to pick up an extra set of wheels if you can - if only to stop having to swap tyres between dry/dusty courses (early season, needing file treads) and muddy courses (later in the season)

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If I was in the market for a new cross bike now, I’d buy the frameset Dolan have, and build it up myself. Should stay well within your budget and you can get the wheels and components you want.

Don’t buy the Dolan framset! I don’t know if they’ve changed the design yet but it had a fatal flaw that the frame snapped when the mech hanger snapped. When it happened to mine, one of their evasive replies was that the bike shouldn’t have been ridden in mud!:sweat_smile:

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Kinesis bikes are really reliable and have been tested thoroughly by countless riders over the years. You’ll always see loads at the races. I use the most basic cx1 frameset with 105 gears and BB7 brakes. Have raced for many seasons on this setup.
Also have a canti bike to play on as it’s a thing of beauty and I love it. Braking only slows you down anyway :grin:

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I didn’t know that, not a great reply by them! Maybe that’s why they don’t sell them as complete bikes any more…

@Jam2609, @wysbf2 has his/her head on straight with this advice. I wouldn’t even get worked up about 105/rival…Old Tiagra/Apex is fine as long as its well adjusted. You just need something that shifts and has the mud clearance. A second wheel set is a huge benefit if you’re hard on your gear, not only for conditions swap, but as backup for when one inevitably gets out of true.

Also don’t get hung up on old cantilevers as “bad,” they worked ok for a hundred years for the top riders in the world, they’ll work ok for you starting out. In my used market, cantilever aluminum bikes can be found for under 1k USD, and carbon for right around 1.5k USD… I’d look at aluminum and spend a little more on tires and or wheels, as suggested above.

“Run what ya brung” will get you through a few races and then if you want to make CX part of your regular riding, start test riding other people’s stuff and figure out what is important to you.

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Thanks for the advice - lots to think on!

I’m torn between getting a new and secondhand bike. Unfortunately the £1.5k budget I have is hard won, and I don’t have enough disposable income to be able to afford an upgrade within the next couple of years, so I would be looking for a bike to see me right for a few years at least. The Planet X option is definitely an interesting one as they offer what looks to be an excellent spec for the money, but then there are some very good secondhand bikes on the UK cyclocross buy and sell FB page but with slightly dated components in places (e.g. cantis rather than discs).

I think I’m also forgetting this is a completely new discipline for me and it actually won’t matter what groupset or brakes I have when rolling around in the mud at the back of the field! :laughing:

My other question: in terms of sizing, I’ve read it’s important to get a bike that has the correct ‘stand over’ height (correct term?). I haven’t learnt how to do a proper remount yet, so is there any way to check that the frame won’t be too big when looking at a bike in a shop/used bike?

Thanks again everyone - this is a really helpful thread for me!

Standover height - not sure that is important, unless you have very short legs. I’d even think a slightly taller frame is better, because it’s easier to shoulder for running. When doing a cross remount, you jump and lift your leg over from the back/side, so the frame hight doesn’t matter afaik.

I would think it only matters if you do unplanned dismounts by sliding forward of off your saddle, and can’t put your feet on the floor…

Someone else might know why that should be important?

Welcome to cross! I also made a switch to cross from something similar to you (long course TT, 10 years ago now). I never expected to love it as much as I do!

Any bike will be a great starter bike as long as it will fit decent tires (that is, don’t ride a road bike with caliper brakes). The canti vs disc debate was a big one for several years, but not anymore. Canti brakes are old tech, and I can’t see any reason to buy a bike with them. They are also incredibly flakey in mud. Judging from the fact that you listed your budget in pounds, I’m guess you’re in the UK, so mud will be a factor. No reason to start off on the wrong foot. I know the market is nuts right now, but in ‘normal’ times you could absolutely find a used/low level new disc bike for 1500 pounds / $2000. Looks like the latest version of the entry level Trek Crockett is $2400 (

Gearing go for 1x if possible, and if you end up with 2x get a shimano front derailleur (I used to have a sram drivetrain with a shimano FD because sram FDs don’t work, especially in mud). Other posters are right, you don’t need a crazy low gear for cross; you’ll likely be running up any hill steep enough to require a 36 tooth cog on the cassette.

When I started I got the lowest level specialized (it cost $1700 then, now I see the cheapest is $3200–wow), rode it into the ground for a few years, and then upgraded and kept it as my pit bike.

Enjoy the races!!

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That declaration is a gross over-generalization based on your experience with a sram FD. I’ve had sram FDs on 3 of my bikes starting in 2011. I had an issue with the very first one where the cage had become widened, but I haven’t had an issue since, road or cross. In fact, I’ve dropped far fewer chains (zero) with my sram 2x set up in a muddier and longer season than I did on the same bike with Shimano 2x (2 or 3 on bumpy courses) the year before.

Anything new will likely be 1x anyway, but Sram 2x isn’t a reason to shy away from a used bike.

Brakes will absolutely make a difference….not even worth considering cantis, IMO.

Cantis have been dead in CX for at least 5 years, arguably longer. I bought a 2014 Crux in 2015 on a great deal because the LBS owner couldn’t unload it since it had cantis.

Discs will far outperform cantis in all conditions for CX.

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To bring this to a practical level - if you have a £1500 budget you should find plenty of good used bikes with disc brakes… so probably wouldn’t need to look at canti bikes.

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Love my canti bike. It’s light and fast (ex telenet fidea team bike) but this photo illustrates one of the many drawbacks of these brakes.
I still race this bike regardless as it corners superbly. Honestly it doesn’t matter much what you ride, it’s all about fitness and skills. Enjoy the journey.