Cyclocross newbie question (bike choice)

Cyclocross question for the group: I’m a triathlete but want to venture out into cyclocross. Being that most of my money is vested in triathlon, I’m looking at what type of bike I should buy. Obviously a cyclocross specific bike would make sense, but my LBS as well as some internet research claims gravel bikes are more functional for things outside of just cyclocross racing (longer off road group rides or races like Dirty Kanza or Leadville, etc). Since I don’t anticipate being competitive at least for the first few years and always having the ability to add another bike later, can anyone give insight into the pros and cons of a gravel bike vs a cyclocross bike for a newbie interested in trying out cyclocross? Thanks!

A pure cx bike will have more racy/aggressive angles and geometry. A cx bike may also have less tire clearance than the gravel bike. The gravel bike will most likely have a wider range of gears where as the cx bike will have gears more oriented to cx racing (fewer easy gears). The gravel bike will probably have more attachment points for certain kinds of extra bags/gear if you want that stuff. In some cases, there isn’t much difference between a performance gravel bike and a cx bike.

I’m certainly no geometry expert, but my understanding is that gravel bikes have some geometry features meant for more stability and comfort in the ride (longer wheelbase) while CX specific bikes are made to be more nimble and responsive to the demands of the discipline. I sure many models blur the lines so you might be able to find a more “racy” gravel bike to use for Cx

I think a lot of gravel bikes come with compact cranks, you def don’t want 50t front in a Cx race!

It’s fun as heck, so hope you get into it!

I guess a follow up would be will the handling characteristics of a gravel bike make it a cow to ride during a cx race or for someone who just wants to go out and have fun would it be adequate?

If you’re just looking to go out there and have fun, a gravel bike will do just fine. I’ve even seen guys do well on their gravel bikes when their cx bike was out of commission.

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I was exactly you a couple years ago. Long time triathlete looking to try something new. I ended up going with a Santa Cruz Stigmata. It’s kind of a blend between a cross and gravel bike. Geometry is more like a cross bike, but not quite as aggressive as a pure CX bike. Biggest difference though is that it’s got clearance for much bigger tires then a bike that is designed for racing cross. For gravel I run a 40mm on the back and a 45mm on the front. I’ll then swap them out for 35mm cross tires once cross season rolls around.

I’ve even got another set of wheels with 28mm road tires and the bike is great as a road bike too. So much so I sold my road bike.

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Pure CX bikes will most likely have 1x drivetrain. Gravel bikes often have 2x (occasionally they do have 1x).

Some CX bikes (like Giant TCX or Trek Crockett I think) have room for 40mm tires. Trek Checkpoint is a gravel bike with 2x drive-train and adjustable dropouts to convert to 1x easily. Trek Crockett is a CX bike with a 1x drive-train with adjustable dropouts to convert to 2x if needed.

Geometry is more aggressive on cyclo-cross bike, so it will likely be punishing after 2-3 hours. Check out videos by YouTuber Clint Gibbs. He’s cycled through both CX and gravel bikes, and races CX regularly.

My personal take: a nimble gravel bike (like Trek Checkpoint or Giant Revolt) with a 2x drive-train is a good choice if you’re not planning on racing cyclocross competitively for the first few years.

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I used to race a gravel bike in cx, and you can definitely make do. The bb on a gravel bike is usually lower as you don’t need to clear jumps or manage steep off-cambers and is a small disadvantage in cx. This helps make the gravel bike feel more stable (your weight is balanced lower)).

I now have a canyon inflght cx bike. I ride it on the road all summer. Its fine – for hours and hours, including several century+ (maybe I should have bought a smaller one… hrmm). If you can tolerate a TT bike position, this should be no problem. You might dislike a 1x, as the gears have big gaps and I’d imagine you’re more used to fine tuning your cadence. Fortunately many 2x cx bikes so this isn’t a deciding factor (and for DK, I’m pretty sure you want a lot of gears). Still, I’ll be at barry-roubaix in a few weeks with this 1x bike for ~3.5 hour gravel race, and I’m positive it will be fine.

Honestly, I think you’ll find them petty interchangeable. The biggest argument against a cx bike is just that even if you’re racing, you’re not putting in that many hours towards it’s intended use. I did, maybe, 25 hours of cx racing on it last year? I really enjoy cx, so I decided that was worth it, vs continuing to race my gravel bike and get a roadbike. Also, the inflight is sooo much nicer than my gravel bike that’s it’s a no-brainer to use on the road.

Great tip. I hope I don’t go down that road, because I love my road bike. But, I think that my old cross bike could be a gravel/road Swiss Army knife of a bike. If I go new to get disc brakes, I’m definitely checking out the Stigmata. Plus, any Santa Cruz bike is cool, right?

“Plus, any Santa Cruz bike is cool, right?”

I think so… :+1:

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What’s the tire clearance on the Inflite? Many dedicated CX bikes top out at 33 mm (the UCI limit for CX tires at sanctioned events)

I have an entry-level Giant TCX (my first road bike geometry) and really like it. Coming from triathlons, I wouldn’t think you would have issues with a slightly more aggressive geometry over a gravel bike. I find it very comfortable over 3-4 hr rides, and that’s with the stem close to slammed.

Many (all?) of the Giants TCXs have their proprietary hydraulic/mechanical braking system. It’s a little ugly, but it works well for me and includes attachments for computers and lights to more easily attach.

There’s more room. Most of my tires are 33mm, but I’ve fit a 35mm no problem (tubeless, wideish inner rim width). Review articles suggest 38mm is good, and 40-42mm may be possible with certain rim/tire combos.

This is just not true. I’d wager you could fit 38s on pretty much any ‘dedicated cx bike’. My Focus Mares is a straight up race bike and fits 38. My crockett ran 38s. I could do 40s on my ridley x night. There’s a lot of +/- in width with tires when you inflate despite what it says on the side of the tire for width. it would be hilarious if bike companies started designing forks and the width between chain stays to the BB to fit only 33s. Besides, that standardized width is most likely going to change down the road.

Also, no one cares if you run tires wider than 33. Your local sanctioned series does not care.

Trek Boone tops out at 33 mm. I’ve seen it myself. Trek website confirms this too

Yeah, I can see that. I went to the site. I clicked. I saw. Must have changed that from the 2018. Anyway, I’m sure you can run 36s, especially on the front. The rear might be a diff story, but I’d rather have the wider tire up front anyway. That’s one bike out of quite a bit out there. I was wrong, about the Boone.

Anyway, back to the OP, if you don’t wanna race geo cx bike, then get something like the Checkpoint or scott addict. You could still dabble in cross with one of those and have it for our groading adventures or whatever.

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@JHow Yes, gravel and CX bikes are interchangeable to a great degree. I don’t have any personal experience with 1x drivetrain and wonder if I can do long gravel rides with it.

Otherwise such a bike would be a welcome addition to my stable. Along with a mountain bike of course

I jumped into cross about 1 1/2 years ago using my mountain bike. Not ideal, but it gave me a good feel for the sport. At that point gravel wasn’t really on my mind, so I went out and bought a Specialized Crux Elite. Love, love, love the bike so much I just bought a second as my B bike. :slight_smile:

I have found my cross bike with cross racing tires to be very versatile. I ride it on road, dirt, gravel, and grass. I since have done a single gravel event and the only change I made was to swap out my tires for some wider gravel tires. It was tricky finding a tire that fit in terms of clearance, but not impossible.

If it were me I would buy a bike that is marketed as a cyclocross bike. They really can do it all in 2019. A couple years ago many CX bikes had tire-clearance issues due to the length of chainstays, but most companies have addressed this. This is coming from someone who raced a handful of races on a All City Spacehorse (2x, road geometry) and then ended up purchasing a pure CX bike.

Any modern frame is going to accept tires larger than 35mm. The biggest factor for me would be my gearing preference in 1x vs 2x. For cyclocross 1x is definitely an advantage due to the clutch rear derailleurs. Chain drops are very common in cyclocross racing and having a 1x drivetrain makes that nearly non-existent. Not to mention it’s really nice to only have one lever that shifts.

For what it’s worth, I have done gravel races/rides that have exceeded 3 hours on my CX bike with 32c tires and a 1x drivetrain (40t chainring paired with 11-32 cassette) and it was great.

A deadly gravel and CX setup would be a bike equipped with SRAM Force 1x with an 11-36 cassette and a 42t chainring with a couple extra chainrings on hand (40, 38). You can tackle a lot of climbs with a 42/36 (1.125) combo. Not to mention you’ll be able to ride at 29 mph in 42/11.


My superx just clears 36s. If there’s any mud buildup and rubbing would be an issue

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