by Mike Coughlin

If you are a long-time cyclist, chances are you have more than one bicycle in your garage. These days, there are many high quality bikes built for specific purposes and with different strengths and weaknesses. However, if you could only own one bike, what would it be? For me the answer is an easy one: my cyclocross bike.

For those unfamiliar with cyclocross, it is a cycling discipline that developed in the European off season to keep road racers in shape by riding (and racing) off road. Riders faced cold, wet weather, muddy conditions, and terrain and obstacles that required dismounting and remounting multiple times. Hence, bikes were developed to handle these unique challenges. Cyclocross bikes (or “cross” bikes for short) have a slightly longer wheelbase for mud clearance and utilize different brakes, tires and pedals, yet still look and handle much like a traditional road bike.

A few years ago it occurred to me that the design features of a cross bike would make it an excellent all around training bike. This was certainly not a new discovery — many riders have a cross bike in addition to their road bike for commuting and foul weather training. However, I decided to purchase a cross bike instead of a road bike, trading a bit of speed and finesse for the option to go from pavement to dirt to trail whenever I felt like it. It was the best gear purchase I have ever made, and the cross bike quickly became my favorite ride.

With the obvious exception of triathlon-specific workouts done on a TT rig, I have used the cross as my primary training bike for two seasons now. The following is my list of pros and cons for using a cross bike for this purpose.

Pros:


  • The pavement to dirt to trail rides I imagined are now regular occurrences, covering new creative loops with 90% road speed and feel and 100% adventure.

  • I have been able to swap drivetrain components, pedals, and even my PowerTap wheel from other bikes with the same ease as a road bike.

  • I ride through potholes and debris with more confidence and always know I can safely escape onto a soft shoulder if necessary.

  • The added suspension from the tires gives me a very comfortable ride.


Cons:

  • Cantilever brakes are not as high performing and can be finicky to maintain and adjust.

  • Hanging with the fastest wheels in town is no longer possible unless I swap the tires.

  • There is a small performance compromise in sprinting and high speed cornering.

  • Technical mountain biking terrain is a bit much for a cross bike (although straightforward single track is no problem).


In a nutshell, I found that with the exception of performance road racing and mountain biking, the cross bike can do it all. I even raced it in a local triathlon once (with the fastest bike split thank you very much). Those looking for a reliable, versatile and incredibly fun piece of cycling gear should consider adding the mighty cyclo-cross bike to their stable.

Enjoy the ride!

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