Transforming Cyclocross Bikes Into Road Machines (it’s easy)

A cyclocross bicycle can effectively serve as a road bike because both machines have many overlapping components and a fair amount of geometrical similarities.

If you want to use a cyclocross bike on the road, some changes will be necessary to enhance the experience.

A Cyclo-cross Bicycle = Off-Road Road Bike?

To a large extent, a cyclo-cross bicycle is a road bike adapted for off-road riding through the following modifications:

1. A Tougher Frame

Cyclocross bikes are designed for fairly tough terrain. The frames have no choice but to reflect the intended exploitation. Hence why they’re reinforced in the most susceptible areas (e.g., chainstays, downtube…etc.)

The extra material needed for the reinforcement increases the overall weight of the bicycle.

Nonetheless, cyclo-cross frames are still light all things considered. For example, a complete carbon frameset (frame + fork) weighs about 1600 grams.

Meanwhile, aluminum CX frames are about 1900 grams. With a carbon fork, the total weight of the frameset hits about 2500 grams.

If the fork is also made of alloy, the final number is close to 3000 grams. But even in that case, the extra grams will not be noticed outside of competitive racing.

2. Longer chainstays

Cyclo-cross bikes are designed for off-road and use wider, knobby tires that won’t fit on a road frame optimized for racing.

For that reason, CX bikes have longer chainstays which offer greater tire and “mud” clearance.

The average chainstay of a cyclocross bike is 420mm-440mm whereas the chainstays of up-to-date road bikes are about 405-415mm.

Conclusion: Cyclocross bicycles have roughly 6% longer chainstays than road bikes.

3. A Longer wheelbase

The term wheelbase refers to the distance between the front and rear axle.

The longer wheelbase of cyclo-cross bikes makes them more stable and less twitchy –a beneficial characteristic for the dynamic riding that the terrain requires.

Another benefit of the longer wheelbase is the reduced chance of contact between the front wheel and the rider’s feet during a tight, technical turn.

However, the extra stability comes at a price – slower and less aggressive cornering. For that reason, road bikes stick to smaller, stiffer frames with a shorter wheelbase.

That said, an average cyclist is unlikely to complain about the sub-optimal wheelbase of a cyclo-cross bike when riding on the road.

Many may even argue that the longer wheelbase is beneficial to recreational cyclists due to the extra stability and comfort that it provides.

4. A Slacker Head Tube Angle

To fully grasp the next point, one has to become familiar with three terms describing the geometry of a bicycle:

Head Tube Angle – the angle between the frame’s head tube and the ground;

Steering axis – a straight line projected from the center of the headset to the ground;

Fork rake – the perpendicular distance between the steering axis and the front hub;

Trail – the horizontal distance between the front tire’s contact point with the ground and the point where the steering axis intersects the ground;

Cyclo-cross bikes have a 1-1.5 degree slacker head tube angle (HTA) than road bikes.

For example, a 54cm road bike may have an HTA of 73 degrees whereas a cyclo-cross of the same size could end up with a 71.5 degree HTA.

Also, road bikes have a shorter fork rake ranging between 40-45mm whereas that of cyclo-cross bicycles is about 45mm.

The slacker head tube angles and long fork rakes of cyclocross bikes result in slightly higher trail values too.

The extra trail of CX bikes is there to increase stability through additional contact with the ground. The tradeoff is reduced steering speed which is why road bikes have slightly less trail.

Another consequence of CX bikes’ slacker head tube angle is that the front wheel is a bit more in front of the rider.

The end result is a more upright but less aerodynamic position.

5. Knobby tires

The wide, knobby tires of cyclo-cross bicycles are a hindrance on the road due to their extra weight and high rolling resistance. Changing them to a proper road tire will increase the performance of a CX bike on asphalt roads by a great margin.

6. Higher bottom brackets

Cyclo-cross bicycles have a higher bottom bracket for obstacle and pedal clearance. Without the high bottom bracket, the pedals would be hitting the ground when passing on uneven off-road terrain.

The bottom bracket drop (the vertical distance between the center of the bottom bracket and the axles) of road bikes is about 70-74mm whereas that of cyclocross bike is 55-65mm (source).

Or in other words, the bottom bracket of road bikes is 9-25mm closer to the ground than that of cyclo-cross bikes. 

Why? According to many, the lower bottom bracket improves the bike’s maneuverability and stability by lowering the center of gravity.

Once again, the difference is critical only if you’re racing.

7. Different Brake Systems (potentially)

Most road bikes use caliper brakes and discs whereas CX bicycles rely on either cantilevers or discs.

Caliper brakes perform better than cantilevers for the purposes of road cycling and are more appropriate for managing the speeds that a road bike can reach.

Cantilevers, on the other hand, are the better “off-road” brake because they have greater tire and mud clearance.

If you convert your cyclo-cross bicycle to a road machine, you may find the cantilevers less than ideal. For some, this may be a big problem while others may find the situation manageable.

Unfortunately, a cyclo-cross frameset cannot accept most caliper brakes for two main reasons:

1. Lack of mounting points

CX bikes designed for cantilevers or discs are unlikely to have the mounting bosses required by caliper brakes.

2. A long-distance between the mounting hole and the rim

Even if the needed attachment points are present, the distance between the mounting hole and the rim could be too long. In consequence, the only option would be caliper brakes with a longer reach.

The technical problems described above create a real incentive to find a CX bike with disc brakes.

Unlike cantilevers, disc brakes offer sufficient braking power regardless of the terrain. Moreover, they will perform decently even when the weather conditions are suboptimal.

The tradeoff? Disc brakes are notably heavier.

Note: Mini V-Brakes Are Also An Option

Another alternative would be mini V-brakes – a smaller version of standard V-brakes.

The shorter brake arms of mini V-brakes makes them compatible with brake-shifters.

Mini V-brakes offer god braking power and are easy to adjust. The downside is that they have poor tire clearance. As a result, it may be difficult to install fenders.

8. Lower Gearing

Cyclo-cross bicycles are designed for off-road terrain. In consequence, they have lower gearing than road bikes.

Also, many models use a 1x drivetrain. E.g., a 40-tooth chainring at the front combined with an 11-36 cassette.

Meanwhile, road bikes often come with 50/34 chainrings and an 11-28 cassette because they can take advantage of the higher gears.

Therefore, you may find the gearing of a cyclocross bicycle somewhat inadequate (e.g., spinning out on long descents) on the road. This issue could be fixed by moving to a higher gear set.

Another option would be to just accept the less-than-ideal gearing and live with it. If you aren’t a professional, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.

What Are the Downsides of Using a Cyclo-cross Bike On The Road?

The main disadvantages of using a cyclo-cross bicycle as a road machine are:

1. Lower speed

A cyclo-cross bicycle is heavier than a road bike and less aerodynamic. The result is a lower top speed. However, most people aren’t competitive enough to feel the difference.

Also, let’s not forget that the rider is the engine of every bicycle. A well-trained cyclist would have better times on a cyclo-cross bicycle than a low-level rider on a top-end road machine.

2. Heavier weight (insert table)

Below you see a table comparing the weight of high-end cyclocross and road bikes:

Note: The weight of the bicycle depends on the frame size. Bikes with larger frames are heavier. The weights listed below are average estimates.

Cannondale SuperX Force 18.4kg/18.5lbsCannondale SuperSix Evo
Hi-Mod Disc
Specialized CruX E5 Sport9.61kg/21.1lbsGiant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc7.64kg/16.8lbs
Giant TCX Advanced Pro 28.64kg/19lbsSpecialized S-Works Tarmac 6.58kg/14.476lbs
Canyon Inflite CF SL 87.9kg/17.38lbsTrek Madone SLR 97.98kg/17.556lbs
Van Dessel Full Tilt Boogie8.5kg/18.7lbsWilier Zero SLR Disc6.8kg/14.96lbs
Cube Cross Race10.4kg/22.88lbsTrek Emonda SLR 9 Disc6.42kg/ 14.124lbs
Cannondale CAADX 105 SE9.5kg/21lbsCanyon Ultimate CF Evo6kg/13.2lbs
Boardman CXR 8.98.23kg/18.1lbsTrek Domane SLR 9 eTap8.17kg/17.974lbs
Trek Boone 5 8.39kg/18.45lbsBMC Roadmachine 01 One7.55kg/16.61lbs
Norco Threshold SL7.8kg/17.16lbsGiant Defy Advanced Pro 08.5kg/18.7lbs

Conclusion: According to the data, a road bike is 6.5% lighter than a cyclocross machine.

3. Low/limited/insufficient gearing

As already mentioned, the gears of cyclo-cross bikes aren’t super-efficient for road riding.

What Are The Advantages of Using a Cyclo-cross Bicycle Instead of a Road Bike?

Surprisingly, there is a fairly long list of characteristics that make a cyclocross bike a good choice for the road.

1. An opportunity to run wider, fatter tires

The frame and fork of a cyclo-cross bicycle can accommodate wider tires. This is beneficial to those looking for extra cushioning and more comfort.

2. Robustness

A cyclo-cross bicycle is not nearly as robust as an MTB, but it’s still notably stronger than a regular road bike and does not require the same degree of babysitting. People tired of treating their bikes as a piece of thin aluminum would find this characteristic advantageous.

3. Multi-functionality

Cyclo-cross machines are 5-in-1 because they can operate as a light-duty MTB, a road bike, a cyclocross machine, a gravel bike, and even a touring bicycle with a few modifications.

The same cannot be said about dedicated road bikes because they are too fragile, aggressive, lack mounting holes for fenders and racks, and cannot accommodate the wide tires necessary for off-road terrain.

To take advantage of CX bikes’ flexibility, many cyclists have more than one wheelset in order to quickly prepare the bicycle for different terrain.

For example, some use their cyclocross bike as a commuter/road machine during the week and then replace the wheels with off-road ones and go for a gravel or CX ride during the weekend.

4. Fender Clearance

Racing road bikes seem to be anti-fenders and do not have attachment points for such accessories.

In consequence, riders who want to install fenders have to search for alternative clip-on solutions. Unfortunately, those versions do no work nearly as well as full fenders.

But even if road bikes had the necessary mounts, most of them do not have the clearance for full fenders anyway – another factor encouraging the use of partial solutions (e.g., seat post fenders).

Many cyclo-cross bicycles do not come with mounting points either, but at least they offer the necessary clearance to fit full fenders that attach with an alternative mounting system.

5. Rack mounts (possibly)

A cyclocross bike is more likely to have rack mounts than a race road bike. This is important for people who want to use their cyclo-cross machine as a commuter or a touring rig.

6. More comfort

The longer wheelbase and more upright riding position of cyclo-cross bikes lower the stress on the joints. People who find the aggressive aero stance of road bikes uncomfortable will appreciate this point.

Truth be told, modern road bikes are designed for speed rather than comfort. The bodies of professionals have adapted to the demand through non-stop training and conditioning, but recreational cyclists cannot invest the same amount of energy into their preparation and often experience discomfort.

Note: The angles of CX bikes are just as aggressive as those of many retro race road bikes. Hence why average cyclists shouldn’t worry about losing precious seconds.

7. Quicker recovery 

The wider tires of CX bikes soften the ride and reduce the vibrations reaching the joints. In consequence, the rides are less stressful on the body and require shorter recovery phases.

8. Freedom

Cyclo-cross bikes give you more freedom because you can take shortcuts. In different, a regular road bike is bound to the road.

9. Simplicity

Some people will enjoy the 1x set-up of a cyclo-cross bike for its simplicity and clean look.

Converting a Cyclo-cross Bike To A Road Bike

The blueprint below outlines the necessary steps to convert a cyclo-cross bike into a road machine:

New Tires

The tires are the most important aspect when setting a cyclo-cross bike for road usage. Knobby tires are good for the mud but are needlessly slow and loud on the road.

Three solutions come to mind:

a. Keep the width of your current tires but go for slicks

Wide slicks have a suspension effect and roll nicely. The downside is the extra weight.

b. Go for a narrow slick tire

Another option that will make your cyclo-cross machine even more road-oriented would be slimmer slicks. 28mm tires are a common choice.

The benefit of this approach is that you get a light tire with low rolling resistance.

c. Use your current cyclo-cross tires

A more economical path would be to keep your cyclocross tires and embrace the inefficiency.

If the tires have a file-thread (knobs on the sides+ flat middle), then they will be surprisingly fast on the road due to the low rolling resistance.

Lighter rims

CX bikes’ rims tend to be more robust but also heavier than those designed specifically for the road. You could consider buying a lighter set of wheels for the road.

New Crankset

If you find the gearing of a CX bike inadequate on the road, you could replace it.

One option would be to go for a compact road bike set (50/34T).

If the cyclo-cross bike has a 1x drivetrain, you could install a bigger chainring and a wider cassette at the back.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use a cyclo-cross bike as a gravel bike?

It’s certainly possible to use a cyclocross bicycle as a gravel machine because both are designed for light off-road terrain.

The major difference between the two is the riding position. A CX bicycle is more aggressive whereas gravel bikes favor a more upright posture and “calmer” steering for greater comfort.

Ultimately, however, there are no rules for gravel riding. You can use a variety of bicycles – a modern MTB hardtail, a retro MTB, a CX bike…etc.

Can I use a cyclo-cross bike as an MTB?

A cyclo-cross bike can handle some MTB trails, but it’s too limited to operate as a proper mountain bike. Moreover, the drop bars make the execution of certain MTB maneuvers more difficult. Hence why cyclo-cross bikes are good only as “light duty” MTBs.

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