So you’ve taken up cyclocross and you want to go fast, really fast, on a budget. But how? Where do you put your cash?
Words and Images - James Raison
I was talking to my CX guru and all-round weapon Nat Redmond about the best ways to go fast on a budget. So naturally I stole her ideas and put them into this article!
This isn’t the absolute cheapest way to race cross. This is how to strategically spend your money so you can compete with the gear junkies at the pointy end of the field. Spend less - go fast!
1. BUY ALUMINIUM
Alloy frames offer unbeatable bang-for-buck performance. It’ll give you the similar speed to carbon at only a small weight penalty, and at a much lower price. Cross has punchy climbs, not alpine mountain passes so a few hundred grams of extra frame weight won’t cost you much time at all. Plus alloy is cheaper to replace when you inevitably face-plant into a river crossing or crash into a tree. Cross is the best!
Most major manufacturers have entry level aluminium builds. They’re usually the same frame design, with similar finishing kit, for a smaller pile of dollarydoos. Don’t forget bike buy and sell groups. They’re stacked with great value alloy whips. To many, aluminium bikes are a gateway to something faster. To the savvy racer on a budget, they’re a gateway to cheap wins.
2. GET YOURSELF SOME TUBS
I know, I know, this sounds at odds with low budget but we’re here to win, not just make the start line.
Tubular wheels and tyres are the most important performance upgrade you can make. They’re absolutely crucial because they let you get creative with your tyre pressures. Low tyre pressure means better grip in all conditions. Even dry courses are faster on tubs with a bit of squish in them. It gets even more important with inclement weather. You can run crazy-low pressure in tubs to help your tyres bite into the slush and mud. Tubs are more useful when they puncture too. Unlike clinchers, you can ride a deflating tub back to the pits for a change.
The tubs you get don’t have to be ENVEs or Zipps. Just something rugged with 28 spokes, wide and shallow rims, and sealed bearings. Find yourself a wheel builder and ask for a cheap set of bangers for cross. They’ll know what to do.
3. CHOOSE YOUR TYRES WELL
Choosing the right tyre to glue to your new tubs is your next big decision. You can only choose one, so you need something that can handle almost everything. The smart move is to fit intermediates that’ll do a decent job in bad weather, and be blazing quick in dry. Australia’s winter cross season can be rainy, but is generally at the dryer end. Intermediates will cover you for most of Winter, and all of Summer. Nat’s intermediate recommendation is the Challenge Grifo or FMB Slalom.
There’s no escaping that intermediates will struggle in mud. But you can just dump out a bunch of pressure and do your best.. That's what the competition will be doing.
Remember those humble clincher wheels that came with your bike? Dig them out of the cupboard and set them up tubeless with another set of intermediates. Now you've got a sweet backup in case you puncture or roll a tub.
4. BLING DRIVETRAINS AREN’T NECESSARY
We’d all love the top-shelf drivetrains for racing but entry level tech is more than capable of carrying you to a win. SRAM Apex or Shimano 105 are great groupsets - and cheap ones. The ideal setup for Australia is a 1x drivetrain with hydro brakes. If you’re squeezing every penny then you can go for cable discs, but hydro has the superior stopping power.
The most important factor is maintenance. Take care of your drivetrain and it’ll take care of you.
Not only are lower-tiered parts cheaper to buy the first time, they’re cheaper to replace. Cross is a harsh discipline. You’ll plough through horrid conditions, throw your bike around, and crash. Frequently. When you tear off your rear derailleur, you’ll be thankful for the low repair bill because you chose value over bling.
5. PICK CHEAP ACCESSORIES
So you’ve got a sweet rig and some fast tubs to get you on-course but we’re not done making smart purchase decisions.
Grab yourself some cheap MTB shoes that can take spikes. They’re a little flexy to help you run and the spikes will make sure you can grip in filthy conditions. Pair those with with some excellent Shimano M520 pedals. Those things are damn cheap and damn good.
Finish the ensemble with an old helmet, or buy a new cheapie, and some of the most unfashionable kit you’ve buried in your closet. It’ll be even more awesome when you win a race dressed in replica ORICA-GreenEdge kit. Everything looks awesome on the top step of the podium.
So let's put a number on this. Nat's first setup in 2015 was an alloy frame carbon fork bike with 10 speed, 1x SRAM Rival with Hydraulic Disk Brakes bought on sale for $1,500. She then spent $800 dollars on carbon racing wheels, $150 on tyres, and BOOM: racing weapon for under $2,500.
Did these tips help you choose your CX setup? Let us know in the comments below!