Can You Get A Race Worthy Cyclocross Bike For $1000?
Cyclocross racing is one of the fastest growing sports in North America and across parts of Europe. Merging the speed of road racing with the handling technique of mountain biking, it offers an exhilarating way to spend fall and winter once the mercury starts to drop.
Cyclocross bikes are extremely versatile. They can be used as a thoroughbred racing machine through winter, yes, but their adaptability means that you could fit some fenders and some road tires to use one for comfortable, quick commuting. Alternatively, you could fit a rack and head off touring with minimal additional investment.
In other words, they’re a great bicycular investment.
We’re going to take a look at some of the best low-cost cyclocross bikes around the $1000 price mark, which represents the lower end of the marketplace. With a fair selection of different options (depending on rider preference and individual style), it should be possible to pick up a bargain.
This review will focus on Internet retailer Nashbar’s Steel cyclocross offering which features an impressive Shimano 105 groupset ($849 at time of review), Diamondback’s Haanjo ($900) featuring a flat bar and aluminum frame, Tommaso’s Bestia with Tiagra groupset and excellent price ($849), Raleigh’s Furley singlespeed cyclocross bike ($799) which features disc brakes for reliable stopping, and the Redline Conquest ($1089) which features a performance orientated aluminium frameset.
This review will focus on whether the bikes are tailored towards cyclocross racing and if $1000 can buy you a race-worthy cyclocross bicycle for beginners or those on a budget.
Nashbar 105: An aluminum alloy cyclocross bike for less than $1000
Retailers no longer need a physical shop to sell their goods. Online retailers can offer excellent value for money by merit of a drastically reduced overhead.
Nashbar is an online retailer that strives to offer bikes at exceptionally low prices, and their $800 alloy-framed cyclocross bike features Shimano’s 105 groupset, which is usually unheard of at this price point. The only negative is that it comes in a box, so the customer is responsible for setting the bike up.
Frame and fork:
The frameset on the Nashbar is made from double-butted A6-SL aluminum alloy. Alloy is renowned for its stiffness and responsive qualities and this frame, when coupled with its chromoly fork, should provide years of pleasurable riding. I should mention that the front fork is constructed from FC770 carbon fibre,
Steel is having resurgence within the cycling community and its retro appeal entices many for its simplistic looks and nostalgic feel. That said, in a performance orientated sport like cyclocross the extra weight of an inexpensive steel bike can be what holds a rider back in the mud. That’s why when you find alloy at this price point it’s worth jumping on.
The frameset looks very similar to Surly’s Cross-Check in its geometry and its on trail comfort and handling is very similar.
One of the big selling points for the Nashbar is its Shimano 105 drivechain which is something you wouldn’t expect on a sub- $1000 cyclocross bike. It shifts impeccably well and will last you for years to come. The only variation is FSA’s excellent Gossamer cyclocross specification chainset. With 50/34 at the front and 11-32 at the back you should never be left wanting for gears whether you’re ascending Mont Ventoux or tackling a Christmas-time CX mudfest.
The Nashbar 105 alloy has its compromise in its wheelset and additional components. Many buyers have noted that the wheels weren’t in perfect true on arrival and that there was a little less bite from the brakes than they had hoped for. A small amount of knowledge on bike set up is required to put these issues right. Or a trip to your local bike shop if you’d prefer to outsource that aspect.
At its insanely low price the Nashbar represents good value for money for riders looking for a geared cyclocross bike with a versatile and snappy aluminum frame. A more reliable set of wheels would turn a great value package into a race-ready machine.
But it’s fine out of the box too. For the occasional move from tarmac to muddy singletrack it should be more than up to the task as initially sold.
Pros: Insanely low price, Shimano 105 groupset, sturdy and beautiful classic chromoly frame
Cons: Average wheelset, heavier weight, initial setup / truing required
Diamondback Haanjo: A cheap cyclocross bike with good reviews & versatile ride
Diamondback is one of the largest producers of bikes in the world. They’re primarily an online retailer, but that doesn’t mean they’re short on quality. They’re a good candidate for this list because they produce a range of entry level road bikes that compete well.
The Haanjo is a good cyclocross bicycle under $1000, and it’s a great entry point into the sport. Diamondback has intentionally avoided naming it a cyclocross, and labels it as an ‘alternative road bike’, but it would most certainly ride well in CX settings.
The most noticeable feature of the Haanjo (to me) is the butted aluminum frame, which has a stylized shape with 6061-T6 alloy construction. The oversized downtube and angular top tube are especially distinctive, and gives the whole ride a sturdy, rugged appearance.
The aluminum frame and fork ensure the weight isn’t too off the charts; it comes in at a hair under 22 pounds.
The drivetrain is well suited to the task of cyclocross riding. An FSA Gossamer Cross crankset pairs to Shimano Sora derailleurs front and back. The shifters are 9-speed Soras too (flat bar style). Sora is a lower-priced groupset, but I’ve found it works well when tuned and given some love.
The 46 – 36t chainrings are a pretty well suited pair for the task of CX style riding.
Disc brakes have been long overdue in cyclocross riding for many years. They offer braking reliability and consistency in harsh conditions when compared to old-fashioned cantilevers. The Haanjo features a set of Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes that are paired up to 160mm rotors in the front and 140mm in the back. They stop exceedingly well when tuned (though not as nicely as hydraulics.)
The wheelset is one of the beefiest you’ll find. DB Equation CX rims (about 23mm wide) are paired up to a set of Kenda Flintridge tires. The 700x40c width of the included tires is considerable. Ride them for a few weeks and see how you feel; you might want to size down to a slimmer tire with more ‘bite’, but see how you fare.
With flat bars you get a ton of control and precise steering. The bars are wider than a typical CX, the headtube is longer and slacker, and the geometry is more relaxed. It’s a ‘go anywhere’ ride. It’s a good racer for a beginner, and the fairly lightweight, durable frame should serve most riders well. But if your primary purpose is singletrack, you may want something sportier.
On the whole, this is an affordable cyclocross bicycle with good componentry. I’d certainly give it some consideration.
Pros: Reasonably priced, good drivetrain, lightweight and attractive frame
Cons: Slightly more relaxed riding position, tires possibly too wide
Tommaso Illimitate: An aluminum-framed CX bike with a great price tag
Tommaso is an interesting brand. Like Nashbar, they seem to be found only online, and their models range from basic to high performance. The Illimitate falls into the middle of the pack, and makes a case as one of the best cyclocross bike under the $1000 price point. It’s certainly got its merits.
Beginning with the bones, we have a 6061 welded aluminum frame and fork. Aluminum frames tend to transmit more vibration than steel, but Tommaso has addressed that with varying tube sizes, including an oversized downtube and extra structure in the fork. It will probably still transmit a bit more vibration than, say, a chromoly or carbon frame, but it’s nothing too overbearing.
And honestly, the effect is beautiful, this looks every bit like a much pricier bicycle.
The whole bike weighs in at 24.6 pounds (54cm frame). That’s slightly lighter than the Furley but a bit more than the Nashbar. The geometry is aggressive enough for trying your hand at racing, but they’ve clearly built it to be a competent daily ride as well.
Case in point, the crankset. It comes equipped with a nice Tiagra 4700 compact with 50t – 34t chainrings. The 50 is a bit larger than practical for CX racing and competition, so you may want to downsize. That said, 50t is great for flats, commuting and road riding, so it’s up to you.
In fact, the drivetrain features a full, matched Tiagra groupset, which is very nice to see, (though not quite as good as the 105 found on pricier models.) There’s a 10 speed derailleur in the rear for a total range of 20 speeds. The integrated Tiagra STI shifters will fly through the gears quite nicely.
It stops using a pair of Tektro Lyra caliper disc brakes, which is better than the standard for this price point. Tuned well, they work like a charm. The whole bike rolls on Tommaso house-brand rims paired up to Kenda Kwick-Trax all terrain tires. They’re of good quality. I personally prefer a bit more bite than these shoes provide, but that’s easily remedied.
It’s a beautiful bike and would serve well as an entry level cyclocross racer bike or a daily commuter. It’s also among the most reasonably priced of the (geared) lot due to Tommaso’s purely online presence. Take a look draw your own conclusions!
Pros: Vibration resistant aluminum frame, good shifters / drivetrain, excellent price
Cons: Upper chainring a bit too large, tires could do with more ‘bite’
The Raleigh RXS: Among the best single-speed cyclocross bikes under $1000
Single speed cyclocross (Abbreviated as SSCX) bikes have recently become popular in North American cyclocross racing. Their simplicity (by merit of having no gear shifters and derailleurs) takes away many of the worries over the harsh effect that winter racing and riding can have on a bike’s moving parts.
Single speed cycling in cities has become a trendy, niche area; however, for off road use single speed has some impressive practicalities.
The main selling point of the RXS is its tough, rugged, yet comfortable alloy frameset which is built from industry standard 6061 aluminum. The RXS’s frame is lighter than steel but may accentuate both road vibration and bumps from the trails. It also features a sleek integrated headset and chunky BB30 bottom bracket. The frame is on the light side, which is good news for riders looking for a performance driven SSCX bike.
It’s another inspired frame design, modern and swooping without going overboard. And if you want to turn heads off the singletrack, the RXS can happily switch to being an urban commuter with ease.
Not much to say here as single speed is quite straightforward. The RXS comes with a sensible 40 x 19 gearing. A set of 32c Clement MXP folding tires will also see riders switch from the streets to early fall conditions with relative ease.
Disc brakes are a welcome addition on the RXS, a modern performance upgrade that performs much better in the elements, particularly mud. It’s one of the few cheap cyclocross bikes under $1000 that offers disc brakes, and that’s a big reason it made the list.
The RXS’s low price (around $750 at the time of writing) and excellent frame mean that a compromise has been met with some of the componentry. The Weinmann wheels aren’t feather light (yet should prove reliable over the long term.) Fortunately the frame weight offsets that to ensure those hills never become a grind.
Could you race cyclocross on a Raleigh RXS? Yes you could. Its geometry is aggressive and its brakes provide quality control into tight corners. Raleigh has designed the RXS around a great chassis that will continue to offer you service with a smile for years to come.
For the money it will be hard to beat and a simple upgrade to a set of race orientated wheels will offer exceptional performance benefits.
Pros: Well-engineered frame, disc brakes (much better for CX), good tires
Cons: Single speed gearing has its limits
Motobecane Fantom: A cheap cyclocross bike with performance and value?
Despite its French-sounding name, Motobecane is a US-based cycling company that offers most of their bicycles direct via online shops. I’ve found them to be very hit-and-miss, but the hits are worth paying attention to.
The Fantom falls right under the $1000 cyclocross bike territory; if you shop around there are options to get it cheaper than MSRP.
One look at the Fantom frameset and you know it’s designed with racing in mind. Produced from 6061 aluminium, the butted frame features hydroformed tubing to add additional strength where required, yet remains classically apportioned. That keeps the weight low for those inevitable occassions where a rider needs to shoulder their bike and run.
Many cheaper aluminium cyclocross framesets do not feature this level of detailing and componentry, and for that reason Motobecane should be commended. They’ve constructed a fantastic frameset for this bargain racer. The geometry is neither too harsh nor too slack, which produces a well rounded cyclocross ride for beginners to the sport. But I do think it’s better suited to a race-minded individual than a commuter.
The fork features an alloy steerer and blades. I’d say it could use a bit more vibration dampening; you might find it uncomfortable over rough ground. Still, this is an excellent frame and fork package which definitely warrants future upgrades to componentry.
Shifting is courtesy of SRAM’s excellent value Rival 22 groupset, which compares favourably to Shimano’s 105. Its beauty is in its function, reliability and fluidity, but it can add up— parts are hardly inexpensive to replace in cases where “racing incidents” occur.
The compact 46t/36t FSA Gossamer chainset is excellent for a road bike at this price point; however the 46 tooth outer ring may prove a little big for cyclocross use and my recommendation would be to fit something along the lines of a 42 tooth chainring, which will provide a better gearing range for cyclocross racing. Commuters who speed some time on the road should find the gearing perfect for their needs.
The Fantom’s WTB Frequency I19 CX wheelset is purpose-built for this kind of terrain, and it should prove reliable and stand up to the rigours of cyclocross racing. Grip is provided by Continental CX tires which will serve beginners well through a dry, hard-packed season courses, and even once the going starts to get muddy.
The Motobecane Fantom offers an outstanding value for money package for newcomers to cyclocross racing. Right at the $1000 price point it offers a sturdy frame which warrants future upgrades as well as a fantastic Rival 22 groupset which could last you years.
It sets a pretty high mark for other brands to aim for at the lower end of the marketplace. As such, it is one of the best cyclocross bikes in the ‘under $1000’ category.
Pros: Beautiful, CX inspired frame with profile tube for running, carbon forks, lightest weight
Cons: All-aluminum frame can transmit more vibration, more race oriented than commuter
And the Best Cyclocross Bike Under $1000 is…
The Nashbar 105.
The most inexpensive geared bike on this list also happens to have one of the nicest combination of features.
As a cyclocross racing machine the Nashbar has a lot going for it. It is surprisingly light now that Nashbar has switched from steel to aluminum. And there are some surprisingly high-end components here that I didn’t expect to find. Honestly the drivetrain alone almost sells this bike for me. For the price, it’s a good entry point for someone ‘testing out’ CX riding or wanting a sturdy commuter bike.
The Nashbar has everything a racer wants in their first CX bike: A great, classically-styled frameset which is predictable, stable, yet responds to your every pedal stroke, and reliable shifting thanks to Shimano’s great quality 105 groupset. When you’re ready you could happily upgrade the wheels to some tubular rims and reap further performance rewards.
The Motobecane Fantom is the runner up. It weights around 22 lbs, which is quite light, and the difference on a race circuit is dramatic in comparison to a 25 or 26 pounder. If you’re looking for your first cyclocross racing bike you would be hard-pressed to find a better beginners bike than the Motobecane Fantom, it’s a bargain.
The Raleigh RXS weighs in as the lightest offering on display here. It’s a light, lithe and fun ride, but its lack of working gears ruins its chances to win this competition. If you’re racing dedicated single speed though, this is a contender. It’s also the least expensive bike on the list.
The Diamondback Haanjo is an affordable CX bicycle with nice features and components. It’s a ‘go anywhere’ type bicycle: the bars are wide and it has a slightly more relaxed riding position. For race performance the geometry isn’t as aggressive as I’d like, but for more relaxed CX events, daily commuting and everyday riding it’s a great choice.
The Tommaso Illimitate offers a sturdy frame with great geometry. Its Tiagra groupset is impressive, though the upper chainring ought to be a bit smaller for race purposes. It’s let down by its weight at 24 pounds, but with good looks, great drivetrain and versatile performance, it nearly won this thing.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.