A Race-Worthy CX Bike for Under a Thousand Bucks?
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 the Raleigh Willard, Diamondback’s Haanjo, Tommaso’s Illimitate, Nashbar’s SSCX bike, and the Motobecane Fantom.
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.
Five good cyclocross bikes for less than $1000
Here’s a list of my favourites, including a deep dive for each.
1) Raleigh Willard 2: An aluminum alloy cross bike that’s a steal
Raleigh’s $1000 alloy-framed cyclocross bike features Shimano’s Sora groupset, disc brakes and an attractive, swooping frame. 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 Raleigh is made from double-butted A6-SL aluminum alloy. Alloy is renowned for its stiffness and responsive qualities and this frame and fork should provide years of pleasurable riding.
Steel is having resurgence within the cycling community and its retro appeal and simplistic looks are enticing. That said, in a performance sport like cyclocross the weight savings of aluminum can make a huge difference.
The frameset geometry means that its on trail comfort and handling is notable.
One of the selling points for the Nashbar is its Shimano Sora drivechain, something you don’t always find on a sub- $1000 cyclocross bike. It shifts well and will last you for years to come. The only variation is FSA’s capable Omega cyclocross specification chainset.
With 46/30 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 Raleigh Willard 2 has its compromise in its wheelset and additional components. The Raleigh house-brand wheels are nothing special, and the Tektro Lyra brakes may have less bite from the brakes than hoped for. A small amount of set up is required to put these issues right. Or a trip to your local bike shop.
At its very reasonable price the Raleigh 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.
That said, it’s fine out of the box. For the occasional move from tarmac to muddy singletrack it should be more than up to the task as initially sold.
Pros: Reasonable price, Shimano Sora groupset, lightweight aluminum frame & fork
Cons: Average wheelset, initial setup / truing may be required
2) Diamondback Haanjo: A cheap & versatile cyclocross bike with good reviews
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 cyclocross bikes that compete well.
The Haanjo 3 is a good cyclocross bicycle, and at just under $1000 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. They offer reliability and consistency in mucky conditions when compared to old-fashioned cantilevers.
The Haanjo features a set of Tektro Lyra 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 WTB Riddler Comp tires.
The 700x37c 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 a forgiving geometry 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 frame
Cons: Slightly relaxed riding position, wide tires
3) Tommaso Illimitate: An aluminum-framed CX bike with a great price tag
Tommaso is an interesting brand. They seem to be found only online, and their models range from basic to high performance. The intriguing 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.
The Illimitate features 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). 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.
Pros: Vibration resistant aluminum frame, good shifters / drivetrain, excellent price
Cons: Upper chainring a bit too large, tires could do with more ‘bite’
4) The Nashbar: Wonderful single-speed (SSCX) that’s under $500
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 this pretty little Nashbar is its rugged chromoly frameset. The RXS’s frame is more durable than standard steel and sports a classic diamond design.
The frame is on the light side, which is good news for riders looking for a performance driven SSCX bike.
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 42 x 18 gearing. A set of garden variety knobby tires will also see riders switch from the streets to early fall conditions with relative ease.
It’s one of the few cheap cyclocross bikes on this list with linear pull brakes, and that’s a big reason it comes so cheap.
The RXS’s extremely low price (around $350 at the time of writing) and excellent frame mean that a compromise has been met with some of the componentry. The wheels aren’t feather light (yet should prove reliable over the long term.)
Could you race SSCX on this bike? Yes you could. Nashbar has designed the bike around a great chassis that will continue to offer you service with a smile for years to come. But upgrading componentry will go a long way.
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: Bulletproof frame, very affordable price tag
Cons: Single speed gearing has its limits, cheaper components
5) Motobecane Fantom: An impressive, budget-priced cyclocross bicycle
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.
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 strength, 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.
The fork features an alloy steerer and blades. It could use 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.
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.
The Fantom’s WTB Frequency I19 CX wheelset is purpose-built for cyclocross 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. It offers a sturdy frame 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 Tommaso Illimitate.
As a cyclocross racing machine the Illimitate has a lot going for it. It is surprisingly light and features great 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 Motobecane Fantom is the runner up. If you’re looking for your first cyclocross racing bike you would be hard-pressed to find a better bargain.
The Nashbar is tough and fun, but its lack of working gears ruins its chances to win this competition. It is, however, 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. For relaxed CX events, daily commuting and everyday riding it’s a great choice.
The Raleigh Willard is similarly impressive, and works perfectly as a multi-purpose ride.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.