A few years ago, there was no market for CX bikes in Australia and they were considered a foreign oddity. Now a dozen or more brands have at least one model on offer in the local market and there are plenty of bikes on offer for less than $2000 that will appeal to newcomers to CX. Of course, you can always pay less for a used road bike and convert it to CX, but you’ll be defeated by poor tire clearance (which traps mud between the frame and the tires) every time.

Choosing a CX bike

CX is really hard on a bike due to constant exposure to mud and water so expect to see accelerated wear and tear in the drive-train and bearing surfaces. Also expect to spend more time and money on maintaining a CX bike. Best advice here is to spend a bit more money up front for harder wearing parts, and that’s why I’ve limited my picks here to bikes equipped with Shimano 105/SRAM Apex or better.

A few thoughts on bike-fit and geometry

Any search for a new bike should start with frame geometry to ensure a comfortable and effective position. While there is some difference in opinion on bike-fit for CX, an experienced road rider can largely adapt their current fit for off-road purposes. There are however, a few considerations unique to CX that are best explained by Australia’s sole representative at the recent CX world championships, Lewis Rattray:

“Two main differences are a slacker head angle, for more control at lower speeds and a higher BB, to enable pedalling through corners and ample clearance of obstacles. Many riders (myself included) run their hoods a little higher on the handlebar, as well as a slightly higher stem position, as this gives much better control and I am able to grab a whole lot more of the hoods. At the same time, it gives me a more upright riding position, which helps through the technical stuff. Having less weight over the front and more weight over the back also provides more traction for the back wheel, which is important for churning through slop.”

As a starting point, consider a frame that is the same size as your road bike, but run a 1cm shorter reach that comes as a result of a shorter top tube, rather than a shorter stem. Most CX frames have a taller front end as a result of taller forks, but don’t hurry to cut down the steerer and slam the stem until you’ve ridden in the slop. Finally, consider dropping your saddle 1cm to lower your centre of gravity.

All of the bikes I’ve picked here feature an alloy frame and a fairly robust build kit. Cantilever brakes remain standard on most CX bikes, providing excellent braking power and feel, and are featured on most of the bikes below. However, some manufacturers are starting to offer models with cable-operated disc brakes, and while they may not be as powerful cantilever brakes, they are easier to maintain and worth considering, even in the sub-$2000 price range. On to my picks:

 

1. Apollo Xact, $1499

The Xact is the only bike in this group that is priced below $1500 and features a full SRAM Apex groupset

Frame: Triple-butted alloy

Fork: Carbon blades, alloy steerer

Groupset: SRAM Apex

Brakes: Cantilever

Sizes: S, M, L, XL

Complete specs: Apollo Xact

Geometry chart (all lengths are in mm):

Size Seat Tube Top Tube Seat Angle Fork Angle Head Tube
S 520 535 74 71 110
M 540 555 74 71 120
L 560 565 73 72 140
XL 580 585 72 72.5 160

 

 

2. Cannondale CAADX 5 105, $1899

The CAADX5 frameset offers 7 sizes and a BB30 bottom bracket

Frame: Butted alloy

Fork: Carbon blades, alloy steerer

Groupset: Shimano 105

Brakes: Cantilever

Sizes: 44, 48, 51, 54, 56, 58, 61cm

Complete specs: Cannondale CAADX5

Geometry chart (all lengths are in mm):

Size Seat Tube Top Tube Seat Angle Fork Angle Head Tube
44 440 515 75 69.5 120
48 470 525 74.5 70.5 130
51 500 535 74 71 145
54 530 545 73.5 72 155
56 550 560 73 72.5 160
58 570 575 73 72.5 180
61 600 590 72.5 72.5 200

 

 

3. Focus Mares AX 2.0 Disc, $1799

Focus also offers the Mares AX 1.0 that features cantilever brakes and an Ultegra groupset for $1999

Frame: Triple-butted alloy

Fork: Carbon

Groupset: Shimano 105

Brakes: Mechanical disc

Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, 3XL

Complete specs: Focus Mares AX 2.0 Disc

Geometry chart (all lengths are in mm):

Size Seat Tube Top Tube Head Angle Seat Angle Head Tube
XS 500 515 70 74.5 105
S 520 527.5 70 74.5 105
M 540 538 70.5 74 115
L 560 553 71 73 125
XL 580 571 71 73 140
XXL 600 587 71 73 155
3XL 620 603 72 73 170

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Giant TCX 1, $1899

As always, Giant delivers a bike with upmarket specifications (SRAM Rival groupset) that defies its retail price

Frame: Butted alloy

Fork: Carbon blades, alloy steerer

Groupset: SRAM Rival

Brakes: Cantilever

Sizes: S, M, M/L, L

Complete specs: Giant TCX 1

Geometry table (all lengths are in mm):

Size Seat Tube Top Tube Head Angle Seat Angle Head Tube
S 530 535 71 73.5 130
M 555 545 71.5 73 145
M/L 565 560 72 73 160
L 575 575 72.5 73 175
XL 590 590 72.5 73.0 190

 

 

5. Kona Jake the Snake, $1899

One of my favourites of the bunch, I like both the colour and the race-like lines of the Kona

Frame: Butted alloy

Fork: Carbon

Groupset: Shimano 105

Brakes: Cantilever

Sizes: 47, 49, 53, 56, 59, 61cm

Complete specs: Kona Jake the Snake

Geometry table (all lengths are in mm):

Size Seat Tube Top Tube Head Angle Seat Angle Head Tube
47 470 520 70 74.5 110
49 490 535 70.5 74 110
53 530 550 71 73.5 135
56 560 565 71.5 73 155
59 590 585 72 73 175
61 610 605 72.5 72.5 185

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Merida Cyclo Cross 4D, $1599

With the 4D, Merida offers a bargain-priced entry into disc-equipped CX bikes

Frame: Alloy

Fork: Alloy

Groupset: Shimano 105

Brakes: Mechanical disc

Sizes: 48, 52, 55, 58cm

Complete specs: Merida Cyclo Cross 4D

Geometry table (all lengths are in mm):

Size Seat Tube Top Tube Head Angle Seat Angle Head Tube
48 480 530 69.5 75 100
52 520 535 70 74.5 100
55 550 547 71.5 73 120
58 580 571 72 73 138

 

 

 

 

 

7. Boardman CX Pro, $1,519.19

The Boardman CX Pro: A highly spec'd cyclocross bike which provides excellent value for money. Note that the price here does not include GST or duty.

Frame: Alloy

Fork: Full Carbon

Groupset: SRAM Force, FSA Energy Compact BB30

Brakes: Mechanical disc

Sizes: 52.5, 54, 55.5, 57, 58.5cm

Complete specs: Boardman CX Pro

Geometry table (all lengths are in mm):

Size Seat Tube Top Tube Head Angle Seat Angle Head Tube
52.5 500 525 72 74 120
54 515 540 72.5 73 130
55.5 530 555 73 73 140
57 555 570 73 73 160
58.5 570 585 73 73 175

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Specialized CruX, $2199

The Specialized CruX tips the scales with our price threshold, but it's a beautiful bike worth looking at.

Frame: Aluminium

Fork: Carbon

Groupset: SRAM Apex

Brakes: Mechanical Disc

Sizes: 46, 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61cm

Complete specs: Specialized CruX

Geometry chart (all lengths are in mm):

Size Seat Tube Top Tube Head Angle Seat Angle Head Tube
46 460 510 69.5 75.5 100
49 490 516 70.5 75.5 115
52 520 537 71.5 74 125
54 540 549 71.5 73.5 140
56 560 557 72 73.25 155
58 580 570 72.5 73 170
61 610 587 73 72.5 190