Can I use a cyclocross bike for regular road-biking purposes?
You can absolutely ride road on a cx bike. Many of the components are actually road components, including the wheels, so slap a pair of 700x23's on the stock wheelset and off you go. Things to consider:
1)Cross bikes are going to be a little heavier than a road bike in the same price range- probably a couple to a few pounds. Ultimately not that big of a deal if you're not riding road competitively.
2)Some may argue, but it's ok to be wrong... cantilever brakes are inferior to road calipers, at least on the road. I wont get into why cx bikes use cantis as there are plenty of explanations across the interwebs, but you won't get the same control out of a pair of cantis (or v's/mini-v's) that you'll get from road brakes. There's a reason that they're different.
The best substitute, and they're getting much easier to get your hands on now since discs recently became UCI legal for cx, is frame/fork combo built to accept disc brake calipers. Again, they're slightly heavier than canti's or v's, but the overall feel is worth it, both on and off the road (and especially in the mud!)
3)This is probably the biggest one in my opinion...
Though they are similar, ultimately the feel between a road bike and a cx bike is noticeably different. Among more subtle differences, Cx bikes have longer wheelbases, higher bottom brackets, longer chainstays, and slacker headtube angles than road bikes do. These are all good things when riding off the road and in the mud because they lend to the bike's stability. On the road however, these geometry differences translate into a slower steering, more sluggish feeling bike. Once again, there's a reason that they're different.
That said, my cx bike probably sees the same amount of mileage as my road bike does. I ride it on the road regularly even for longer rides and it is a great commuter. If you need one bike to do it all and you don't plan on hitting seriously gnarly mtb trails (they can handle light to moderate singletrack duty), a cx bike is the most versatile machine you can own.
To answer the next part of your question, you 99.99% of the time you are going to come out on top financially by purchasing a complete bike as opposed to piecing it together by buying parts separately. Building a bike from scratch is fun and you get exactly the build out that you want, but in my experience with many bikes it has never once been cheaper
Finally, to find the right bike, go to several of the reputable bike shops around you and try out what they have. Due to geometry differences you may like one bike better than the next or one may fit you better than the rest. Test rides are key. There are a ton of great bike brands out there and a lot of your choice may come down to personal preference. Find a shop with a good fitter. Bike fit is important for all styles of bikes, but it's crucial if you're going to be spending a bunch of time on the road. Some shops will throw a professional fitting in with the purchase of a new bike. Be sure to ask.
Great answer! I use road tires (700x30) on my CX bike except during cross season. Riding knobbies on the road is awful.
Odd about the cantilever brakes not being suitable for road use, given that I've been riding road bikes with cantis for 30-odd years now.
@DanielRHicks I buzz around on knobby cross tires on the road on a regular basis. Just because I do doesn't make them the optimal choice.
But my current touring bike has cantis and my previous touring bike also had them. Cantilever brakes are perfectly fine on a road bike, and in many ways superior to the alternative styles.
+1 "get exactly the build out that you want, but in my experience with many bikes it has never once been cheaper" Unfortunately true.
@DanielRHicks touring bikes run cantis mainly for the same reason that CX bikes run them- clearance- and to a lesser degree for maintainability. They are not as suitable for general road riding in terms of modulation and often in terms of power. Claiming that cantilever brakes are "perfectly fine" for road use, while true in a specific context, is misleading for those unfamiliar with the different aspects of various types of brakes when offered up as a counterpoint to the information provided in the answer.
@jm2 - I think the big difference in power and modulation you are referring to is that it's much easier to feather the brakes and slowly stop using caliper brakes vs canti brakes, making them more suitable for riding in a paceline or a peloton than cantilever brakes. Cantilever brakes often don't have as fine of a control on the braking, despite having the power to lock up easily, so it makes it more challenging to ride in a group situation where your speed has to be kept consistent with the pack.
You certainly can use a cyclocross bike for almost everything and cyclocross bikes also make a fantastic winter trainer or touring bike.
Longer seat stays and chain stays lead to an increased wheelbase when compared to a road bike which can have a nagetive effect on cornering at speed.Cyclocross framesets are designed to be used with slower speeds in mind and subsequently have tighter steerer tubes (Generally around 74 degrees versus 73 degrees on a road bike)
Cyclocross bikes generally feature smaller chainring combinations which will have a limit to speed mainly on ultra-fast downhill sections at speeds in excess of 40+ mph experienced on long, steep downhill's or alpine style descents
Cyclcross tires often squirm on tarmac however a simple change of tires is straightforward.
Cantilever brakes offer less precision for braking. Many riders find them to be acceptable however they are inferior in performance to road caliper brakes.
From personal experience of using an aluminium cyclocross bike (Planet X Uncle John Frameset) fitted with 25 mm as a winter trainer. Comfort over longer rides is no issue. I ride a 44/36 chainset with 12-28 cassette and have an exceptionally good range of gears. I run out of gears around 35 mph. I've riden lots of 100 mile winter training rides in the mountains with no issues
What you have to remember is that there isn't a huge difference between a cyclocross bikes and standard road bikes. Generally speaking, cyclocross bikes generally have slightly different geometry, usually burlier parts, and will always have knobby tires. It's a road bike you ride offroad. Switch to road tires and you've got a road bike.
These differences amount to cyclocross bikes being heavier than road bikes. Since you're going on century rides, weight will be a big factor. Carbon fiber is always great in this department, but an aluminum frame and fork is looking more realistic on your budget. Don't buy a bike like the Surly Crosscheck, for example, as that steel frame will drag you down on those long rides.
If you're looking in the 1k-2k range I would recommend that you buy a stock bike. The shop I worked at used to stock Norco, and they make some nice, reasonably-priced cross bikes.
Is the weight difference between a cyclocross bike and a road bike really that big of a factor for centuries? For the past few months I've been using a really old road bike for most of my rides and it's HEAVY (it's a 1970s road bike). As far as I'm concerned, all I can see is an improvement, since I'm assuming buying a brand new cyclocross bike will weigh substantially less than my current road bike.
Don't pay attention to the doubt cast on steel frames. Modern steel frames are very good, and the difference in weight between the fairly inexpensive Cross-check vs an expensive aluminum or carbon frame is typically less than the weight of a U-lock. It's not a big deal, plus steel frames are great.
I don't mean to rip on steel frames, and I'm by no means a weight stickler. I own a crosscheck for commuting/fun and love it a lot. However, IMO you won't regret the weight savings while cranking up that last hill after 98 miles.
Ignore the advice about weight. A good steel frame weighs four or five pounds. A good carbon frame weighs two pounds. A complete bike is 20 pounds. A rider is 150 pounds. So the frame ends up being about 3% of the total weight you have to pedal up the hill. Skip the cheeseburger and you've saved more than the frame ever will.
A 170lb rider climbing a 2-mile, 5% hill at 300 watts will reach the top about 4-6 seconds slower on a cross check compared to a mid-level carbon bike with the same components due to weight. For a century this effect adds up to a minute or two of time lost, which really isn't much relative to the 4-8 hours a century takes to complete.
Cross bikes do have a different geometry than most modern road bikes, key word being modern. Cross bikes typically have a longer wheelbase and chainstays to accomodate larger tires, in addition they usually but not always have a slightly higher bottom bracket though I know many dudes who race cross with a 7cm bb drop and that is no higher than most road bikes. Dont buy into the hype or complete BS claims that a cross bike will somehow feel slow or react like a battleship or slow you down. Truth is modern cross frame geometry is nearly identical to old school classic Italian road stage race geometry with longer chainstays and a longer overall wheelbase. This type of geometry has perfectly suited many of the worlds best racers for decades. It is only in the last decade or two where an obsession has entered the road race scene to fit riders to the smallest teeniest frame possible with the shortest, twitchiest wheelbase. People often mistake twitchy for being faster, it isnt. All twitchy does is force you to expend additional energy keeping your bike poijted straight. Read some of the writings of Andy Hampsten, a fairly good rider. He essentially laughs at the guys who think a supee short wheelbase bike with twitchy handling somehow makes you faster, particularly on a long stage type race. In fact the opposite is true and Hampsten knows his stuff far better than most amateur roadies who will willingly drink any frame Koolaide served to them. LOL
+1 for Jake the Snake!!!
After many years on MTBs, I have found Kona's Jake the Snake to be my road bike winner! I have now ridden about 7300 miles on the road in just over two years on this cross bike, and I absolutely love it.
If I had the money, I would jump up to ultegra or athena, but have had little to complain about with my 105 5600 group. I would avoid bikes spec'd with anything less than 105, but Shimano 105 5700 group is better than two year old Ultegra in weight and performance. In other words, lots of bang for the buck!
As for cranks, you may want to look for cross-specific cranks which roll with a 46/36 set of chainrings, meaning you can torque up smaller hills in your big ring, and won't be spinning out when you get down into granny. I run an 11-26 in the back, which gives quite a bit of range for climbing and descending.
On the question of brakes, I really like the extreme amount of modulation available via cantis, and have yet to crash because I could not stop in a timely manner. I am regularly looked upon by my fellow cycle club members for heading out as others turn off their alarm clocks and get back to bed due to wet weather. Cantis have not been an issue for me in any way.
Regarding tire switch for the road, go with Continental GP4000s! They are super fast, super grippy, and for their race-lightness, extremely durable. I have suffered only 5 flats during those 7000+ miles, and have ridden a good amount of time on shoulders that have cut friends' tires.
Adding my voice to the chorus saying that (bike) weight doesn't matter too much, I have worn the King of Mountain crown against many a Pinarello riding roadie in pretty good shape. ;) And the longer wheelbase and relaxed geometry makes cross bikes pretty much ideal for longer rides such as centuries. Last, and certainly not least, for the cost of a little bit of weight, you gain an awful lot of durability.
I have only one bike - a cross bike - that I ride on the road and then race during cross season. I have two sets of wheels with tires for off road / road. I also changed my cross crank from a 36/46 to a 34/48 to help with hills, off road trails and also give me a higher end on the road.
The cross bike is fine for 95% of the time on the road. I have to take steep turns while descending a lot slower due to the brakes and geometry and the bike is a little heavier going up hill. But I can usually keep up with all but the most fit roadies and I'm not stressing every pothole or ding because the bike was made to take a beating.
If you're not trying to be ultra-competitive, you can do a C on any bike that rolls. I've seen guys do 100 miles loaded on a Huffy. And, as I understand it, a cyclocross bike is a "more relaxed" geometry than a standard road bike (closer to a touring bike), and thus possibly more apt to be comfortable on a long ride than a road bike.
Gearing might be an issue, of course -- you might want a larger gear to maintain road speeds if you're trying to be competitive. And you'd want to swap out knobby tires for something relatively smooth.
Weight is probably less of an issue on the road than in cyclocross, so I wouldn't worry about that.
I've done this and it is great! I've swapped tires, but now have a spare wheelset so it is even easier to swap for a road ride versus a CX ride. I race CX from September to January around here. I use the bike as my rain bike in the spring for road rides and as my commuter year round. Totally love that I can swap tires and hit some off-road and next day be right into my commute/road rides.
One thing to think about is that most CX bikes come with a compact crank set (largest front chainring may be 46 or 50 teeth on compact, 'normal' road cranks will be 52 or 53) which will reduce your high end pedaling (downhill you will spin out at 28 mph instead of 35). Not a big deal because you do gain more lower gears.
I am real happy with my REI Novara Rivet, not available anymore, but you should be able to get a very nice bike in your price range. I upgraded the drivetrain this summer to Ultegra 6700, as I wanted the nicer gear, it was well under $1000 total, but to get a new bike with Ultegra 6700 was going to be over $2000. I was upgrading an existing CX bike, if I did not have a CX bike, I would purchase a built bike instead of building it up.
A friend bought a Kona Jake the Snake this August and we've ridden and raced since and he loves it.
This is a funny debate really....
A vast majority of road riders have far bigger wallets than ability. I ride a 3 year old Genesis Vapour, it's not heavy by any means, but it's also not light compared with modern road bikes.
However, I am fit, I ride a daily 30mile commute, I can climb well enough and regularly beat roadies with wallets far outweighing ability.
Get fit and you will get fast whatever you are riding.... Just to put it in context, I did a charity ride at the weekend and there was a guy in his early 20's on a Brampton (fold up bike) beating me up most hills and me catching him again on the flats and downs.
You definitely can use an XC bike for road-biking purposes especially if you swap the stock XC knobby tires with slicks meant for the road. The only area you might be at a disadvantage as Glenn has already pointed out is you might run out of gears if the group you are riding with hits speeds in excess of 60 kph which can happen on downhills.