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Building out an old mountin bike as a cross racing bike? Any advantages?

A local bike co-op is doing a build-a-bike class this winter -- bring in a bike, over 6-8 weeks take everything off, overhaul, put it all back on.  My main goal is to learn how to better maintain mine and my family's bikes, but if I could get a kinda cool cross bike out of it, I'm game!

I'm thinking I'll use my old non-suspension mountain bike (DB cromoly, non-sloping top tube).  Mostly I'm thinking of using this bike because I don't ride it so it can be in pieces of 6-8 weeks and it's front and rear geared so I can learn about that stuff.

But what if at the same time I wanted to try to make it into a cross bike, even for racing?  Are there any advantages to a mtn bike in a CX race?  I've been passed by them (okay, doesn't say a lot!).  Do 26 inch wheels corner better?  Do flat bars give more control in technical parts?  What might I want to do to make this mtn bike into a good cross bike -- moustache bars, drops, other ideas?  

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Hey there,

I can actually lend some first hand experience here. For 1.5 seasons I raced on the converted Kona pictured below.
I converted this for minimal cash out of pocket with a lot of stuff I had around. The drop bars were inexpensive Nashbar bars as was the stem. Total for both was about $40 IIRC. The other addition was the Ritchey cross crank (36/48) that was an eBay purchase. I had an absolute blast last year. I didn't worry too much about results (I was usually around the 50% mark) and just focused on skills, technique, race tactics and having fun. In the tight technical this bike wasn't much of a handicap. Flat, fast sections, climbs and sand were another story. It's 1.75" tires were a real liability here. Shouldering the bike was as much of an issue as you might believe. I just hooked the saddle on my shoulder. Not sure how tall you are, but if you have a smaller frame with some post exposed this option works just fine.

With all this being said after 10 races my competitive side started to kick in and I was getting tired of racing with a handicap. As such I got the cross rig pictured. The difference between the two is huge. I could go on and on about resonsiveness, how easy it gets up to speed, etc. But I'll just sum it up by saying in the first race I was in with it I went from that 50% mark to 11th. A couple of guys joked they liked me better on my old bike. The second race on it I actually won! Must have been all that resistance training ;-).

Seriously though, a converted mtb is a great way to try and participate in the sport. I'd just suggest putting as narrow tire as possible on. Then go out and have a ball. You'll know when and if it's time for a proper Cx rig.

The 26 inch wheels are good for cornering but they can bite you on straights because a skinny 700c wheel or a skinny 29er wheel will roll faster. I know I have personally won a battle against a faster racer than me simply because I beat him on the flats with my 700c wheels while he was racing 26" wheels. If you arent trying to be overly competitive you can have a lot of fun using a mt bike for cross and a lot of cross races have mt bike categories. I say go for it. you can always put drop bars on it if you want but If I were going to do it I would roll with flat bars and if possible I personally would singlespeed it (but thats just me). Good luck either way though!
1. I'm cheap and semi-broke.
2. I'm not the biggest fan of drop bars in general. They feel squirrelly and nervous.
3. I rode BMX as a kid.
If you add all of these things up, then entering my first 'cross race in 2009 on a singlespeed mountain bike was really the ONLY way I could've gotten into the sport.
Now, at the end of my second year of racing, I find I may have a dilemma.
With the addition of mens' and womens' singlespeed national jerseys this year, and with the overall specificity of cyclocross bikes and components in the marketplace today, I would not be at all surprised if the same equipment restrictions that we are now seeing at the Elite level eventually trickle their way down to local races. I predict that someday, anyone who cats up out of beginners (including to race in a singlespeed-specific cat) will eventually be required to do it on a "real" 'cross bike with skinnier tires and drop bars -- even at their local races.
And while that might make sense, it would sadden me.

Ultimately, when time and money permit, I might want to switch over to a 700c-wheeled bike for 'cross; but for now, I race short-track and 'cross on the same bike and am happy doing so. I'd hate to be forced to give up a discipline simply because I can't afford to participate in an arms race that may become required at the local level.

I'm truly sorry for anyone who's been racing 'cross on a 26"-wheeled ATB and whose bike is excluded from Nats. But I can't say I'm shocked at this tightening of the rules. Look for more of this as the sport continues to grow and to refine itself to be more in line with what's happening internationally.

Meanwhile, I'm shopping around for some dirt drop-styled bars and fatter tires that will let me turn my bike into a poor-man's MonsterCross unit. I'm still quite happy on 26" wheels and expect to be running them for the foreseeable future.
I agree. Furthermore I say to anyone who wishes to participate in cross - Rock what ya got! Honestly the kind of bike you ride does make a difference but not THAT much of one. 90 percent of it is the rider. SO if you have a 26" wheeled bike then race a 26" wheeled bike and have fun on it. When time comes to move on to a true cross bike you'll feel like youre riding a ferrari.
I still agree with you both...a 65 yr old billy goat, a moxy young lady, whoever: if we want to handicap ourselves in the name of a good time and the agility to stay out of everyone else's way...we should be able to race. Am still bumming that am out of the race this Wednesday. With a house full of kids with long lists, it is hard to justify a whole new bike with all the stuff just to do the half dozen local races may make the time for...
Please, share your opinion with those who rule our sport!
If you mean the officials at the USAC/UCI level who, in their quest to support and promote the Elite level of racing, must also make nice with bicycle manufacturers, good luck with that. I've worked in the industry for over 15 years and I am convinced that the only goal of bicycle manufacturers is to develop new products and make more money. It does not behoove the bicycle industry to promote an ethos based on "run what ya brung" when their entire business strategy is based on a constant schedule of planned obsolescence. And it gets hard to keep your twenty-year-old bike going when you can't source parts for it anymore -- because the company no longer makes them.

(Don't believe me? Call up Shimano America and ask them how much longer they'll support 8-speed drivetrains. They stopped making 5-speed freewheels two years ago. Next year 6-speed is going away, and 7-speed is not be far behind. It's not a big deal for those who can afford to run 9- or 10-speed systems; but for those just getting into bicycling and doing so on a very tight budget, being able to keep an older bike going means everything.)

Sorry if this threatens to become a rant, but the bicycle industry thrives on getting folks like you and me to be regularly dissatisfied with our bikes so we will want to upgrade every year. I am stubbornly sticking with my bike -- flat pedals, 26" clincher tires and all -- for as long as I can, and this winter I will work on upgrading ME instead.
As a serious frame builder of progressive bikes a couple decades ago...tried to patent a curved seat tube for TT bikes, a lot more, as a citizen cyclist and racer, I TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU! THANKS.

Go ahead Shimano, can 5, 6,7,8 and so on speed cassettes. Still won't stop me from taking apart cassettes to make one's that will work.

I learned to do this way back when they first came out. Back when Shimano had allen bolts holding the cassettes together way back in 94.


I certainly wish you the best of luck.  This was to be my year to get into cyclocross and all I have is a mountain bike myself.  A few injuries have slowed me down but there is always next year.  Since I am new to the scene I am hoping I can sneak my mountain bike into a beginner's race.  No reason to exclude me.  This is a sport that needs new participation to be its lifeblood.  Spec-ing folks like me out of it before the word GO is a bad thing. 

Kind of a cross post here (no puns *ever* intended), but I had been looking for a 'cross bike for my 11 year-old daughter and wound up, with a lot of help, putting together an old, small mountain bike into a nice 'cross bike.  Seemed relevent to this discussion!  More details here --




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