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Is it possible?

I ride a road bike, back in the saddle after a lengthy absence and cyclocross is all new to me. I went to see my first race on Saturday at Morris Plains in New Jersey. It looks a hell of a lot of fun but it also looks bloody expensive. I'm dying to have a go but it seems beyond my limited budget. The road bike is a fine ride but not cyclocross compatible in my opinion. Not much tire clearance, no braze-ons for cantis etc. Most of the bikes - I watched the 40+ and 50+ races, I'd be in the 40+ but think I'd struggle to compete with a 60+ field to be honest - I saw raced were of the expensive variety. Van Dessels seemed to be very popular, Ridley's and one gent had an absolutely stunning red steel Gunnar model.


I'd be very interested to know how successful people have been in either a) scoring an awesome deal on a bike and any tips for doing so, where to look etc... and b) assembling a bike of their own.


I'm tempted to try  b. I'm giving myself 12 months to get in shape and either build a bike (eBay, Craigslist, garage sales) or save up for an entry level bike.



If I can just be a cheeky sod and sneak in another one; I'm a big fan of steel frames how suitable or unsuitable do people feel steel is for cyclocross?


Any opinions, advice, constructive criticisms greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance, you cyclocross guys are insane, in the nicest possible way, naturally.

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Start by figuring out a budget that you and (your spouse/partner if you have one) can live by. Speaking from experience it is a fathomless abyss that you can pour funds into.

If you want to get one now it'll be a bit hard. They're in demand. That said, it's a slow time for shops and they probably have 2012 stock already in. So some deals are available there.


Starting right around the second week in Dec you'll start to see people selling their bikes. The primary season is more or less over. Then when Natz are over you'll see even more bikes for sale. Lastly, right before the season (say starting in Sept) you'll see a ton of things for sale as people are trying to get new equipment.


My experience has been you can know either your price or the time you'll buy something but rarely both. I set really low price goals for my self and am willing to wait. I've always met them. If you want something now-ish you'll have to pay for that.


BTW, Van Dessels are popular your way because the owner lives in NJ.

As others have said, figuring out your budget is probably the critical first step.  Our hosts built a race-worthy bike for around $600 from eBay, Craigslist and sourcing parts at their LBS and a bunch of the contributors are racing it this season.  The newest issue has an introductory article on the project.  The frame I am on now I got for under $200 shipped via eBay and is a custom frame that usually goes for $700+.  I use mostly older (1st generation) Rival parts, which can be had pretty cheap on eBay, going with older Shimano/Campy 9 sp gear would probably be even more economical.  I have a set of used tubular wheels I got for under $200 shipped as well, and am even on used tubular tires.  I've run into some minor problems (tubular not holding air), but they were usually solved with a relatively inexpensive repair (new tube into a used tubular will probably cost you $20-25 including the tube). 


As Chris said, end of the season you will see a sell-off as everyone rushes to upgrade their gear.  That is usually the best time to buy.


Luckily for us, in some ways, cross is getting more popular, so you'll also see frames and bikes from the big box online stores, like Performance and Nashbar.  Those usually don't have the greatest spec, but can be good entry level bikes to start you racing.  And as with any racing discipline, at the level most of us compete at, it isn't about the equipment (despite what we convince ourselves of), it is about your fitness, skills and race tactics.

it can absolutely be done on the cheap.  keep an eye out for a solid used frame and used parts that have a reputation for being durable.  'cross is hard on bikes, so don't buy anything that you can't readily replace.  craigslist, this site, ebay, used parts bin at the local LBS ... there are deals everywhere.  just make a budget, part by part, and start hunting.  i've seen some really nice bikes put together for well under $1,000 - and with a 12 month lead time, i bet you could score some pretty nice bits.   it's amazing what people practically give away sometimes. 


steel bikes are more than suitable for 'cross - why wouldn't they be?!  you need an engine and skills to be a good cross racer - that's basically it.  within reason, equipment isn't a limiting factor.  there are plenty of fast guys and girls out there rockin' steel bikes.  i have no doubt that you could find a nice 753 or 853 used frame at a very reasonable price and build it up into a great cross rig that will last many seasons.

Thanks for you fast and informative replies, gents.

I think a budget of $1000s is realistic but also topside of what my marriage would sustain. My fitness level is such that entering a race this year is a nonstarter. I'm steadily improving stamina and fitness on the road but hills and grass right now would kill me.

It looks like time is the key. I rather fancy the idea of building something up to be quite honest. I mean, you'd really feel like it was yours if you'd put it together wouldn't you?

The reason I asked about steel was that I only saw two steel bikes last Saturday, the Gunnar I mentioned previously and a young lad on a Surly. I'm not discounting Aluminum at all but after 20+ years out of the saddle  bikes have changed so much that almost any bike I buy will, inevitably, be better than anything I've had previously. My road bike is steel and, while I sure there are plenty could find fault with it as it is a base model, to me it's the best thing since sliced bread.

Once again thanks. This could be a very interesting 12 months. Right, now to subscribe to the magazine.

I raced that very same cx race you mentioned and saw some of those lovely, expensive bikes. Remember, this is NJ and there are a lot of rich people. However, There are also alot of normal, not-rich people too and cx is possibly the most financially accessible cycling discipline. So youre in luck


The good news is you can definitely get a good cx bike for under 1000$.  Even a new one can be had for if you are conservative in your needs and shop around. There are some good used deals around and the other people on this forum give some good advice. however, when buying used CX gear: "caveat emptor." CX racing is hard on gear and used equipment usually needs some TLC to get it in good condition. 


If you listen to the banter on the interweb youll think you need carbon tubulars or unobtainium frame bits. Pay that no mind -- The reality is that it is all about the rider, and his training. 


I look forward to seeing you on the courses of NJ next year. Have fun.


George thanks for that. I'm a big fan of keeping things simple. My road bike has down tube shifters. No big deal to me, I only really use three different gears. There are very few mountains in Jersey.

That one point about CX being hard on gear is great advice. I really appreciate that.

I'm hoping to keep things simple and have some fun and it does look fun. I like the intensity of it and, to be totally honest, it reminds me of how we used to abuse our bikes as kids back home in England.

Just out of curiosity, what do you ride?

Here here George. 


Jon - I'm on the 12 month plan as well.  I plan to hopefully sneak in 2 races this November and then hit the training HARD.  I'm a bit younger than you, and started racing 2 years ago (1st cross race was my first bike race ever).  I did somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 races that first year.  Finished back of the pack nearly every time.  Then started training for the spring road season.  Got derailed a bit as my wife got pregnant with our first child.  Last fall only managed 3 cx races with our infant and other duties taking priority.  This fall... well, 2 races will be a nice treat.  So, I guess my point is, you can do it.  It is fun, even if your fitness isn't stellar.  Racing pushes you to go faster and harder than you likely can just training.  Nothing replaces race experience.  So shop around, get a bike, work on your fitness, work on your cross skills and go race.  Did I mention it is fun?  So here is to a great 2012/2013 cross season, even though this one isn't over yet.

It doesn't have to be expensive but I'll warn you right now you will get hooked. Steel is real man, I'm on a fantom cross uno (you can all snicker if you want) that I replaced just about everything that came with it. It's heavy It's cheap and I love it steel will not slow you down, not racing will.


cheers good luck go race

I got into 'cross for under $300. I'm riding the same singlespeed bike I rode last year and will probably race it again next year. Find a bike that fits, get some help cobbling it together from a good mix of dependable parts and ride it a lot so it becomes like part of you.


Other ways to save money:

a. If you can volunteer some time at the race in exchange for your race fees, do it. 'Cross races in my area run about $25 per race. Do the math and if you have time, give some.

b. If you live in a town where bikes can go on transit, go multi-modal to local races. Take transit for the first part, then ride the rest of the way and poof! There's your warm-up. If you live close enough to a venue ride the whole way there.

c. If transit's not an option, make nice with forum users in your town and carpool.

d. Join a team. This may sound counter-intuitive, since there are teams that cost money; but some teams are especially adept at fundraising and sponsor relations, with the end result being that your kit is almost paid for and your race fees covered or at least reduced. You may also score free food now and then; one of our sponsors gave us fresh-made deli sandwiches which we ate after our short-track races this summer and another gives us day-old artisan loaves of bread. Yum!


Good luck and enjoy the trip --beth

'Steel will not slow you down.' I like it.

Beth, single speed CX that's a whole other universe. I can't even contemplate that. How do you manage? Do you end up running lots? Wow!

Financially, I'm okay with the day-to-day, gas, entry fees etc... It's the big ticket item I have trouble with. I guess with a 12 month window I could just save and buy a bike and that's what I might end up doing. However, the idea of building a bike really intrigues me, more now than ever thanks to some of these responses.

Funny thing about cycling, I don't see it as a team sport.


Once again, thanks guys. Amazing responses.

I rode BMX when I was a kid, back in the dark ages (ca. 1972). So when I was invited to try racing three years ago, I went with what seemed like familiar territory, and built up a singlespeed mountain bike. Without the derailleurs it turned out to be cheaper -- and more fun! I'm a pedaling "weenie" and a bit of a climber -- I like to spin lower gears rather than push bigger gears, so my gearing will seem low to most of the folks out there -- 32/19 (or 20 in deep mud). I do tend to spin out on some long, flat stretches but can generally power up the inclines and through deep mud.

A downside of racing singlespeed on a mountain bike is having no real neutral support in the pits unless you bring your own wheels -- and on 26" tires I generally don't get many flats, which is another reason my approach remains affordable. (The bike can be seen in my profile photo.)

BTW, I'm no whiz at racing -- I'm an asthmatic back-of-the-pack finisher racing my singlespeed in the Womens' Master 45+ category. So far I've been the only woman in my category on a singlespeed, which gets me equal measures of gentle ribbing and admiration. Go for it and above all have fun!


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