Getting into cyclocross from other cycling disciplines can be intimidatingly expensive, especially when you see so many people racing on the latest carbon-fiber this-and-that. That's why I'm grateful for the grass-roots ethos of singlespeed racing, which encourages simplicity and resourcefulness over high-concept technology and flash. For the singlespeed mountain biker wanting to try cyclocross on a very tight budget, consider the Redline Monocog.
Here are specs: http://www.redlinebicycles.com/archives/2010-monocog-26
Test model: 17" (medium). Rider is 5' 7" and 165 lbs.
MSRP $420.00 (26" model, the 29'er costs a bit more)
This bike has been ridden through an entire season of short-track xc, a few weeks of cross practices and my first cross race last weekend. The straight fork shortens the wheels base just enough to make the bike feel quick without feeling overly "squirrelly", and it handles grass and gravel with equal aplomb. The bike really responds to my pedal stroke and in spite of its relative heavier weight it rewards my accelerations quickly enough to let me power over the berms. Cornering feels confident and quick. Descending, even over bumps, is a very straightforward affair, though riders unaccustomed to a fully-rigid mountain bike will want to practice in non-race situations to get used to the feel.
The Monocog is NOT a cyclocross bike, it's a singlespeed mountain bike, so it IS definitely heavy on run-ups and when suitcasing over barriers. But for courses that favor singlespeeds -- such as last week's Alpenrose Dairy course -- it's a fun and rewarding bike to ride. The 26" wheel size will get you no help in the pits (and are not allowed at UCI races, but if you're racing cross on a mountain bike you're not going for UCI points anyway), but it's sturdy enough that, if set up properly, mechanicals will be few and far between.
This bike has high potential for upgrading. In fact, I think most people who get and love this bike buy it for the frameset and upgrade parts as they go along. The rear ends are spaced at 135mm, and the stock hub is a singlespeed cassette hub with the same 135 spacing. The cassette allows me a wide range of cog sizes, easier to swap in and out than freewheels; and when I'm ready to upgrade the stock wheels it will be easy to find hubs that will fit. I've already upgraded the pedals, crankset and bottom bracket, which shaved over a full pound off the weight. The stock V-brakes work just fine, but you can easily swap in disc brakes. (If you wanted to add drop bars you could turn this into a really fun Monster Cross singlespeeder.)
In summary, roadies will hate this bike; but frankly they've got plenty of roadie-style cross choices already. But if you're coming into cross from mountain biking and you want to go singlespeed, you could do a lot worse than to start here. I invited a few friends to try out my Monocog at Alpenrose and they all came back giggling with delight, which I took as a good sign. A couple of them didn't want to give it back. At MSRP of $420.00 The Monocog is a decent, low-cost entry into singlespeed riding and would not make a bad first bike for the mountain biker looking to try cross.