Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Cyclocross Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This is my attempt to answer some of the basic questions regarding cyclocross racing and bicycles. If you have anything to add, you can leave a comment on this site.

Q: What are the best pedals to use for cyclocross racing?

A: While this is largely a personal preference the most popular styles are Time Atac, Crank Brothers Candys and Crank Brothers Eggbeaters. These pedal systems seem to shed mud better than the Speedplay Frogs. And there are some proponents of Shimano's SPD pedals as well. Some will argue that the fact the Candys and the ATAC's have a platform they make clipping in easier and provide more of a platform to push on or clip into. The Time ATACS can be had for pretty cheap these days on the used markets, and are a good pedal for a low cost.

Below are some Crank Brothers Candy pedals for sale on eBay:

Q: Why are Cantilever brakes so popular in cyclocross and not V's (linear pull types)?
A: This is a hotly debated issue, but their are several reasons canti's are king. One is because they allow more modulation than V brakes. Secondly, in cyclocross racing, there's less of a need to come to a dead stop but rather to curb your speed back slightly (this is related to the first reason given). Third, cantilever brakes can be set up so that the pads are further from the rims to allow for more mud clearance than V brakes. Lastly, cyclocross is a sport of tradition, and cantilever brakes have been around for a long time and they work.

If you're new to racing or will be using a CX bike to commute on and are trying to keep a bike build on a low budget and you already have a set of V brakes, theyre okay to use. Go to this article to find out more about setting cantilever brakes up.

Q: Okay so I'm convinced that cantilevers are the best for CX, now what are the best canti brakes?

A: Pauls Neo Retro front and Paul's Touring rear are the some of the best cantilevers around. They are light, super simple to set up, and work great. All those plusses comes at a cost---they retail for $186 for that setup. Although you can get them cheaper on certain places on the web. One of the reasons they work so well is that they use V brake style pads, this makes them much easier to dial in and "toe in" as opposed to those cantilever brakes that use cantilever smooth post pads, such as Empella Froggleggs, Spooky's and any old XT/XTR brakes.

Avid canti's come stock on a lot of cyclocross bikes and are known to squeal like crazy. Some have had success using extra wide straddle carriers, made by Salsa. If you're having problems setting up your Avid's (they make a lot of noise, barely slow you down, etc), don't feel alone, most people do. Although I believe that if you tow them in correctly and enough, they work fine. I believe this because I've used them in the past and when I first got the bike, they squealed very loudly, but a little tinkering waiting for a commuter train one day and they work great.

Q: Im going to be racing cross and I've heard a lot of talk about tubular tires, whats the deal?

A: Tubular tires let you run a lower tire pressure without losing the tire off of the rim, as can happen to clincher tires if the pressure is too low. Lower pressure will slow you down on the road or hard fireroad sections of a cross course, but low pressure is crucial in sand pits, and can be used to ride through mud or snow better as well. There is a balance between too little and too much tire pressure.

Also, a tubular wheelset will be considerably lighter than a clincher wheelset for the following reasons:

1. Tubular rims can be made lighter than clincher rims.
2. Tubular tires themselves are lighter than a Clincher tire plus tube plus rim strip.

Tubular tires/wheels aren't for the CX newbie. I'd recommend them if you're interested in stepping up your game a little, and are more serious about racing and your placing.

Q: Can my road bike be converted into a cyclocross bike?

A: Yes! The basic difference between a cyclocross bike and a road bike are the brakes and tires, and some parts of the drivetrain. Sometimes the bottom bracket is raised so that your higher above things like roots, mud, etc. Everything else is the same, shifters, cranks, seatpost, wheels, cassette, etc.

So first thing first: Tires. The usual problem is lack of clearance for cyclocross tires. Cyclocross tires not only are a lot wider than road tires, they are taller as well (due to the larger tread). Also, if riding in muddy conditions, you'll need extra frame space so that the mud does not cake up and stay stuck on your frame.

If you have enough room in your frame to run larger tires, you're still going to need brakes. Standard road calipers will not work with cyclocross tires. Since road bikes dont have cantilever posts your gonna have to slow down some other way. One option is old school technology, centerpull brakes (pictured below). These are often found on eBay or in the "junk" pile of your LBS.

Another option is if you have a steel framed road bike, you can have cantilever posts brazed on your frame---this can be done for around $40. Contact your local frame builder to see if they can do that for you.

Lastly, you could buy a new front fork (a cyclocross fork) and run cantilever brakes on the front with one of those centerpull brakes on the rear. I've read that the rear brake only takes 40% of the effort to slow you down so having a weaker brake back there shouldn't be such a bad thing.

You'll want to lower your saddle a bit, as it makes jumping onto your bike for the remounts easier.

You'll need mtn bike pedals as well. As well as smaller chain rings up front. Most common is 38/48 with perhaps a larger cassette 12/25 or 12/27.

I'm hoping to find a nice older celeste Bianchi to do this with in the future ---- a celeste cyclocross bike, is there anything cooler?

Q: I have a mountain bike and want to race cyclocross, what do I need to do to my bike?

A: Well to be legal to race in most local series, you only actually need to make sure you dont have bar ends (as they pose a liability/safety hazard).

But if you want to be faster, some things include locking out all shocks so that they are stiff. Also, you'll want narrower tires in the 1.5" range.Many online sites have a good selection of 26" "cyclocross" tires. That is, tires that are 26" but have a less aggressive tread to assist in rolling resistance on the hard pack or road sections of the course. Also check out this for more information about one man and his quest to turn a mtn bike frame into a cyclocross bike for adventuring around on.

Q: What gearing should I go with?

A: First there are two options---a single ring front and a double ring front.

Single Ring: By running with a single ring up front and 1x8 or 1x9 on the back you get most of the gear ratios that you will need for a typical cyclocross course. The benefits are that you wont have to think about shifting on the front ring at all (because there's only one), the setup is lighter (because you don't have a front derailleur, one less chain ring, and no shifting mechanism ie STI or bar end shifter). The downsides to a single ring are that, you wont have as many gear options as the racer with a double ring set up, typically. Also, I have tried a number of ways to limit drop chains and have been unsuccessful after using a multiple amount of products aimed at preventing a dropped chain.

If you choose to use a single ring, most people use a 42 tooth with a 12/27 rear.

Q: What cyclocross bike should I buy?

A: This is a very hard question to answer. First, how much do you have to spend? Do you want to go custom steel or production aluminum, carbon, steel or titanium?

Even when looking at two different stock aluminum frames, the key is to pick the one that fits (thats a whole other topic). Dont buy a frame based on color, or because your buddy says that it was the best frame he ever used. The frame has to fit your body.

Also, it depends on what your intention for the frame is going to be. Pure racing? Commuting and loaded touring with some racing? Just going on the trails behind your house? Different frames will suit different intentions. For a frame that will be raced, I would suggest you think about the weight of the frame. A Surly Karate Monkey is a good do-everything-frame, but its very heavy and might not be fun to lift when you're really tired, sore and out of breath.

More on frame choice in the future...


Anonymous said...

key to preventing dropped chains on single ring setups is to increase chain tension; there should be very little remaining play in the r der when in the large cog.

Anonymous said...

Chain wear might increase on a single chainring rig, since it has to flex laterally across the whole range of cogs. For competitive riders, that's probably not that big a consideration though.

Anonymous said...

I for one love the single chainring setup b/c I hate shifting in a CX race.

I've run a 39 single up front and an 11-26 SRAM cassette, and I've never run out of gearing. My fiancee used to run a 42 single up front with a 12-25 cassette, but it was too hard for her, so she actually runs a 36 up front on compact cranks now and she's much happier.

Ditto on chain tension: make that puppy have very little slack or it will fall off. And use a third eye chain watcher or something similar (I prefer the ones with the metal plate rather than the plastic "fangs" which don't seem to work too well.

Anonymous said...

A question or two about running a single ring. Can it be done with 10spd cassette? Second, where does the 42t ring go if converting a double ring crankset? Does it go where the little ring would be with a bash guard where the big ring would be or vice versa or something completely different. Thanks

Ben said...

Pick the ring mount that is closest to the middle of the chain line, so that you minimize the maximum lateral angle of the chain on the big/small cogs.

Regarding keeping the chain on - I've had a really good experience with the N-Gear Jump Stop. It's made by a small (one-man I presume) American business and works very well, at a very good price.