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Whatever type of bike you consider for your bike commute, there are always going to be pros and cons attached.
In this article, we’ll look at the cyclocross commuter bike. At first glance, a cyclocross (CX) bike looks like a road or gravel bike, so is it essentially the same?
Keep reading to discover how a CX bike fundamentally differs from similar-looking bikes. Could it be your dream commuting machine?
Are Cyclocross Bikes Good For Commuting?
Cyclocross bikes are good for commuting. The only caveat you should be aware of is that some of them are designed for short, sharp races, so these bikes are accordingly more aggressive in their geometry.
Like road bikes, CX bikes are available in mainstream forms where a more comfortable upright riding position is possible. If you look for cyclocross bikes with mounts for fenders and commuter racks, they have a better chance of being comfy on commutes.
Of course, geometry isn’t the only element in a bike that determines comfort.
A handy commuting feature is the clearance a CX bike gives you for wide tires. You can often install tires of up to 42mm width. This means considerably more comfort versus typical road bikes, which might only take 28mm tires max.
Installing tires with slick treads is a good idea if most of your commute takes place on asphalt or tarmac. Knobby tires will slow you down on smooth surfaces. You can also experiment with tire width and suppleness for the best blend of comfort and speed.
Should You Buy A Cyclocross Bike As A Dedicated Commuter?
The answer to this depends on the nature of your commute. If you ride long, quiet roads into work, a gravel bike might be a better choice for its stability and the more relaxed riding position it normally gives you.
On the other hand, a CX bike is built for agility, with a geometry that is designed to tackle the varied terrain and obstacles of a cyclocross course. This built-in responsiveness is ideal for weaving in and out of traffic on a city commute.
The gears on a cyclocross bike are likely to be somewhere between a road bike and a gravel bike, though there’s plenty of overlap between models.
Cyclocross bikes and gravel bikes both have gearing that errs on the low side compared to a road bike. The [big] chainring is typically smaller and the cassette range wider. The lowest gear is often lower than a 1:1 ratio, so you can spin up hills with ease.
If your ideal commute involves pushing a big 53t chainring at 70 rpm (flat roads), you need a road bike instead. You’ll spin a higher cadence on a typical cyclocross bike, which has little to no effect on your ability to build aerobic fitness or ride quickly.
Video: Benefits Of A Cyclocross Bike
Geometry: Cyclocross vs Gravel vs Road Bike
The geometry of a bike defines its purpose and gives you some indication of how it will ride and feel. So, it helps to understand this topic when comparing bikes.
Elements Of Bike Geometry
As a reminder or introduction, here are some key components of a bike’s geometry:
- Stack and Reach – Stack is the vertical distance between the bottom-bracket axle and the top of the head tube. Reach measures the horizontal distance between the axle and the top-center of the head tube. (Low stack & long reach = aggressive position, high stack & short reach = more relaxed position.)
- Wheelbase – the length of the wheelbase (distance between the two wheel axles) affects the stability and the steering response of the bike. Longer wheelbases tend to be more comfortable as they are more compliant. A performance bike usually has a shorter wheelbase.
- Head Tube Angle – the head-tube angle also affects stability and responsiveness, as it determines how far in front of you the front wheel is. The nearer your hands are to the front wheel, the faster it responds to steering.
- Head Tube Length – alonger head tube and higher front end make for a less aggressive riding position. Bikes that are “tall” at the front promote a more upright posture, though they may also enable a taller rider to hold a more aero position.
- Seat Tube Angle – this is the angle of the seat tube measured against a horizontal plane. Time triallists and triathletes typically have a very steep seat angle (up to 80°) for a more forward, aero riding position that opens the hip angle. A slacker, shallower angle tends to encourage a relatively upright posture.
- Bottom Bracket Drop –this is the vertical distance between the center of the bottom bracket and the wheel axles. A longer drop equals more stability, whereas a shorter drop gives more clearance for obstacles.
- Trail –the horizontaldistance from where the tire touches the ground to the point where the steering axis theoretically intersects the ground in front of it. This affects stability and agility.
- Seatstays –some bikeshave dropped seat stays, meaning they join the seat tube a few inches below the top of the “main triangle” in the frame. This boost to comfort is seen on various modern bikes.
- Chainstays – chainstay lengthaffects bike agility and handling, drivetrain efficiency, and traction.
Note: some geometry can be counteracted with removable parts such as forks, headset spacers, handlebars, handlebar stems, and seatposts.
Video: Stack And Reach
Road Bike Geometry
Road bikes vary significantly in their geometry. Some are designed for endurance rides while others are better suited for racing.
A road bike is likely to have a shorter wheelbase than a CX or gravel bike, a steeper head-tube angle, lower bottom-bracket height, longer bottom bracket drop, and a seat tube angle roughly the same or slightly steeper.
All of this amounts to a bike that encourages a more forward, aggressive riding position. The top gear on most road bikes will be harder to push, so it won’t “spin out” quite as easily at extreme speeds (e.g., on mad descents).
Tire clearance on a road bike is not as generous as either a CX bike or gravel bike. That being said, road bikes have begun to appear with bigger clearances of over 30mm. The absence of brake calipers on disc-brake models has enabled this.
Road bikes are designed for speed and efficiency over long distances, which may not be a priority on an average commute of a few miles. For safety purposes among traffic, a more upright posture than a road bike offers is worth considering.
Cyclocross Bike Geometry
Cyclocross bike geometry also varies, but the main purpose of a CX bike is to negotiate rapidly changing terrain at speed. That means a bike that places responsive handling above everything else.
A cyclocross bike will have a longer wheelbase than most road bikes but shorter than a gravel bike. The head tube angle is generally steep and the bottom bracket height is higher than either a road or gravel bike.
Tire clearance on a CX bike will be wider than the majority of existing road bikes but narrower than a gravel bike. Tires will have knobby treads whereas a gravel bike may come with slicks or semi-slicks (you’d normally want slicks for road riding).
Read more: The best bicycle tires for commuting
Again, the responsiveness of a CX bike makes it ideal for “busy” commutes. If you want, you can try taming the lively handling with a wider handlebar, longer handlebar stem, or a longer fork. All these things would alter the immediacy of steering.
Gravel Bike Geometry
Also vying for your attention among road-style bikes is the gravel bike. Gravel riding does not demand the agile handling found in CX bikes.
Compared to a cyclocross bike, the wheelbase of a gravel bike is longer, the head-tube angle is slacker, the stack height is higher, the seat-tube angle is roughly the same, and the bottom bracket drop is longer.
The net result is that gravel bikes give the most stable, comfortable ride. A CX bike blends some of the comfort of a gravel bike with the nimble handling of a road bike. Road bikes are marginally quicker on smooth surfaces than either CX or gravel bikes.
Gravel bikes usually have a wider range of gears than either a road or cyclocross bike.
3 Best Cyclocross Bikes For Commuting To Work
Let’s assume you like the idea of a CX bike for commuting. Which should you choose? Keep reading for three suggestions.
1. Trek Boone 6 Disc Cyclocross Bike 2022 (best overall)
• Frame Material: Carbon
• Groupset: Shimano GRX (11-speed)
• Weight: 18.30 lb. (8.3 kg) – size 56
If you’re going all-in for a CX dream machine, the Trek Boone 6 Disc Cyclocross Bike might be the only bike you look at. It’s seriously light and designed with racing in mind, offering agility, comfort and extreme efficiency over rough ground.
The Boone 6 features Trek’s IsoSpeed technology, which decouples the top tube from the seat tube for a more compliant ride. This is a feature Trek also uses on road bikes, so you’ll feel less fatigue on a longer commute if you’re considering such a thing.
An IsoSpeed fork is optimized for ride comfort, too, without compromising on cornering precision and front-end stiffness.
This bike features Shimano GRX 810 gears for quiet and reliable off-road performance with precise mechanical shifting.
What We Like
• Carbon – lightweight, compliant CX frame.
• Shimano – GRX parts ensure reliable shifting over any terrain.
• Appearance – stunning looks, especially in red/navy/teal faded finish.
• Comfort – proprietary Trek technology increases compliance.
What We Don’t Like
• Price – totally worth it, but it’s overkill if you only commute on it.
• Desirable – you need a secure place to lock it.
2. Orbea Terra Cyclocross Bike – Exclusive Build (runner up)
• Frame Material: Aluminum
• Groupset: Shimano Ultegra (11-speed)
For a CX bike that morphs easily into a commuting bike, consider the Orbea Terra Cyclocross Bike. This is a bike with distinct gravel and road qualities, so it’s not a purebred cyclocross machine like the Trek Boone.
A fairly short reach and long head-tube length places the rider in a more upright position than a road bike. The Orbea Terra also has a longer wheelbase than many all-out cyclocross bikes, giving it stability more at home on a gravel bike.
Other aspects of this bike’s geometry conform more to cyclocross norms, like bottom-bracket drop and height. In truth, it’s something of a CX/gravel hybrid.
Handy commuting features of the Orbea include rack and fender mounts, 40mm max tire clearance (33mm tires included), robust Shimano Ultegra drivetrain components, and Shimano hydraulic disc brakes for powerful stopping in all weathers.
What We Like
- Comfort – relaxed geometry for a more upright riding position.
- Ultegra – Shimano Ultegra parts are well known for durability.
- Brakes – hydraulic disc brakes for consistent stopping power.
- Mounts – eyelets included for a rack and fenders.
What We Don’t Like
- Tires – you may want a more road-specific tire for commuting.
3. Surly Cross-Check Cyclocross Commuter Bike (best budget)
- Frame Material: Surly 4130 CroMoly Steel
- Groupset: Microshift (8-speed)
- Weight: Approx. 24 lb. (10.88 kg)
Despite its flat handlebar (with rise), the Surly Cross-Check Cyclocross Commuter Bike is primarily a cross bike. It also makes a fantastic commuter bike and comes with 35mm tires that suit urban riding.
This robust steel bike has several geometric qualities that betray its cyclocross leanings, even if you ignore the name. You’ll find it more comfy than most road bikes and more responsive than many gravel bikes, despite its “gravel crusher” reputation.
The Surly Cross-Check is nothing if not versatile. This is a bike you can use on and off the road on your way into work. Built-in eyelets let you install front and rear racks on this bike as well as fenders.
What We Like
- Versatile – ready to use as a commuting bike and capable of more.
- Hills – lowest gear below 1:1 makes climbing easy.
- Sturdy – robust and durable CroMoly steel frame.
- Tires – clearance for 700c x 42mm tires, even with fenders.
What We Don’t Like
- Weight – a steel frame and wide wheels add heft.