Jan 22, 2011
The other day I received a great question over the phone from a cyclist who said she could really take on just one bike. She wants it primarily for fast-paced road riding, but she'd also like it to be worthy of loaded touring. Having been in a similar situation in the past myself, I suggested the route I chose: a cyclocross bike.
Cyclocross bikes have been growing rapidly in popularity over the past few years, so their availability and selection are strong. Their geometry lies somewhere between that of a touring bike and a road bike. However, when trying to make a single bike work well for two very different disciplines (quick and light road riding and loaded touring), you're bound to run into a few issues that need some tweaking. Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Heel Clearance: Cyclocross bikes have longer and wider chainstays than road bikes, which makes them great for running wider tires, as well as providing plenty of space for fenders. At the same time, the chainstays are shorter than those found on touring bikes, so heel clearance can be an issue with rear-mounted panniers -- depending on how far back you're able to position the panniers on your rear rack. This problem can often be solved by using smaller front panniers on the rear, but it is a compromise.
2. Gearing: Some cyclocross bikes come stock with a triple crankset, but the majority have compact double cranksets. Depending on your preferences, a compact double may not offer low enough gearing, in which case an upgrade to a triple would be in order. Also pay attention to the rear derailleur. Short-cage road derailleurs allow a maximum cog of around 27 teeth; swapping out for a long-cage derailleur to make room for a wider range cassette isn't a bad idea.
3. Bottom Bracket Height: Traditionally, cyclocross bikes have a high bottom bracket, which will raise your center of gravity a bit. This may or may not be of concern to you, but it's a good thing to keep in mind. Newer cyclocross bikes are coming with a lower bottom bracket height, more in line with road bikes, so this may be an issue that's going away.
4. Wheelset: Since cyclocross bikes are aimed at a specific sport and style of riding, they often come stocked with a sporty wheelset that may or may not be ideal for touring. If you're interested in fast-paced road riding in addition to touring, you can always use the stock wheelset for your road riding, and then purchase a second wheelset for touring.
5. Rack Eyelets: As the sport of cyclocross becomes more specialized, you're seeing a lot of racing bike features that often exclude fender and rack eyelets. At the entry level, however, you can still find bikes with rear rack eyelets. The Cannondale CAADX and Redline Conquest are a couple of bikes that will give you rear rack eyelets, while the Bianchi Volpe has both full front and rear rack eyelets.
These issues will involve some cost, but a cyclocross bike may still be a better, more economical option than purchasing two specialized bikes. If it all seems too complicated, there's nothing wrong with purchasing the speedy road bike you want, and hitching a trailer to it for touring.
Photo by Josh Tack
TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.