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BUYER'S GUIDE

12 of the best cyclocross bikes — drop-bar dirt bikes for racing and playing in the mud

How to pick the right cyclocross bike

Which cyclocross bike should I buy? That's a very good question - one we hear a lot - and there's plenty of choice, from race-ready options to bikes that come with rack and mudguard mounts for a bit more versatility.

The cyclocross bikes on this page offer just a selection of the available choice. We've tried to pick bikes that will cater for all tastes, from those specifically looking to buy a bike with a view to getting into racing, to those that are interested in the versatility and ruggedness for a winter training and commuting bike.

For a while it looked like cyclocross bikes would be the last redoubt of cantilever brakes, with their sticky-out arms and straddle cables, but you'll have to get it custom-made if you want a cyclocross bike with cantilever brakes now. Discs have taken over, a development many die-hard cross enthusiasts said would never happen when the UCI changed its rules to allow them in elite races in 2010.

>>Read more: Beginner's Guide to cyclocross essentials

12 of the best cyclocross bikes

Merida Mission CX Force Edition — £4,200

Merida CX Force Edition.jpg

Merida's Mission CX Force Edition is a top-quality cyclo-cross bike that's ready to race straight out of the box. It'll turn its hand to fast gravel riding and winter riding too, if you're looking for something more than just a dedicated race bike.

The Mission CX is designed as a cyclo-cross race bike and as such it's not going to mollycoddle you over rough ground: this is a bike for attacking stuff on. It's at its best when you're sprinting up a steep, loose gravel climb or you're finding a fast line through a swoopy bit of singletrack. It's a direct, responsive bike that goes where you point it.

Steering response is very good: the bike isn't twitchy, but neither does it have the relaxed feel of more gravel/distance-orientated bikes. With a head tube angle of 72 degrees and a seat tube angle of 74 degrees, that's not really surprising.

Read our review of the Merida Mission CX Force Edition

Ribble CGR AL Shimano 105 — £1,399

Ribble CGR AL Shimano 105 review

Ribble's CGR AL Shimano 105 is a hugely versatile and superb value bike for everything from gravel bashing to cyclocross and road commuting. The aluminium frame isn't overly compliant and the kit needs a few tweaks if you intend to mostly stick to dirt, but that's easy enough to custom spec it to your heart's content when you order.

The CGR bit of the name stands for Cyclocross, gravel and road, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about where this bike is pitched, namely as a do-it-all drop bar bike. The impressive thing is that it actually delivers on this promise, having taken in everything from gravel rides, road Audaxes and tow-path bashing commutes.

Read our review of the Ribble CGR AL Shimano 105

Boardman CXR 8.9 — £1,000

Boardman CXR 8.9

With race-orientated handling, a single chainring for simplicity and hydraulic brakes for control, the Boardman CXR 8.9 is a bargain entry to the world of drop-bar dirt bikes.

Find a Boardman dealer

Vitus Energie CRX 2020 — £1,849.99

2020 Vitus Energie CRX Force

The Vitus Energie CRX cyclocross bike is an absolute blast to ride thanks to sharp, fun handling along the trails or around tight, technical muddy circuits. It's great for a day out on the gravel, and you can chuck mudguards on it too if you fancy a high-speed, year-round commuter.

If you want to ride fast off-road without the benefits of suspension then this Vitus is one of the best bikes to have a play on. The racy geometry and low-slung position mean you can really get down and drop that centre of gravity to benefit the handling when the terrain is tough, and the way it responds to the slightest shift in body weight is very impressive.

Read our review of the Vitus Energie CRX

Genesis Vapour 30 — £2,599.99

2020 Genesis Vapour 30

The Genesis Vapour 30 offers a fun ride that feels at home in a race and on a trail. The build isn't that flashy, but the package works well and continues to do so in the worst conditions. You'll be wanting a wheel upgrade for more serious racing, though.

Get the Vapour 30 into technical conditions and it's a joy to ride. The planted feel of the bike combined with a front end that is direct means that muddy corners are easy to navigate. On corners where I'd usually lose the front end, I was able to get around easily on the Genesis. That means less running which is great because firstly, I hate running, and secondly, riding is nearly always faster.

The handling really helps you to keep speed through corners, and getting back up to speed again much easier. This doesn't just help in races. Take this out onto the trails or the road and the bike transfers that same cornering confidence across surfaces. Compared with my road race bike, it doesn't feel sluggish on the tarmac; it feels light underneath you but floats better over rough surfaces thanks, mostly, to the fatter tyres.

Read our review of the Genesis Vapour 30
Find a Genesis dealer

Canyon Inflite CF SLX 9 Team 2021 — £4,199

2021 Canyon Inflite CF SLX 9 Team

Canyon's DNA is pure racing, and the Inflite CF SLX frame is a clear statement of intent: a frame that builds into bikes fit for the toughest and most demanding cyclocross racers and budding amateurs alike. It's light – 940g for a frame – disc brake-only and 1x and 2x compatible, and features the most distinctive top tube we've ever seen.

The Inflite CF SLX might not be the prettiest cyclocross bike ever produced, but there's nowt ugly about its performance, which is nothing short of stellar. Over a couple of months, tester David Arthur rode it in loads of local races to really get its measure. The Canyon immediately impressed. It brings sheer speed and easy handling to the Sunday morning mud party, with a delightful nimbleness that makes it easy to steer the bike around often awkward and fiddly cyclocross courses.

Read our review of the Canyon Inflite CF SLX 8.0 Pro Race, which shares the same frame

Giant TCX SLR 2 2020 — £1,999

2020 Giant TCX SLR 1

We liked 2016's Giant TCX SLR 1, and this is the 2020 equivalent. It gets a brake upgrade to Giant's hydraulics, but retains the fast and nimble aluminium frame as the 2016 bike. Wheel and tyres and both tubeless-compatible and with Giant's D-Fuse composite seatpost helps take the sting out of bumps.

Read our review of the 2016 Giant TCX SLR 1
Find a Giant dealer

Merida Cyclo Cross 100 — £900

2019 Merida Cyclo Cross 100

The 2019 version of the Merida Cyclo Cross 100 has a lot in common with the 2015 Merida Cyclo Cross 500, which we really liked when we reviewed it. It's a very good all-rounder. It's light and responsive enough to chuck round a race, and versatile enough for more general purpose riding. It's fun to ride and easy to recommend

The Merida Cyclo Cross platform serves up good off-road handling. The bike has a generous wheelbase and the steering is predictable, if a bit slower than a fully-fledged race bike. The fork is excellent: the 15mm thru-axle stiffens up the front end noticeably, and tracking over rough ground is really good, with very little noticeable dive under heavy braking.

Read our review of the Merida Cyclo Cross 500

Canyon Inflite 5 2021 — £1,499

2021 Canyon Inflite 5

The first cyclocross bike from German company Canyon impressed hugely when we reviewed it, with great handling and a very good parts package for the money. It boasts the sort of versatility that will ensure it appeals to those wanting a bike for more than just racing, but has all the credentials for taking to the start line.

Read our review of the Canyon Inflite AL SLX 6.0 Race

Specialized Crux — from £1,400

2021 Specialized crux comp

Specialized's Crux is a popular choice among amateur cyclocross racers. All the bikes in the current UK range  have 1X transmissions, and the £3,750 Crux Comp above has SRAM's hydraulics and 1 x 11 transmission.

The spec includes DT Swiss R470 rims on Specialized's own hubs with 33mm Tracer Pro tyres. The 2021 range starts at £2,600 for the cheapest carbon-framed Crux, though there are still older aluminium models around for £1,400.

Read our review of the Specialized Crux Elite
Read our review of the Specialized Crux Elite X1
Find a Specialized dealer

Kinesis CX Race — £765.00 (frame & fork)

2020 Kinesis CX Race frame

The Kinesis CX Race frame builds up into your typical racing cyclocross bike. For many a Kinesis was probably their first cyclocross bike, bought as a frame and cobbled together from spare parts. The CX Race is the successor to Kinesis' perennially popular Crosslight Pro6 and now gets a Columbus Futura Cross fork to lead out its Super Plastic Formed Scandium alloy frame.

Read our review of the Kinesis Crosslight Pro6
Find a Kinesis dealer

Ridley X-Bow Disc — £1,099

2020 Ridley X-Bow disc Tiagra

Hailing from Belgium, Ridley has one of the biggest ranges of cyclocross bikes,which is hardly surprising given that it's Belgian cycling's winter religion. The X-Bow Disc's aluminium frame is hung with Shimano Tiagra components with a proper cyclocross 46/36 FSA Omega chainset chainset. The rubber that hits the (dirt) road is from Donnelly and it sits on Ridley's own  Forza wheels.

Find a Ridley dealer

Want more cyclocross bike options? See the full road.cc archive of cyclocross bike reviews.
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Road.cc buyer's guides are maintained and updated by John Stevenson. Email John with comments, corrections or queries.

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

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