How To Set Up Your Cyclo-Cross Bike
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How To Set Up Your Cyclo-Cross Bike

October 30, 2019


Here’s our guide to setting up your cyclocross
bike if you’re just getting into it. The first thing to look at is your position.
Your saddle height and setback should be the same as on your road bike. Some people say
that perhaps you should lower it by about 5mm – the theory being that when you’re riding
over rough terrain, you’re naturally going to be slightly out of the saddle anyway to
control the bike. That’s absolutely fine. Personally I want it exactly the same as my
road bike so that it feels the same when I’m pedalling. But if you are struggling a bit
with bike handling, it’s perhaps something to bear in mind. If you’re measuring your saddle height accurately,
one thing you really should think about is the stack height – the difference between
your off-road pedals and shoes and your road pedals and shoes. Stack height is the gap
between your foot and the pedal axle. Different pedals and shoes will have different thicknesses
and it can actually vary quite significantly. There are tables online where you can find
out how much. It is quite pernickety, but there we go. While we’re on the subject of pedals, it’s
a good idea to play around with the release tension. In really muddy conditions, it can
sometimes be quite difficult to get your foot in and out, so backing off the release tension
is quite a good idea, just to make sure you don’t get stuck in. Having said that, on really
rough terrain you put quite a bit of pressure on the pedals so you want to stay clipped
in, in which case you want to dial up the retention. It kind of suggests that you want
somewhere in the middle, but have a play around, it does depend on personal preference. The fundamental difference in your position
between road bike and cyclocross bike comes at the front end up here. As a general rule
you should be looking to have your handlebars 1-2cm higher on your cross bike and about
1cm closer to the saddle. That’s because you’re in a much more controlled position when you’re
a little bit higher and a little bit further back. So when you’re tackling rough, technical
terrain it’s much easier to handle the bike. Although it looks like this bike is quite
long and low, it is actually 2cm higher than my road bike and 1cm shorter. But the fact
that I’ve still got a 120mm stem on and the stem is still slammed is entirely down to
the manufacturer, Trek in this case. They’ve taken into consideration ‘cross position when
they’ve designed the frame. The frame itself is shorter and higher. As a general rule,
although manufacturers do vary, you probably don’t want to size down your cyclocross bike
to get it shorter, you pretty much want to look at the same size bike as you ride on
the road. It’s not a given, but as a general rule that’s what you should look for. Another benefit with having your bars slightly
higher is that your drops are much more usable and they’re a great place to be when you’re
hitting fast and technical terrain. The other thing to think about is your brake hoods as
well – a lot of people find that they like theirs a little further up, which gives you
a much more controlled position when tackling rough terrain. Away from bike fit, what else should we look
at? Tyres are absolutely crucial, far more important in fact than they are on the road.
It’s worth bearing in mind that if you’re going to race, the UCI have a limit on the
width of tyres – 33mm. Unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated than that, because
although all tyre manufacturers put the width of the tyre on the sidewall, that does vary.
It’s your responsibility as a rider to make sure that if the UCI did come along with a
tape measure, it’d come up as 33s. These tyres are 33mm, but they’re on really wide rims,
so I suspect if I tried to race on them and someone was really picky, they probably wouldn’t
let me start. However, for general riding and training I always use 33-35mm tyres. You
get more traction that way and they’re far more comfortable as well. If you’re really into racing, you’ll probably
be running tubular tyres. For the un-initiated, a tubular tyre is one which is stitched closed
around an inner tube and then the whole thing is glued onto a tubular-specific rim. They’re
a bit more expensive and complex, but there are many advantages. The main one is you can
run lower pressures to get more traction while still feeling fast in a straight line. Most
pro cross riders use them – they’re the racer’s choice. Whether you decide to run tubulars or standard
clinchers, tyre pressure is really important. As I’ve just said, lower pressures mean more
traction but there is also a greater risk of punctures. In order to find your perfect
tyre pressure, you’ll have to vary it quite a bit, depending on your weight and where
you ride. For tubulars – For a 70kg rider, I’d suggest
something around 25psi. Top riders can go lower depending on the course, and if it’s
faster or more bumpy you might want to go slightly higher. For clinchers you’re always going to have
to put a bit more pressure in, they’re more susceptible to punctures generally, so I’d
say 35psi is probably the lowest limit. For general riding, a light and skilful rider
will probably want at least 40psi in, and if you’re heavier or you ride in much rockier
terrain, then at least 60psi. The trade-off being that you get less traction and it’s
much less comfortable. Just to throw another option into the mix,
tubeless tyres are also great for cyclocross. That’s where you put sealant inside the tyres,
which means you can use them without inner tubes. The main reason being puncture protection
is absolutely brilliant, so you can run lower pressures without the risk of pinch flats.
They’re not as good for racing as a tubular tyre and until recently the range was really
limited, so you had to make do with trying to make standard tyres work using a conversion
kit. Now the range is better and we have done a video showing you exactly how to convert
your current setup to tubeless. It’s a bit of grief, but I think it’s worth it. Wheels are generally standard lightweight
road ones, but but if you’re a heavier rider you might want to consider something more
sturdy. If you have a choice, looking for something with a wider rim is great, as a
wider profile supports larger cyclocross tyres much better, and it does really improve your
handling. The other thing to talk about is gearing.
Most pro cross riders will use a 46-39 chainring, but most cross bikes are sold with a compact
chainset – 46-36. That’s probably better suited for normal riding. Personally I prefer a 39
inner chainring – my theory is that if I’m going too slowly to push a 39 I’m probably
better off running. That’s kind of race-specific At the back, you need a broad range on your
cassette. This is an 11-28, which is perfect. If you’re running older Shimano, you’re probably
limited to 12-27, but that’s fine as well. If you do use a bigger cassette, you might
find that you need a long cage rear mech, which is cool, but they are sometimes slightly
more prone to mishaps in thick mud. That could become costly as your rear mech can get torn
off. As an aside, it’s always important to keep on top of maintenance around here, particularly
your rear mech, so you can do everything you can to prevent that happening. Finally, it’s a small point but – water bottles.
Most people for most cross conditions won’t race with a water bottle. However, if you
are in unseasonably warm conditions or you do just live somewhere nice, pop your water
bottle on the seat tube here. It means you can actually life the bike onto your shoulder
much more easily. If the bottle is on the down tube it can obstruct it, particularly
on small frames. That’s also true if you’re just out training or just using your ‘cross
bike as a normal bike – that is the best place to put your bottle. Five main things you should look at. Number 1 – your saddle height should be the
same as on your road bike. Number 2 – your handlebars should be 1-2 centimetres
higher and 1cm closer to the seat than on your road bike. Number 3 – tyres. If you’re going to race,
you’re limited to 32 or 33mm wide tyres, but do check they’re the right width. Generally
you want a higher volume tyre for general riding, 33-35. It’s much more comfortable
and you get much more grip. Number 4 – your gearing. Look at a wide range
cassette at the back, 11-28 and 46-39 or 46-36 chainrings. Finally, number 5 – your water bottle. If
you’ve got a choice stick it on your seat tube, not on your down tube.

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  1. Is there a difference in handling between sloping tt like this bike (and the prestige) and traditional tt like the Ridley ??

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