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How To Adapt A Mountain Bike For Cyclocross Racing

Updated on September 25, 2016
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Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist as well as being a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

Convert your MTB for cyclocross performance

You can adapt your mountain bike for use in cyclocross racing with a few subtle changes. Featured- Steve Cornish of VC Nottingham
You can adapt your mountain bike for use in cyclocross racing with a few subtle changes. Featured- Steve Cornish of VC Nottingham | Source

A guide to converting a mountain bike ready for cyclocross race performance

Cyclocross is cycling's version of rock and roll. It's a place where road riders attempt to maintain their fitness over the winter months and mountain bikers are drawn to it's technical nature with lots f handling challenges.

One of the most inclusive aspects of cyclocross racing is that almost anyone can turn up with a bike and ride. You don't need a specific cyclocross racing bike and can race on a mountain bike if you choose. The rock and roll aspect is that no one will give a damn if you're riding a mountain bike.

Many riders start their muddy winter cyclocross adventures by riding on a mountain bike. (Whether it's their own or borrowed).You'll get through the pain of your first cyclocross race with a huge smile on your face and a thirst for more mud.

Whether you're planning your first cyclocross race or already done some cx: This guide will look at some of the ways you can adapt your Mountain Bike for better cyclocross race performance without having to resort to buying a specific cyclocross bike.

De-clutter your MTB for less weight and carrying over obstacles

When you look at a serious cyclocross racing bike you'll notice an extreme lack of clutter. Cyclocross is an extremely simplified form of bike racing.

If you're riding a cyclocross race you don't need to be carrying

  • A hand-pump
  • A seat pack filled with tools, tire levers and inner tubes
  • A water bottle (you can survive an hour without a drink in the winter)
  • Or even a water bottle cage

Also please lose the Mountain Bike bar ends- these are actually illegal in some cyclocross races due to the need to carry the bike over obstacles and the occasions where you could catch another rider with the bar ends.

The reason for losing the water bottle cages is mainly due to the need for occasionally carrying you bike. The traditional technique for carrying is to hoist your bike over your shoulder and involves your arm going through the front triangle, under the down-tube before holding the handlebars.

CX is great fun on an MTB if you love mud

Cyclocross races on an MTB can be great fun- especially if you love the mud!
Cyclocross races on an MTB can be great fun- especially if you love the mud! | Source

Lock-out your suspension forks for better cx performance

Suspension forks are fantastic while you're on twisty, root-ridden singletrack. However that's only a relatively small element of cyclocross racing.

The nature of the majority of cx courses means that you need to be in control of the power you produce on your bike. Suspension forks add comfork but soak up some of the energy you produce. Therefore by locking them out where possible you're going to transfer as much of your energy as possible into moving forwards.

If you're riding a full suspension mountain bike and have the ability to do so- lock out your rear shock too.

Consider some rigid mtb forks for your mtb cyclocross conversion

It may some a step backwards by losing your suspension forks but for cyclocross they're heavy and can slow you down. Consider swapping to a set of rigid MTB forks like a set of Kona's excellent P2's or simply find yourself an old school bargain on eBay.

The muddy nature of cyclocross racing puts pressure on the mud seals of cyclocross forks and therefore a switch to some rigid forks for 'cross could actually save you money and preserve you're shocks for the summer months.

Narrower cyclocross specific tires help you adapt your mtb to the course demands

Narrower tires like those pictured are a key adaptation for cyclocross performance that will really help if you're riding a Mountain Bike
Narrower tires like those pictured are a key adaptation for cyclocross performance that will really help if you're riding a Mountain Bike | Source

Get yourself some cyclocross specific tires for your MTB

You can use a regular fat mountain bike tire for cyclocross racing. However a larger volume tire is going to slow you down when the going gets muddy as you will end up almost floating over the top of the mud. Cyclocross specific tires are significantly narrower than a traditional mountain bike tire as they're designed to cut through the mud and give you increasing levels of grip.

A great mountain bike specific cyclocross tire

If you're riding a 26 inch wheel mountain bike and looking for a great mtb tire for cyclocross racing you'd be hard pressure to find a more suitable tire than the all round racing Schwalbe CX Pro. Schwalbe produce the tire in a mud slicing 26x 1.35 inch sizing which will really help when the going gets muddy.

The Schwalbe CX Pro features the same tread pattern as their successful traditional CX tire which is a tried and trusted all round favourite with racers the world over and is one of a small number of mountain bike tires that are tailored to 'cross racing.

Schwalbe CX Pro 26 inch tires

SCHWALBE CX Pro HS 269 Cyclocross Bicycle Tire (26x1.35, ORC Wire Beaded, Black Skin)
SCHWALBE CX Pro HS 269 Cyclocross Bicycle Tire (26x1.35, ORC Wire Beaded, Black Skin)

A great cyclocross tire in a 26 inch guise ready for cyclocross racing on your mountain bike.


Sometimes it's easy to complicate things

If you want to ride a cyclcross race on a Mountain Bike- Go for it. The above are adaptations that may help you to a quicker race and a better position but the main thing about cyclocross is taking part and going for it.

It doesn't matter in a cx race whether you're riding in the middle of the field or near the back of the bunch. There are lots of racers on mtb's.

The only time usually you cannot ride an MTB is for international level races. Your local leagues will have no qualms about you riding and will likely welcome you into the cx family.


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