Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Silver Spring, MD (MABRA/MAC)
Bikes: Cannondale Cyclocross, Specialized Langster, Giant TCR-C2 Composite
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A true, honest cyclocross bike is a pure race machine, designed for cyclocross racing for those who want to race cyclocross. In recent years, many manufacturers saw the versatility in cyclocross bikes and thier appeal to a wider market, and started to produce a newer style of cyclocross bike that included such things as rack mounts, waterbottle bosses, and triple chainring for those wanting to use these bikes for "sport touring", commuting, and plain 'ol fumbling around.
If you look at recent cyclocross bikes from guys like Bianchi (Axis) or Kona (Jake), you will see the afformentioned features, but if you look at a high-end pro race machine from guys like Ridley, De Rosa, or Author, you will not find them, but you will see a machine stripped to its race essentials. Basically, a race frame that resembles a road racing frame, but with adjusted geometry like a wider wheelbase and broader tire clearence, cantilever brakes for mud clearence, and maybe a front derailleur. It's made for racing pre-designed cyclocross courses, usually with dry or muddy fields, sand pits, steep inclines that can either be ridden or run with the bike portaged over the shoulder, and obstacles that demand the rider to dismount the bike, hurdle over the obstacle, and then remount the bike.
As far as differneces go, Cyclocross bikes look more like road bikes and some hybrids (without the flat bars) and are much different than MTBs. As always though, the main difference is in what kind of riding you do or plan to do, and matching a bike to it. It may call for a cyclocross bike, or it may not (but it's always fun when it does!).