I must first apologize in advance for the length of this post. However, it is a Friday morning, and I am not quite in "work mode" just yet. Also bear in mind that since I am a complete and utter newbie in the CX world (never having even completed a race) some of the statements I post may only be regurgitations of what I have read or heard. I know it is also very naive, but my perceptions (all positive) of the sport are based on videos such as "Transition 2: Cross the Pond" and clips of CrossVegas I have found on youtube.
After months of deliberation, research, and reading what other in the cyclocross community have had to say about various bikes, I finally decided yesterday evening on a 2008 Redline Conquest Pro. As I am a shorter rider with a longer torso than legs, finding a stock bike that fits me is a bit of a challenge. Out of all the brands that I have come across, I can comfortably ride a Specialized XS (incidentally my Tarmac Pro is XS), but sometimes I still wish I had a few extra millimeters of S.O. My ever-prevalent 'hobby' of finding a stock dream cycle ended with the Wilier-(Triestina USA) Cento. Beautiful frame, short and compact...but also very very very pricey.
Although I do have the luxury of working part time in a cycling shop just to keep my sanity intact after day-in day-out interactions with socially awkward PhD's, MD's, and other members of higher academia - access to wholesale or employee pricing does not benefit me if the bikes don't fit correctly. Murphy's law of cycling, I suppose. In the case of the aforementioned Wilier Cento, the limiting factor would be the atrociously numbing price tag. To put things in perspective, the S-Works TriCross Module at retail is cheaper than the Cento frameset at employee pricing.
My apologies for the slight digression. The list of stock CX bikes I could potentially ride was quickly whittled down: Specialized Tricross Expert (too tall and long); Giant TCX (very hard to find); LeMond Poprad (too tall and long); Wilier Mortirolo Cross (too tall and long, and carbon); Kuota Kross (too tall and long)...you're starting to get the idea. I even went onto bikesdirect.com to see if perhaps the Motobecanes would fit me. No dice.
The eventual frontrunners for "tiny-assed cyclocross bike/frame" were the Surly Cross Check, the Salsa Cycles Chili Con Crosso, and the Redline Conquest Pro and Team.
Surly: Although I do like steel and the smallest frame would have been fine, it's very rare to get a bike build even from QBP that would be cheaper than a prebuilt bike with similar specs. Also, members of the cycling community seemed to agree that the Surly would be first and foremost a better commuter/all arounder with racing as less of a forte due to potential weight issues. Tumbling across a hurdle carrying a 22+ pound bike would quite comical for other racers to watch, I'm sure - but not so good for me.
Salsa Chili Con Crosso: Probably was my front runner for a little while. I liked the frame styling, I liked the matching Alpha Q fork. I think in the end it came down to pricing. The frameset was just a little more than I wanted to spend, at least for my first CX bike. On a side note, I also read that some people were having prominent fatigue issues after just a few minor crashes, but of course I am not sure how accurate these reports are. I'm also sure that any frame I would have purchased would have suffered a few crashes.
Redline Conquest Team: After I found out that it sold out in 3 weeks after its release, it was quite obvious that I would not be getting this bike.
Redline Conquest Pro: ended up being my choice. It was the best bang for the buck, and with a few exceptions, a very well spec'ed bike: http://www.redlinebicycles.com/adult...08_RL_SPEC.pdf
I have heard tell of this particular Ritchey wheelset failing after 1300 - 1500 miles, so perhaps I will ride the wheels into the ground and then replace them when the time comes. Also, for my non-racing rides, I would use a pair of 700*25 tires for comfort and speed.
I hope I made a reasonable purchase for my first cyclocross bike. When fall/winter come, I suspect that one of two things will happen. 1)I will love the sport and maybe make an upgrade on the frame next year or 2)Absolutely hate it, but still have a very capable winter commuter for Chicago. Hopefully it'll be the former more than the latter. I read a quote somewhere that I enjoyed great about CX that basically went, "You get to run, you get to ride, you get to get dirty, and after 5 minutes, no one knows who's in first place anymore." All things I enjoy!