Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: living in the moment
Bikes: 2005 Litespeed Teramo, 2000 Marinoni Leggero, 2001 Kona Major Jake (with Campy Centaur), 1997 Specialized S-Works M2, 1992 Specialized Rockhopper
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wheels: look for something tough, with traditional spoking. open pros on 32-spoke ultegra/105 hubs are a good choice. cyclo-cross can bash wheels, and it's nice to have a wheelset that you can fix with a spoke wrench.
frame: typically, you want a slightly smaller frame than your road frame to accomodate the higher bb and provide more responsive handling. having said that, you can get away with the same size frame if it's compact geometry. the sangles should be a bit slacker than a crit racer, but steeper than a tourer. if find the kona jake the snake geometry ideal, but ymmv.
keep most of your other components simple. cyclo-cross is a muddy, dirty sport and complexity suffers...
crankset/cassette: go for lower gearing than you'd have on a road bike. you will never have the need or opportunity to push a 53x12 in a cyclo-cross race. avoid triples [complexity!], go for something like a 38/48 or 38/46 or use a single [42t is good] with a chainguide. i rather like the fsa gossamer crank, but almost any road crank with appropriate gearing will work fine. i use a longer crank in cyclo-cross, though, 172.5 rather than 170. i also quite like splined bb's. you need a good stiff bb to grind through the mud... but don't get the best money can buy. bb's and headsets suffer greatly in this sport. be prepared to replace your bb every season if you race a lot.
pedals: i like the time atacs, some guys like the eggbeaters, and the newer shimano spd mechanism is pretty good. the older mechanism, though, tends to clog with mud in wet weather.
keep the saddle simple. races are short and you'll be on and off the saddle a lot, so you donn't need anything quite as specialized as top-end saddles. also bear in mind that the wet, grit and dirt can wreak havoc on the realy good stuff like the fizik arione and si slrs, and elastomer shock absorbers. keep it simple and cheap. you will go through many saddles over the years.
basically, keep it simple. don't waste dura ace [or even ultegra] or chorus or recod stuff on a cyclo-cross bike. think of this as a utility machine. if you race, you will beat the piss out of the bike, and it's never a good idea to hang parts that you'll cry over if you trash them. centaur/veloce [9sp preferably] and 105 bits will do fine.
oh... and aside from the fork, avoide carbon. carbon cranks, handlebars, seatposts and stems will have short lifespans on a racing machine.