Cheap Bike Project: An Exercise in Cyclocross Penny Pinching

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Think you have to spend a fortune to get your first cyclocross bike? Think again. Here’s an oldie but goodie worth reposting for this year’s freshman class of cyclocrossers. The following article launching Cyclocross Magazine’s “Cheap Bike” project originally appeared in Issue 14. Part 2 of the article is in Issue 15, also available instantly via our all-access digital subscription.

The “cheap bike,” built around a brand-new generic Easton Ultralight frame. ©Cyclocross Magazine

The “cheap cross bike,” built around a brand-new generic Easton Ultralight frame. ©Cyclocross Magazine

 

Cheap Bike: An Introduction

Bike racing has a reputation as a rich person’s sport. Show up at any road, mountain or cyclocross race, and it’s easy to see why – carbon fiber bits, aero and ultra-light gear, and suspension push average race bike values to well over the $2,000 mark – nearly five percent of the average household income here in the States. In response, we bring you “Cheap Bike” – a series of articles documenting our endeavor to assemble and race a truly low-budget “cheap” cyclocross bike.

Just a quick browse through the pages of this magazine will reveal how many opportunities there are to spend a pretty penny on nice cyclocross-related gear. We’re psyched to have amazing equipment options and the attention and resources of the cycling industry. However, bike racing, especially cyclocross, is something that can be enjoyed at any income level. A working used hybrid, mountain bike or road bike can take you quite far in your local race series, and a look in our Cowbell forums, on Craigslist or on eBay will reveal a ton of used cyclocross-specific choices for those on a budget.

Campy shifters mated to a Rapid Rise Shimano derailleur: A CXM specialty! ©Cyclocross Magazine

Campy shifters mated to a Rapid Rise Shimano derailleur: A CXM specialty! ©Cyclocross Magazine

When you’re ready to upgrade your ride, or buy your first cyclocross bike, what are your options if you want to avoid the unknown risks of a used bike but don’t have much to spend? Most brands’ entry-level bikes start at around $1,000, and they represent great, low-hassle options for new cyclocross racers. But can you assemble your own brand new, race-worthy bike for less money? Could you choose your own frame, fork and components—piece by piece, all brand-new, on a shoestring budget – and still have a race-worthy bike? Yes, you can.

Taking on such a project is really just getting back to the roots of cyclocross. Cyclocross racers have historically raced on cobbled-together machines, and just 15 years ago it wasn’t uncommon to see racers on converted touring bikes or road frames with cantilever bosses brazed on to the seatstays.

A few years back, we were curious how much money it’d take to put together a bike we could train on and race hard without dipping into the second-hand market. We turned this curiosity into a challenge: After six months of scouring local bike shops (LBS), eBay and online retailers for affordable components and gradually putting together the creation, we have our budget racer as seen here: all $643.41 and 21 pounds of our frugal flyer (20.79 pounds without pedals, 13.56 without wheels).

Shimano Deore LX for low-cost durability. ©Cyclocross Magazine

Shimano Deore LX for low-cost durability. ©Cyclocross Magazine

Sure it’s a curious spec—when budget is a top priority, you’re bound to make opportunistic purchases, seizing on closeouts, bargain bins and random finds. But the final machine works well, is lighter than many entry-level bikes, and we had a blast putting it together—assembling a bike, part by part, is a process all cyclists should try once in their lifetime, and is a great learning experience for many.

So how does a $600 bike ride? How will it hold up? The Cheap Bike got its first forays under three different racers in Issue 15! Pick up a digital subscription for instant access or drop a comment below if you want us to bring that

Cheap Bike: Specs and Break Down of Costs

ComponentItem Price Shipping/Tax TotalVendor(all items new)
TOTAL$528.06$115.35$643.41
FrameEaston Ultralight tubing$43.21$42.00$85.21eBay
ForkBontrager Buzzkill Satellite fork$69.99$10.00$79.99eBay
HeadsetFSA Orbit XL II$17.50 $ -$17.50online
Handlebar3T Prima Handlebar$17.00$5.00$22.00eBay
StemDeda Magic$5.00$0.46$5.46LBS
SeatpostAmerican Classic$24.99$2.31$27.30LBS
SaddleSDG Ti Ventura$10.00$6.50$16.50eBay
CranksetTruvativ Isoflow single ring$23.46$10.14$33.59online
Bottom bracket(included with crankset)
Shifters10s Ultrashift Veloce Ergopower$119.00$14.00$133.00eBay
BrakesTektro 926AL Mini V-brake$24.00$2.22$26.22LBS
Top-mount leversForte top-mount levers$24.99$1.09$16.08Performance
Front derailleurn/a $ -
Rear derailleurDeore LX Short Cage, Rapid Rise$14.34$4.00$18.34eBay
CassetteSRAM PG-950 12-26 Cassette$14.50$7.99$22.49online
Chain catcherThird eye$7.50 $ -$7.50online
Steerer spacersCarbon spacers$1.75 $ -$1.75online
WheelsetA-Class ALX320$90.00 $ -$90.00Craigslist
TiresWTB Cross Wolf$19.98$7.44$27.42LBS
TubesGeneric$4.90 $ .45$5.35online
Handlebar tapeBBB gel$5.95$1.75$7.70online

Cheap ’Cross Bike Photo Gallery:

Cheap Bike Risks:

It can’t be emphasized enough that taking such an approach to building a bike should involve several considerations. First, it’s hard to ensure a good fit or ride quality without an in-person test. Perhaps more importantly, taking a price-first approach doesn’t always support your local shop. Even though we spent well over $100 at our local shops, if you want to rely on them the day before a race, or when you’re ready to test ride bikes for your next upgrade, you want them to be around. Lastly, buying random generic frames on the ‘net often means you’re cutting profits from the company that spent money designing and engineering the frame. These companies often sponsor races and riders, a good thing for our sport.

The question is, if saving a few hundred dollars by buying some parts (or a bike) online enables people on a tight budget to try out cyclocross, is that a good thing for the sport? Hopefully they’ll then aspire to upgrade their rides at local shops as they get more serious, and have more funds. If that happens, we all eventually win. After all, how many racers have gotten their starts on a budget, Internet-purchased Motobecane, got hooked, then upgraded down the line?

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andrew

Chief Bike Geek at Cyclocross Magazine
Andrew Yee is the founder of Cyclocross Magazine, and has been hooked on 'cross since his first race in 1991. When he's not writing about the sport, he's a cyclocross fan and racer, husband and dad. He compiled a bunch of student loans getting degrees in mechanical engineering, environmental studies and business and has lived and raced most forms of bikes in PA, HI, MA and CA.
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Cyclocross Magazine, Issue 22, Print and digital subscriptionsHave you subscribed yet? You're missing out if not. Get all-original content and your cyclocross fix throughout the year with a subscription and Issue 23 back copy, with features on Lars van der Haar, Jonathan Page, Elle Anderson and more!
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36 comments
VKingBike
VKingBike

There is no absolute
Cheap is mature technology, lower costs,not reduce material .


Leroy

leroy@diy-carbonbike.com

Warthoggbikes
Warthoggbikes

Hey out there in cross land I am in the refurbish bizz for bikes,and looking at tha budget bike article and ya all can check out warthoggbikes.com I have made two retro cross bikes and my first bike cost me $200.00 using a vintage Ross road bike frame and had the various parts I needed to build a cross grant u my rime sizes are different,( I of my bikes run 700x and the next runs the classic 27 1/4 rim ). Challengeing yes but my bizz is all about refurbishing,repair,sale,n recycle.

Kazuyuki  Kasai
Kazuyuki Kasai

644ドルってえと幾らだ 七万円くらいか いいな

Anthony Lloyd-jones
Anthony Lloyd-jones

You can also run XTR rear with Ultegra shifters,gives a 1x10 a very big gear range with the long cage.

Tony Cambio
Tony Cambio

$644 is about what I used to spend for a tires on my autocross car each year.

Ted Bayard
Ted Bayard

Building any type of bike in this manner is a fun and learning experience. It's alway more cool to pull out a wrench instead of a credit card.

Jeff Mcconnell
Jeff Mcconnell

I used this article as the inspiration for my recent build and am running 10spd Campy Veloce shifter with 10spd Ultegra RD on a 9spd cassette / chain combo. With some alternate cable routing into the RD it shifts perfect.

Jesse Becker
Jesse Becker

I mean other than the world ending because you are mixing Campy with Shimano... :-)

J.d. Kimple
J.d. Kimple

As for Campy shifters with Shimanonono, I went the J-Tek route as I already had 4 sets of 10sp cassettes/wheels. It works fantastically. Can dump the entire cassette or climb 4 or 5 cogs in one fell swoop. Where would one use such a large jump of gearing? Why, off-cambers for starters. Great article.

Jesse Becker
Jesse Becker

I knew you could do it with 11sp (Zinn has had a recent series on it). I was unaware about the 10sp. Thanks!

Cyclocross Magazine
Cyclocross Magazine

That's awesome. The biggest difference is you went used for a lot of things, which is a perfectly viable route, but everything we did was new. Nice work.

Cyclocross Magazine
Cyclocross Magazine

Everyone has a different time value of money, right? Just to note, it wasn't a 6-month long constant search. We knew we wanted to do it a while back, and when we happened to see something work picking up for it, we did. We're confident that we could do it in a few weeks, but for sure, those exact deals don't exist - that's the nature of bargain shopping, right? If they did, someone was pricing things wrong because this was over two years ago! :-)

Cyclocross Magazine
Cyclocross Magazine

Pete, sorry, we think some of our tongue and cheek didn't come through there. Ryan, Rafal, we agree. Kellan, for sure you can go way cheaper if you go used. Aaron, depends on the gravel and the ride/race/racer. Lots of cx races even have gravel in them.

Thomas Maerz
Thomas Maerz

i looked into this and that $644 number would take countless hours of searching and penny pinching... I don't think it's worth the savings to spend 6 months laboriously finding parts... I am really good at finding the best deal online or at distributors. I looked up all those parts and many of the deals claimed here just don't exist anymore, not even close. New frame for $~85 shipped? what???

Jesse Becker
Jesse Becker

An American style CX bike and a gravel bike are pretty darned similar. Don't get hung up in semantics. Euro CX bikes tend to have higher BBs, and probably aren't stable enough for long hours in a grinder, but they could be used in a pinch. MORE IMPORTANTLY: How did they get those Campy 10s shifters to work with that Shimano rear der.?

Nick Hooper
Nick Hooper

I've been wanting to build one over this winter season! Very helpful

Aaron Garcia
Aaron Garcia

Er, gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes aren't the same. They're not interchangeable terms.

Aaron Hoppe
Aaron Hoppe

My current race bike is a singlespeed converted 2001 Jamis Nova... put it together for $400, and I splurged a bit

Ron Dileva
Ron Dileva

I love my GRAVEL BIKE!!!!....Lmao

Kellan Cullan
Kellan Cullan

I built up my first cross bike for cheap. Using a used frame, take off parts, and spare bits from my own & friends spare parts bins it cost me @$250

Barbara Foley
Barbara Foley

Great post... But why not mARKET more affordable bike for those of us mechanically challenged ( and financially ... Hard to justify another bike with my car at 185,000)... Lol

Ryan Amirault
Ryan Amirault

must say that I miss when cyclocross racing was more core and bikes were pieced together and did not cost so much. Great post!

Gerhardt Ackerman
Gerhardt Ackerman

Pardon my ignorance but why not call them gravel bikes? School me

Chapel
Chapel

What's the cheapest Disc brake or V/Canti brake STEEL frame out there?

jrvalles
jrvalles

I am a new cyclist, and so far I am very much enjoying my road bike. However, the only reason I could afford it was that it was income tax refund time. I would love to get a Cyclocross bike before fall hits here in NC, but alas, there will be no more refund checks. I am considered buying piece by piece and having it assembled by fall, but my bike mechanic skills so far amount to, "inflate tires, lube chain". Would you suggest any resources, books or online, that are a good guide for the new cyclist to build a bike from the ground up?

LeBauerPT
LeBauerPT

This is a great article, and I love what you guys did with so little.  I just did the same thing this summer, except I spent a bit more on the frame (an Alan Guerciotti), and already had wheels, shifters, derailleurs and seat and still kept it under a grand.  I thought I had other parts that would work, but as always there are bits and bobs that are specific sizes, like seatposts, stems and bottom brackets or parts that do not work with the frames geometry (I had to go through 3 different cantilevers to find one that would work with the canti boss spacing in the rear).

A few items that you didn't mention in your calculation are cables/housing and a chain.  Did rimstrips and skewers come with the wheelset?  did you pay retail for items at your local bike shop?

bahrens
bahrens

Is this frame still available somewhere?

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