While many bike companies are cranking out new gravel or do-it-all drop bar off-road models, a cyclocross race bike is hard to beat for cyclocross racing and still offers plenty of versatility for commuting, wet weather riding and gravel cycling on all but the roughest roads.
Noble Bikes’ Mark Landsaat, formerly of Raleigh Bicycles, has plenty of experience with cyclocross race bikes. His former employer supplied race bikes to plenty of cyclocross pros, and Landsaat had an annual habit of lining up for the entrance into the pain cave himself.
The CX3, Noble’s $1,999 alloy SRAM Rival-equipped cyclocross bike, has a price and spec that begs for consideration should you be bitten by the cyclocross bug and be in the market for a race-worthy ride.
Is the CX3 the hot ticket for your hot laps? Read on for an in-review look at our latest test bike.
The Noble CX3 frame is built from Noble’s 6000 series aluminum, and comes complete with internal routing, fender mounts, flattened top tube and a tapered head tube.
Alloy is an affordable, relatively lightweight material for cyclocross bikes, but Noble Bikes’ smooth welds and curved lines offer a carbon look from a distance. It’s a trend that we also saw with the new 2020 Trek Crockett.
Landsaat told Cyclocross Magazine a 56cm frame weighs 1,749g. That’s not the lightest around, but it is an affordable, stout, ISO-certified frame with a carbon fork. Compared to a comparable SRAM Rival 1-equipped Crockett, the CX3 frame is just over 400g heavier, but the complete bike from Noble is also $400 cheaper.
The frame features a flattened top tube for more comfortable shouldering and internal cable routing for a clean look. The design features Noble’s “forward geometry” that uses a longer top tube and shorter stem, not unlike the Cannondale SuperX.
Noble also offers a similar GX3 model at the same price point, with an identical build package. What is the difference? The cyclocross model features a higher bottom bracket (65mm drop instead of 75mm on the gravel), a steeper head angle (by 0.5°), 1.5cm shorter chainstays, and a more race-oriented position with a longer reach and shorter stack.
The two models also have different forks, a 4mm less axle-to-crown and offset than the gravel fork. Landsaat says both models can do dual-duty, but for those looking to ride gravel with 40mm or bigger tires, the GX3 is the only choice.
The CX3’s main limitation, especially for a bike with roots in the muddy Pacific Northwest, is tire clearance. It’s a bit tight down by the chainstays around the as-measured 35mm Donnelly PDX tires—Noble lists a max clearance of 33mm but that’s quite conservative. However, any bigger tires than 35mm would be really tight and offer little mud clearance, and the new crop of bigger gravel tires are a no-go. Of course, it’s marketed as a cyclocross bike, not a gravel bike.
Up front, the carbon fork can accept bigger rubber should you want to try a high-volume gravel tire and perhaps slacken out the head angle.
We wish we could remove the chainstay bridge and attach the chainstays at the edge of the wide BB86 shell to increase tire clearance, as we’ve seen with carbon BB86 models, but Landsaat says the bridge and narrow attachment points at the bottom bracket are necessary due to manufacturing requirements and to pass the ISO-4210 standard. Landsaat calls the ISO standard “the toughest standard to pass.”
The CX3 comes in a 1x build, and as such, features a braze-on mount for a chainguard. Landsaat has designed the proprietary chainguard, but he has not produced it yet. Narrow/wide chain rings reduce the need for a guard, but as we saw with Toon Aerts last weekend, chain drops still happen
It’s rare to pull a budget-friendly bike out of the box and find out it’s race ready. The Noble CX3 is one such bike, with a smarts parts pick.
Noble keeps the CX3 affordable by eschewing name brand cockpit components, but that doesn’t mean these parts end up on the upgrade wish list. Landsaat had the opportunity to design his own handlebar and have it built to his specs.
Although he did not have the resources to ensure it’s exclusive, it’s a winner. The top edge and rear edge of the bar’s flat section do not taper away from the clamp edge, which offers a consistent hand position regardless of the width of your grip and adds a tad more rise.
The stem is lightweight at just 120-130g, and the seatpost thankfully has a secure two-bolt head.
While the press-fit BB86 bottom bracket shell may give owners worries about creaks, thankfully Noble supplies the thread-together Wheels Manufacturing bottom bracket that helps avoid creaky pedaling.
The SRAM Rival 1 components get the job done. Our test bike featured a 42t X-Sync ring on a Rival 1 crankset with a Rival 1 rear derailleur and SRAM XG-1150 10-42t XD rear cassette.
The CX3 comes stock with Stan’s Grail S1 tubeless-ready alloy clinchers. The tires of Donnelly’s versatile 700c x 33mm PDX tubeless-ready model.
The complete build has a 20.9-pound list weight. We weighed our review bike at 20.8 pounds without pedals, 20.4 pounds set up tubeless and 12.8 pounds without wheels.
After spending a lot of time on gravel bikes this summer, jumping on the Noble Bikes’ CX3 was energizing and refreshing. The CX3’s geometry and build kit beg to be raced.
The relatively short chainstays, nimble steering, race-oriented position and moderate bottom bracket drop will have you sprinting through twisty, technical terrain and seeking short, punchy climbs over long gravel grinds.
When the track points downhill, the CX3 is not a close-your-eyes limo ride, but the “forward geometry” and its longer wheelbase offer confidence over other twitchy, nerve-wracking race rigs. And when you hit the momentum-killing hairpin turn, the CX3 prevents you from going through the tape as you might on a laid-back gravel bike.
Need to hoof it when your traction or gearing hits a limit? The CX3 has a nicely-flattened top tube for shouldering comfort. It’s not a weight weenie’s dream at over 20 pounds, but hopefully your wallet will be appreciably heavier than if you were carrying a 16-pound rig.
Think a $1,999 bike means you’ll have a long wish list of component upgrades? Noble’s parts pick is a value-oriented collection, but it is highly functional from day one. Swap the inner tubes for the (supplied) tubeless valves, splash in some sealant and hit the races. It’s ready for racing—and that’s high praise from our typically nitpicky testers.
The CX3 feels stout under effort and welcomes compliance from low tire pressure and supple tire casings. Thankfully the Grail rims held the PDX rubber securely at pressures below 20 psi. During midweek trail rides with longer climbs and weekend races with steep climbs, the 1:1 low gear was more than welcome.
Although we haven’t yet tested the CX3 in epic mud, such conditions are the main concern for racers in areas who often face sloppy conditions. The tire clearance limitations out back also cramp the CX3’s ability to double as a gravel bike for rougher conditions. If you want a bike to do both, you’d probably be better off with the recently-reviewed Noble carbon GX5 gravel bike, the alloy GX3 or recently-released steel GX1.
Stay tuned for a full long-term test as we push the CX3 through a variety of cyclocross conditions.
For a closer look at the Noble CX3, see the specs and photo gallery below.
Noble CX3 Cyclocross Bike Specs
Frame: Noble CX3, 6000 series alloy, forward geometry, 12mm thru-axle, flat mount disc
Fork: Noble CX, Toray Carbon, 12mm thru-axle, flat mount disc
Shift-Brake Levers: SRAM Rival 1 HRD
Calipers: SRAM Rival HRD
Rotors: SRAM Centerline, 160mm
Bottom Bracket: Wheels Manufacturing BB86
Crankset: SRAM Rival 1
Chain Ring: SRAM X-Sync, 42t
Rear Derailleur: SRAM Rival 1
Cassette: SRAM XG-1150, 10-42t
Chain: SRAM CN-1130
Wheels: Stan’s NoTubes Grail S1 alloy tubeless clinchers
Tires: Donnelly PDX, tubeless-ready, 700c x 33mm
Handlebar: Noble, alloy
Stem: Noble, alloy
Seatpost: Noble, alloy
Saddle: Prologo Nago Evo
More Info: noble-bikes.com
Photo Gallery: Noble CX3 Cyclocross Bike