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 Total Vendor(all items new)
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
TOTAL $528.06$115.35$643.41

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?



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.