Earlier this year, we did a Q and A with Jon Severson, who runs the Monstercross News Facebook page. The name “monster cross” gets used with varying levels of strictness, but it originated with Matt Chester as a do-it-all bike with dirt drops and 42 to 45mm tires. Severson’s page is dedicated to preserving Chester’s legacy and providing a forum for folks to discuss the versatile design.
Today, Severson shares three reasons a monster cross bike might be worth a look in the first of a series of regular columns for Cyclocross Magazine.
by Jon Severson
“Why should I get a monstercross bike?”
As the purveyor of Monstercross News, that’s a question I’ve gotten quite a bit over the past 10 years. It often starts with me explaining that a monster cross bike sits between a 29er hardtail and a cyclocross bike. Some of the responses I get in bike geek circles are “But I already have a 29er and a cyclocross bike, I don’t need that,” or “But my XYZ bike does that already.” My usual response of “Then maybe you don’t need one?” seems to daze people, but it’s true, not every bike is for every person.
However, for many others I’ve talked to through the Monstercross News page and via personal conversations, the idea of a true monster cross bike catches their attention for more real and practical reasons that include a tight budget for a quiver, lack of space for a quiver and a monster cross bike’s ability to tackle their local terrain.
For me, the draw of monster cross was its simplicity and versatility. Part of my motivation for starting Monstercross News was borne out of bike forums where people argue that monster cross is an industry creation to sell more stuff and those of us who push the classic monster cross format—dirt drops with 42 to 45mm-wide tires—are “just selling something.”
It’s quite the opposite really. In an industry that has heeded the n+1 concept with bikes for every use, a monster cross bike can truly be the one bike you ride the most, negating any perceived “need” to buy other bikes.
Myself, I’m not one for owning a lot of stuff or buying something because it’s supposedly better. I drive a 13-year-old SUV, my kitchen is simple and minimal without gadgets and my clothing collection consists mostly of jeans and black t-shirts. In short, I’m not one for buying stuff just ’cause, and so having one bike to meet many needs is perfect for me.
With that little aside done, I want to share three reasons I think you might want to own or build a monster cross bike: Budget, space and terrain. Sure you could also play the n+1 card for why you need one, but I’m not the guy who’s going to push that.
Reason #1: Budget
Let’s face it, bikes are expensive no matter how you look at it. Building another bike will run most people a minimum of $1,500 and the truly budget-minded can maybe slap something together for $600 with used parts. No matter your approach, adding another bike means paying more money.
Not everyone has that luxury, which is where I feel a monster cross bike as your only bike or one of two or three is perfect. It makes a great commuter, great grocery getter and it’s fun on both dirt and pavement. Monster cross tires typically have some tread, but I’ve even explored the world of big fat slicks like the Soma Supple Vitesse 48’s, which behave surprisingly well in dry off-road conditions yet feel fast as road tires on the pavement.
A well thought-out monster cross bike is a great “one bike” to build on a budget. You can start with an old Trek Multitrack frame or other hybrid that fits a 38 to 45mm tires. Look for a cheap set of wheels on Craigslist (with everyone going disc, many really nice rim brake wheel sets are sold for cheap these days), get a set of Origin8 Gary or Soma Junebug dirt drop bars and boom, you’re done.
Building a budget monster cross bike also provides an inexpensive discipline crossover option. If you primarily ride on the road, a monster cross bike provides a familiar, stable platform for tackling some dirt riding. If you are a mountain bike/enduro/downhill dirthead, a monster cross bike can help you log miles and maybe double as a cyclocross and gravel race bike.
Reason #2: Space
As I type this up while visiting friends in California’s Bay Area, I look around the room and am reminded of a very real problem owning multiple bikes presents: they eat up space. In many cities space is a premium; the place I’m at is $2,800 a month for 1,100 square feet that two guys are sharing along with five bikes. Throw in me, my air mattress in the middle of the living room and my travel single speed, and it feels like I am back in a college dorm.
Rents back in my home city of Colorado Springs are rising as well, and while we all dream (even me) of a garage full of n+1 bikes and drool over the collections of friends who do have large spaces stocked with impressive collections, it’s not always practical to own a full stable of steeds.
For many of us, owning one bike that can take the space of two or three bikes makes sense. If you still want to own a nice bike, you can use the money you save on renting space or owning more bikes to invest in a really sweet ride. Maybe you could spend your savings on buying higher quality food or take up yoga to make you a better rider? Or, I don’t know, you could develop a solid six months of income in savings?
Space and budget go hand-in-hand in making a monster cross bike a good investment. For the third reason, it still has to be fun to ride, right?
Reason #3: Terrain
When I was 18, I got into a camp in Delafield, WI put on by the Motorola cycling team. One of my campmates was a buddy whom I raced mountain bikes against. Neither of us brought our mountain bikes to the camp and thus decided to get our dirt fix in riding dirt foot paths around the campus on our road bikes. One of the coaches took me up a climb on a rainy day which was followed with us literally sliding down a series of singletrack trails on our road bikes. It was some of the most fun I have had off-road, and given the trails, the experience might have been ruined with a mountain bike.
While my Colorado Springs home is blessed with a ridiculous amount of trails and bike paths, not everyone has such easily accessible places to shred. My experience has been that a lot of places have trails, but they aren’t necessarily “killer” trails that necessitate a fancy mountain bike.
The cure for dull trails is a bike with smaller tires. Not only is the riding more fun and challenging, but it also really hones your skills on the bike, period. Riding a monster cross bike is a way to keep your handling skills sharp instead of getting lazy riding your killer mountain bike on otherwise boring trails. Save that puppy for the weekend when you have the time to drive to real dirt, and if you have a monster cross bike, you have a platform to tackle trails during the week while getting your miles in and commuting around town.
Is Monster Cross for Everyone?
Is monster cross for everyone? No, no bike is.
But is it good for those who fit one or more of the reasons above? Definitely.
Matt Chester’s original goal with the monster cross platform was to build a bike that can truly do it all. I feel remembering what the name monster cross was intended to mean should be preserved and remembered in large part because of the three reasons I outlined here.
I have nothing against a full quiver of bikes, but it’s just not in the cards for everyone. The do-it-all mentality of a true monster cross allows you to have one bike that truly handles a lot of tasks and does you a lot of good.
Severson’s column will appear on our website every month or so. If you have questions or topics you would like to see him cover, you can contact him via the Monstercross News Facebook page.
For more monster cross and DIY coverage, see our story on converting old steel bikes to gravel bikes and our rundown of monster cross-worthy tires.