Do Cyclocross Bikes Have Gears? (Solved!)


What do you do when the road bike season is winding down, but you aren’t ready to give it up? You try cyclocross, of course!

Cyclocross is a fun and exciting way to extend your riding season, plus it gives you a great workout!  But if you are anything like me, you have a lot of questions about CX bikes. You might even be wondering, Do CX bikes have gears?

Cyclocross bikes have gears just like any other bike. While many CX bikes come standard with 1x drivetrains, you’ll find many cyclocross bikes with a standard double chainring. There are even a few dedicated races for single-speed cyclocross bikes, which only have one gear.

The type of drivetrain you choose for your CX bike will depend on your budget, the type of riding you like to do, and what you have available to you. 

In this article, I’ll talk about what kinds of gears you’ll find on a cyclocross bike. I’ll take a look at all the possible gearing options, and all the pros and cons.

Cyclocross Gears 

Cyclocross bikes are geared to fit the demands of the course. In theory, many different bikes can be converted into cyclocross bikes (Source). However, you have to understand what type of terrain you are dealing with first.

A cyclocross course is made up of a mix of terrains and obstacles. You’ll find grass, asphalt, mud, sand, gravel, steep hills, logs, and other obstacles to get over.

Cyclocross has a lot of sharp, twisty turns and requires superior bike handling skills, quick dismounts, and running with the bike. Your bike will need to be able to handle all of these challenges. 

Of course, there are a few other things to consider apart from gears:

You’ll want a bike that you can easily pick up and toss on your shoulder, so it has to be pretty lightweight, too. 

Since Cyclocross got its humble start from road bikes, many dedicated cyclocross bikes will resemble a road bike.

However, having responsive gears is crucial, and really helps you tear up a range of terrain. Terrain changes quickly while cycling, and requires short, sharp bursts of power. So a CX bike will typically have lower gears than a typical road bike.

Lower gears are easier gears that will help you climb up steep hills or power through rough terrains, such as grass. 

Just like a typical road bike, cyclocross bikes often come with standard roadie drive trains: 2 front chainrings and a cassette in the back. However, many cyclocross bikes are outfitted with a 1x setup, as well.

Which should you use? Well, the most important thing is to think about the terrain you might be encountering and your own preferences as a cyclist. (Source)

2x Drivetrain for Cyclocross Bikes

A 2x drivetrain means that you have two chainrings in the front of your bike.

This type of gearing will give you more gearing options. So if your cyclocross course covers both steep and flat terrain, you might want to opt for a 2x drivetrain.

For example, you might have a 42/36t chainring with a 12-27t cassette. You’ll also have: 

Benefits to a 2x Drivetrain

  • More gears to choose from
  • Gears for both flats and hills

Drawbacks to a 2x Drivetrain

  • More gears mean more working parts that can get jammed by mud and debris. 
  • A 2x drivetrain is heavier than a 1x drivetrain, making the bike harder to carry over obstacles. 
  • Some gears are duplicated, and using them causes too much tension on the chain. 
  • More likely to experience chain slap and dropped chains. 
  • Shifting is more complex. 

If you are coming to cyclocross from a roadie background, you might prefer to use a 2x drivetrain.

On the other hand, if you are coming from a mountain biking background, you might prefer a 1x drivetrain. 

1x Drivetrain for Cyclocross Bikes

It isn’t unusual to find a cyclocross bike with just a 1x drivetrain. A 1x drivetrain means the bike will have a single chainring in the front and a cassette in the back.

A typical gear setup for a 1x drivetrain is a 40t chainring with an 11 x 34 cassette. There are a few benefits to this type of gearing. 

Benefits to a 1x Drivetrain

  • A 1x drivetrain will be measurably lighter than a 2x drivetrain. So if you are looking to race or run a lot with your bike, you might prefer this option. 
  • This type of gearing usually has a clutch, so chain slap and chain drop are virtually eliminated. 
  • Without a front derailleur, you’ll have fewer parts to get clogged up with mud and debris, which makes for better shifting. 
  • Shifting is easier, so you only have to shift up or down. In addition, you don’t need to worry about duplicated gears or cross chaining, which can cause you to drop your chain at the worst time.
  • Shifting is smoother. 

Drawbacks to a 1x Drivetrain

There are a few reasons you might not like a 1x drivetrain, though. 

  • Fewer gears might mean you have a more challenging time climbing and a harder time powering through steep descents. 
  • There are larger steps between gears, so you’ll have to adjust your cadence to what gears are available rather than changing your gears to fit your cadence. 
  • It might be harder to sprint on longer, straight stretches of the course since you don’t have those hard gears. 

Even though there are a few drawbacks, 1x drivetrains give you a lot to work with. On the other hand, you might even prefer a single-speed CX bike. 

Single-speed CX Gearing for a Cyclocross Bike

Sometimes, you’ll find a CX bike is a single-speed bike. Single-speed gearing adds another dimension of fitness to your CX race. But, as always, there are pros and cons to this type of bike, as well. 

Benefits of a Singlespeed CX bike 

  • Budget-friendly. Singlespeed bikes are usually less expensive than their multi-geared counterparts and less costly to maintain, as well. 
  • Singlespeed bikes are lighter since they don’t have a cassette and multiple chainrings. 
  • Less moving parts to break, get filled with mud, or stop working mid-race. 
  • You don’t need to worry about shifting mid-race.
  • Chain drop is very rare. 
  • Maintenance on a single-speed is easier than a geared bike. 

Drawbacks to a single-speed cx bike. 

  • You won’t be able to use gears to help you up an incline, so you’ll have to depend on your leg strength. 
  • It can be difficult to pick the right-sized cog for your race. 

Which Gearing Should You Choose for Your CX Bike? 

There are so many options to choose from for your CX bike, but how do you know which is right for you? It depends. 

If you will be racing in flatter but muddier conditions, you might want to choose a single-speed or 1x drivetrain.

You won’t have as many gear options, but your bike will be lighter and will shed the mud easier. It will be lighter and easier to carry, as well, so it might be the right choice if you have lots of barriers in your race. 

On the other hand, if your course consists of lots of hills and climbing, you might prefer the benefit of a double chainring.

This type of gearing will give you a wider variety of gearing to choose from, so you can spin up the hills and spring off on the flatter sections. 

Amanda Whittington

Amanda has been a cycling enthusiast for the last few years. She alternates between indoor cycling activities and classes, to getting out on the roads and hills on a range of bikes. Amanda writes about all things cycling for our site. You can find out more about Amanda at bicycle2work.com/about-amanda-whittington/

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