It's not easy to compete on a budget but there are ways. The online retailer Nashbar has thrown a bone to cyclocross enthusiasts with an entry level single-speed bike meant to stand up to the rigors of a rugged sport. I snagged one during a Memorial Day sale for only $425. after taxes and shipping. It came right on schedule in about five business days, shipped in a box and hugged lovingly with bubble wrap.
Right from the start I was happy with the attractiveness of the parts. The Chromoly frame is a beautiful dark blue covered in clear coat. Chrome fixtures made it shine and everything clicked into place so easily. I'm a pretty terrible mechanic so if I can put this bike together, anyone can.
As for the pieces and parts, it's a mixed bag of you get what you pay for. I've read in other reviews that people immediately swapped out the pedals. Once I saw what they were, I didn't even unwrap them. The Velo VL-1205 seat is usually the next to go but I was surprised how easily I was able to slide around on it. Two rides later I had changed my mind. I pulled the seat post/saddle out of my Trek 4 Series but it was too large. However, I was able to pull the seat post/saddle out of my Felt BMX bike and it fit perfectly.
The tires are a conundrum. The 700 by 32 Kenda Small Block Eights do seem a little thin but the grip is fine. I will probably want a more aggressive tread on a wider tire but I want to see what they can endure before I trade up. They do provide a quiet ride, just don't jump off any curbs.
I kicked the pavement with a half dozen short rides of under five miles. The bike does not inspire confidence from the start, it has to be earned. This is probably a good policy with most entry level bikes. You never know where the manufacturer might have skimped in order to make a profit so be cautious.
My fourth ride was 10 miles long including road, sand, grass and gravel. The dismounts were easy, the frame is light even for chromoly steel. Running and jumping with the bike were almost an afterthought. Perhaps I'm just so used to hefting my 30 pound Trek that everything else feels like a paperweight.
Now let's talk gears. I'm new to riding a single speed and I don't want to get all philosophical about the experience, not in this article anyway (Stay tuned). The Nashbar single-speed comes equipped with a 46 tooth chain ring and 17 tooth freewheel. This is a huge gear to wrestle with. Once I get used to pushing it, I'll be able to use this gear for street riding but little else. This will be my be next fix. Update: I traded the 46 tooth for a 42 and now I can ride off road. It still might need a change depending on the racecourse.
Acceptable parts include Tektro alloy brakes which work adequately, though are a little on the weak side. The Velo Ergo grip handlebar wrapping is tight and comfortable. It's a keeper.
I think that is beyond dispute that this bike is worth the money. It's inexpensive, easy to assemble and has become a fun ride. I will be cutting my review short because I have yet to take this bike on any real adventures. In the future I will update this article (And future articles) with my exploits. As I enter my first season of cyclocross racing you can bet I'll be putting it through hell so be sure to check back.
Update: After putting the original seat/post back on, I took the bike on some longer rides. It proved surprisingly nimble on my local mountain bike trails including an off road crit, plus I stayed with the lead group on a large casual off road ride at Little Everglades Ranch. On road I came within 1 minute of my personal record at a time trial plus I took it out on a 22 mile road ride that was very comfortable.
Update: This bike was used for my first CX race. The weight was no problem, the handling remained true and I was able to compete against riders with $$$$ bikes. I completed 4 races with 2 podiums. However, the bottom bracket took a beating so when I later tried a gravel grinder ride it finally came loose and needed to be replaced.