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Portaging requires the bike to be carried on the rider's shoulder over steep and difficult terrain.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Cyclocross fills the "off-season" void for a lot of road cyclists. As a hybrid of mountain biking and road biking, cyclocross bikes look like beefed-up road racing bikes, with wider and knobbier tires and more substantial forks and frames. Cyclocross races usually take place in the fall and winter, and the bikes come in as many varieties as road and mountain bikes, but the features that make up the best cyclocross bikes are obvious in the competitive edge they give professional riders.
Like road and mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes come in a variety of frame materials. Most cyclocross bikes are made using lightweight frames, similar to a road bike. Aluminum, carbon fiber and occasionally titanium frames make the bike easy to portage, which is key for difficult sections of a cyclocross course. Portaging also demands that the cables be routed over the top of the top tube so that the bike can be easily shouldered. The best cyclocross bikes are usually made with carbon fiber, since it has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of these materials.
Cyclocross races can take place in the worst conditions. Snow, mud and pouring rain are not uncommon and do nothing to deter cyclocross events. Because of this, traditional caliper or rim brakes are inconsistent, since grime and wet rims can make braking difficult. Mountain bike-style disc brakes perform much better in wet conditions and are standard issue on the best cyclocross bikes. The best disc brakes use a hydraulic action, which provides an immediate and firm response to the brake lever.
Cyclocross races can vary from mud, pavement, light snow and gravel surfaces, demanding a knobby mountain bike-style tire for traction and control. Cyclocross bikes use traditional 700c wheels in a similar width to road bikes, so the tires aren't quite as aggressive as mountain bike tires. However, the slightly wider and taller tires found on the best cyclocross bikes demand higher clearance in the frame and fork. This extra clearance marks one of the key differences between road bike frames and cyclocross frames.
The best cyclocross bikes feature top-level components to provide consistent, quick shifting in difficult conditions. Some cyclocross bikes use a mix of mountain bike and road bike components, selecting for reliability in poor riding conditions. Since grime and mud are synonymous with the sport, most cyclocross bikes also feature waterproof cable housings and stainless steel cables so that braking and shifting stays quick and accurate for the extent of a race.