From the early days of competitive cycling, people have used bikes both on and off road. Long before mountain bikes were used for off-road racing or trail leisure riding, road bikes were adapted for purpose. These bikes were built with extra clearance for muddy conditions with wider, knobbly tyres. Usually they were fitted with cantilever brakes. These brakes gave more stopping power in wet and muddy conditions. They also gave better clearance for mud and other debris. In the beginning the gear levers were often found in the ends of the drop bars allowing the rider to keep hands in contact with the bars at all times.
Today's competition cyclo-cross bikes are often made from aluminium or carbon fibre (steel is still used, but rarely). Although disk brakes (both cable and hydraulic) are now found on cyclo-cross bikes, many competition bikes are still fitted with high quality cantilever brakes with STI levers as standard. Some bikes come with a double chain-set and wide ranging gears allowing for the varied terrain encountered. However, some are now fitted with a single chain-ring at the front and a wide ratio 11 speed cassette at the back.
Cyclo-cross bikes are now popular with the leisure rider and commuter and the manufacturers make the bikes to take mudguards and, sometimes, pannier racks. Because of the bikes frame design the clearance offered means a wider tyre with better all-round grip can be fitted to suit road or trail use. When purchased, however, they are often fitted with a traditional cyclo-cross knobbly tyre.
All the major bike manufactures offer a cyclo-cross bike, including Specialized, Trek, Giant, Focus, Cube, Kona and Cannondale.
J E James Cycles offer a selection of cyclo-cross bikes from each of these major bike manufacturers.