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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I bought a used colnago world cup cyclocross bike with some upgraded components for a decent price. I haven't rode any cyclocross bikes and very limited MTB experience. However, living in the Pacific Northwest in Vancouver there are a lot of riding trails that I would like to take advantage of.

I'm not looking at doing hardcore technical rooty, rocky type paths, but would like to progress to simple single track type routes.

The bike I bought had a set of road/commuter tires on it. I would like to change those to something that would be more appropriate to trail riding terrain. I'm not sure what width I should get and whether it should mainly be all knobby or sort of flat on the center and knobby on the sides. I can drive to the trail heads, however, most of the trail heads are about 5-10 miles from where I live so I can see myself just riding to the trail heads.

Second thing is pedals... I've always been a roadie, so I'm used to the clip-on pedals... However... I'm hesitant about it for trails as I'm not so sure about my technical abilities on trails and can see myself biting it pretty easily.

As well as to enjoy the trails, my other goal with getting the cyclocross was to improve my bike handling skills. I haven't even learned to bunny hop over obstacles yet and don't know how to react when my tires starts to slip.

I won't go diving into the first trail on my ride, but will progressively feel it out. Probably do some gravel and logging roads first before tacking any single tracks.

Any advice would be appreciated.
 

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First, I am not a cyclocross guy. I do own a gravel bike that I occasionally (and very casually) ride around on the forest roads in the cascade foothills (Snoqualmie Valley Trail, etc..)

I use Shimano XT pedals and just set the tension fairly loose so I can get out quickly. I tried flats and hated it. I have to be clipped in.

i'm not an expert on cross tires, but I have a set of Clement X'PLOR USH 35mm tires on my gravel bike right now. They might be a little too much for easy fire roads, but I think they are a good all around tire.

Prepare to get dirty. For me, that is the mental challenge with gravel riding. I live in a small condo, and keep my bikes indoors. I pretty much have to clean and dry my gravel bike after every ride before it comes inside, whereas my road bikes generally stay clean and dry enough that they don't need frequent cleaning.
 

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Strava's "Segment Explorer" and the Strava Labs Heatmap are great tools to find new to places to ride.

Also, check in with your LBS and ask there.

The Evergreen MTB Alliance has some good info on local rides, with descriptions and current conditions/ride reports. Just look for the green single track routes for your gravel/dirt road rides.

I've typically been a casual bike lane/MUT rider, but this year, after being hit by a car last June, I'm going to spend a lot more time on the gravel bike, and away from the 4 wheel steel monsters.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I don't mind getting dirty... I just dislike the clean up afterwards with the bike especially when you live in a small apartment.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Awesome, thanks. I have a lot of buddies that ride MTB that can show me some trails, However, none that have a cyclocross so they might not be familiar with what terrain a cyclocross bike can go over.
 

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I don't have much experience but was about where you are a few months ago so can lend a little.

-Without seeing the trails and knowing your body weight I wouldn't want to recommend a tire but I've done pretty well using Challenge Almanzo 33mm tires. I bought them wanting something was decent on gravel and trails but didn't bog down on the road because my trail rides include regular roads and I've been pleasantly surprised at how well the little file tread does off road in some pretty sloppy stuff. I've been on some pretty bad snowmobile trails and got by okay but could see where something bigger and with knobs would help if all the ride was in conditions that bad. A lot of people I know use the Clements that the first response linked to.

-Definitely, 100%, use clip in pedals. I'm sure people get away with platforms but I'd consider it a safety issue using them off road.

-You might be surprised at how good your bike handling it. I had the same concerns, with only a lot of road experience and not trail experience on a CX bike, but I took to trails pretty quick. The bigger tires and not being as aggressive/stretched out on the bike makes a huge difference.

You'll have a blast. I'm not sure if it's the gravel and trails I like so much or if it's the peace and quite/lack of cars that come along with them but either way getting off asphalt roads is a blast and a nice variation from regular road riding.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks, I think I'm exactly at that stage... I'm excited to try it, but also scared as well. That's why I'm thinking of wider tires as I think it will handle loose/rough stuff a bit better. There's a lot of skills I still need to learn. Just even weight shifting for climbs or hopping over obstructions is all new to me. I find even the type of effort is completely different than on road bikes. On the road, it seems to be a consistent level of stress and load. On the trails, it seems you need to adapt to have enough reserve for short burst power or be very smooth with the low cadence power especially when going on slippery conditions.

It's all new, confusing, intimidating yet exciting at the same time. I think I will just try some simple gravel trails to start off with and use my clip ons. Those MTB pedals looks like it can really hurt if you slip on them.
 

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Wife would kill me if I did, but I have always wanted a Kelly Knobby X. The thing is, I never even ride my old hardtail MTB anymore.

When I do hit the trails again someday, probably going to have to choose between a cyclocross bike or a FS MTB, not sure which way to lean yet.

I have had the same general question in my head for years, though... where do you ride a cyclocross bike? Same trails as MTB or is that asking too much?
 

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Thanks, I think I'm exactly at that stage... I'm excited to try it, but also scared as well. That's why I'm thinking of wider tires as I think it will handle loose/rough stuff a bit better. There's a lot of skills I still need to learn. Just even weight shifting for climbs or hopping over obstructions is all new to me. I find even the type of effort is completely different than on road bikes. On the road, it seems to be a consistent level of stress and load. On the trails, it seems you need to adapt to have enough reserve for short burst power or be very smooth with the low cadence power especially when going on slippery conditions.

It's all new, confusing, intimidating yet exciting at the same time. I think I will just try some simple gravel trails to start off with and use my clip ons. Those MTB pedals looks like it can really hurt if you slip on them.
I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. I'm not exactly gifted or anything and took right to it. Just ease into it and I think you'll find you have enough skill to at least enjoy yourself. I did have a ton of road bike miles under my belt but virtually no mtn bike experience and felt fine on trails pretty much right away. It's different but comes pretty naturally I think.
 

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yup, just ride it. Take some trails, find some dirt roads, take short cuts across parks...
 

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Really looking into a Niner Rlt , killer deal just not sure how much in would use it, already have a road and MTB.
 

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My $0.02.

Tires - get the widest, knobbiest tires you can fit. 35mm+ if you can find them. It seems these days most tires go up to 33mm (UCI racing max) and then leapfrog to 38 or 40mm. Given what you want to do, more cush and traction will be to your advantage. I would also suggest splurging on latex tubes (instead of standard butyl) as they have far better pinch flat resistance and are more likely to make it through some of the more gnarly stuff you might encounter. Just be religious about checking tire pressure before every ride, as they are alot more permeable than butyl.

Pedals/shoes - go clipless. Get some Cheap Shimano SPDs (you can get them for like $20) and some MTN shoes to go with them. Given your desired use, you can probably go for a cheap pair that have more flex and will be more walkable. The advantage you'll gain here will outweigh the learning curve of being clipped in on uneven terrain. You may eat some dirt here and there, but the power to the pedals and solid contact will be worth it. SPDs, unlike alot of other pedal systems for MTN have an adjustable tension spring, set it as loose as possible initially until you are more comfortable.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Good thing is I already have a pair of SPD shoes and pedals. When I first started road biking, those were my first set, but I eventually moved onto an SPD-SL.

I took the bike for my first ride this weekend and it felt good. Only went on a simple compacted gravel trail so the touring/road tires they came with it could manage.

The bike felt good and I enjoyed it more than a full suspension mountain bike. I'll likely be getting a bigger cassette at the back as my weak legs can't maintain riding up with a 26 tooth at the back and steep hills.

I think the largest tire I can put on it is a 35mm as my rim's interior width is only 15mm. I had about 80lbs pressure on the 32mm tires that came with the bike. I think I should probably lower that on the trails to make it more comfortable.
 

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I run some aggressive touring tires on my cross bike (Schwalbe Marathon Mondials) and they work quite well on and off pavement. I have 4500 miles on one of the tires and it hard to tell the difference with the other ~1000 mile tire. Most of my rides are 10-20 miles of pavement out to the trail, then 5-15 miles of dirt/gravel and then back home. I run some SPD clip/flat combo pedals, so I can clip in on pavement and then run flats in the dirt, if needed.
 

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With the exception of getting it out into the Santa Cruz Mtns, every other trail in the south bay that I've ridden on my MTB, I've also ridden on my CX. The main difference is the that I descend slower on the CX.
I really question if I would have built up my hardtail at all if I had built up my CX first. I have two sets of wheels built up, one that's for all around use, and one specifically to run low pressure tubeless and abuse the crap out of. So I try not to limit myself on what I'll encounter.
For me, the best use for a CX/Gravel bike is riding from your doorstep to a trail, riding it to another road on the other side of at valley or mountain, then riding back home. It really opens up route options that are not road bike friendly.
I also make mine perform double duty as a commuter and foul weather road bike since it has fender mounts. FWIW, it's a first gen RLT9 and I absolutely love it.
 

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The bike felt good and I enjoyed it more than a full suspension mountain bike. I'll likely
I think the largest tire I can put on it is a 35mm as my rim's interior width is only 15mm. I had about 80lbs pressure on the 32mm tires that came with the bike. I think I should probably lower that on the trails to make it more comfortable.
Yikes. I wouldn't worry too much about the inner width of the rim and how large a tire you can put on it. If the frame has the clearance, the tire will hold just fine. And 80 psi is WAY too much for off road. I'm by no means lightweight (175-180 lbs) and typically run 80-90 psi on the road with 23mm tires. Racing CX I will typically start at 30 psi and go down from there. So for trail I'd probably add 10-15 psi as my starting point to ensure I was adding some pinch flat protection and not bottoming out on my rims constantly and adjust from there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
My frame definitely has the clearance for a larger tire. I'll make sure to lower my pressure the next time I'm out. I'm so used to road bikes which I run 95-100psi. I'll drop it down and see how that rides. I'm still making a lot of adjustments on the fit and handlebars right now so it'll take a few rides before I completely settle in.

I'm starting to understand the enjoyment in cyclocross. I find it more... interactive I think. I'm constantly scanning the road surface for rocks and the safest line to ride over. It's also nice during the colder winter months as your not going as fast, but still having a good work out and under the protection of the trees.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
One other thing I wanted to ask is about brakes. I was having a hard time slowing myself down bombing down the hills. The bike has cantilever brakes right now and pretty much engages immediately as I squeeze the lever. However my hands were just getting tired putting a lot of pressure squeezing the levers. The brakes have an immediate feel and engagement to it and not a spongy feel. From what I read, I think I need to adjust the yoke on the cantilever brakes down a bit to gain some mechanical advantage. How much clearance above the tire should the yolk have for a cyclocross bike? I would like to have better brake modulation and power.

I ended up getting on the drops so I could squeeze the lever with more force to be able to slow myself down.
 

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You want the internet's two cents? Here's mine:

I have a cross bike with Clement USH 35mm (nominal) tires on the rims. When I'm road/gravel riding, I put about 40F/44R-45F/49R in them and when trails/cx type riding is the focus, I put about 32/36 in them. I could probably go lower, but the performance gains on lunch rides isn't really the goal. When I have raced CX, I've ridden 32mm tires down in the upper 20s for PSI without an issue (knock on wood).

I'm not a pro mechanic, but as long as the yoke and cables never touch the tire, I can't imagine any issues. On my bike I get fork shudder when the rims are clean and with new pads. There are about three hundred discussions of fork shudder and cantilever brakes, but quite frankly, for my purposes, it doesn't last long enough to be real problem. I have noticed that when I was riding MTB single track with the road levers and cantilever that certain sections could cause some lactic acid buildup in my forearms, but thats probably because I never use those muscles at all on the road, and the cantis aren't as strong as MTB hydros on the MTB.

Unless you're riding muddy trails, or racing muddy CX courses, go with the widest tires that fit, you won't regret it. Each mm of actual width is probably 3-7psi you can safely drop from the tires. (anecdotal numbers, I'm sure some true geek has a chart).
 
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