I’m guessing you’re here, probably wondering about whether you can convert your road bike to a cyclocross.
The answer to whether you can put cyclocross tires on a road bike is it depends. The tire and frame clearances will determine the size of cyclocross tires you can fit into your road bicycles.
In most cases, the frame and brake calipers are likely to limit your road bikes to 32mm cyclocross bikes tires, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll fit a normal-sized cross/gravel bike tire on your road bike.
See, I’m a big fan of road biking, but I also like the idea of navigating canal paths and doing some light off-roading.
Unfortunately, hitting the dirty trails my roadie is a guaranteed ticket of spoiling my bike.
A cyclocross would be a better pick, but most of us aren’t willing to spend upwards of $1,200 on a new cyclocross bike.
I know it’s quite a shame, but even then, the slight change in the size of the tires makes a massive difference in where you can go with your road bike.
It opens up more riding opportunities and locations, especially in the countryside, where the country lanes get a bit bumpy, and towpaths get rugged.
Of course, your rugged roadie can never compare to a specialized gravel bike, but it’ll give you something close to the best of both worlds.
Now, if you need to know how to convert your road bikes to gravel bikes, read on. I’ll share everything I did to make the swap.
Converting a Road Bike to a Cyclocross-Summary
Swapping an old cross tubular tire is probably one of the biggest changes on your road racing bike for rugged cyclocross racing.
However, tires alone aren’t sufficient change. You also need to incorporate other elements.
See, the moment you change the tires, you also affect the geometry, wheels, and contact points.
For example, you may consider changing the bike tire frame size and length to accommodate a more relaxed and upright stance for better handling and navigation on rugged roads.
Also, you should change the road bike wheelsets to accommodate the wider tyres.
Setting up your road bike into a rugged-road bike is a multi-faceted approach that requires a couple of adjustments and much more than the tires alone.
Of course, the tires will take the lion’s share, but we’ll also look at other components.
The tire width is the most important element to consider when swapping a road bike for cyclocross.
CX bike tires are wider than roads tires, and the trend is to go as wide as possible for maximum traction.
On the other hand, roadies have varying tire widths, but narrow tires with narrower tolerances than gravel bikes, touring bikes, or cyclocross bikes.
Specifically, the standard width for most road tires has been 23 mm, but that is changing, with many manufacturers adopting the 28 mm width.
However, some modern road bicycles are adopting wider tire widths, with a couple of road racers accommodating 28mm tires.
Now, because you want a road bike that can take on a cyclocross course or for off-road purposes, you need to find wider cyclocross tires with knobbies and aggressive tread designs.
Finding wider tires for such as small tire size is a Herculean task as a standard knobby cyclocross tyre starts at around 32mm.
But as with everything, there’re exceptions.
For example, most older endurance and adventure roadies have wider tyre clearance. I had an old steel road bike that could clear 35 mm, and it could perfectly fit the gravel bike tires.
So, the first thing to do is to consider the clearance of your road bike. Your current road bike frame should have enough clearance to allow the larger tire width.
The other thing is to consider the ideal knobby wheel size. Having a wide and knobby tire is important as it’ll allow you to take on the rugged and muddy terrain.
Finally, consider the braking system. Most CX bike frames use either disc brakes or cantilever brakes, which hardly collect mud.
On the other hand, most road-style brakes have a problem with mud collection. So, even if you’ll squeeze a 30mm wheel, the tight tolerance between the tire and caliper brakes means they quickly fill up with mud.
The setup will work if it’s dry, but once you hit the field of clay mud, be prepared for a mud clog, which slows the wheel from moving.
I’ve been in a similar situation, where my brake bridges jammed in second. Even after trying to clear them and proceed, the wheels jammed again almost instantly.
I had to carry my road bike shoulder-high until I reached a gas station and jetwashed the bike.
So, to sum up, it’s possible to replace your road tires with those of cyclocross bikes. However, you need to consider the tire clearance, choose knobby tires, and consider your terrain.
Swapping the wheels is also something I’d recommend.
See, off-road riding is different from pavement riding.
It would make sense to swap the lightweight and expensive road bike wheels for sturdier and more inexpensive cyclocross wheels.
Most road bike wheelsets are expensive carbon wheels, and the last thing you want is to crumble them after blasting through an obstacle or taking a drop in a cyclocross race.
While you can still use carbon for cyclocross racing, I’d highly recommend aluminum or steel for your cross bike wheels. The aluminum wheels can take quite a hit, and you won’t worry much about them breaking down.
Along with the material, also consider a wider rim.
It determines the base on which the tires will lay.
For example, I’d recommend the wider cross bikes wheels because they provide a stable ground and keep the tires from squirming when taking corners.
The only problem with a wider wheel is the tires will also need to be extra wider than the sidewall measurement.
And as we’ve already seen, going bigger on the tire will ultimately result in tire clearance issues.
Alternatively, you can do the reverse and choose a small wheel size.
I’m a big fan of this method because it gives me the advantage of running bigger tires, potentially increasing the level of traction and comfort.
But a big issue with choosing the smaller gravel bike tires is compatibility. Not many road bikes in the market are designed to accommodate the smaller wheel size.
If anything, if you decide to go this route, understand you may have a huge impact on the geometry and bottom bracket.
Whether you choose to go big or small on wheels, the key thing to consider is compatibility.
Ensure the wheels can fit into your road bike without causing any changes or impacting the geometry.
Next, consider the terrain on which you plan to ride your bike. For example, if your idea of cycling is navigating through muddy terrain, your wheels should definitely have a larger wheel clearance.
Understand that most road bikes are designed for road use, so their geometry is designed for stability, speed, and racking miles.
On the other hand, a cyclocross bike or gravel bike geometry is more relaxed and oriented towards agility and has bigger tire clearance. They resemble the geometry of most mountain bikes.
So, when you need to convert a road bike into a gravel or cyclocross bike, look at your current road bike frame. Specifically, eyeball the clearance between the BB and the tire.
Also, measure the distance between the chainstays and tire, brakes, and tire.
The size between those components will determine the size of cyclocross or gravel tires you can mount.
For example, if your brake is narrow, get brakes with more mud
clearance. Otherwise, you might be hosed.
Road bikes and cyclocross bikes are specced with different gearing systems, making sense because they’re built for different purposes.
The road bikes are designed for fast-rolling, and their higher gears are tailored to accommodate the smooth gear changes without losing cadence.
On the other hand, the gravel bikes or cyclocross bikes are designed for light off-roading use and rugged terrains, so they feature wider and lower gears.
The lower gears are particularly handy for steep hill climbing.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to swap the road gearing to a cyclocross gearing unless you include a bigger cassette.
The benefit of a bigger cassette on a road bike is an increased gear range. On top of that, it also provides you with lower gear options.
Of course, changing the cassette doesn’t conform to the manufacturer’s manual, but as with most bike parts, there’s always enough room for play.
Raise the Bars and Drop the Saddle
The other free upgrade to help you convert your road bike into a cyclocross is rearranging the handlebars.
Remember, a mountain bike, cyclocross bike/gravel bike have a more relaxed geometry. It’s not entirely upright but has a less aerodynamic design.
There’re a couple of ways to replicate the upright sitting position on your road bike.
Start by bringing the handlebars closer to you. It helps you achieve a more upright position while at the same time making it easier the control and handling of your bike in the rugged terrains.
Next, raise your stem, and drop the saddle by the same height. Again, as with our first change, this rearrangement will allow a more upright sitting position.
There’re a couple of issues that you’ll run into by converting your bike into a cyclocross.
The biggest one is if you’ve a fixed gear on your road bike, you might lack the clearance in the fork.
It’s still possible to use the bike n dry areas and at low speeds, but the fork and tire are likely to get jammed once you get on muddy terrain.
Also, using your road bike for Cyclocross races will wear your bike much faster than you would on-road biking.
Even with all the changes, remember road bikes aren’t designed for off-road. It’s not in their genes.
Finally, a heads-up is that you probably won’t be super competitive with your road bike in the cyclocross races. So, only proceed with the swap if winning isn’t your main goal.
This brings us to the end of our guide, and hopefully, I’ve answered the question, can you put cyclocross tires on a road bike?
As you’ve seen, there’re numerous variables to consider when making the swap. Even then, you’ll have to live with a couple of compromises and limitations.
I’m an enthusiast of shoe-horn situations like this, but I think trying the swap would be too much of a hassle. Plus, you risk breaking down your road bike.
Selling your roadie and buying a new bike would be the best option.
After all, it doesn’t make sense to fit a Ferrari with Tacoma tires to go off-road.