The word “cyclocross” invokes a unique blend of images and sound. Mud-splattered cyclists running up hills with bikes flung over their shoulders. Riders smoothly dismounting, leaping over barriers, then jumping back on. Loud cheers, the clanging of cowbells, camaraderie and fun. Indeed, ’cross is arguably the most approachable bike racing discipline. Most amateur races last just 45 minutes, and the wide array of ability-based categories make it beginner friendly.
Never heard of cyclocross, you say? Here’s a quick primer. The sport traces its roots to Europe, where it developed as a way for road racers to stay fit during the winter. Cyclocross courses are typically 1.5-2 miles in length, usually consisting of pavement, dirt trail, grass, and if Mother Nature is acting up, a little mud or even snow. Courses also include obstacles such as barriers, steep hills and sand sections, which force racers to dismount their bikes, negotiate the obstacle, then get back on and start pedaling again. Expect to do 5-7 laps of the course during a race.
The cyclocross season runs mid-September to mid-January. And while the sport’s epicenter is central Europe, there’s a thriving and rapidly growing ’cross scene in North America. Hotspots such as Oregon, Colorado, the Carolinas and New England boast at least two races per weekend throughout the fall and early winter months. Entry fees typically run $25-$35, and there are almost always beginner races for those new to the sport.
Cyclocross bikes look similar to road bikes, save for a few modifications. Tires are slightly wider and have a small amount of tread for better traction on dirt and mud. Cantilever style brakes are used to provide better clearance in muddy conditions. And frames are generally a little sturdier to better absorb the rougher riding conditions. But if you don’t have a cyclocross bike, don’t fret. Most races permit the use of mountain bikes as long as they don’t have bar-ends.
Before you sign up for a race, it's best to practice a few basic skills. Head over to your local park, find an open patch of grass, and try dismounting your bike, carrying it, and then getting back on at speed. When dismounting make sure both hands are secure on your handlebars, then unclip your right foot and swing it behind the bike over to your left side. As your right foot hits the ground on the left side, unclip your left foot and start running.
Depending on the obstacle, you’ll likely want to pick your bike up either by shouldering it, or employing the “suitcase” method where you simply carry the bike out to your side. To shoulder your bike, grab your down tube with your right hand, then snake your arm through the frame, and lift it to your shoulder. Secure your bike in place by reaching around the front of the frame and grabbing your handlebars on the opposite side.
When it’s time to remount, maintain momentum while setting your bike down smoothly so it doesn’t bounce around. Then with both hands on the bars, hop back on by swinging your right leg over your saddle and landing your foot back on the right pedal. Don’t worry if you’re clumsy at first. It takes a little practice to perfect these unique skills.
Once you get a few races under your belt, you’ll see and feel the difference in your on-road and off-road riding. Bike handling skills will improve, and you’ll be able to maintain fitness in the off-season without spending all your time indoors on the stationary trainer.Road Cycling