New to Cyclocross?
Cyclocross racing was developed in Europe in the early 1900’s as a way for road racers to remain fit during fall and winter. The intense event helped athletes maintain and improve their racing fitness and skills, too. As the sport grew, some riders abandoned other disciplines to become cyclocross specialists. Today, cyclocross is one of the fastest-growing disciplines in the USA.
You'll line up in a tightly packed grid of riders, all buzzing with energy and excitement. You hear the 30-second warning. When the start is signaled, you join the horde of riders sprinting for the best positioning into the first narrowing of the course, also called the hole shot. Then it's all-out effort. You race multiple laps of a 1.5 to 2-mile course through twisty corners, rutted or slippery grass, over barriers, through sand pits, into wooded trails, swooping down hills and pushing up climbs. You'll chase the riders ahead of you and be chased by riders behind.
Technically, races are about 20 minutes for young juniors, 40 for juniors & amateurs, 45-60 for elites. Starting about halfway through the race, you'll see the lap cards counting, but it always feels too long.
You'll hear the bell, ringing you into your final lap. Haul your heaving body one more time around the course. Collapse at the line. High-five your nemeses and victims. Then you'll flash a stupid grin and say, "see you at the next one".
Dedicated cyclocross bikes roughly resemble the bicycles used in road racing. The major differences between the two are larger, knobby tires (usually around 32mm), and wider frame clearances for these tires and the mud and debris accumulated during 'cross racing.
You don't need a cyclocross bike to try a cyclocross race (unless you're entering a UCI Elite category)! Mountain bikes are the most common alternate bike (bar ends must be removed). Almost every year, there's a rider who makes the podium on a mountain bike in the beginner races. Road bikes are also permitted, though mounting the widest tires you can find is recommended.
Never raced before? You'll need a USA Cycling license. You can purchase either an annual license valid at all events that year ($70 adults / $35 juniors / $45 collegiate) or a one-day beginner license ($10).
Especially if you're new to 'cross, the best practice for cyclocross is cyclocross practice. Most areas have a free, weekly evening shindig with hot laps around a short course. Show up. Every week. Even when it's nasty out. Maybe bring the organizers a six-pack or help them clean up afterward. Especially if it's nasty out. For details about a 'cross practice near you: ask around at races, or join regional & local Facebook groups.
- Training Tuesday — Cyclocross Magazine's weekly online column
- How The Race Was Won video series — no longer produced, but some of the sharpest observations on the American circuit
- Skills, Drills, and Bellyaches — book by Bill Scheiken
- Cyclocross: Training and Technique — book by Simon Burney
- Mud, Snow, and Cyclocross — book by Molly Hurford