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A Beginner’s Guide To Cyclocross by Jack Martin


A fun off-road discipline, combining all the best elements of road cycling and mountain biking. Cyclocross is the perforce way of keeping your road cycling fitness over the winter months whilst working on your technical skills, and enjoying racing and training with your cycling friends.

What is Cyclocross


I often think of cyclocross as the combination of road cycling and mountain biking. The bikes and type of racing involve a combination of both on-road and off-road cycling.


Cyclocross usually takes place over the winter period and most cyclists use it to keep fit over winter and release their competitive juices in a traffic-free environment.


Cyclocross or cross as it is often referred to, is a competitive cycling discipline where cyclists ride multiple laps of an off-road course consisting of grass sections and sandpits.


Cyclists also have to jump over Stairs and wooden barriers. With all the technical elements of cyclocross, the fittest riders don’t always win. The technical riding skills and your dismount technique is more important than raw power output.


If you are interested in racing cyclocross, then you must practice riding in wet and muddy conditions and bumping elbows with the riders next to you. 


But most important of all is that you practice mounting and dismounting your bike at speed. This skill will become very important in races when you need to jump over barriers quickly.


You will also need to be able to quickly jump off and on your bike in the pit area of a cyclocross race when getting a spare bike or a spare wheel.

What type of bike can you use


In some smaller local races, you will be okay with a hardtail mountain bike, but for more competitive racing, in my opinion, you’ll want a dedicated cyclocross bike.


A cyclocross bike looks like a regular road bike with larger knobbly tyres. However, specific cyclocross bikes may also have slightly different gearing using a one-by drivetrain (only one chainring on the front) and easier gears on the cassette.


If you are keen to get into cyclocross, you can often find second bikes for a bargain price on eBay and sites like Facebook marketplace.


Additionally, unlike road cycling, the bike makes little difference in race performance in a cyclocross race as the speeds are considerably slower. Therefore, a slightly older and heavier bike won’t stop you from getting on the podium in your local cyclocross league. Cycling training.


You may also find that slightly older bikes have V brakes (an older style of rim brakes) these will be fine for occasional use but if you want to race cyclocross more frequently, then you might want to invest in disk brakes.


If you have watched cyclocross before, you may have seen that most riders have at least one spare bike. However, in amateur races, most people do not have the luxury of a second bike so having one bike will not be an issue. How to train for cyclocross.


The complicated world of cyclocross tyres


The only element of equipment that will change the performance of your bike is what tyres you use.


There are lots of slightly confusing rules regarding tyre size. So be sure to read the rules provided by your national governing body. But most of the time, you can only use tyres up to 32mm in width. Interval training sessions.


Tyre selection might be simple on the road but for cyclocross, it can often be very completed. You can get a range of tyre sizes, tyre compounds (the material the tyre is made out of) and a variety of tyre treads (how smooth or knobbly the tyre is).


It may take you a couple of months of riding cyclocross to figure out which tyres are your favorites and which tyres give you the most confidence when riding in wet and muddy conditions. Why technical skills are so important.


My one tip for cyclocross equipment would be to avoid buying tubular tyres. Whilst some pros still use them, it is unlikely you will be able to afford multiple sets of wheels for different tyres to suit individual conditions. How to plan a cycling adventure.


Therefore, you should look at buying tubeless-ready wheels so that you can change tyres from dry tyres to wet tyres very quickly to suit a variety of different racing conditions.


How to find local events near you


Finding off-road races and events is the easy bit. Find the website of your national governing body and look at their offroad calendar.


There you should see all the cyclocross races in your country and your local area. For England and the USA, there are clubs dedicated to cyclocross which will have all the information you need to get started. You can also find local cyclocross racing and training groups through Facebook and other social media platforms.


As mentioned before, events usually take place during the winter months but you may also find a small number of summer cyclocross races that won’t be as muddy and wet.


Much like road racing, cyclocross races have different levels of competition from local give it a go races series to elite category racing.


So you will be able to find a race or event to suit your bike riding ability and the type of cyclocross you like doing.


Cyclocross races have been popular for many years, however, recently exploration cyclocross has become popular.


These are often held on very interesting courses which will challenge cyclists in multiple ways. The Battle in the bowl race is a popular adventure cyclocross race in the south of England and you can read our write up on the event here. 


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