An introduction to Cyclocross

If you are thinking about having fun on your bike but don't fancy racking up miles on the road, then cyclo-cross may be for you. Here you can read more about the sport, and find out about bike setup, clothing, courses and riding techniques. Various results are posted too, going back many years!

Set It Up Right

Whilst you want to have fun riding cyclo-cross, make sure that you have made preparations. You need to think about your bike, your clothing, your technique and your well-being.

  • The bike A cyclocross bike is typically a road bike with knobbly tyres. You want a frame that's a bit under-size for you, and with off-road brakes (cantilever, V or disc brakes). Gearing needs to be wide-range, so you can go fast on the smooth sections and pedal easy on the tough parts. It's ok to ride a mountain bike, but the extra weight and chunky tyres will slow you down and be problematic on technical parts of the course.
  • Clothing Since cyclocross is a winter sport, you must be prepared for cold and wet weather. On the other hand, you will get very hot when riding, so don't overdo it. Lots of lightweight layers, preferably lycra, are best.
  • Technique There are three general techniques in cyclocross: fast sprinting and climbing; tight turning; running. You should have no trouble learning to sprint and climb fast - it's just about building your core fitness. Learning tricky turns takes a lot of practice, as it's about naturally finding the right speed and position to take a turn. Enter a turn too fast and you'll be slide off, probably into a bush or tree. Enter a turn too slow and you'll waste time and may be forced to dismount because of a climb after the turn. You need to build confidence so that when you approach a turn (even one you haven't ridden before) you are assessing the conditions and preparing your speed and position very quickly. When it comes to running with your bike, it is essential to dismount at running speed, pick your bike up the second you are off the bike, carry it however you are comfortable with, and mount the bike again whilst running. Learn to jump over obstacles and climb steep banks with your bike. Practice, practice, practice!
  • Well-being Make sure that you are race-ready by training lots and eating properly. The best way to train is by actually riding off-road and practising quick mounts and dismounts of your bike. You don't want to ride at race intensity for too long, but it will help to incorporate frequent spells of extreme effort. As for food, don't eat too soon before your training sessions (an hour's gap at least) and concentrate on eating complex carbohydrates and the healthy stuff.

On the Day

You need to make some checks beforehand about the event, get yourself ready for the racing, and ride a good race.

  • Getting there Make sure you know where the event HQ is, and whether any of the adjacent roads are closed for the event - you may have trouble getting there otherwise!
  • Pack what you need Write a checklist that should include bike equipment (plus tools, etc), clothing, food and money - and your racing licence if you have one.
  • Check the course This includes finding out when you'll be allowed to do some practice runs. When you do get on the course, look for easy paths and for obstacles such as rocks and tree roots.
  • Clothing Keep yourself warm when practising, but strip down just before you race - unless the weather is seriously cold! You may want to apply embrocation (eg, Deep Heat) to your legs to get them super-warm for the race.
  • Drinks Keep drinking moderate amounts before the race, but you shouldn't need to drink during the race. Most competitors don't even have a bottle cage on their bike.
  • Pit Stops There is at least one pit stop on the course, and this is where riders will stop if they get a puncture or need some mechanical assistance. If you have spare wheels, put them here just in case you need them! If you need someone to hand you a drink during the race, the pit stop is the only allowed location.
  • Course markers Use as much of the designated course as you need to get around, but don't get caught up in the bushes or tangle the course tape in your gears!

After the Event

Warm down, check the result sheet, think how you performed - ready for next time!

  • Warm down Most riders will stop as soon as they're over the line, but the best thing is to keep going at a much slower pace, keeping the gears really low, to give your legs a chance to work out some of the lactic acid that has built up. Your legs should ache a lot less the next day! Make sure that you don't get chilled either - have a coat or jersey ready at the finish.
  • Result sheet The results are usually printed out pretty fast, so you should head back to the HQ and loiter around the results board. Whilst you're waiting, don't forget to hand your number back in, and maybe have a warm brew and some cake.
  • Post-match analysis Think about what went right and what went wrong. Did you pace yourself well? Did you concede the racing line when you didn't need to? Could you have gone faster on the turns, or did you come off because of too much speed? Did you manage to hold a competitor's wheel and eventually leave them behind? Were there mechanical issues that could have been prevented? Were there techniques or equipment that other riders had which you could benefit from?

Fitting in cyclo-cross training

If you're working full-time, then it may seem too hard to fit in enough quality training for cyclo-cross. Well, fear not! Matthew Pacocha of has put together a useful day-by-day schedule - How to fit cyclo-cross training around a full-time job. Another useful guide, "Sample Cyclo-Cross training" penned by Craig Undem in 2004, provides advice for mid-week training as well as some excellent race tips.


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About the author

My name is John Swindells and I'm a keen recreational cyclist with a preference for long one-day rides. I've also previously dabbled in time trialling and cyclo-cross. See more of what I get up to on Strava!

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