Cyclocross (also known as CX or 'cross) is a great way to mix things up on two wheels. Although in many places the traditional winter cyclocross season is over, now is the time to start preparing for the next; whether you're competitive or social, experienced or green, male or female. At a cyclocross event, everyone is equal in the eyes of the course. If you're wondering what to do, what to bring, what to ride, and how to finish your first CX event, you've come to the right place (virtually speaking).
The beauty of CX is that it can basically be done on almost anything with two wheels and pedals... from dual suspension mountain bikes to single speed hipster fixies. If you are in the market for one of the better options and you have the cash, splurge on one of the purpose-built CX machines out there! You can get one from many local bike shops for under $1,500. If not, whatever you have lying around in your shed will do.
Remove the bottle cages - you won't need them. Lower the seat a bit (makes it easier to mount on the run) and if you're comfortable clipping in, consider replacing your current pedals with a pair of Crank Brothers Egg Beater pedals. Easy in, easy out, light as a feather. Happy days.
To race in the Elite class in UCI-sanctioned races, you must have a bike with drop handlebars, 700c wheels and tires no wider than 35 mm, but as you are reading a Cyclocross 101 article, this probably isn't you for your first race!
Although there aren't any hard and fast rules, for practicality's sake, the tighter the better. In CX, you are constantly on and off your bike. Throwing your leg over it and jumping and running over stuff. The last thing you want is to catch your shorts on the nose of the seat and hit the deck, resurfacing with a mouthful of mud.
Lycra - ok. Tights/skins and a jersey - ok. DH baggies - probably not.
CX comes in the form of laps around a short course in a set amount of time. The course is littered with obstacles - both natural and man-made - which you will need to navigate to successfully complete the event.
Most courses feature a combination of sealed, off-road and steep, muddy, off-camber sections which are nearly impossible to ride. Nothing is out of bounds, with some courses featuring drop offs, river crossings, and technical single track too!
The key to navigating these obstacles is to jump on and off your bike. A lot. Like, all the time. You may spend almost as long lifting, carrying, mounting and dismounting your bike as you do pedalling it. This requires some practice in making the transitions as smooth as possible.
Try these steps on a grassy field:
- Pedal for 5 meters, swing your right leg behind you and back until you can clear the seat and have both legs together, the left still clipped in to the pedal.
- Once you have step 1 nailed, try touching your foot down on the ground, push off gently (while keeping your left foot clipped in) and then swing back over the seat and clip back in.
- This time, when your right foot touches the ground, unclip your left foot and run a few paces next to your bike.
Now try with a run up to an obstacle such as a 4-5 inch high plank of wood. Make sure your left foot is unclipped 3-4 feet before the obstacle, pick your bike up by the top tube with your right hand, jump/step over the barrier and place the bike back down on the other side!
The rights and lefts are important so you are not trying to mount/dismount on the drivetrain side of the bike.
Mounting your bike on the run looks a lot easier than it is. If you lower your seat an inch or two, you will find it easier as a beginner. There is an element of this which comes down to pure courage - almost like the first time you take your hands off the handlebars. You just need to give it a go!
- With your hands on the handlebars, run alongside the bike pushing it for 4-5 paces.
- When on your left foot, swing your right leg backwards (pro tip: do not try to mount over the top tube) and over the seat. At some point, you will not be able to keep your left leg on the ground any longer and you will need to jump!
- Aim the cushiest part of your bottom for the seat - there will be time to adjust your position once you're clipped in.
- Find your pedals and start moving and clipping in (this is where "egg beaters" come in handy as there is no "wrong side" of the pedal
Ideally, the bike will continue to move forward the entire time, giving you a bit of momentum as you're trying to find your pedals.
At the end of the day, you will have a fantastic time at your first CX event. A beginner level event will normally take 30 minutes or so - but with everything you will need to focus on, this will be more than enough for a good laugh and a great workout.