Cyclocross Beginner's Guide

September and October usually signify the end of the racing season. As fewer road cycling, mountain biking, and triathlon events are on the racing calendar, there is one event that is just getting started.

Cyclocross is a mix of cycling and running and depends on the wet winter months to host its events. These events generally range from thirty minutes to one hour and encompass a unique blend of terrain. Participants race across paved roads and dirt trails, through sand and mud pits, and over hurdles and other obstacles.

At various points where a bike cannot be ridden, athletes are required to dismount, "shoulder," or carry their bike on their shoulder and run. Combining skills with fitness is the challenge of this fun winter sport.

What is cyclocross?

Cyclocross is a descendant of road cycling and evolved at a time when paved roads were limited. Cyclists would often resort to shouldering their bike and walking around obstacles until the next stretch of paved road.

More recently, during the colder, wetter months of road cycling, coaches would often force their athletes during training to shoulder their bikes during brief sections of challenging terrain. This initially served the purpose of cross-training while helping to keep cyclists' feet warm on colder days.

Today, cyclocross is flourishing as a winter sport. The courses are usually a loop that includes both pavement and dirt. Natural obstacles, such as fallen trees and steep hills as well as man-made ones including sand pits and hurdles are used to force athletes off their bike. The goal is to complete as many laps as possible within the allotted time.

What gear do you need?

All you need is a bicycle and helmet. Traditionally, road bikes were used, but bicycle manufacturers have started manufacturing cyclocross specific bikes using fat tires and mountain bike brakes on road bike frames. Regardless, the great thing about this sport is that most any bike will work. If the hill is too steep or the trail is too scary, just get off the bike and run.

Shoes are also an important consideration. Since you will be running, road cycling shoes are not a good idea, but if you prefer to use clip-less pedals, mountain bike shoes and pedals are the way to go. Otherwise, you can go with standard platform pedals with a cage and your running shoes.

Keep in mind that cyclocross is a sport that involves water, dirt and mud. Using your expensive road bike may not be a good idea.

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