As the weather becomes cold, it can be a challenge to find a cheap outdoor activity during the winter months. Instead of spending all of your time cross-training at the gym, cyclocross could be the perfect sport—and it doesn't have to break your budget.
While the majority of "cross" racers end up buying a purpose-built bike for racing, your first foray into cross doesn't require a substantial cash outlay.
If you own a mountain bike, do what many first-time cross racers do and ride it. A mountain bike is definitely heavier than a purpose-built cross bike, but the weight difference shouldn't really affect your initial experience. Many racers never buy a cross bike. They find their favorite off-road steed to be suitable.
If you don't own a mountain bike, you can race cross on a road bike. If you choose this option, it's advised to put the biggest, knobbiest tires your frame clearance will allow in order to make the terrain easier to manage. Also, because you're using standard road brakes and have minimal mud clearance with such a setup, this method is advised only for races held in dry conditions.
Of course, you can always try to borrow a cross bike from a friend. Some cyclocross clubs have a stable of bikes that they will loan to perspective new members. You might get a nice loaner bike and a few new friends as well.
Your next important consideration is footwear and pedals. Most cross courses feature at least one short section of running, usually uphill, so standard road shoes are out. Mountain biking shoes or cyclocross shoes offer much better traction.
Again, if you're trying cross on a budget, a pair of running shoes and standard flat pedals with toe clips will suffice. If you're a bit challenged getting into your pedals from a standing start a pair of shin guards help prevent any painful incidents.
When you do finally decide that you like cross and want to continue racing, mountain bike shoes and pedals are the standard. Investing a couple of hundred bucks up front for a good shoe and pedal setup will pay dividends later on.
If you don't have mountain bike clothes, you can wear your normal road bike clothing in a cross race. One suggestion would be to avoid donning your favorite cycling jersey and shorts. Crashing is a common occurrence in cross racing and while most accidents do not result in serious injury, they can shred a jersey and shorts easily.
More: Cyclocross 101
Of course, equipment is only one component to enjoying cross racing. Mastering the course's technical difficulties can make your race a lot more fun. Sign up for a cross clinic in your area where you can get valuable instruction from skilled riders.
Cross isn't a video game. It's best learned in person, which means you should get out there and try it. You'll be surprised at how much fun you're going to have.Search for a cycling event