From the courses to the gear, we simplify and break down everything you need to know about cyclocross, as well as how to get started. If you like riding bikes, getting dirty, competing with your buddies and drinking beer, cyclocross may just be the sport for you.
Cyclocross, Defined1 of 7
In its simplest description, cyclocross is a form of bike racing that includes riding over mixed terrain and running over small obstacles and up steep hills. While it's massively popular in European countries, cyclocross has seen a large spike in participation in the United States in recent years.
It's a relentless style of racing, featuring 1K to 3K loops with hard surges that requires strong bike handling skills. If you're turned off by the stuffiness of road racing, cyclocross events have more of a laid-back atmosphere, complete with heckling from spectators and post-race beer gardens and food trucks.
The Courses2 of 7
As mentioned, cyclocross courses are usually between 1K and 3K in length, and riders complete as many laps as possible in a given amount of time. If you are lapped by the leaders, you are removed from the race.
The courses feature barriers installed by the race organizers that generally include fallen logs, stairs and shin-high hurdles. It's also common to see sand pits, mud, grass and pavement included in each lap.
The Skills3 of 7
The best cyclocross riders exhibit exceptional bike handling skills. Riders are required to navigate slippery terrain (that gets worse as the race goes on). You'll even see many riders unclip, dismount and shoulder their bike over an obstacle before remounting. This happens several times over the course of a lap, with the elite riders bunny hopping over more manageable obstacles.
The Bikes4 of 7
Think of a cyclocross bike as a mix between a road and mountain bike. Cyclocross bikes have frames that look like those of road bikes (drop bars, carbon fork, road-style geometry), but they include knobby tires, cantilever (or disc) brakes and have a slightly heavier build for added durability. Cyclocross bikes also have extra clearance for larger-volume tires and mud that oftentimes builds up on the frame and tread.
The Gear5 of 7
Cyclocross gear has to be versatile and durable enough to survive wet, muddy conditions. Two-bolt mountain bike pedals, cleats and shoes are the go-to choice, but many novice and amateur cyclocross racers opt for flat pedals and running shoes.
A standard cycling kit is all you need on race day, but competitors will don gloves and arm and leg warmers as conditions worsen throughout the season.
Try It6 of 7
No matter if you're a seasoned bike racer or a weekend warrior, cyclocross events are all-inclusive and include a wide range of skill levels. Check with a local club or bike shop for more information on races in your area.
Keep it simple—you don't have to go out and buy a 'cross-specific bike just to race. A hybrid bike or your mountain bike will work for your first couple races, but know you'll be at a disadvantage due to the added weight.
Your biggest challenges will be the obstacles and terrain, so be sure to practice mounting and dismounting your bike before race day. Including stair repeats with your bike thrown over your shoulder is a good way to simulate the obstacles. Also, practice riding on grass, mud and sandy terrain.
Interval training is also a good idea in the weeks leading up to your race. Cyclocross is an explosive style of racing and requires quick bursts of speed. This introductory cyclocross interval workout includes a preseason amount of mixed VO2 and anaerobic interval work.