Cyclocross , as its name may suggest, is Cycling, Cross country. Away from roads, away from cars. In the mud, in the forests. In the wilds.
Cyclocross started in the early 1900’s as a way for Road Racing cyclists to keep up their fitness during the winter. Over the years however, Cyclocross has grown more and more specialist and today is a massive sport in its own right. The main focus being in Belgium the cultural home of Cylocross and where a lot of the top professionals from the sport are based. However there is now a massive cyclocross scene in the UK and the USA and has become a truly global sport.
The first thing that is different between road and cross is the bike you use. A cross bike looks similar to a road bike, but has some not so subtle difference.
Firstly there will be a much larger clearance between the wheel and the frame, front and back, allowing for better clearance when riding in muddy conditions, so there is no build up of muck and leaves stopping the wheels from going round. The frame geometry is also slightly different too.The bottom bracket is higher up to allow for going over bumps, and the head tube is higher, allowing the rider to sit up more at the front and have more control on technical terrain. Most cross bikes will now have disc brakes allowing better braking in all conditions. And the tyres will be much thicker and knoblier than a normal road tyre, allowing more traction in slippy conditions. The wheels can also take normal size road tyres, making your cross bike a really great bike for all conditions and terrains, rough or smooth.
If you are considering getting a cross bike for the first time it needn’t cost you a fortune. As with all race bikes, you can spend as much as you like on a bike, however a good new alloy bike with decent Shimano components will start from around £800, and go up depending on the equipment and frame you choose. There are also some very good used bikes on the market via the usual forms like Ebay and the such, where you can pick up a decent bike for around £300 to £500.
So what about riding Cross?
Well for me there are two aspects to Cross. Racing and Off road riding. One as much fun and great workout as the other.
One of the great things about riding cyclocross races, and what has helped to make them so popular over recent years, is that they are very inclusive. It really doesn’t matter about your fitness levels or experience. Due to the nature of how the races are run and the fact they are run off road , usually held in parks and through woods, a lot of the danger element and potential anxiety that would get on the open road is taken away. You can’t get dropped, as every one gets dropped. By that I mean that because of the technical nature of the courses and the bumpy terrain, the field gets split into lots of little groups of twos and threes. You end up having your own little battle with your new racing companions. And every week you turn up, ride and try to better your placing from the week before.
Cross races are usually an hour long. They are run over courses of 2.5 to 3.5 km. They usually have lots of twists and turns and are great for building up your bike handling and riding skills. When you get back on to a nice wide tarmac road after riding a cross, it is almost effortless.
Cross courses have changed over the years and the UCI now stipulate that the course must be 90% rideable. Usually the course will have hurdles at some point which will mean a dismount to step over them
Or you can try to bunny hop the hurdles as some riders do. Be carefull though, can be painful if you get it wrong
And sometimes, especially in muddy conditions it will be necessary to get off and run with the bike
So if you are a road race rider and fancy doing something different over the winter to keep up your fitness, or thinking of venturing into competitive cycling for the first time? Then you should definitely give cross a go. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Off Road Riding
For me one of the best days you can have on a bike is to get on your cross bike ( or Mountain Bike) and head into the wilderness of the tracks, trails, woods and bridle paths. Away from cars, away from pollution and quite often away from civilisation. You will be surprised where ever you live, how close you are to this kind of nature. Really is true freedom. It’s like being a child again, you ride where you like, you get muddy, you ride through puddles, you have a laugh. And especially in winter, have a cross bike and never miss a days riding, whatever the weather.
And if you see a trail you take it
Never has the saying “your not lost. You just don’t know where you are yet” been more true than when hitting the trails. Three to four hours on a cross bike in tracks and trails will equal about 40 miles ( 65km) but it will be some of the hardest and most enjoyable miles you can do, and will be a real work out.
Your cross bike, due to its bigger tyres and more road type frame geometry, makes it an ideal commuter for the rough winter city roads. So can really is a great all round bike.
So whats stopping you? Get involved, whats the worse that can happen?