Getting Started in Cyclocross

Cyclocross is a winter sport that has jumped from Europe to Australia. It takes the best of mountain biking and mixes it with road cycling to make one of the most adrenaline fuelled forms of cycling out there.

Using a 'modified' road bike, you go off-road at high speeds, clearing jumps and all sorts of obstacles that are thrown your way... CX is gaining a solid following in Australia and is a great way to keep fit through winter while having a great time.

Words - Brendan Edwards     Images - Lou Wolfers

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If you’re thinking about giving it a go what would you need to get started in Cyclocross?

The first thing is you’ll need a Cyclocross bike. They are are more road bike than mountain bike, with wider forks and rear stays but the same kind of gearing than their road cousins, making it more of a challenge to ride off-road.  You’ll also need to know some of the basic skills if you want to take it up, most importantly jumping on and off your bicycle in a variety of situations, whilst maintaining a decent speed.

Getting on and off a bike may sound simple, however doing it in the middle of a race is difficult.  Having the ability to fluidly dismount at speed, pick up and carry the bike, then put it back down and remount smoothly without losing momentum requires practice and skill.

Clothing is similar to that of Road Racing, however Mountain Bike shoes are preferred as they allow the competitors to run, and offer a degree of traction.  Toe spikes are also used to aid in running up steep muddy slopes and in adverse underfoot conditions, so carrying you bike on your shoulder is also an important skill to master.

Cyclocross racing has a very long history throughout Europe where many road racers would traditionally ride in the dirt in the off season.  Some of the top pro riders come from cylocross or mountain bike backgrounds and have exceptional bike handling skills too. 

A cyclocross race typically takes place during the autumn and winter months, and consist of many laps of a short course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and lots of obstacles which require the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike while navigating the obstruction and remount.

You could also expect to see steps, barriers, ditches, stairs, steep slopes and very deep mud or sand that all require you dismounting and running with the bicycle. For those with good skills many of these obstacles can be ridden or bunny hopped. Often, when sections are extremely technical or become impossible to ride, a racer will often carry their bike and jog for an extended period of time in order to save energy.

A standard course would be considered too extreme to be ridden with the standard 23mm tyre and usually 33mm knobby tyres with low pressures are the preferred width for CX competitions .  This helps maintain traction through loose or slippery terrain at speed. To be an effective racer you will need to have a high level of power and endurance to last duration of a cyclocross.

One piece of advice.  If you’re planning on racing we’d suggest to go & practice by yourself first, that way there’s no witnesses if you make an ass of yourself!

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