Predating mountain biking by decades, cyclocross is a form of biking that involves short, sharp off-road races with mud, hurdles, and obstacles. Although it involves intense action, cyclocross is one of the most accessible biking sports. Everyone – from young kids to elderly cyclists – can be part of the sport.
Cyclocross biking is a popular winter race discipline that can help you improve your physical fitness and become a better rider. In this guide, we will answer the question “what is cyclocross?” We will also help you figure out how to become a cyclocross racer.
What is Cyclocross Biking?
Cyclocross combines 2 major athletic endeavors, namely running and riding a bike, with a strong emphasis on good bike handling skills. The technical aspects, climate, barriers, and pace associated with the cyclocross biking trails are designed to challenge even the most experienced cyclists. In most parts of the world, the sport is conducted in a festival-like environment, with spectators using cowbells and horns to make the sport more enjoyable.
Most cyclocross races take place on 1-kilometer to 3-kilometer courses. These courses mix dirt, tarmac, sand, mud, run-ups, and in some instances, steps.
The races last a set time span – generally, between 30 and 60 minutes – plus a final lap. However, if a cyclist gets lapped by the leading cyclocross riders, he/she may need to pull out of the race at the end of that lap to eliminate confusion.
At the sharp end, the pace is brutally fast and unrelenting. The stop-go nature of the cyclocross races means that cyclists get a good workout.
Cyclocross courses feature man-made barriers, usually 18 inches high. These pepper the course and are sometimes staggered close enough to force the participants to carry their cyclocross bikes by the top tube or by shouldering them. However, riders who already know how to ride at high speeds and have good BMX biking skills can bunny-hop the barriers.
Experienced racers who already know what is cyclocross bike can address the barriers in various ways. However, for speed and efficiency, the most ideal way is to unclip the right foot from the bike pedals as you approach the barrier, swing the leg around your bike’s saddle, and in between the left foot and the cyclocross bike. Next, unclip the left foot as the right strikes the floor, catapulting yourself forward to hop over the barrier.
If the course features several barriers in a row, the best option is to shoulder the bike. However, if you are tall and have enough upper body strength, you can carry your bike by its handlebar with the left hand as your right-hand lifts the top tube.
Now that you know what is cyclocross, we will go ahead and show you the equipment you need if you intend to get into the sport. With plenty of dismounting and remounting of the cyclocross bike, intense activity levels, and muddy conditions, participants prefer a whole kit that is designed for cyclocross:
1. Cyclocross Bike
For beginning cyclocross racers, a regular bike may be good enough. However, we wouldn’t recommend using a high-end carbon road bike for cyclocross since you will end up trashing it. On some race series, you can work with a regular budget road bike featuring knobby tires or a hybrid bike.
For people who intend to tackle complicated courses, a specialized cyclocross bike is necessary. Below, we will discuss the cyclocross bike.
What Is Cyclocross Bike?
The ideal cyclocross bike is a cross-breed of a mountain bike and road bike. The bike’s frame materials include lightweight aluminum, steel, titanium, or carbon. It will have a carbon fork, drop bars for sprinting and leverage on climbs, integrated shifters/brake levers, 1.2 to 1.5-inch (700c x 30 to 28c) knobby tires, single or double chainring (this is smaller than the one on a road bike) with a guard, and mountain bike clipless pedals.
Mud clearance is an important consideration. The rear and fork stays need enough room for the mud to build upon the tires without clogging up.
The forks and frames are tougher than the ones on a standard road bike. Cyclocross bikes feature shorter top tubes and their bottom brackets are slightly higher.
Disc brakes are very common on cyclocross bikes since they offer maximum braking power in all types of weather. Some racers may, however, prefer to use cantilevers or linear-pull (V) brakes – these can offer enough braking power if set up correctly. For better control, top-bar brake levers are often added.
2. Cyclocross Pedals and Shoes
After going through our answer to what is cyclocross, you have picked up on the fact that cyclocross courses do feature a lot of mud. This mud can catch on the moving parts of the clipless pedals and gum them up.
For this reason, a large number of cyclocross racers prefer mountain bike style cleat and pedal systems. These are designed to cope with muddy conditions and keep functioning.
Mountain bike shoes are a popular choice among racers. They tend to have lugs and, in some cases, spikes that help with gripping the ground for running sections that crop up on the course.
3. Cyclocross Clothing
Cyclocross races are sharp and short. For this reason, you won’t need to worry too much about getting too cold even though the races take place in winter. Regular biking wear should be ideal. However, because of the messy conditions, you will find yourself riding in, try to avoid using your best riding kit.
With this in mind, ensure you have something warm to put on when you arrive and during the warm-up stage. Also, have something warm and dry to change into after your race.
How to Get into Cyclocross Racing
Now that you know what is cyclocross bike and you are familiar with the sport’s basics, you may want to get involved in one of the races. The first thing you will need to do is find an event that suits you.
The majority of cyclocross races are run via local leagues. A quick search on Google can help you find some events and races near your place of residence.
Most of the races take place on the weekends – that is, on Saturday and Sunday. They are generally short – this means that you will have enough time to warm up, race, and return home with enough time left for other weekend activities.
Cyclocross races are known for their inclusive and fun atmosphere. For this reason, you can bring your family along. Even better, the majority of the races will have events for varying age categories – this means that if your kids know how to ride a bike, you can encourage them to get involved.
As noted earlier, you do not have to go out and purchase a cyclocross bike to get involved in the races. You can start on your mountain bike. After a while, however, you can invest in one. Cyclocross bikes are quite versatile – you can also use them for general riding and commuting.
Benefits of Cyclocross Racing
Cyclocross racing is beneficial to all types of cyclists. Below, we will look at the major benefits associated with the sport:
Cyclocross is a great change of pace from the regular road riding. The sport gives riders a new appreciation for those parks that they barely notice when flying by on their road trips. It also allows cyclists to meet a whole new group of biking fanatics, expanding their social circle.
2. Seasonal Motivation
During the winter season, most cyclists store their bikes as they await the next summer. However, having cyclocross races that are coming up in the winter season provides enough motivation to keep pounding your bike’s pedals. Cyclocross is a favored sport when it comes to maintaining cycling fitness in the winter.
3. Improved Bike Handling Skills
Most cyclists stay in their comfort level when it comes to technical bike handling. This is understandable since when riding at high speeds on the road, pushing your limits too far can result in a painful experience. Cyclocross biking, however, offers a fun and encouraging environment in which cyclists can push their limits more safely.
4. Improves Your Fitness
Cyclocross races involve very intense effort. On steeper climbs and mud pits, it involves serious muscling. This helps you maintain and also improve your physical fitness.
5. Cyclocross is Fun
Most cyclocross events feature large crowds, cowbells, horns, and cheering. Riders get to practice near biking skills while trying to win the race. Slogging through the mud, jumping over barriers, shouldering your bike on run-ups makes the entire experience exhilarating and fun.
Q: What is a Cyclocross Bike Used for?
A cyclocross bike is built to tackle the cyclocross racing discipline. Cyclocross bikes are constructed to handle mud, are light enough for the racers to shoulder them up steps and over barriers, and their geometry is optimized to allow navigating around technical courses.
Q: Are Cyclocross Bikes Good for Road Riding?
Cyclocross bikes are very versatile. In addition to helping racers tackle cyclocross courses, they can be used for commuting and general riding. While they may not be as good as bikes designed for use on the roads, they are ideal for road riding.
Q: What Does Cyclocross Mean?
The term cyclocross is used to refer to a sport that combines riding a bike and running. The sport features a strong emphasis on good bike handling skills. Cyclocross races take place on 1- to 3-kilometer courses – these feature a combination of dirt, mud, run-ups, barriers, steps, tarmac, and much more. Average fitness is generally a requirement for cyclocross racing.
Q: What Is the Difference Between a Cyclocross Bike and a Gravel Bike?
Cyclocross and gravel bikes feature the following differences:
- Geometry – Cyclocross bikes feature a more aggressive racing position that results in the cyclists being more stretched out. On the other hand, gravel bikes feature a more upright and relaxed position that allows all-day comfort.
- Top tube – On the cyclocross bike, the top tube is almost horizontal to make carrying the bike much easier. Gravel bikes feature a more sloping top tube.
- Bottom bracket height – The cyclocross bike bottom bracket is higher than that of a gravel bike. It is usually over 10 mm higher.
- Tire clearance – Cyclocross bikes feature a maximum clearance of 33 mm. Gravel bikes can take tires up to 47 mm.
Gearing – The majority of gravel bikes feature gearing that offers an ideal all-round performance. Cyclocross bikes, on the other hand, have smaller chainrings that are suited to the extreme conditions associated with cyclocross races.
Q: Why Are Cyclocross Bikes So Expensive?
Economy of scale is one of the reasons why cyclocross bikes have a higher price. Being a niche sport, cyclocross bikes are generally not required in large volumes. This encourages shorter production runs which mean a higher per-unit price. Another reason for the high price is the fact that cyclocross bikes are specialized – they have to be more robust to take on mud, sand, dirt, barriers, and run-ups without sustaining damage.
Q: Are Cyclocross Bikes Comfortable?
Cyclocross bicycles are very versatile. While they may not be the most comfortable bikes one can invest in, they are comfortable enough to allow commuting and general riding. They have a relatively upright riding position which means that the rider doesn’t have to feel outstretched when riding them.
Globo Surf Overview
If you have been wondering what is cyclocross bike, this guide offers a detailed answer to this question. Cyclocross is a great sport for health, fitness, and improving bike handling skills. Since it does not require too much time, the sport fits perfectly around a busy life and work schedule.
If you can squeeze in as little as 45 minutes of training 5 times every week, you should be able to see considerable benefits in your cyclocross racing. If you race in the winter season, you should be ahead of your fitness curve when the spring season arrives and you decide to get back to road racing.