Cyclocross, or CX, is not for the faint-hearted nor for the rider looking to keep clean.
Cyclocross has really taken off in recent years and has transcended its original winter-only legacy. The muddier, wetter, more challenging the terrain; the more fun you're sure to have at a cyclocross event.
But don't think that you can just take your road or mountain bike out on courses like this. The sport of cyclocross genuinely requires bikes that are suited to this kind of riding and these typs of courses.
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Also known as CX, cyclocross has its roots in Europe. It’s fair to say that cyclocross is all about riding when the weather and conditions are most foul, so it’s an Autumn and Winter sport.
Obstacles, varied terrain, a combination of flats and inclines; cyclocross aims to throw as many challenges into a multi-lap course as possible. A true cyclocross race will require time off the bike as well as on, so it’s common to see, for example, cyclists jump off and carry their bike up inclines that might be impossible to ride up, or carrying it through mud that the bike would just never make it through.
Whereas once upon a time cyclocross was perhaps seen as the younger, less popular sibling to other forms of riding, these days it is supported by a whole cyclocross-loving community and pro riders specialise in this discipline of racing.
Cyclocross bikes at a glance look like road racing bikes however, upon closer inspection you will notice features that make the bike bespoke to this style of sport.
A lightweight frame is fairly key – not only does it need to be thrown around an incredibly challenging course, but it’s got to be flung onto riders’ shoulders and carried often up to 10% of the course. Lightweight aluminium, carbon, steel and titanium all feature on the cyclocross scene.
Cables will be tucked away, especially on the top tube so that when the bike is thrown on the shoulder it can fit more comfortably (it also helps lessen the chance of mud, dirt and other obstacles impacting the cabling). For similar reasons the fork and rear stays should allow room for plenty of mud to collect in tyres without preventing them from still turning!
Knobbly tyres are key for getting over that varied, often brutal terrain. Choice in tyres will vary to courses, with everything from dry grass tyres to ice spikes available on the market. The top pro riders use 'tubular' tyres that are glued onto the rim, whereas more affordable options include basic clincher tyres with a tube inside, or tubeless that hold air without the need for an inner tube.
Bottom brackets sit a little raised so as to allow for easier clearance over certain obstacles, although there appears to be a trend away from this.
Single chainrings are not uncommon and of course help do away with any concerns about a chain drops mid-race.
Mountain bike clipless pedals are used for fast clipping in and clipping out.
Are designed to keep the pace pumping! Forget sealed roads – a cyclocross course is all about getting well off the beaten track and instead beating your own way through mud, ice, sand, dirt, treeroots, crevices, puddles, ditches, and anything else mother nature can throw your way.
With laps around 1km to 3km in distance, and race duration between 30 to 60 minutes, not much time is spent in any one area. For example, if there’s an incline it won’t be one that goes on for hundreds and hundreds of metres, it will be short, sharp and likely painful! The overall aim is to make riders work as fast and as efficiently as possible, and for them to put all manner of skills and strengths to the test.