Slinging the bike on your shoulder, bunny hopping those hurdles and getting your foot out as you take that off camber corner at full tilt, cyclocross is exhilarating, technical and most importantly, fun.
Below are our top 5 tips for tackling cyclocross, our pick of the hottest cyclocross bikes and our recommendations as to where to race and what races to watch.
Cyclocross is a combination of skill and speed, with the top cyclocross riders sprinting round the courses as if they were riding on tarmac.
A cyclocross course is usually between 2.5 and 3.5 kilometres long and often consists of a series of obstacles that are designed to challenge the rider. A popular addition, hurdles, force riders to dismount from their bike and carry them over 40cm height (UCI regulated) planks of wood.
Another element organisers throw in when designing a course is a steep, sometimes off-camber banking. This extremely steep hill often forces the riders to get off their bikes and to sling them over their shoulder.
Although not a regular sight at British cyclocross races, taking the riders through sand is a favourite choice for cyclocross organisers, especially on the continent and in countries such as Belgium.
A cyclocross race is very similar to a criterium or time trial, where the rider races at near to maximum aerobic capacity for anything up to an hour (women, junior and youth races are shorter).
The start of a cyclocross race is key as, although gridded, this section of the race is where your position is determined, which can be especially important if the race then enters singletrack or a technical section.
Make sure your pedal is in the power position (2 o'clock on the crank arm) when you’re on the start line and select a gear which will allow you to accelerate out of the blocks but not spin out after a few pedal revolutions. Of course, choosing your more dominant leg to start on will be beneficial when it comes to getting the jump on the competition.
Unlike riding or racing on the road, where you can bank the bike over and be rather liberal when cornering, performing the same manoeuvre on a muddy field could and probably would spell disaster.
For dry, fast corners adopting a racing line, taking a wide line in, cutting the apex and finishing with a wide line out would be the most efficient way to make the turn.
When the conditions are a little more tricky, in mud, we would recommend taking things a little more conservatively. Picking a line which keeps you to the grass, rather than the well trodden muddy groove, made by your fellow riders, means you will have a little more grip, both in, and when you sprint out of, the corner.
Practice makes perfect when it comes to hurdles. Watch the top professional cyclocross riders and they float over the hurdles with ease, in a seamless fluid motion. The drop in speed should be minimal when negotiating hurdles.
A clean dismount is key. We’d recommend dismounting on the opposite side to your crankset to avoid 1. Getting caught up in the drivetrain and 2. The chain rubbing against your kit, leaving you with oily residue.
As you swing your right leg over the saddle, move your right arm down from the handlebar to the top tube. This puts your hand in the optimum position, ready for lifting the bike over the hurdle.
With the hurdle no more than three strides away, the next step would be to move the right leg between your left leg and the frame and follow through in a running motion. As your leg hits the ground, unclip your left foot and begin to run.
Timing is key here, as dismount too early and you will find yourself running further than you need to or dismount too late and you could end up crashing into the hurdle.
Remounting shouldn’t be a dramatic experience, nor should it see you propelling yourself enthusiastically into the air and onto your saddle. The remount should be a simple step back onto the bike.
Take a firm hold of the handlebars, we’d recommend positioning both hands on the tops of the bars, and then swing your right leg back over the saddle, using your thigh to slide along and over the saddle bringing your leg towards the pedal.
Quickly clip in and begin putting the power through your right pedal before bringing your left leg up and onto the other pedal.
Over the Shoulder
When it comes to shouldering your bike, the dismount technique should be adopted, followed with your arm going through the triangle of the frame, to allow the top tube to rest on your shoulder.
Your right hand then passes under the downtube to hold the opposite (left) handlebar drop.
Tyre choice for cross is of paramount importance and can mean the difference between blasting round the course or slipping and sliding down the pack.
Practising the course using a range of tyre pressures will allow you to determine the best balance between grip and speed.
Running tubular tyres has long been the preferred choice, although with the emergence of tubeless tyres, pinch flats should be reduced over traditional clincher setups.
Experienced cross riders often suggest practising the course first with the tyres pumped up hard and then let air out until the desired pressure is reached.
Our top 3 Cyclocross Bikes for 2018
Choosing a cyclocross bike shouldn't be a daunting task. We'd recommend going for a similar or slightly smaller size frame to your road frame. This allows for better handling and ensures you're balanced over the bike. Most bikes come with standard knobbly tyres which are ideal for getting started but you might want to consider upgrading the tyres at a later date depending on the terrain. If you are looking to use the bike as a winter steed or on your commute it is worth considering one with mudguard mounts.
Specialized Crux E5 Sport Cyclocross Bike
Riding cyclocross does not need to set you back a fortune. Cannondale’s CAADX Tiagra Cyclocross Bike offers all the ride enhancing features you need to take to the trails. Specialized are experts when it comes to producing high quality aluminium frames, and this bike uses one of the best, the E5 Premium Aluminium.
With an OSBB bottom bracket, Specialized Tracer Sport 33mm Tyres and a SRAM Apex 1 Groupset, this bike is as ready for having fun on the trails with your friends on a weekend as it is lining up on your local cyclocross race.
Cannondale SuperX SE Disc Cyclocross Bike
A racer’s delight, this mid priced bike from the American off road experts, Cannondale, is designed to revel in the rough and tumble of racing.
Slinging the Cannondale SuperX SE Disc Cyclocross Bike over your shoulder and hitting the banking won't be an issue with the lightweight BallisTec Carbon Fibre frameset, while internal cable routing keeps mud away from the cables and SRAM’s Force 1 HRD Brakes offer sublime stopping power whatever the conditions.
Specialized S-Works Crux Cyclocross Frameset
Part of Specialized’s S-Works high performance fleet, the award winning Crux has been given a dazzling grey and yellow colour scheme. Yes, we know, it would be a shame to get the Specialized S-Works Crux Cyclocross Frameset dirty!
The Rider-First Engineered geometry has been developed to offer the same pin sharp handling and responsiveness across the range of sizes.
Adopting a front and rear thru-axle design, the Crux is stiff and optimised for the race circuit. Made from the American company’s highest grade FACT 11r carbon fibre, the Crux frameset is ready to be built up into your dream cyclocross bike.
Races to Watch
Often cyclocross races are run by a club as part of a league. Local leagues such as London, Eastern, Wessex and Yorkshire, to name just a few, host races most weekends in their regions.
Unlike road, which can often feel like a slightly intimidating affair, cyclocross races often have a much more relaxed feel to them and cost a fraction of the price of a road race.
Visit the British Cycling Federation website to find races near you.
Want to watch the best cyclocross riders in the world battle it out? Take the trip over to Belgium, the homeland of cyclocross, and visit one of their national series races or World Cup events.
With low entry fees and an electric atmosphere, watching a cyclocross race on the continent is definitely an experience you won’t want to miss.
So, if you’re looking to race through the winter months, try an exciting new discipline, or explore the local trails with friends, cyclocross offers the speed, technical skill and excitement that’s sure to keep you coming back for more.