Cyclocross can perhaps unfavorable sometimes just seems like taking your bike for a run through a muddy field during winter. There are times when it can look like a steeplechase while you carry your bike, but at its core, it’s a bike race. It is a bike race through a cold, wet, and muddy field and unbelievably it is a lot of fun.
Cyclocross is getting huge and has been for years. It is no longer the niche pass time of a few European countries, particularly the Low Countries. It has taken off around the globe, and every year more people join the ranks of ‘crossers. The reason is that cyclocross has never lost the idea of being fun; it can be as serious as you want it to be.
What exactly is cyclocross?
Cyclocross can be considered to be similar to a duathlon, you’ll need to be able to ride, and you’ll also need to be able to run. You’ll need great bike handling skills to win. The better your bike handling skills, the less time you’ll need to spend running. It is a race that will reward skill and technique as much as it will your athletic prowess.
Cyclocross races generally take part on a course that is between 1 and 3km long. There will be multiple laps of this course. Generally, there will be a time limit, rather than a lap limit. The time limit will be somewhere between 30mins and an hour long. If you get lapped in the more serious races, you’ll have to pull out at the end of your current lap.
As the race time is fairly short, the pace of the races will be fast and may even feel a little brutal at the start. Due to the courses having hills, obstacles, and sometimes stairs, these efforts will very stop/start, and you’ll need to prepare your body for these short and intense intervals.
You’ll need BMX style skills
Cyclocross courses are demanding, and one of the key skills you’ll need to learn is how to bunnyhop. As a child, many of us may have ridden BMX, and the skills we've learned here will help us when we come across hurdles.
Hurdles are 18” high barriers, and they will be found throughout cyclocross courses. You’ll have 2 options on how to get over them. The first is to use your BMX skills and bunnyhop over them, easier said and done at race speed and with your saddle up.
The second method is to dismount, put your bike on your shoulder, and jump over the hurdles, to then leap back on your bike. Either method will require you to practice and learn the skills. The more you practice, the easier they’ll become and the less likely you are to get it wrong come race day.
Do I need a specific cyclocross bike
Yes and no. For your first race, no, just go and see if you enjoy the spectacle that is cyclocross. After your first race, the answer will more than likely be yes. Cyclocross needs a specific bike. You want a bike that is fast, light, has great steering, a sensible wheelbase, and mud clearance.
You need those ingredients for a successful cyclocross race bike. Otherwise, you’ll spend time looking for traction, falling over, or hating lifting your bike. Your bike needs clearance for knobbly tires and mud, and most road bikes won’t have this. You won’t be able to run over 33mm wide tires if your event is UCI sanctioned. That rules out your new gravel bike unless you want to change tires all the time.
You’ll also want a lower gearing than on both your road or gravel bike. You’ll need this lower gearing if you’re going to be able to turn the pedals in gloopy mud. If you can’t turn the pedals due to your gearing being too high, then you’re going to have issues.
Wheels for cyclocross
It is worth having multiple wheels for cyclocross. You’ll then be able to change out wheels due to differing conditions and course types. You can also quickly change wheels in the pits if you get a puncture, probably cheaper than having to buy a second bike for the pits.
If it is a sandy or really muddy course you’ll want a set of 35mm deep wheels. The lighter wheels will be easier for you to pilot through these harsh conditions, you also have the benefit that the aero shape of our rim will help your wheel loose mud or sand that wants to stick to it. You’ll also get a small aero benefit at the times when you’ll be able to use it.
If you get a day when the ground is frozen solid, a set of deeper section rims will help you. Our 50mm deep wheels would be a good choice for such a day. The speeds will be higher as people will be able to get some more purchase on the ground, so you’ll get an aero benefit.
You’ll also find that the 50mm deep rim is stiffer than a 35mm deep rim. You might not notice it on the days when you’re running very low PSI in your tires. Our rims will help there as well as they are tubeless ready. But, on a frozen day, you can run a few PSI more. You’ll now notice the difference in handling and how you can deal with ruts.
You’ll also find on frozen tracks; the ground may change during the race. You can start out on the 50mm deep rims, but halfway through changing to your 35mm wheels will give you more of an advantage as the ground gets torn up. As we said, this change could help you win, and it’ll be much cheaper than having another bike waiting for you in the pits.
Now, all you need to think about are you going to take cyclocross seriously, or are you going to race, and then have a nice Belgian blonde beer, preferably with frites and mayo.