Understanding Cyclocross and Everything You Need For Your Ride

The end of summer isn't too far away and the cooler months are approaching, but that never stops the most dedicated of cyclists. The change in nature's seasons brings along a shift in the cycling season too. If you’re looking to compete during the fall and winter months, look no further than one of the most physically demanding and exciting genres of cycling. Enter, cyclocross. 

What is Cyclocross Racing?

Once the summer road bike racing season comes to an end, cyclocross season begins. Although popularity in this category of cycling has started to grow more and more in the past few years, cyclocross originated in the early twentieth century in France. 

The roots of cyclocross racing comes from the early days of the 1900s in cycling races when riders would encounter less-than-ideal conditions, especially at the end of the courses. Those cyclists encountered environmental obstacles while seeking a strong finish. The riders from two centuries ago unexpectedly dealt with muddy fields full of divots, uprooted tree roots, broken windbreak fences, and even streams or creeks that had to be crossed. Today’s cyclocross races feature elements from those early days of bike racing, including obstacles and technical turns. They still also have to endure adverse conditions but are more apt to understand the courses due to the training involved. 

It was the intensity of cyclocross training that led Octave Lapize to the 1910 Tour de France title, sparking curiosity — and soon popularity — across Europe. The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) officially held its first cyclocross race in 1950 after several decades of the sport being formed amongst passionate cyclists. Today, cyclocross isn’t just a form of training — it’s a completely new way to race. 

The Ins and Outs of Cyclocross Racing

You have the history of cyclocross down. Now, for the modern day specifics. What is cyclocross bike racing and how can you get started in this intense discipline? We’ll break down the details of the sport so you can be prepared.

The Cyclocross Bike Racing Format

Since cyclocross was born from the need for speed, agility, and maneuverability, modern day courses are short in distance (2.5 - 3.5 km or 1.5 - 2.15 miles), but packed with extreme power. Today, men’s races last for roughly one hour and women’s races last an average of 45 - 50 minutes. Each race’s total number of laps is generally determined by the average time of the first lap.

Cyclocross races take place on a variety of rough terrain ranging from muddy stretches, to rocky trails, sandy pits, wooded paths, grassy hills, icy straights, and more. Racers start together and crank up the speed from the first pedal. Like any other race, the first to cross the finish line wins. But, it’s easier said than done. You’ll even see riders dismounting and carrying their bikes over their shoulder at certain points of course when terrain becomes unrideable — and that is perfectly allowed. It’s the unpredictability of the weather and race course that makes the sport so exciting. Twisting around tight corners, pushing through thick mud, and muscling up steep elevation is what makes this discipline challenging, but in the end, incredibly rewarding. 

The Cyclocross Bike

Because of the challenging nature of cyclocross racing, riders have the option to change out their bikes during the race, just as a racecar driver would make a pitstop to change tires. 

The cyclocross bike is much like a mountain bike. If you’re just dipping your toes in the mud with this sport, you can use a mountain bike to practice and even to participate in your first races. What makes a cyclocross bike different from the average mountain bike, however, is the lighter weight of the bike frame, making it easier to carry over unrideable surfaces. Cyclocross bikes will also have drop handlebars, allowing for more speed and control. Many cyclocross riders will also match the tread patterns of their tires to the conditions and course. No matter what, traction is always key. The fork, seat stays and chain stays of cyclocross bikes are designed to minimize clogged mud and other elements, and gears are usually much lower to allow for easier climbing.

Must-Have Cyclocross Gear

If you’re going to begin training for cyclocross, start with the right terrain and the proper gear. Find natural areas that tend to drastically change when different weather patterns hit and make proper adjustments as you learn along the way. Many local cycling clubs will put on cyclocross skills sessions at the end of summer, these are a great way to learn and get good advice from more experienced riders. In between practice course riding, you can also build up your endurance on a turbo trainer or spin bike. These are especially useful for wanting to do intense intervals to imitate a race scenario, if you're short for time in amongst work, friends and family commitments and also if the weather conditions outside are extreme. Remember, cyclocross bike racing is quick and fast, so you’ll want to build up to maximum speed and power for riding for an hour. It's intense but a great way to build fitness leading into the new season.

When it comes to gear, most cyclocross athletes sport a skin-tight jersey and shorts, just like road cycling. Loose clothing inhibits speed and will weigh you down if Mother Nature decides to do her thing. Having a pair of 2-bolt cleat system mountain bike style shoes is highly recommended. Whenever you dismount your bike, the shoes will provide grip and make it easier to run through uneven terrain. Finally, you’ll need the proper helmet. 

The best cyclocross helmet is one that fits, doesn’t slow you down, but also keeps you safe. Our KAV Portola Helmet is custom-fit to your exact measurements and exceeds all safety standards. You’ll already have enough to worry about when you’re in the thick of a cyclocross race, so don’t let your helmet get in the way. Our lightweight helmet has great ventilation for those intense race days, it won't slow you down and you’ll never have to adjust it because every helmet is made for the unique cyclist.

Learn more about our sustainable product and how to get started in any category of cycling, when you visit our blog. Still have questions on cyclocross training and racing? Drop us a message on any of our social media channels and we'll be happy to help!