What is Cyclo-cross?

What is Cyclo-cross? - PBK blog post

Cyclo-cross is one of many cycling disciplines that takes a bit of a back seat in the public eye. The discipline is mainly raced in winter, running from early September through to February, starting just as the road and mountain bike seasons finish. It’s very popular amongst road and mountain bikers alike who compete alongside riders who specialise solely in cyclo-cross, so it’s open to anyone!

Cross race duration is based on time instead of distance, with laps varying at each event but usually lasting around 8 minutes long with the whole race totalling to 50 – 60 mins.

The sport attracts a lot of spectators which is mainly due to the fast paced, thrilling action and structure of the race. It is an intense discipline that requires a huge amount of fitness, power and technical ability as racing in the mud is a given. Each cyclo-cross event presents a set of challenges; conditions of races worsen throughout the winter too meaning that the riders are no strangers to rain, mud and chaos! Bike handling skills like learning how to drift the bike round corners, carrying the bike on your shoulder through the mud, off camber sections, and over obstacles are just a few tricky parts of cyclo-cross. Running is fairly normal in cross races as some sections cannot be ridden because they may be too muddy and difficult. Obstacles like steps and planks of wood to jump are often thrown in there to spice things up and make racing more interesting. So overall, it’s a bit of entertainment for spectators and will always keep the riders alert and waiting for that next obstacle!

The Bikes

Cyclo-cross bikes are adapted road bikes. They have drop handlebars, no suspension on the front or rear, disc brakes and a  slightly different geometry such as a slightly more upright position. Tyres are around 30-35 mm wide and pressures are run from anything around 15 psi to 30 psi depending on conditions and the type of wheels you have.

It is advised to use tubeless or tubular tyres so you can run pressures lower. Drivechains are now being run with a single ring up front as a double chainset is not really required in cross races as the gradient does not vary hugely as you would see on the road.

At top competitive level you will see riders using two bikes that are cleaned every lap by a dedicated and experience pit crew. The bikes are jet washed and freed of mud and grass so that the riders can jump onto a clean bike every lap so they don’t encounter as many mechanical issues due to the severity of the conditions.

The Clothing

At elite level riders usually race in skin suits but a warm pair of shorts and jersey is very common.  During the cold winter months a warm winter baselayer, long finger gloves and a headband or winter cap is advisable to keep the chill at bay. Be ready with leg warmers and long sleeve jacket at the finish so not to get too cold to quickly.

Grass roots to Professionals

Cyclo-cross is really accessible to all levels and all ages. Riders from 7 years old to 70 years old can race a grass roots level and is a really great way to get into the competitive sport of cycling.

Regional, National and UCI Calendar

Cyclo-cross is raced at National and World level with the with National Championships being held after New Year on the 7-8th January 2017 in Bradford. This is often televised. The World Championships are held on the 28-29th January 2017 in Bieles Luxembourg the current National Champions are Nikki Harris and Liam Kileen the current World Champions are Van Aert Wout, (BEL) and Thalita de Jong.

If you would like to see the world UCI Cyclo-cross calendar you will find it here. The first one being in Jingle Cross Iowa City on the 24th Sept.

Regional Events run almost every week and National events are also held up and down the country through the season. You will find all the dates and venues here.

Click here to shop through our wide range of cyclo-cross gear at ProBikeKit.


Image Source: Larry Hickmott

Writer and expert