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!
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.