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What is Cyclocross?

A discipline of cycling that gives you the best of mountain biking and road cycling, and is run on a closed course that makes it exciting to watch. It’s the perfect way to spice up your winter riding and you can do it all in only an hour!

Check out the Donderdag Youth Cyclocross Program in Kansas City!

What does a cyclocross race look like?

Cyclocross is raced on a closed circuit of 3km at the longest and typically takes place in a park or field. It is very common to see a variety of different surfaces such as:

  • Gravel (only a little sketchy most of the time)
  • Pavement (you’ll feel like you’re flying)
  • Sand (it gets everywhere!)
  • Mud (who doesn’t love playing in the mud?)
  • Mountain bike trails (is this even rideable on a cx bike!?)
  • Ice/Snow (slip and slide anyone?)

Each one of these surfaces has the potential to shape what a race is like and make for a different experience every time you line up.

Cyclocross is raced rain or shine (except with lightning), which makes for some very interesting races. Snow, rain, extreme cold, and even extreme heat are just a handful of the kinds of weather you will encounter over the course of a cyclocross season.

Obstacles are one of the defining features of this discipline. Race promoters are required to try to force you to get off your bike somewhere along the course. The most common obstacle is barriers, often in the form of wooden planks spaced a few feet apart. SSandpitsand pits, stairs, very steep hills, and flyovers (a raised bridge typically a sort of bridge that raises over the course with stairs leading up on one side, and a ramp leading back down on the other) are also used often to force you off your bike and make the event more of a challenge.

Learn more about running in cyclocross

The Cyclocross Bike

Cyclocross is raced on a cyclocross bike. From afar it looks much like a road bike, however up close there are a few key differences:

  • Tire Clearance: Some bikes can handle tires as wide as 45c.
  • Tire Type: Cyclocross tires are used for the events, which typically come in a 33c width and have various tread patterns and knob size depending on the intended riding conditions of the tire.
  • Bike Fit: Cyclocross bikes tend to have a more relaxed and upright fit. This provides more control of the bike and makes maneuvering around the course easier.
  • Gearing: Gearing on cyclocross bikes will be “easier” and will have smaller chainrings in the front of the bike, and a much larger gear range in the rear of the bike, similar to what you may have on a mountain or gravel bike. You will find that single chainring drivetrains are the norm in this discipline, but bikes with double chainring setups are still available. We’ll save the 1x vs. 2x debate for another day.

What is it like to attend a cyclocross race?

A lot of fun! The atmosphere around races is often a lot less serious than other disciplines in cycling. Most people are just there to have fun riding bikes in the mud and enjoy spending time with friends. Sometimes the events even feel like a big party, and some of the larger events most definitely are.

To top it all off, its an incredibly spectator-friendly discipline so you can hang out with your friends and see everything happening on course without having to move at all. I know what you’re thinking: “I can watch an entire bike race in person and not have to move!?” You can, and it’s pretty great.

Find local races at USA Cycling!

Wrapping Up

Cyclocross is an incredibly fun discipline of cycling that will challenge you and leave you with a smile on your face after every event. Easily accessible and fun to watch, it’s the perfect discipline to start with for those looking to give competitive cycling a try. So what are you waiting for? Go grab a bike and start playing in the mud!

Kent Woermann

Kent Woermann is the owner/operator of Move Up Endurance Coaching. He is currently a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and holds a category 1 license in road, mountain bike, and cyclocross disciplines.

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