5 Steps to Get Started in Cyclocross

Cyclocross (or ‘cross, or even just CX) has been around for over a hundred years, and it has long been a popular Fall and Winter sport in Europe.  Though cross has had loyal followers in the US for years, its popularity has exploded over the past decade or so.  Why?  Because CX is ridiculously fun.  Cross combines relatively short (but grueling) races with the elements of low temperatures, snow, wind, rain, mud, sand – you get the idea – all with the punchiness and excitement of a criterium. Here’s how YOU can get started in cyclocross.

#1: Equipment

Riders in a cyclocross clinic learn to hop the barriers most efficiently before adding the bike to the equation.

Get a bike – Borrow or buy a cyclocross bike or use what you have.  Cross-specific bikes are similar to a road frame, but their geometry is better suited to off-road riding, and the frames and brakes accommodate the larger tires used in CX.  There’s no reason you can’t use a mountain bike, though, if you don’t have access to a cyclocross-specific rig.  Two quick and easy things to help you survive your first race are to remove your water bottle cage(s) and to add your sealant of choice to your tubes. (A bike shop can help.) Shouldering your bike (necessary for long run-up sections) will be much easier without cages in the way, and you’ll be grateful for the sealant when you hit a dry course with goat-heads or other unpleasant thorns.

Get mountain bike shoes and pedals. If you are already a mountain biker you probably have shoes and pedals that will work great for cyclocross. If you are a die-hard roadie, then you’ll have to invest in this gear and learn how to clip in and out of your new pedals.  An open design that sheds mud – as well as ice and snow – will pay dividends when you are desperate to clip in after a set of barriers.

#2: Practice, practice, practice

Now that you have a bike you can practice nearly anywhere, and in any weather.  Below is a list of helpful ways to immerse yourself in cyclocross:

  • Attend a clinic. There’s no better way to learn the basic skills of cyclocross than to join a cross-specific clinic. You can find clinics put on by experienced Wenzel coaches at: www.wenzelcoaching.com/clinics/. Are you on a team? Many teams will put on mini-clinics for their members. Wenzel Coaching can even provide an instructor.
  • Get a coach. Admittedly, there might be one better way than taking a clinic to learn and practice cyclocross skills.  If you don’t already have one, you can get a Wenzel cyclocross coach that lives near you to consult with you one-on-one, or in a small group setting. Perfect practice makes perfect, and a Wenzel coach can help make sure your skills drills are reinforcing the proper techniques as well as help you build up to CX race fitness.
  • Watch videos.  Check out YouTube for videos of cyclocross races or racers practicing specific skills. Search for dismounting, remounting, shouldering, cornering or just cyclocross skills. Don’t forget to look up some of the big US and European races as well for inspiration. The crowds at a CX race can make the insanity at the top of Alpe d’Huez during the Tour de France look tame!
  • Watch a race (or lots of them). CX is a fantastic spectator sport because of the winding courses and relatively small footprints of the races. Talk to racers, officials, spectators, and teammates. As a spectator, you have the advantage of learning from all the racers.  As you watch the field of racers pass through a tricky sand pit you can tell whether it’s more efficient to ride or run. Then you can move to another part of the course and learn more there. If you’re feeling brave and have your bike, hop on the course.  Just be sure the course is open for pre-riding, and get out of the way if racers approach you on the course.  Not sure if the course is open?  Ask. You’ll find that nearly everybody at a cyclocross race is having fun, smiling, and willing to help.

 #3: Pre-register for a race

Registering ahead of time does two things: it typically saves you some money and it forces you to commit! Look to USA Cycling or your regional sanctioning body to publish a list of races and provide opportunities for pre-registration.

 #4: Race and have fun

Show up to your race at least an hour and 45 minutes early.  This will allow you time to sign in, pin your number, go to the bathroom, and warm up.  Remember to smile at your competitors, hecklers, and photographers!  How can you not have fun when you’re riding your bike, getting dirty, getting heckled about your socks, and eating a bacon hand-up while racing?  Still not convinced?  Stop by a race and see for yourself.

#5: Repeat steps 2 – 4

Enjoy – and stick with it!  Cross racing is especially rewarding of good training and skills practice, so hose off your bike and do it again.  I bet you can’t help but smile.

View Cyclocross Coaches

This post was written by Cathy Goodheart.