My “What to Expect” Cyclocross series is kicking off with: What Do I Need to Know To Get Started, or Cyclocross 101.
Cyclocross / ‘cross / cx, is a specific type of bike racing that involving an off-road course (think, grass, mud, gravel, sand, dirt, with only occasional pavement). Races are a set number of minutes, with beginners usually running 30 minutes and pros at 60 minutes. Faster riders will complete more laps than the slower ones. USAC-sanctioned events must have courses between 2.5 and 3.5 km.
And then the fun part! Courses usually have obstacles (barriers) sprinkled through. This means you will be jumping off and on your bike to get over the barrier. (Like a really low hurdle!) There can be sand pits, hills, mud, you name it. Sometimes carrying your bike and running is faster than riding. It is up to the rider to determine the quickest path. (Think of it like cross-country running, but on a bicycle).
Cyclocross season starts (usually) in September, and concludes with Worlds in January. So… CROSS SEASON IS HERE! I am preparing for my first cross season and am excited to share my scary, dirty, fun adventure with you.
So… You know what cyclocross is. How can you get started? I have asked local racer, Julie Higgins, to get us some basics. Julie competes with Women’s Free State Racing (WFSR). her name pops up all over local clinics and races!
What is the best way to learn the new skills required for cyclocross? All this stuff is new to me and it is a little scary and overwhelming.
I think the old adage of “just do it” is appropriate here. We ALL started out where you are: all worried we couldn’t do it that we’d look like an idiot out there. That we’d fall off our bike, run into a barrier, flip over the handlebars etc. Here’s a secret….This will be my 7th year of racing Cross and I STILL do all these things on occasion. Practicing your skills and getting out there and racing are the way to improve. Practicing dismounts and remounts are the obvious ones but also getting in high intensity intervals is key. We are blessed in the KC Area that many people step up to help develop these skills in clinics (mostly free) before the season starts. Then it’s just racing your bike on the different courses at top speed with your lungs burning which will make your skills improve.
Talk to me about bikes. Cycling can be expensive to get into. Can a new rider use the hybrid or mountain bike they already have? Is there anything they can do to prepare their bikes?
Ride the bike you have is the adage we use. Either a hybrid or mountain bike will do. (Mountain bikes need to have the bar ends on them). I’ve heard stories of ladies riding their commuter fixies for their first cross race. I’ve literally thrown my teammate on my “extra” Cross bike 15 min. before a race. She had to borrow someone else’s shoes and we lowered the seat as much as possible as she is close to 6 inches shorter than me. Use the bike you have, get to know the people in the sport and get good deals from them as others are always selling older bikes.
To prepare your bike, it’s similar to usual care and maintenance, keep your bike clean, lube your chain and keep your maintenance up to date. I may look at your brake pads if you haven’t done that in a while since you may be using them with a little more force on a cyclocross course. The next thing I’d look at was your tire pressure. Since your riding on grass or off road your pressure (psi) does not need to be as high as it does on the road. Again, asking people about this is welcomed and there are no dumb questions.
Once they are hooked on the sport, what should they keep in mind at they are ready to purchase a cyclocross bike?
This is a tough one! Of course first up is your budget, get the best frame you can in your budget. Power to weight ratio is important as you get more involved in the sport but the less the bike weighs the more it costs. So you need to balance this with a wheel set and also the newest and greatest brakes and drivetrains. I highly recommend tubeless tire setups for wheel sets and disc brakes. I’m probably talking a foreign language right now but after only a few races/clinics one learns about these things very quickly. Educate yourself about the different types of tires, brakes and other components by asking questions at your bike shop and of your fellow competitors.
After they have a few practices under their belts, what can they expect for their first Category 4 race?
Total chaos? Just kidding…sort of. You’ll feel like a fish out of water, you will have pushed yourself harder than you think you could of or should have and you’ll be smiling ear-to-ear!! That’s how I felt after my first race (I also got a flat!). Then you start thinking what you could’ve done better and looking forward to your next race while drinking a cold beverage of your choice. Category 4 is a beginner’s category for a reason, it’s there for people to learn and grow in.
You see, cross is about racing your competitors but mostly it’s about racing yourself, improving week to week, cheering on your friends, celebrating achievements and frankly enjoying yourself after doing something completely crazy getting your heart rate up.
Thank you so much, Julie!
My next post in the series will cover what you can expect at your first cyclocross clinic. (I really think it is the best way to get started learning about your bike!)