What is cyclocross you may ask? Cyclocross is a unique discipline of bike racing that features often muddy courses with varying terrain and obstacles packed into a short, spectator-friendly layout. Where you'll sprint full gas from start to finish in a fast and furious hour or so of racing. It's off-road, drop-bar bike mayhem that is likely to be some of the best racing you'll ever do on a bike.
So ask yourself the question, as deep winter takes hold, would you rather be indoors plodding away on a turbo trainer bored and sweaty in your pain cave or worse, riding treacherous winter roads as you try to keep in shape during the off-season?
When there's another way to retain that summer fitness, even improve it and that will have you chasing down your rivals in winter gloop as fans, friends and family cheer you on. You'll have fun and make new CX friends, more than likely crash while you'll learn new bike skills and you'll find mud in places you haven't before but love every single minute of it because cross is boss and here's why you need to try it this winter.
1. The competition is real
Regardless of your category, cyclocross is a super competitive form of racing with different style tracks to race every week. If you want to go for the win or just want to test your metal in the heat of battle, cyclocross is definitely something you'll want to try. Whether it's just a local race or a national series round, you'll find a decent field of welcoming like-minded racers willing to lay it down in the mud and throw down the challenge.
If you've got a taste for the racing and enter more than one cyclocross event, you'll find the same faces appearing at most events, giving you the opportunity to develop a friendly rivalry and get ahead of the person who beat you the week before.
However, its fun, super fun with plenty of banter and friendships to be made. There is racing on most weekends through out the season and mid-week racing also, with regional series to enter, such as the Scottish National series or the North East series you won't be short of choice. You'll require a British Cycling licence, then pay your entry fee and get yourself ready.
2. New cyclocross bike days
You don't strictly need a cyclocross bike to race, you can ride just about anything at lower-level events, like a mountain bike or gravel bike. You will need a UCI regulation-approved CX bike for higher level races like the British National series and we all love the opportunity for a new bike.
A cyclocross bike is a specific form of drop-bar bike that is built to tackle the challenges cyclocross will throw at you, with today’s cyclocross bikes having moved a long way from their origins as a lightly modified road bike and now feature as a dedicated model in the line-up of most manufacturers.
So it's an exciting opportunity to see what's available with the various brands and there is an active second-hand market to browse, as people step up and look to move on their first CX bikes. It's well worth a browse on eBay and Facebook marketplace and our guide to buying a second-hand bike is worth a read too.
If you find that you're hooked straight away and are keen to buy new this means new bike day, and possibly even two. Depending on how serious your newfound love of racing in the mud becomes, you'll quickly realize that two bikes are better than one and having two is advised, especially in the races that feature the deep mud.
The main reasons apart from just having two is cool, especially if they match, your bike will become clogged up with mud and other debris during a race and slow you down or strike you with the dreaded mechanical, that could end your race or have you running to the pits.
Having someone on-hand in the pits is vital if you want to finish well. Someone ready and willing to swap your bike mid-race, follow your instructions on adjustments, clean the original bike and have it ready as you pass through on the next lap is a godsend. A pressure washer is very handy for rapid cleaning and although some events do provide them, it's best to have your own. You'll run less of a risk of mechanicals during a race if your bikes are running clean.
3. You'll learn new riding skills and develop better bike handling
You have your bikes and as much as your summer fitness and mountain bike skills will stand you in good stead, there are several 'cross skills you'll need to learn fast to get moving towards the podium. From the chaos of the start and the race to the first bend, to the many obstacles you'll encounter during a race including jumps, off camber slopes and viciously steep climbs, not to mention the infamous bunny hop enticing planks.
To make your initiation into cyclocross racing slightly less intimidating, you can delve deeper and read our more detailed article on essential cyclocross skills.
4. There is an awesome community
When you turn up to that first race, you might be nervous and amazed at the number of people and variety of camper vans (you may want to get one of those also but that's another story). The cyclocross community is awesome, welcoming and friendly. If you're unsure of what's what, just ask and you'll get pointed in the right direction, you'll more than likely end up in a conversation with a fellow racer and forget any pre-event nerves.
First time out, remember the nature of the brief is fun for now, developing your skills and enjoying the atmosphere at cyclocross. Most people are still committed and taking it seriously, but it's a different vibe to say a road race which can get far too serious.
You may not finish that first race, but you'll definitely remember it and be signing up for your next one and maybe make that podium in the not-too-distant future.