Five compelling reasons to discover the thrill of Cyclocross racing this winter

Tony Fawcett racing in the British Cyclocross National Champs
Cyclocross is a unique winter cycling discipline often featuring muddy courses (Image credit: Paul Brett)

For the uninitiated, cyclocross is a unique mainly winter discipline of bike racing featuring muddy courses, with varying terrain and obstacles packed into a short, spectator-friendly layout. It's 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 fun and fast and furious racing you'll ever do on a bike.

The CX season is upon us and deep winter will soon take hold, so ask yourself these questions, 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? Or...

Would you rather retain your summer fitness, even improve it, and learn new bike skills while you chase down your rivals in winter mud with fans, friends and family cheer you on (sometimes laughing at you and ripping your performance to shreds). You'll have fun and make new CX friends, more than likely crash and you'll find mud in places you haven't before, but love every single minute of it because cross is boss and here are our five reasons why you need to try it this winter.

Cyclocross racers in the heat of battle

You'll make new friends before and during a CX race (Image credit: Paul Brett)

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.

Female cyclocross racers in action

There is plenty of competition in every category (Image credit: Paul Brett)

2. It's an excuse to buy a new CX bike

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 the best gravel bikes. However, 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 or two...

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.​

Young cyclocross racer climbing steep bank

You'll eventually need a dedicated CX bike (or two) to cope with the rigors of CX racing (Image credit: Paul Brett)

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.

Cameron Mason covered in mud during a CX race

The mud gets real in a CX race (Image credit: Paul Brett)

3. You'll learn new riding skills

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.

The start of a cyclocross race

The start of a cyclocross race can be chaotic and crucial to success (Image credit: Paul Brett)

4. Sixty minutes and you're done

Cyclocross races are generally just 60 minutes long, many are shorter, which means it doesn’t take over your whole weekend. You can be done and dusted and home for Soccer Saturday or Sunday lunch. There's also a fairly low training volume needed and this makes cyclocross ideal for time-constrained cyclists. The shorter format also favors the dodgy weather that usually accompanies cyclocross. An hour of cyclocross racing is a lot more fun than six hours of slogging on the road bike into a headwind, it even makes bad weather fun because it's only an hour.

CX racers on a hillside track

Cyclocross races are generally just 60 minutes long (Image credit: Paul Brett)

5. 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.

The podium of an U23 Women's British series

Abbie Manley on the podium of British U23 national series (Image credit: Paul Brett)

If we've talked you into giving cyclocross a go, you can find information on your local races and events around the country at British Cycling with information on the racing and what to expect. For more information on the skills you'll need check out our Five essential cyclocross skills guide and best of luck if you're hitting the mud this winter.

Paul Brett
Staff writer

Paul Brett is a staff writer for BikePerfect.com. He has been an avid cyclist for as long as he can remember, initially catching the mountain biking bug in the 1990s, and raced mountain bikes for over a decade before injury cut short a glittering career. He’s since developed an obsession for gravel riding and recently has dabbled in the dark art of cyclocross. A fan of the idea of bikepacking he has occasionally got involved and has ridden routes like the North Coast 500, Scotland and the Via Francigena (Pilgrim Route), Italy.

Current rides: Marin Alpine Trail 2, Ribble 725, Cube Stereo 160

Height: 175cm