Saddleback Cyclocross Essentials

By David Barnaville – 18 October 2019

With the cyclocross season now in full swing, here’s a short guide to give you the knowledge needed to get racing.

Whether you’re a seasonal racer or someone who wishes to give it a go for the first time, cyclocross is still one of the most accessible forms of cycle racing and one of the most affordable. Whilst most events will charge a day licence fee, you don’t have to have a race licence to take part.

All the way up to national level events you can ride any bike – there’s no need to have a cross bike – any bike with treaded tyres is all you need to get started.

Finding a Race

From September to February you should be able to find a local league race within your area or certainly with an hour’s drive. The best place to find details is the British Cycling website.

Once you’ve selected your race, here are a few things to consider if you haven’t already.

What Should I Expect on a Cyclocross Course?

Are you fully versed on what a CX course may entail? Make sure you are prepared!

Cross courses are usually a 2.5km closed-loop course lasting from 40 to 60 minutes depending on your age category. Each lap can be between five to eight minutes depending on the course and conditions. The course will consist of varying terrain and surfaces, with up to four features. These features can be hurdles, steps, an off-camber running section or a sandpit.

How Do I Prepare for a Cyclocross Race?

Besides keeping on top of your general cycling fitness, practising specifically for the cross features can be a great way to give you a few extra seconds a lap – it might even clinch an extra placing overall.

You could look at improving your dismount and re-mount on and off the bike for when you encounter the hurdles or stairs.

Another scenario you can practice or condition yourself for is the corners or 180-degree hairpins. To practice these, find an open park or field and simply ride a short figure of eight in one direction and then the other. Repeat this for a couple of minutes at a time – this will test the grip levels of your tyres and get you used to where the limits of traction lie.

It is also very important to make sure you are fully hydrated before the race, as it is the tradition of almost all CX racers not to race with a bottle on the bike. One of the main reasons for this is that it impedes the rider when carrying the bike on the shoulder if you must run on certain features.

One last thing to consider is your tyre pressure. If your tyre pressure is too high this will create a harsh ride, too little may allow for pinch punctures if you’re running tubes or burping (air loss) if running tubeless.

Essential Cyclocross Equipment

Clothing is a crucial consideration for cyclocross racing, as nearly every race will be under different weather conditions. It is important to be aware of what weather patterns have passed through the venue over the last few days.

Other than appropriate mountain bike shoes and a helmet, I would put gloves at the top of the cyclocross kit list. You’ll need them not only to keep your hands warm or dry in harsher conditions, but to retain grip on the handlebars and hoods after you’ve repeatedly lifted a mud-covered bike over CX features.

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Castelli Perfetto RoS Light Gloves

Castelli Perfetto RoS Light Gloves

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Some Final CX Tips

Once you’ve selected your race and feel ready to take part, you may want to consider the following tips for race day:

1. Arrive at least 1 hour prior to your race time, if not earlier. There can often be a queue at sign-on.

2. Allocate some practice laps in between the day’s races – check the race timetable to make find out when you can complete these. There is normally a 20 to 30 minute window for you to do so. Getting a couple of laps in ensures you know the course before you race. Take the opportunity to repeat some of the trickier sections or obstacles to make sure you make the correct approach during the race itself.

3. The first lap is always going to be chaotic through the first few sections, so sit tight and let the race unfold, don’t end your race within the first five minutes due to the red mist!