A lot of people have come up to me and asked me about participating in cyclocross, now that the road season has ended. Cyclocross season is a great time to look into something new and extend your season. I've been trying my best at 'cross for three years now, and I love it!
Cross Bikes Rule!
A cyclocross bike is a great choice for the next bike on your N+1 path. A 'cross bike is a nice complement to a road bike. In general, the bigger tire clearance and disc brakes make for a bike that is extremely versatile, comfortable, and friendly. The bigger tires and disc brakes make it something that's good in bad weather like rain and snow. In the wintertime, you can easily add bigger studded tires and ride all winter, even in the snow and ice. In the spring, it would make a great gravel bike!
You Already have Most of What You Need
Most people already have the kind of kit that it takes to ride cyclocross: helmet, gloves, jerseys, etc.... Eventually arm warmers and leg warmers will come in handy. Another additional item that people might want to seek out might be amber safety/sunglasses. I find when riding cyclocross, that amber lenses are really nice, especially in single track that goes through the woods. Riding 'cross is a sure way to get your foul weather gear some use.
CX Gets the HR Going!
Cyclocross is an excellent workout. You gotta figure that pedaling on the grass is hard, but that's not the only tough part. There are often some punchy hills that take a lot of effort to get up, and these tax your legs in ways that you never imagined before. The sand and mud that you will come across in a cyclocross race are also very difficult at times. I find that racing cyclocross is always a high heart rate affair. When you're out there on the course, you're really going full blast the whole 45 minutes of your race. Maybe they should call it cyclo-rush?
Skills for the Taking
Cyclocross is a great challenge for your bike handling skills.
It takes a lot from mountain biking, and it's a great challenge for someone who might only be used to riding in a straight line most of the time. A rider will quickly develop skills like riding tight turns and switchbacks, riding turns that head sharply into climbs. and also handling descents, some that are often very sketchy and steep. Riders get lots of opportunities to work on handling their braking ability. These skills can be learned at practices like those at Delaware sponsored by Campus or at Knox Farms sponsored by the Western New York Cyclocross Club.
Athletes also get to use other skills that are very cyclocross specific. During a typical session riders do lots of dismounting and remounting, getting off and on the bike, and even find themselves carrying the bike up steps or over barriers. Riders who run a lot or come from other sports backgrounds will like the athletic nature of cyclocross.
Racing Cross is Boss
There's something special that takes place in a cyclocross race. The cyclocross racing community is really a wonderful bunch of folks. They are as invested in developing new riders as they are in competing and having a blast. It's a good mix. There are lots of local opportunities to race and also to practice. While you can ride your cyclocross bike and practice very easily in any wooded park or any grassy area, check out the local racing that is available almost every weekend from September to December.
I find that the cyclocross racing can be less stressful than the road season because of the shorter circuits and the laps. It's not like road where you're obviously two miles off the back! No one really knows how far you're back from the leader, or at least I hope not. It's a very friendly atmosphere. An easy way to start off in racing cross is by just trying to ride to finish a race. Set simple goals and then work to make yourself better.
Cross Out the Challenges
One thing that I would recommend to new riders would be to try to ride difficult, challenging sections, but to remember that it's also okay to run those sections. Running the challenging sections can sometimes be just as fast as riding them, and it allows you to develop your skills. If you're not ready, dismount and run the parts that you cannot handle,
especially in a race. You'll notice that when your heart rate gets really high, that sometimes it's even more difficult to pull off the subtle skills that you need to maneuver through obstacles and through difficult sections. So running is always an option, and I use it quite a bit as the race goes on and I get a little sloppy.
I think that everyone should try to accept the challenge of cyclocross as a way to extend their year. It's a nice way to really reap the benefits of all the road fitness that you've built up throughout the year. I cannot emphasize enough that it's a great way to build bike handling skills. Between cyclocross and mountain biking, my bike handling skills have tripled when it comes to balance, turning, taking a good path, avoiding problems etc....
As always, the most important thing is to enjoy yourself out on the bike. I think that cyclocross is a great way to make friends in a new circle. Not all the cyclocross folks ride a lot of road in the spring and summer, many of them are mountain biking or doing other sports. So I would encourage you to take a chance and go out and ride. Hopefully we'll see you out there as racing starts this weekend with Buffalo Ski Club.
Here's a quick look at last year's 2017 BSC Race...