TRUTH: Cyclocross, or 'cross, is awesome! It's challenging, it's addictive, it's darn hard, and most of all it's FUN! If you've never raced 'cross or are new to the sport, it may seem rather intimidating. Despite the fact that cyclocross' roots go back to 1902 (that' right, 1902...not a typo!), it's relatively "new" in America. It's popularity in the U.S. really boomed in the early to mid 2000's, hence the new feeling.
Since then it has evolved into a sport of it's own instead of something that road racers and mountain bike racers did in the fall and winter. There's cowbells, mud, tall socks, mustaches, dollar bills, beer, costumes, heckling, music, and more. Along with the excitement can a lot of hype and plenty of misconceptions.
I'm not blaming all the misconceptions on the Internet, but this was also the same time period where the interwebs became THE source for information. 'Cross created a real buzz on the web, in particular on social media, and an abundance of race reports, pictures, tips, advice, and bunk was readily available. To a person on the outside of the CX world looking in, it could certainly seem intimidating.
I can assure you from over 20 years of racing 'cross that, while there are certainly some unique elements to this discipline, it's not much more than riding your bike on varied terrain with some places where you'll need to get off an run with your bike.
I've taught dozens of cyclists how to "cyclocross", and after the clinics they would often say, "that's it? I can do that!" Yes you can! Let's not let these misconceptions keep you from trying something that's really fun.
Let's get into it:
1. There's a lot of running in cyclocross
Yes, in almost every course that you'll find there will be at least one place where you'll need to get off your bike and run with your bike. Most common are the man made barriers. However, these are between 4-6 meters apart so it's only a handful of seconds of running per lap. Sometimes you'll have a very messy course with lots of running, or super deep sand, a muddy, steep run-up. or snow and slush But over the course of a 5-10 minute lap, it will be a very small percentage of running. So you need to be able to get on and off your bike and run with it, but you don't need to be a "runner" to go have some fun with 'cross. If you choose to become more competitive, being able to run faster will certainly come in handy, but let's get you out there first.
2. You need wheels or a bike in the pit
Having a spare set of wheels or better, a bike, in the pit can definitely save your race if you have a mechanical. As one climbs through the categories, this maybe become more important. But it is NOT a requirement at all. With today's technology such as tubeless tires and disc brakes, I've seen far fewer bike/wheel changes than a couple of decades ago.
3. You need to have multi-thousand dollar carbon bike with electronic shifting and deep dish carbon wheels
One of the aspects of 'cross that I love is it can be a real "run what you brung" sport. I started in this sport with a used aluminum bike with an aluminum fork (HARSH!) with v-brakes, 700x32 tubed tires, and 48/38 gearing. That bike was also my winter training bike, but it served me well on the race course, earning me a good handful of podiums including several state championship podiums in the elite category. My buddy started racing CX on an old road bike with skinny 'cross tires jammed in there. Not ideal, but on a dry course it was great. And it got him his start and has since become a very successful 'cross racer.
Go check out a race. You'll see mountain bikes, flat bar bikes, gravel bikes, and more. Just go race!
4. I need to be fast over the barriers or everyone will make fun of me.
True, there's heckling in cyclocross and as the number of beers increases, the shouts become louder. But when there's hecklers, they make fun of EVERYBODY! Unfortunately, at our local races, the number of spectators is minimal, and I've seen the heckling really decline. So just do your best to stay smooth and work on your dismounting/mounting, but don't stress over it. Get some thick skin and focus on the task at hand and the FUN of cyclocross. In the immortal words of Elanor Roosevelt, "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do"
5. You can't take a drink during a cyclocross race
I wrote about this last week and how this is not true. You CAN keep your bottle cages on your bike and you CAN have a bottle in those cages. As I wrote, if you don't need to or can't shoulder your bike and it's hot or even warm, why not? Sure, someone may goof on you and tell you you should take off your cages, but just let that unsolicited advice wash off of you. If taking in some water or sports drink during your race will make your experience better, go for it! Keep in mind what is prohibited, unless noted by the officials, is receiving a "hand up" from a helper on the side of the course. A hand up of beer, however, is often overlooked, but not always recommend. : )
So there it is. Things I've heard over the years and things that folks have told me that kept them from signing up for a race.
A great way to increase your comfort level and understanding of cyclocross, is to jump in a clinic or hire a coach to show you the ropes. I'm avaialbe for both group and individual training sessions so if you're interested, give me a shout!
What misconceptions have you heard about 'cross? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Until next time, Hup-Hup!
"If your arms are cold, cover your legs."
One of my goals as a coach and lover of all things bike, is to help make sure people can ride bikes for as long as they live. It's a great sport for longevity, but there are some precautionary measures that need to be considered to keep us all rolling.
A joint in our bodies that potentially takes a toll from riding a bike is our knees. There are steps we can take to help keep our knees healthy and functioning well starting with a proper bike fit and avoiding large increases in volume and/or intensity.
But protection from the environment is important as well.
As the temps drop, we also need to consider protecting our knees. Not only our knees, but all of the hard working muscles in our legs.
I've long been a proponent of keeping knees and legs covered, but this podcast from Fasttalk really gets into the "why" and how damaging that pushing our muscles and joints in the cold can be.
Cold, Bare Legs Make You Dumb, Not Tough
The title is perhaps a bit harsh, but really drives the point home.
Although it looks "cool" to wear a long sleeved jersey and shorts, it's just not a good idea. And I fully agree that just knee or leg warmers with a short sleeved jersey is not particularly stylish. In that case, just cover your arms and legs.
If it will be warming up during the course of your ride, you can always stop and take the warmers off and stash them in your pocket.
My own personal rule is 65 degrees or below, my knees and legs are covered.
Do what makes you feel good, but keep in mind the words of Coach Connor that if you're overdressed you're maybe uncomfortable, but if you're underdressed, you're doing damage. Who wants to do damage?
So get yourself a set of leg warmers and maybe some knee warmers and keep your legs happy.
What's your take on covering your legs? Post a comment or question below.
Ride on and enjoy these great early Fall days!
Training with specificity is important, especially as an athlete gets closer to their event. Once the aerobic engine has been built from months or more of generalized training, it’s time to adapt the training to meet the specific needs of the event. Training with specificity is not limited to just the type of intervals that an athlete would perform, but also the terrain that they will encounter and necessary skills. For example, if an athlete planning on a gravel event with very rough terrain and plenty of short, punchy climbs, these would be two specific areas to target during training.
While training with specificity is very important, it’s also important to not spend unnecessary time training for discipline specific demands that will not be encountered during the event(s).
Simply said, don’t spend time training something that exists in the sport but that you won’t encounter.
Cyclocross is a very good subject of this statement.
‘Cross is a very unique sport in that there is terrain in some ‘cross races that you might not ever see in any of your other events. Examples of such terrain include sand, snow, or wood chips. Likewise, there is often at least one point on the course where racers will be forced to dismount, run with their bike, and then remount. While this may happen in a mountain bike race or even some gnarly gravel events, it’s not a “mandatory” part of mountain bike course construction and layout.
A specific example:
For many years I held a weekly Tuesday cyclocross training practice where we did all sorts of drills and had some short races at the end. As the years progressed, we started spending more time practicing shouldering and then running with our bikes. While this is a good skill to have in ‘cross, as I reflected on my races, not once did I need to shoulder my bike. It was a dry year and the nature of our courses did not involve any stairs or long and steep runups where shouldering would have been advantageous. The only dismount during the races was for the barriers, and most riders were “suitcasing” their bikes with a top tube grab and carry. This was actually the same for several years in a row. Was this a huge loss of time? No, but probably a skill that we didn’t need to continue to sharpen week after week.
Another example from ‘cross would be riding through sand. Again, a great skill to have and can really develop some amazing bike handling. There are also some similarities between riding in loose sand with mud and snow. BUT, if none of your races will include a sandpit, then perhaps spending time and energy seeking out sand to practice in is not the best use of these precious resources.
More obvious examples can also come from the duration of the events. If an athlete is targeting “shorter” races such as criteriums, time trials, cyclocross, UCI XC mountain biking, and even sprint triathlons, riding for 5+ hours during the height of the season can be downright counterproductive. This can be a hard pill to swallow for those out there who, like me, love to ride their bikes. And I’m not suggesting that there is not value in long, low intensity rides during the base period. However, as you get closer to your events, this type of riding will likely not benefit your performance.
If you're into podcasts, this is a super listen:
And here are some great articles to help us all think about the specific demands of our events:
I encourage you to train with specificity, and if you have questions or need help with this, I’m ready to lend a hand!
Drinking during a cyclocross race IS NOT BANNED.
I've found this to be a common misperception. I believe the source of the confusion comes from the ban of hand ups (taking a bottle from a helper on the side of the course) except for when "feeding" is permitted.
The picture above is Christopher Blevins' bike from the 2018 U23 National Championships. Didn't slow him down any!
When cyclocross was "normally" held in the colder months, this was rarely a discussion or an issue. But now that the mercury may hit 90+ degrees during an extremely intense type of bike rassin', there has certainly been many a conversation about this topic. While there's certainly different schools of thought if hydration is necessary during an event that is 60 minutes or less, some studies show it is beneficial. Additionally, it can be real mental boost to just get some cold water in your mouth even if you spit it out. And then there's the whole notion of the carbohydrate rinse but we'll let that lay for another time.
Many purists may scoff at the idea of having a bottle cage on your 'cross bike. However, if you don't need to shoulder your bike, or if your frame so small that you can't shoulder it, it is certainly permissible to leave a cage on and race with a bottle.
You can also get grab a bike out of the pit that has a cage and a bottle, and a helper may certainly put a new, cold bottle on your bike in the pit.
Remember that the bottle doesn't need to be full. If your race is one of the shorter ones, maybe you start with half of a bottle and even toss it to your helpers during the race.
With this all said, coming into the race properly hydrated is way more important that any sort of hydrating you could do during the event. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take a drink if you think it would be beneficial. Try it out during a hot practice session and see what you think.
I think the biggest take-aways are that drinking during a 'cross race is permitted, and it's OK to to have a bottle cage on your bike.
Check out this article from VeloNews:
Until next time, drink your water and rest as hard as you train!
Coach B.L. is the head coach at BJL Coaching and an avid racer and cycling enthusiast himself.