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!
Coach B.L. is the head coach at BJL Coaching and an avid racer and cycling enthusiast himself.