Cyclocross, or ‘cross or CX (as opposed to XC which is mountain bike cross country and CC which is running cross country) is a developing branch of cycling that has a long history of being behind-the-scenes. It first started in Europe as a way for the professional road racers to train in the off-season.
The race itself is generally a 1 to 2 mile circuit with a mix of pavement, grass, dirt (or mud if the weather makes it so), sand, and snow. Each lap will have a forced dismount of some sort, often a barrier that kills momentum at the bottom of a hill, forcing the rider to carry or push the bike up the hill. The classic is a pair of closely-spaced 16-inch high boards, extending across the track, that dictate a fast, flying dismount, a portage of the bike over the barriers, and a flying remount. It’s fast-paced and intense.
There’s always a pit where racers can change out wheels or bikes due to mechanical problems.
Depending on the skill category, races are 30 to 60 minutes in duration. The time-based limit (rather than fixed lap count) on the race helps equalize the races so that poor conditions or long laps don’t make the race stretch out all day.
How do you get started in cyclocross? The simple answer is to show up and do a cyclocross race. Unless you’re already an experienced road or MTB racer, you’ll probably have some trouble. However, to have any modicum of success, learning some cyclocross-specific skills will go a long way. Of course, it’ll take time and practice to make it work.
Often, I’ve been asked how I train for cyclocross. Unfortunately, I’m a very bad example for this. My skills are cemented from 20+ years of practice, so I don’t actually practice them at all. The races give me all of the refreshing I need. Fitness is my most lacking trait. Every year, I have great intentions to do some running training before the races start, but never seem to get it going. I think it’s a good idea though since the running is what really jacks my heart rate in the races. If you’re flying high from a full summer of riding and/or racing, you’ll probably have most of the fitness you’ll need for cyclocross. The anaerobic running efforts up hills, through sand pits, or over barriers will test you though. Intervals are good to train you for races that require repetitive hard efforts on each lap. In that way, CX races are a lot like criteriums.
In the beginning, bikes were cobbled together from whatever parts were laying around the shop. Over the last 20-years or so, we’ve started seeing specialists that focus their careers on cyclocross alone. Due to this, the equipment has evolved and uses much of the same as that used on the highest-end road bikes.
I take a low-tech (and much lower cost) approach to equipment. I don’t have carbon fiber anything or tubular tires. If you have the resources, lighter equipment helps since you’re accelerating often and lifting or carrying the bike a couple of times on each lap, but it’s not essential. Proper tires are essential though. Cyclocross tires typically have a knobby pattern much smaller than traditional mountain bike treads. Tubular tires are de rigeur, but clinchers work fine for me and are much less hassle. You can do a race on an MTB if that’s all you’ve got, but will have to remove bar ends if you have them. A great in-between is to use 29’er wheels with 700×35 CX tires (UCI technically has a 33mm limit on measured tire width, but most races do not impose that rule) on a 26’er MTB. I’ve used that as my pit bike a couple of times.
Cyclocross Team Goals
To promote our club, the discipline of cyclocross, our sponsors, make our racers more well-rounded, and have fun doing it. We want our racers and club members to experience all types of cycling. We want as many racers as we can get to get out and race the various cyclocross races in the state and make as many podiums as possible.
Michigan Cyclocross Scene
There are three cyclocross race series in Michigan right now:
KissCross is a lower-key series around the Grand Rapids area.
Stomach of Anger is a mid-state series with several interesting venues.
Flyin Hoof Ranch was a newcomer to the scene in 2012.
Additional Cyclocross resources:
A comprehensive list of Michigan races can be found on the USA Cycling website:
To the south, Ohio has developed quite a good cyclocross habit:
The Chicago area has a spectacular schedule as well:
If you are aiming for the big time, there’s no better venue than the United States Grand Prix of Cyclocross:
About the Team Leader: Brian Wachlarz