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The Complete Guide to the Spectator Sport of Cyclocross • Gear Patrol

The Complete Guide to the Spectator Sport of Cyclocross • Gear Patrol

For a lot of of us, fall is the time of yr to grasp up the street bike, start breaking out the ski gear and begin engaged on the type of physique that comes from a beneficiant overindulgence in pumpkin spice treats and Thanksgiving turkey. However, for a choose few, October is the time that legs get shaved, intervals get intense and Friday nights finish by 10 pm. All in the identify of slipping right into a skinsuit to slide round in the mud on a barely modified street bike.

Cyclocross, or simply ‘cross to its friends, isn’t an enormous deal in the US. However in Belgium, it’s second solely to soccer in phrases of spectator attendance and devotion — and maybe first in phrases of beer consumption. The short-course biking self-discipline takes the velocity of criterium racing, the expertise of mountain biking and the all-round-athleticism of impediment course racing — and it does so in the worst attainable climate. Every lap takes riders on drop bar bikes round a muddy course, up and down steep hills and sees them dismount to run up stairs and leap over limitations. In contrast to skilled street racing, you’ll be able to see all of the motion reside, and the race is over in an hour. Add in the crashes, rider-to-rider duels and technical talent on show and you’ve got one thing that resembles destruction derby assembly supercross on push bikes. If Chuck Norris raced bikes, he’d race cyclocross.

The Backstory

Cyclocross is older than the Tour de France — the first race was held in 1902. Numerous origin myths exist, however primarily early occasions have been a no-holds-barred race from A to B with no pre-determined route. Riders would take shortcuts by means of mud and over gates and commenced to use touring bikes to permit for wider tires and extra traction. In Flanders, the sport is called “veldrijden” or area driving, which directly explains cyclocross completely, and makes it as exhausting to say as it’s to do.

In 1910, Octave Lapize attributed his Tour de France win to a winter spent racing cyclocross, and the sport gained in reputation amongst street racers. The proven fact that it mixed operating with biking additionally attracted runners of their offseason and the sport started to develop in Europe many years earlier than the first triathlons can be raced in California. The brief and intense races have been an ideal method to maintain health ranges up, and to maintain heat, in the moist and windy European winters. At the time, bikes have been the Method One automobiles of their day, and France even had military regiments mounted on two wheels. The mixture of know-how, athleticism and a chance for consuming and playing noticed the sport develop, and the first World Championship race was held in Paris in 1960.

Over time, the sport advanced right into a circuit race during which riders should negotiate obstacles of a selected peak (these are usually planks up to 16 inches excessive and 13 ft aside) by both dismounting and shortly remounting or, in the event that they belief their expertise, bunnyhopping. Programs additionally embrace run-ups on steep muddy climbs, technical descending and slogs by means of deep mud and sand. Regardless of these modifications, ‘cross continues to be primarily “riding the curly bar type of bike that they use in the Tour de France around in circles in the mud and jumping over stuff,” in accordance to Kona Maxxis Shimano professional Barry Wicks.

Bikes have additionally advanced so much since 1902, however it is just actually in the final decade that cyclocross bikes have made big leaps ahead. For years, ‘cross frames had higher bottom brackets so that riders could push bikes uphill without their toe-clips hitting the ground. The advent of reliable off-road clipless pedals has allowed bottom brackets to drop, meaning bikes are more stable and remounting is a little easier with the saddle closer to the ground. Until 2010, cyclocross bikes used rim brakes, a technology that was not unfamiliar to those pioneers of the sport in the early twentieth century. Modern bikes almost universally rely on disc brakes, which offer much more reliable performance in the atrocious conditions which cyclocross racers relish. Today’s tires are restricted in width, however function treads designed particularly for mud, mud, ice or snow. Racers usually favor tubulars, tires which might be glued to the rim permitting for tremendous low pressures and no hazard of a tire rolling off the rim in the occasion of an premature flat. Trendy frames additionally add a flattened prime tube to make shouldering the bike simpler throughout lengthy runs and can typically dispose of entrance shifting in favor of an easier, and extra weatherproof, single chainring arrange. The place as soon as ‘cross bikes were oddly specific, they’re now simply nice versatile bikes for commuting, exploring, street driving and Sunday morning barrier hopping.

Cyclocross As we speak

Skilled cyclocross in Belgium is an unimaginable spectacle. Riders will hit the obstacles, which might deliver most of us to an entire halt, at 25 mph and dismount and remount so shortly that they seem to hover throughout the mud. Stair run-ups are sometimes negotiated with out even unclipping and programs function flyovers which see racers catching air over the heads of a screaming crowd. Every professional rider has a pit crew and bike modifications, which additionally occur at full velocity, and happen every time the rider feels his machine is just too clogged up with mud to perform. Typically this implies getting into the pits at the type of velocity which may get you a ticket on metropolis streets, vaulting from one bike to one other one being held by a mechanic, and sprinting again into the pack greater than as soon as each lap. All this talent is mixed with the type of energy output that would go away most newbie riders gasping after a minute, however which the greatest in the world maintain for an hour.

Crowd interplay can also be a key aspect of cyclocross. As the sport has grown in the US, a practice of heckling has developed. Given the comparatively sluggish speeds on some elements of the course and the incontrovertible fact that riders are far more unfold out than in a street race, that is usually audible to each riders and fellow spectators. Most of it’s light-hearted and amusing, however sure execs take exception and typically that exception takes the type of a well-placed biking shoe to the groin of an overzealous spectator.

The largest races will draw hundreds of followers and showcase some of the most sensible technical biking you’ve ever seen. They’re properly value firing up the VPN to watch, particularly when you take pleasure in the undecipherable however nonetheless unusually exhilarating sound of Dutch commentators calling the race at the prime of their lungs whereas sounding like they’ve a mouthful of marbles over your morning espresso.

Races to Watch

Andrew Juliano, a California-based professional rider for Grit World Racing, who lived and raced in Belgium, means that freshmen tune into November’s Koksijde World Cup race to see the mud-splattered, beer-swilling, Flemish-screaming very best of what cyclocross could be — 60,000 followers can’t be improper. Later in the yr, Zonhoven’s pure stadium and unimaginable sand drops make for one of the biggest spectacles in biking, and Namur’s technical course mixed with its ridiculously European location on a hilltop Citadel make it value getting up early for. Make waffles, have your folks over after which go and go well with up to slide round in the mud your self for a couple of hours. It’s the good winter weekend.

The Expertise

The issues that make cyclocross so enjoyable to watch additionally make it an ideal sport to compete in, which is probably going why it’s the quickest rising sector of bike racing. When races solely final 30-60 minutes, you don’t want to put in the ridiculous coaching volumes required for street racing, and the talent required is enjoyable to study and arduous to grasp, which means you’ll be seeing enhancements lengthy after your progress in the fitness center would have hit a plateau. Cross additionally provides a uncommon alternative for grown adults to play in the mud which, let’s face it, is one thing all of us want extra of.

Cyclocross is a full-sensory expertise. Nothing is sort of as thrilling and intimidating as the odor of embrocation (a capsaicin cream racers use to heat up chilly legs) mixed with that of frying potatoes, stale beer and sweat. Then there’s the sound. Cyclocross has had cowbells since The Tonight Present was in black and white, however now there are additionally air horns and, virtually inevitably at the massive races, somebody endeavoring to hold the dream of the vuvuzela alive two inches out of your ear as you drag your exhausted carcass up a hill so steep that you simply’re utilizing your arms as a lot as your ft. It’d look like some sort of obscene winter carnival, however after a number of weeks, there shall be nowhere you’d quite spend your Saturdays.

‘Cross people are fun too. There’s far more of a pleasant vibe between racers when, let’s face it, everyone seems to be competing in a sport which sees grown males wrestling wildly inappropriate automobiles by means of mud pits for an hour. Typically, followers will supply “hand-ups” from the sidelines, something from cookies to beer to bacon and greenback payments. Regardless of whether or not you’re profitable or dropping, you’re by no means that removed from the motion as a result of of the brief course and brief race occasions. This implies there’s none of the demoralizing feeling of being dropped and left behind that happens in a street race. Everybody is a component of the present.

Bike Set Up and Expertise

For devoted roadies, you’ll want some off-road pedals and some changes to your place. Chris Jacobson of Bikefitting.com suggests operating the seat 1cm decrease in contrast to your street setup. The decrease seat peak can improve bike dealing with by decreasing your middle of mass and making the bars comparatively greater. It additionally makes remounts in your bike safer and extra fluid as properly, and protects the decrease again from the jarring impacts which might be widespread in ‘cross. For mountain bikers, the greatest guess is to stick together with your tried and true shoe arrange and go for a bar arrange with 1-2 inches of drop from saddle to bar.

As soon as your bike is dialed, you’ll need to work out how to experience it with out wiping out. Most areas have an area race calendar and supply newcomers clinics. There are additionally numerous expertise camps out there, which can assist you keep away from some of the basic newbie pitfalls corresponding to not fairly unclipping in time for the obstacles and lacking the pedal on the remount, leaving your complete weight to come crushing down on the saddle. Not enjoyable. However in the absence of clinics, leaping right into a race, assembly individuals and listening to their recommendation can also be a worthwhile means to study. Cyclocross is like punk rock, everybody seems intimidating, however actually they need nothing greater than to welcome you into their bizarre world of mud, sweat and gears.

The Gear


Cross racers could be tremendous techy. Tires are a specific place the place they like to geek out, as the connection between rider and terrain could make all the distinction in phrases of traction and subsequently velocity. Don’t be stunned to discover your rivals squeezing your tires and punctiliously making minute changes to their PSI minutes earlier than the begin. We like to use the Donnelly PDX when it’s muddy out however choose the MXP when it’s dry and dusty.



Your summer time gear will do, however there’s nothing nicer than slipping right into a warming onesie earlier than you submit your physique to the rigors of lactate accumulation for an hour. We advocate Castelli’s Classics Thermosuit. This cyclocross-specific skinsuit will maintain your working muscular tissues heat as you wait on the startline, however will assist forestall overheating as soon as your coronary heart fee hits BPM ranges you thought have been reserved for EDM tracks. You’ll need a good heat jacket and tights to put on to the begin grid, and a few good embrocation or knee heaters to maintain your joints heat with out the bulk of legwarmers, which have a tendency to maintain water on wet days.


Whereas a ‘cross-specific bike is best, cyclocross bikes needn’t value the earth, and the proper one is greater than succesful on the street or the gravel — as long as you might have a number of units of tires available. Some races will even let newbies race flat bar mountain bikes. Search for disc brakes, decrease than traditional gearing (you win races by not braking and by pedaling quicker than others on the slowest elements, not by holding a excessive velocity on the very brief tarmac sections). The Trek Crockett 5 disc provides nice specs, some vibration damping in the fork, race-ready tires and gearing. For whenever you get the urge to improve, Trek’s Boone 7 provides built-in damping in the entrance and rear of the light-weight carbon body, and a dialed geometry that has seen it carry riders to the prime step of podiums in dozens of races whose names you may wrestle to pronounce.

Handlebar Bag

Cyclocross is the reverse of street racing — the most essential lap is the first lap. Getting the holeshot into the first nook could make all the distinction, so that you’ll need to be warmed up. I actually like driving to races as a warm-up. This handlebar bag, which additionally converts to a fanny pack, lets me convey my pockets, a license, a couple of gels and a sneaky beer to assist me bum a experience residence. For driving to races, the Mountainsmith Cycle Dice is nice. It retains all of your gear separated so you realize the place the whole lot is and may confine the soiled stuff to its personal compartment on the approach residence — as a result of there will probably be soiled stuff.


For cyclocross, you’ll want footwear which are as stiff as street footwear however supply extra grip and permit for mounting on a mountain bike cleat. Whereas any mountain bike footwear will do, we propose Shimano’s new XC 9, which makes use of the similar sole as its pro-level street shoe, however provides grip and elective studs for the mud. It sheds mud shortly, feels feather mild and, with the additional studs, will allow you to run up close to vertical slopes of peanut butter textured slop. Mix them with toasty waterproof socks and the unimaginable mud-shedding powers of the new XTR pedals and also you’ll give you the option to clip in via sand, snow and swamps.


Cyclocross is a winter sport, however driving bikes in ski gloves is neither enjoyable, nor quick. These Showers Cross gloves present sufficient suggestions to steer the bike with out feeling such as you may depart a digit out on the course when temperatures drop under freezing. They’re additionally waterproof, making them an awesome choice for post-race snowball fights.

Clear-Up Package

Half of the enjoyable of racing ‘cross is getting absolutely filthy. If you’re not brushing the grit out of your tooth that night time, you’re not making an attempt onerous sufficient. When you and your bike will attain unexpected ranges of mud ingress after a superb ‘cross race, and that thick coating of mud is part of the fun, it needn’t be half of your automotive upholstery. This Nemo strain bathe and Muc Off cleansing package helps clear up and saves you from having to blame the canine for that large mudstain in your driver’s seat that returns each weekend.


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