You may have noticed some weird ‘road bikes’ being ridden around in New Zealand in the last few years. They have knobbly tires, maybe some odd cantilever braking system (cantilever brakes look like an upside down ‘Y’), with riders willingly riding through mud and puddles instead of dodging them. This is the cycling sport of cyclo-cross (or just ‘cross).
Cyclo-cross has actually been around for a number of years (since about 1902*) and is very popular in Europe, particularly in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. It is a rapidly expanding cycle sport globally, with it gaining popularity in the USA, Australia and New Zealand in the last few years.
So, perhaps you’ve been wondering about how to get involved, or just wanting to know a bit more about it first before committing to entering a race. Below is some information that hopefully assists in chasing away some of the mystique around cyclo-cross and removing the fear of the unknown.
What to expect at a ‘cross race:
Cold, mud, frozen fingers and toes, filthy bikes 🙂 Now we’ve got the ‘bad news’ out of the way… you can also expect a lot of fun! Cyclo-cross races are traditionally held on a Sunday afternoon (hopefully after the ice or snow has melted a bit!). Courses can include off-camber hillsides, running up hills, riding down hills, crossing streams, jumping small barriers, and sometimes other man-made features like bridges. Starts are from a ‘standing start’, and races can go for 40-50 mins plus a ‘bell lap’, which means you have one more lap from when you get the ‘bell’. So it’s hard to say how many laps you’ll end up doing! Put it this way, you’ll be hitting that heart rate ‘red line’ a wee bit 😉
What to wear:
There is a lot of personal preference in this one. Some people like to race just in raw lycra. I don’t like the cold and like to run a bit warmer so my muscles work, so will often wear a long-sleeved merino top underneath my lycra top (I use a thin-ish Icebreaker merino top). Depending on conditions, I might also wear leg warmers – but I have good ones that do not slip down. I might also wear something that will keep my ears warm. For gloves, I go for ordinary (long-fingered) summer gloves – I find that winter gloves with all the warmth padding they provide, make trying to brake, or change gears, a bit fumbly. You’ll want shoes that offer a fair bit of grip for when you’re clambering up hills. Mountain bike shoes (if you run clipless) are the way to go. One thing I definitely do not use is overshoe covers. You’ll be doing a whole lot of running, and sometimes in thick, muddy conditions, and/or up a hill. Overshoe covers just come off. Perhaps go for a thermal sock instead.
Post-race: I’d recommend taking a spare set of warm clothes to change into afterwards. Standing around in winter conditions in lycra at a prize giving is not a comfortable (or healthy!) experience. I’d also include a warm hat and depending on where you live, maybe a ‘puffer’-type jacket for quick warmth. I also sometimes take a thermos with a hot drink (or soup) in it – also for warming up afterwards. In terms of post-race footwear, again, for after, I’ve got a thick pair of warm socks (Torpedo7 have some excellent thermal socks) and warm shoes. Sometimes gumboots are the go in particularly boggy conditions! Oh, and your bike will probably be wet and muddy – so be prepared for that if you have a clean car interior! 😉
What bike to use:
Actually, in New Zealand, a cyclo-cross event often has a category for people on mountain bikes and/or single-speed bikes, so you can ride with what you have. I didn’t get my first cyclo-cross bike (a Giant TCX) until about my third winter of racing in CX events, and only then because a National Championship race was being held in my hometown! 🙂 If you do want to purchase a CX bike, the Torpedo7 crew can definitely sort you out with the right kind of CX bike for you and your budget, with most major brands having a CX bike in their line-up (i.e. Trek ‘Boone’, Giant ‘TCX’, Liv ‘Brava’, BMC ‘Crossmachine’, Ridley, Santa Cruz ‘Stigmata’ plus others).
How to start:
Your local cycling club (mountain bike or road cycling) will probably be able to point you in the right direction or have a chat to your local Torpedo7 shop peeps. There are races all over the country from about May to September. There is usually a National Championship as well, which has been in the month of August in the past.
See you out there!
New Zealand CX contact points:
NZCX website (not quite up to date, but it has some clubs listed) – http://www.nzcyclocross.co.nz/contacts.html
NZCX Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/nzcyclocrosschamps
NZ Crown CX section – http://www.nzcrown.co.nz/rankings?discipline=Cyclo-cross
International CX content to look at (or, whose who in the zoo):
CX Magazine – https://www.cxmagazine.com/
Cycling News CX section – http://www.cyclingnews.com/cyclo-cross/