Cyclocross is a specific type of bicycle racing that takes place on mixed surfaces - grass, dirt, pavement, and sand, in all weather conditions. Mud is common and expected! Obstacles on the course that force riders to dismount and run with their bikes are a defining feature of cyclocross racing.
Most cyclocross courses are about 3,000 meters (1.86 miles) long. Race courses tend to be in city parks, or a farmer's field. Because riders race multiple laps on these shorter courses, cyclocross is very spectator-friendly, allowing fans to see much of the course from a single vantage point.
The signature feature of a cyclocross course are barriers (also known as planks) which force riders to dismount instead of riding. Some extremely skilled riders can bunnyhop the barriers, so they don't have to dismount. On other occasions, the terrain is impossible for anyone to ride (imagine a near-vertical muddy hillside, or impossibly deep sand pit) which forces riders to run, carrying their bikes on their shoulder.
The origins of cyclocross come from road racing bicycles - that's why cyclocross bikes look similar to road bikes, with narrower tires and a drop handlebar. Road racing cyclists wondered how they could stay fit after the conclusion of their season - when weather turned cold and wet, and road racing at high speeds is very unpleasant. To keep riding in their off-season, they fitted knobby tires to their bikes that could tackle off-road terrain, and cyclocross was born!
Because cyclocross was invented by road racers trying to keep fit in their off-season, cyclocross usually takes place in Fall and Winter, after the road racing season has concluded. Depending on your geographic region, racing usually starts around October, with national championships in December, and the season concluding with world championships in January.
That means cyclocross can take place in cold, wet, muddy, and even snowy conditions! Cyclocross races take place rain or shine, and riders expect to tackle a variety of weather and course conditions.
Cyclocross races are scheduled based on elapsed time, not a fixed distance. For example, a cyclocross race might be advertised as "60 minutes". For two or three laps, the officials will measure the average lap time, and use that average to figure out how many laps will make the race last as close to 60 minutes as possible.
Lap cards are shown to the riders as they cross the finish line, so they know how many laps are left in the race. With one lap to go, a bell is typically rung so that riders and their support staff know the athletes are entering the last lap of the race.
Beginners might expect a typical race to take 30 minutes, while professional races are often one hour. Races are very short compared to road racing, criteriums, or mountain bike racing - which makes for very intense efforts.
Watching the world's best athletes in a professional race is very entertaining, but there's more to 'cross than just watching! Especially in the United States, cyclocross is a participation sport - it's very common for amateurs to race in the morning, then hang around to watch professionals race the same course in the afternoon.
If you're interested in trying cyclocross, there's a age and skill category that's perfect for you, regardless of your fitness or abilities.
Here at RideCX.com, I offer the specialty equipment you'll need to race and train successfully for cyclocross. Welcome!
I love cyclocross, and look forward to sharing it with you. If you're ready to learn more, check the Frequently Asked Questions about cyclocross and I'll see you at the races!