Knowledge Level: Beginner
What is cyclo-cross?
Cyclo-cross takes place in off-road venues such as public parks and other open spaces. Surfaces can include grass, mud, gravel and sand. Courses are short and winding, enabling multiple laps to be completed within a set distance. Courses often feature obstacles such as hurdles and sand pits, forcing riders to dismount and carry or run with their bikes. Some courses are more ‘technical’ than others, featuring tight single-track trails, tree roots and other obstacles.
To get a feel for what cyclo-cross involves, watch our A day in the life of: a cyclo-cross racer video.
Am I fit enough?
With cyclo-cross races typically lasting 30-60 minutes depending on age and level, you don’t need huge amounts of fitness. If you’ve ridden fairly regularly throughout the summer, maybe taken part in a few sportives, you’ll be fine.
If you want to be a bit more competitive, following our 8-Week Cyclo-cross Training Plan would be an ideal way to prepare for the cyclo-cross season. To follow this plan, you should have ideally completed the12-week Improvers' Plan, recently completed a 60-mile (100 km) ride or most weeks ride three times, including a ride of two hours or more.
It is also suitable for more experienced riders, who may have followed our Pre-season training plan and our In season plan through the summer, or regularly ride longer sportives or race.
You can also watch our How to train for a cyclo-cross race video.
What skills do I need?
Possibly even more so than fitness, technique and skill are the hallmarks of good cyclo-cross riders. In our 8-Week Cyclo-cross Training Plan there are regular sessions dedicated to key skills but, even if you’re not following the plan, heading down to your local park and practicing some skills is a good idea.
Check out our videos of cyclo-cross skills:
How to carry and shoulder your cyclo-cross bike
How to ride different cyclo-cross terrains
How to dismount and remount your cyclo-cross bike
How to bunny hop your cyclo-cross bike
Do I need a cyclo-cross bike?
Most local events will allow you to race on a mountain bike but, if you get bitten by the cyclo-cross bug, you’ll soon be upgrading to a dedicated cyclo-cross bike. A gravel bike can provide a versatile alternative.
Any set-up and maintenance tips?
There’s no denying that cyclo-cross can be tough on your bike but, as long as you keep on top of your basic maintenance, racing a cross season shouldn’t prove too costly. A portable jet wash that plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter is a good investment as a 5-minute bike wash and re-lube before you head home will save you time and hassle later. Also, basic tasks such a changing disc brake pads, setting up tubeless tyres and indexing gears will all help keep your cross bike running smoothly.
What should I wear?
Over the course of a British autumn and winter, you can expect to race in a full spectrum of conditions. However, including the mandatory helmet for racing, most of the kit is the same as you’d use on the road. You’ll want to use mountain biking pedals and shoes though for better mud clearing and running off the bike. Find out more about what to wear before, during and after a cyclo-cross race.
What should I eat?
As the actual race is fairly short, you won’t need to eat or drink during it. However, getting your nutrition right before and after a cyclo-cross race can be tricky. Follow our cyclo-cross nutritional timeline.