Cyclocross (also known as cross, cyclo-x and CX) takes modified road bikes, off road in races that typically last for 60 minutes and include obstacles where you need to jump off the bike and run with it over your shoulder.
Cyclocross racing started when road racers took their bikes off-road through fields, down muddy paths and over fences as a way to keep in shape during the cold winter months. It quickly became popular, with the first French National Championship in 1902 followed by Belgium champs eight years later, and it soon expanded into neighbouring countries.
Cyclocross races are very user-friendly as they only last an hour and most people are fit enough to compete without worrying about doing much training.
Most cyclocross races are held between September and March making them a good alternative to being on the road bike in the winter months and a great way of doing high-intensity training as you'll be dismounting and leaping over race obstacles.
The bikes are different
Cross bikes are modified road bikes with additional clearance for mud and space for wider, knobbly tyres, re-routed cables, keeping them out of the mud and increased braking power from disc brakes.
Mountain bike clipless pedals are used too as they don't get so clogged up with mud and the shoes have more grip than a standard road shoe so that you can clamber around in the mud when off the bike!
Cantilever or disc brakes?
These days disc brakes are becoming the popular choice however at the very top-end of the sport most professional racers are sticking to cantilever brakes as they're still a lighter option to disc brakes.
Weight isn't the same concern for amateurs and there's an increasing choice of disc-equipped cyclocross bikes. Most disc brakes are the cable type but some great lightweight hydraulic disc brakes are being fitted to new bikes. This means greater durability, pad life and greater stopping power making them an attractive option.
What can I expect from a cyclocross race?
Mud... and lots of it! A race requires a good deal of aerobic fitness making them a great way to keep fit during the winter. Because the races are short, it means they're usually very fast and the most intense hour of pedalling you'll do. The conditions and the layout of the course and the obstacles all contribute to making cyclocross races especially challenging to the mind, body and soul. You'll be racing very close to your competitors so get your elbows out!
Where can I find a cyclocross race?
Most local races operate on an entry on the line basis so it's just a case of turning up and handing over your money. The best place to find them is on British Cycling's events calendar.
What do you need?
You'll need a cyclocross bike, but if you don't have a cross bike but do have a mountain bike, that is okay and the fatter tyres and suspension and less aggressive riding position make a mountain bike more forgiving.
When buying a cyclocross bike, versatility is key, with many coming with a full complement of rack and mudguard mounts and two bottle cage mounts. Therefore you can easily set a cross bike up for riding to work. A dedicated racing cyclocross bike doesn't come with rack and mudguard mounts and very often without bottle cage mounts too, as you won't have time to drink in a race, it's too short. So decide if your new bike will be solely for racing, or whether you want to extend its useful service life beyond the race circuit.
There's a lot of choices out there so why don't you get down to your local bike shop and ask for more information.