Cyclocross is fast, exciting and has become hugely popular in the past decade. With races going on across the country, the best thing is it’s easily accessible and fun for all the family. It’s a great adrenaline rush, with most races between 40-60 minutes long, it's really good for your fitness and bike handling skills, and it's a great way to mix up your winter cycling routine.
Here are six reasons why we think you should try cyclocross racing this winter:
1. It’s great fun
Cyclocross is all about the smiles, well, and a little bit about the mud. It’s a little quirky riding a modified road bike around a muddy field for an hour, but that just makes it all the more appealing. There are lots of local races all over the country which means that you usually won't have to travel for hours each way just to race.
It also means that a lot of races can be ridden to which makes for a great, if very tiring day on the bike.
Unlike a lot of road races which can get far too serious, there’s a great atmosphere at cyclocross events, with only the very top racers taking it seriously. Everyone else is there for the joy of it. Lots of local races are now supported by at least a coffee van too, making dragging your kids or partner to watch your race a little bit easier. They might even cheer louder if they're set with a hot drink and a tasty snack.
The nature of the short and tightly confined courses are good for spectators too. Instead of being unable to spot you in the middle of a massive peloton once every 15 minutes as seems to be the way with road races, cyclocross offers multiple viewing points per lap. That also offers multiple heckling opportunities per lap. It's a double-edged sword.
2. It keeps you fit through the winter
Cyclocross is a high-intensity sport so it’s a really good workout, and because races are usually no longer than an hour, it's quite easy to train for if you want to really go for it. You can find loads of great indoor training plans on the likes of Zwift and TrainerRoad, or if you're commuting or riding outside through the week, throw some classic 40/20s into your ride and you'll be fine. Most people can ride comfortably for an hour though, so no specific training is actually required to finish a race.
Cyclocross is also a full-body workout. Typically there is dismounting and running up steep banks and steps involved, and so your core and upper body get a good workout from wrestling the bike through mud and sand.
3. It’s good for bike handling skills
Riding a cyclocross bike through adverse conditions, whether it’s slick mud, wet grass, or rocky ground, with the myriad of obstacles you’ll encounter from off-camber turns, steep banks and hurdles, gives you a good lesson in bike handling skills. Handling a slip sliding cyclocross bike requires a relaxed technique and that can transfer really well to the road bike.
4. It’s accessible
Racing cyclocross is a lot more accessible than most other forms of cycle sport. The competitiveness is always good-natured, there’s no bunch to get dropped from and everyone races at their own speed. You can be battling for 1st or 51st and you’ll still be having a good time.
Cyclocross races cater for all ages with races split by age so you’re racing against people of roughly the same age. Increasingly, leagues have separate women's races and the move has seen field sizes grow.
5. Only takes an hour
The longest cyclocross race is 60 minutes, many are shorter, which means it doesn’t take over your whole Sunday. You can be done and dusted and home for Sunday lunch. Add in the low training volume that is needed and this makes cyclocross racing very good for time-crunched cyclists.
The shorter event time also favours the inclement weather that usually accompanies cyclocross. An hour of cyclocross racing is a lot more fun than six hours of slogging on the road bike into a headwind. That's even more apparent when it's raining.
6. An excuse to buy a new bike
Local cyclocross leagues are great because they don't really care what type of bike you turn up on. If you have a mountain bike, you can use that just fine, many people do quite happily. That makes giving a bit of racing a go much easier because you won't have to borrow or buy a brand new bike.
But in our opinion, you can never have too many bikes and if you want to get into it properly, then you might want to invest in a cyclocross bike. Cyclocross bikes have changed quite a bit in the last few years and disc brakes are now ubiquitous. Many cyclocross bikes are very versatile as well, with wide tyre clearances for up to 45mm tyres. Many also feature mudguard and rack mounts so can be used as a commuting and winter training bike with a simple change of tyres.
How to get started
If we've talked you into wanting to give cyclocross a go, you'll probably be wondering what you need. There are a few essentials, namely a bike. As mentioned above, you can do take part on a mountain bike or gravel bike if you just want to try it out for the first time. If you want to invest in a dedicated cyclocross bike, make sure to read this buyer's guide to choosing the right cyclocross bike.
If you want to know more about what to expect from a cyclocross race, from finding your local race league to the format of racing and what you can expect, have a read of our Complete Guide to Cyclocross racing.
And for more information on the bikes and equipment you might need for cyclocross racing, from shoes to pedals, bikes to brakes and gearing, have a read of this Beginner's guide to cyclo-cross essentials.
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.