Cyclocross Basics: Riding in the Mud

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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Cyclocross Basics: Riding in the Mud

If you want to be good at cyclocross, you’ll need to be able to ride in less-than-ideal conditions. On most courses, riding in the mud while staying upright is one of the challenges you’ll be forced to deal with.

Instead of letting a muddy course discourage you, learn how to master this basic cyclocross skill so you can have fun and stay ahead of the pack.


When it’s raining, and the ground gets muddy, tire traction can be an issue. To keep from sliding around, you’ll need to maintain a good body position on the bike. Whether you’re standing or seated, try to keep most of your weight over the rear part of the saddle. This puts more weight over your back wheel and improves your traction. If you slide forward on the nose of the saddle or put too much weight over the handlebars when you stand, the rear wheel is more likely to slide around and decrease your traction in the mud.


Most cyclocross courses are loops, which require cyclists to ride around the course several times. As the race goes along, ruts develop in the deeper sections of mud. As you ride through, your tires may get stuck in one of these ruts. When they do, try not to lean sideways, which can cause you to lose your balance. Instead, relax your upper body as much as possible, keep your hands light on the bars, look in the direction you want to head and let the bike go where it wants to go. Keep your pedaling motion smooth and be prepared to take a foot out of your pedal to put down on the ground should something suddenly go wrong.


While cyclists often have a cadence that is most comfortable and generates the greatest amount of power, there is an ideal cadence for riding in the mud. By staying in the 65–80rpm (revolutions per minute) range, you’ll be able to ride through the mud a little easier without losing traction. If you ride at a higher rpm, it may cause your rear wheel to spin out and make your steering and bike-handling less stable. When you choose to ride in a gear that puts you lower than 65rpm it makes it harder to change gears, which sets up other problems that can be hard to manage in the mud.


Along muddy sections, there will sometimes be grass along the edges. Always choose to ride through the areas with more green grass, as it provides more traction and makes it easier to steer than heading through deeper mud. When you don’t have a choice, and there aren’t any grassy sections, choose the areas that are shallow to give yourself more grip.

In muddy corners, instead of choosing a racing line by entering wide and heading toward the apex, make sure you stick to the basic rule of riding the areas that have more grass and the shallowest sections. Don’t worry about your speed or power, and instead choose the safest line and the one that will make it easier to stay upright.


One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make during a cyclocross event is when you’d be better off hopping off the bike and running instead. When you encounter long sections of mud, hills with mud or particularly deep sections that make it difficult to pedal or keep your balance, it might be easier to get off your bike and run. Just make sure that whichever method you choose, you make your decision quickly. Get off the bike with a quick dismount to avoid losing momentum and hit the ground running.


Like anything else, cyclists can be victims of negative thinking. If you’ve had a bad experience riding in the mud in the past, it’s easy to get into thinking you’re just not good at riding in the mud. You may visualize yourself falling or having a hard time while others breeze past you without any problems. In actuality though, the mud is hard for everyone and mistakes will be made. Staying positive and keeping it in your head that you can ride in the mud and that you are good at it inevitably helps you manage a tough course a bit more easily. Positive thinking can go a long way, so make sure your mind is just as prepared for the challenge as your bike-handling skills.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for


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