If you like cycling and you like hiking, you’re going to want to try cyclocross. For the uninitiated, cyclocross (or cross) is a combination of road cycling and mountain biking that includes short periods of running to navigate obstacles and diverse terrain on gravel roads and light trails. With the changing leaves and cooler temperatures, fall is the ideal time of year to give it a try. Whether you are a seasoned veteran looking to maintain fitness in the off-season, a novice looking to improve fitness and skills or a beginner looking for a discipline that is safe and social, cyclocross is what you’ve been looking for.
Get Started: Practice the Skills
A cyclocross bike is a drop-handlebar bike, much like a road bike, that’s built with a sturdier frame and knobby tires. As a beginner, it’s fine to try out the sport with a road or mountain bike before committing to a cyclocross-specific bike. For road bikes, switching to mountain-bike-pedals (two-sided clips) and adding knobbier tires is a good idea. Ultimately, you’ll want a bike that can handle the variety of conditions that the sport demands.
Once you have a bike, take it to a local park and practice making corners between trees and jumping off to hurdle small obstacles and to run up hills or steps. This ride around the park will give you an idea of what the sport is about. Watching a few videos or hiring a coach will also help you learn the fundamental skills and prevent you from picking up bad habits. Another option is to find a local club that puts on weekly practices, or knows who does. Cornering, dismounting-mounting, braking, riding in sand and shouldering the bike are among the specific skills needed for cyclocross.
Consider Doing a Local Race
Once you’re comfortable with the bike and terrain, your next step is to try out a local race. Races are great for beginners as you’re never far from your car, which means there’s no issue of getting dropped or left alone in the forest. Cyclocross is a great way to motivate for mid-week rides, get out to a cross-practice and then race one or both days on the weekend. Typically, races for non-pros are 20-40 minutes long and are on ~8-minute laps. For those working in an office or in school, the odd cyclocross race can keep your mind familiar with the feeling of going hard and also help maintain fitness since staying fit through the fall and winter is a goal for many recreational cyclists. Cross is also a relatively safe sport, especially at the grassroots level, because speeds are slow and the ground is typically soft.
There’s Always Beer and Spectating
Whether or not you end up racing, another great aspect of cyclocross is that it’s a decent spectator sport. Cyclocross courses are very short, often with several over-under bridges that allow the course to snake within itself, optimizing spectator opportunities. Usually, there’s also a beer-garden near the best spots on the course to give spectators a great viewing experience. North American cross continues to grow each year, for 2016 there are two World Cups in September — one in Las Vegas and the other in Iowa. Several high calibre races are clustered in the Northeast, including Providence, Rhode Island and Gloucester, Massachusetts, and they attract thousands of racers of all abilities.
Outside of racing, cross is a great alternative for when fall and winter weather makes road and mountain biking less attractive. Come spring, you’ll be hooked.
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