Learn how to compete in cyclocross
Grassy fields. Mud. Sand. Chilly streams. Heart-pounding steeps. Annoying barricades. Running with a bicycle on your back.
It's cyclocross, a European-hatched bicycle discipline with origins tied to allowing road cycling riders the chance to preserve their fitness level through the shortening days of fall and into impending winter on a course of cold, ooze and pain.
Cyclocross tends to help fill the racing calendar for adrenaline junkies this time of year. Around here, the season starts in September and tends to wrap up in November with fervent Granite State riders often traveling south to other states for competitions as winter draws closer.
A mix of bicycling and running, riders navigate an array of terrain – weather be damned – across dirt roads, pavement and more following a mass start on a loop course. Also along the way are hurdles where riders must dismount, carry or shoulder their bikes and run. Races tend to be under an hour as riders go round and round.
Dylan McNicholas is a cyclocross enthusiast and national champion. The Stratham dad started riding four years ago. He also rides motorcycles and saw similarities between motocross and cyclocross.
"Aggressive starts, varying off-road terrain, bike handling skills, et cetera," he says about why he fell for the sport. "Other attractions were the short, more intense format. It's just a lot of fun."
Cyclocross forces riders to push hard and make quick decisions in ever-changing conditions. There's little room for error, and those decisions can cost time and energy.
Keep in mind cyclocross is a mucky endeavor so if you're thinking of trying it, it's probably not a good idea to start with your expensive bike.
A vital skill is getting on and off the bike. McNicholas recommends taking a clinic. But practicing is essential since riders do it many times during a race and doing it right will keep you vertical instead of falling like a stick in the mud.
Frenchman Daniel Gousseau is credited with inventing cyclocross that took riders across farms and dubious terrain. France had the first national championships in 1902.
Cyclocross bikes aren't cheap, and if you are already a cyclist, you've likely got the gear in the garage to give it a try.
When it's time for the next level, the aluminum Kona Jake ($1,099) gets thumbs up as an entry level 'cross bike for its sturdy components and nice range of gears.
High-end, lightweight and durable, the Giro Atmos ($180) has a fine reputation for keeping riders safe and cool (fall's got those days of Indian Summer).
Top cyclocross shoes exceed $300. A reliable mountain bike shoe, like the Pearl Izumi Race MTB shoe ($140) is a fine alternative for digging in and out of the dirt.
Stratham's Dylan McNicholas is a national cyclocross champion title holder. Not bad for the 32-year-old motocross loving dad who started bicycle racing at age 28 following a childhood of skateboarding, rollerblading and BMX biking. McNicholas is the 2012 USA Cycling Masters 30-34 national champion and rides for the Cyclocrossworld.com team. He has some tips for new cyclocross riders.
How do I get started?
Contact your local racing organization or resource websites such as bikereg.com to find local races in your area.
Do I need a special bicycle for cyclocross?
Yes. A cyclocross bike is ideal in that it will fit a wider, larger tire. Oftentimes, older road frames will fit larger tires as well. Mountain bikes are also acceptable in most categories other than elite, I believe.
What other gear do I need?
A helmet is a must. Mountain bike shoes or mountain bike clip-less shoes and pedals and a pair of shorts with a chamois never hurts.
How good of a runner do I need to be?
If I'm an indicator then not very good. Running often comes into play more when it is extremely muddy.
Any advice on how to properly get on and off my bike?
It never hurts to take a clinic from an experienced instructor. Observe the technique of skilled riders and practice, practice, practice.
What's it like carrying your bike over barriers and do you have any tips for that?
It can be slightly tricky to learn. Again, this is where a good skills clinic will pay dividends in learning the proper technique. The act should be a smooth, fluid series of motions.
What about riding through the mud, sand and ruts that might be part of the course?
Try to choose good lines and commit to them. It's important to get some laps in pre-race to find some lines and dial in tire pressures. Sand and mud require high output of effort to ride through.
Cyclocross runs through fall with crazy weather. What's it like competing in rain, snow and cold?
It's a lot of fun actually. The varying and changing conditions can be difficult. It's as important to stay as warm as possible before the start and to try to make good clothing and equipment selections based on the weather and temperatures.