Get ready for your first cyclocross event

Cyclocross off road race events are all the rage. Fun, fast and furious, they only last up to an hour – so you’ll be finished in time for a lunchtime pint! We hope this article gets you up to speed, and encourages you to give this fantastic, easily accessible sport a go.

Cyclocross history
Originating in France in the early twentieth century, cyclocross was created as a way for roadies to stay fit during their off season. Sometimes called steeple chase, riders would literally race from one village to the next with the main visible sign being that of a steeple.

Farmers’ muddy fields and tracks featured in the course, and running sections were introduced. The sport spread through other European countries, and today the biggest professional CX scene is in Belgium. Weekend races are watched by millions of television viewers.

Basic race rules
Cyclocross races last between 30 minutes and one hour. As with mountain biking events, you’ll find a range of entry categories for men, women, vets, etc. Events also often include under 12, junior, and youth categories, so it’s a great way to involve youngsters in the fun.

Race courses are usually around 2 miles long. Loops include varying surfaces and conditions: expect tarmac, grass, mud, single track, sand, hills and hurdles: you’ll need to dismount and carry or run with your bike for some sections. As it’s a winter sport, be prepared for cold and wet conditions.

During a cyclocross race you are allowed to have a ‘crew’ and a spare bike in the allocated ‘pits’ section of the course, though only the more seasoned/serious competitors will bother with this.

cyclocross race event competitor

How to get into it
Getting into cyclocross racing is simple. Just use the Pedal Planner event finder tool, tick the ‘cyclocross’ filter and any others that you want to use, and follow the event links that come up.

Joining your local cycling club is another great way to start getting involved in cyclocross. You’ll find like-minded souls, enthusiasm and advice.

Note that while for many mountain biking events you don’t need any kind of official licence, for most cyclocross races you do. You can usually buy a one day licence on the day of your event, or you can organise a provisional racing licence on the British Cycling website

It’s not about the bike
If you don’t own a cyclocross specific bike, that doesn’t matter: most local league events allow the use of mountain bikes. So go along and test the waters with whatever bike you have available. 

Dedicated cyclocross bikes are essentially adapted road bikes, but the frame offers wider tyre clearance for slightly wider knobbly tyres, with the option of cantilever or disc brakes. Cable routing also differs, to enable more comfortable shouldering of the bike when running, while a higher bottom bracket improves ground clearance.

A decent first CX-specific bike will cost anything from £500 to £2000.  Alternatively, you could look on sites like Ebay for a decent second hand bike or frame.

Break your hour record – training tips
Cyclocross appeals for its inclusivity because whatever your ability, novices and experts alike compete in the same race.  It’s the race time, not the distance that’s fixed.  You complete as many laps as you can in the allotted time.

Get as much base mileage in as you can before the season starts – riding conditions tend to worsen as winter progresses. Once a week, add interval type sessions into your training to replicate anaerobic race pace for short bursts, with lower intensity recovery in between. Repeat this process 5 to 6 times throughout each session.

Cyclocross involves technical riding, so find out if there is a mid-week skills training session in your area. If not, get used to riding off road over varying terrain and in different weather conditions. It’s worth practising dismounting and remounting drills whilst on the move.

During the pre-race sighting/warm-up laps, try to learn and memorise the easiest and quickest lines to take. During the race itself, look out for the key landmarks and think ahead, so as not to be taken by surprise.

Race day: what to expect
Local league races are often held in public parks, with anywhere from 30 to 200+ riders. Entry is usually on the day, although some events are offered with online entry. Aim to get to your event 45-60 minutes before it starts, so you’ve got time to register, ride a few ‘sighting’ laps of the course and in the process warm up.

Racing is frenetic in the early part of any cross race. The natural race order will morph from large group to strung-out line as riders gradually expand along the course. Gaps will widen forming smaller groups where mini battles for places develop.

Race day checklist

  1. Eat your last meal at least a couple of hours before race start time.
  2. Pack enough water and post-race snacks.
  3. Check your bike over. Ensure it’s in suitable condition.
  4. Keep your tyre pressures on the low side – try 30 to 40 psi.
  5. Remember to take cash for your entry and race licence fees.
  6. If you have a race licence, take it with you.
  7. Arrive in good time. Getting to the event 45 minutes to 1 hour before gives enough time to register, ride the course and warm up.
  8. Standard road cycling kit and mtb shoes are most practical for racing.
  9. Take spare cycling clothes for warming up in if cold, and post-race clothes.
  10. Most importantly of all, enjoy the experience.

For a short burst of intense fun, friendly competition, and with a bit of mud thrown in for good measure, cyclocross is perfect: it’ll keep you fit through the winter months, too.


Cyclocross event listings on Pedal Planner:
Cyclocross video guides (Global Cycling Network):
Race licences (British Cycling):


Many thanks to Jason Bhandari for contributing this article. Jason is a Bath based amateur level cyclocrosser, personal trainer and owner of
Images copyright Betty Bhandari.


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