The Road to Cyclocross

One of the very different aspects of cyclocross compared to road cycling is how disruptive it is. Road cycling is often a long steady effort.  Cyclocross courses are designed to keep you sprinting, braking, turning, dismounting, shouldering, running, remounting, climbing, cornering, and sprinting again.  Courses can be technical and will change over the course of a lap, meaning you have to pick new lines each time, explore new ways to get over that rise and then slam into a hairpin turn through 4 inches of soft sand.  This is what I have found people love most about the sport.  It requires fitness, technical skill, and good, quick decision-making. There are a hundred decisions to make each race and mistakes will be made. Part of the game is making the right decision at the right time, and making a few mistakes as possible. One wrong choice can set you back 10 places or more. This is part of the fun.


Just like road cycling, intervals are used to build power and speed.  Many Cross racers use the summer months for longer rides to build endurance and then switch to shorter more intense efforts in late summer and autumn.  Cross races are short: typically 40 minutes for women and 60 for men, but the effort is extremely intense.  You will need to dedicate time to skill work like dismounting, carrying and shouldering, and remounting.  When is comes to skill work, the best advice is to start off very slow and repetitive until you can add speed.  Practice riding on different surfaces and conditions like dirt, grass, gravel, sand, and mud. Rainy days are still training days. Because CX doesn’t stop if its raining or snowing. Cyclists have always embraced pain, but throw in a 30-degree day, frozen ruts of mud, and slippery snow and you will understand that when it comes to pain, cyclocrossers make it an art form.


While road cycling has a certain formality to it, cyclocross is where you can really let your hair down.  The racing can be very serious, but it’s not without it’s shenanigans.  It’s not uncommon to receive a beer hand-up, or have money tossed onto the course to be scooped up by passing riders.  Dressing up is sometimes the theme to the race (Halloween is especially good for this).  The culture of cross is warm, welcoming and friendly, and new racers receive lots of encouragement.  There is a certain recognition by all those participating that the sport is, well, kind of crazy.  Sure, there are pro cyclocross racers, but for the rest of us, we race for fun, for fitness, for healthy competition and to challenge ourselves in extreme conditions. Taking it too seriously would be a little against the point.

Cyclocross is a great way to extend your cycling season, stay fit and play in the mud with new friends.  Although the season kicks off each Fall with CrossVegas in mid September, you can find a race nearly every weekend within a 100 miles from home.  The fun starts now.  Will you be there?

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  • Eric Hutchins

    Excellent article. Very thorough, well done!

  • raymond

    Great post, thanks.

    If you think road racing is fatiguing try a CX course you’ll be knackered and gasping
    for breath within the first hour. I love it.

  • Shawn McAfee

    Great job on this! Especially the culture part. Hooray beer hand-ups!

    I need to get my bike out and practice some run ups and dismounts. I have a feeling I am going to be entirely dead my first cross race. But it will be fun!

  • Brian Stephens

    Great info on cyclocross. Thanks Karen for sharing! As a road cyclist, I like riding in the heat of summer. I think I need to readjust my thinking if I want to do cx, to prepare for cold and mud. That’s just so contrary to road riding. I should probably go watch a cx event before deciding anything.

    I love the “let your hair down” sound of cx and you’ve piqued my interest. Plus, who wouldn’t like the idea of a beer hand-up?