Cyclo-Cross (often abbreviated to 'Cross) is generally an autumn and winter sport. Massed starts make for exciting races, usually no more than an hour in length - and shorter for juniors, women and veterans. There are usually free-to-enter races for younger riders. Some organisers are now starting to run summer series, which are proving very popular.
Cyclo-Cross races are usually multi lap events, held on short (typically less than a mile and often less than half a mile), grassy courses, generally in public parks or on school playing fields. Less technically demanding than Mountain Biking, Cyclo-Cross often requires riders to dismount to clear artificial obstacles - often wooden boards. The ability to swap smoothly and quickly from riding to running and back to riding in one fluid motion is a key skill for advanced riders.
The short lap lengths mean that better riders often lap some of the slower competitors, but that's not the end of the race - you can still submerge yourself in the action, enjoy your own private battles and forget whether you are first or a hundred and first - that's the beauty of the sport: it's what you make of it that counts.
Cyclo-Cross machines look very similar to road bikes, with dropped handlebars and thin tyres - however the latter have a knobbled-tread for grip, powerful brakes, low gears and better frame clearances to prevent clogging with mud, all of which adds up to make them easy to handle on the rough.
Get Into Cyclo-Cross
Cyclo-Cross is one of the most accessible forms of cycle-sport. Where else can virtual beginners find themselves racing against national champions? As long as you are riding in your correct age category, at club level events you will be pitched in with a wide range of abilities.
Local races have a relaxed, informal atmosphere and entries are usually accepted on the day. Mountain bikes are welcome at most races and the non-technical nature of the courses means that almost anyone can take part and enjoy a race.
There are often separate races for younger riders, usually with a reduced entry fee or no entry fee at all. For older riders and women, races are often shorter. Even senior races rarely last more than an hour, so to taking part doesn't require a mammoth commitment to hours of training.Having said that, the best riders are wonderful athletes, combining endurance and a high level of skill.
Cyclo-Cross bikes themselves often make excellent winter training or utility bikes, with their wide range of gears, so forking out for one often increases your cycling options. Many Road and Mountain Bike competitors use Cyclo-Cross to maintain their fitness during the winter and there is considerable overlap between clubs in these disciplines.
In London the local league is the London Cyclo-Cross League and our own Gary Bryant was 7th Vet overall in 2009/10.