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October 13, 2021
With so many emerging cycling disciplines on the rise, it pays to know which style of riding and bike best fits your preferences and access. Cyclocross or CX is an exciting non-Olympic discipline of cycling, best described as a cross between road cycling and mountain biking, badass. Given the Cyclocross season starts in September and goes through February, harsh weather conditions including rain, wind, snow, and mud make navigating paved and off-road terrain one hell of an adventure.
As a result, we felt it necessary to offer up some tips that should make for a safe and memorable experience, no matter your level of skill or experience. Given the unique physical demands of the sport, the following technical tips should give you a leg up on your competitors, whether it be a friend or race rival.
Watching the best CX riders in the world, you will notice how they take slippery corners at such quick speeds. While there's no straightforward technique to mastering muddy corners, repetitive practice, especially with faster riders, does make a world of difference. Besides that, keep track of lap times while attempting to shave a few seconds on corners you come to master.
Cyclocross courses have abrupt and slippery changes in elevation. Asa result, getting on and off the bike is a normal occurrence. While a 30-foot uphill accent may seem like a piece of cake, mud, stairs, and unpredictable elements will force you to dismount and either sprint uphill while shouldering your bike or run alongside it. If you are running for more than a few seconds, shouldering might be the way to go. While sprinting alongside your bike can be easier at times, shouldering is a fundamental maneuver in the cyclocross game. One of the most effective ways to quickly and securely shoulder your bike is to grab somewhere on the top tube, reaching through the entire frame, eventually looping your arm through to secure the hood (with the same hand) while leaving the other free to help balance. Mounting, dismounting, and shouldering in the heat of a race requires practice and meticulous skill, so it pays to put in the work. The last thing you want is to slip and fall further behind or even break your bike in the process.
Looking where you want to go might sound like an obvious tip, but in CX, the challenging off-road terrain demands careful attention. Try to look ahead rather than looking at your front wheel. One hidden rock, tree branch, or stump could throw you for a loop if you aren't paying full attention to what lies ahead.
Capitalize on sections of the course where you can channel momentum. Carry as much speed as possible along downhill sections into climbs to make the most of your energy. This way, the downhill sections work to your advantage. Channeling any momentum you can is essential, especially when seconds separate you and the rider in front or behind.
While sliding on a road bike often involves a crash of some sort, sliding in cyclocross is a regular occurrence and skill that separates the best riders from the pack. It just so happens that the maximum threshold for traction comes right before sliding out, so practice threading the needle and balancing that fine line between sliding with speed and crashing out.
Traction when climbing in cyclocross is far different than other riding disciplines. The ideal cadence when road climbing is around 80 or 90 RPM. Peddling that fast on a muddy hill means quickly losing traction. Instead of solely relying upon grippy tires, try lowering your cadence to around 50 - 70 rpm, carrying your speed and momentum all the way uphill.
Not only does jumping over cyclocross barriers look cool, but it will also significantly cut your time without constantly dismounting and mounting your bike. Start small and work your way up. Even if it's only a curb height, this useful maneuver will come in handy. Knowing how to bunny hop an oncoming obstacle is essential no matter the riding discipline. It just so happens that there are a few extra obstacles to hop over in cyclocross. Check out our How-to Bunny hop reel for specific tips.
Knowing where to best ride your cyclocross bike is a skill in itself. Avoid perfectly paved roads and trails with big rocks that can easily puncture your tires. Smooth muddy trails without too many roots that you might think are boring on a mountain bike are often perfect for cyclocross. Look for some offroad sections during your road riding to mix things up. When choosing a specific line on the course or trail, look for one that demands the least amount of effort while leaving little space for riders to overtake you.
You might think that running is an obscure or irrelevant training method to improve your cycling skills, however, CX requires an extremely high level of fitness and muscular endurance. Not to mention the discipline itself requires getting off your bike and running often. Just because you can ride for hours or days on end, does not mean that running with your bike comes easy. It is vital to prepare for a different set of demands on the body by adding in some mellow hill running and interval training. Be sure to include some high-intensity workouts with adequate recovery time. It pays to remember that the cyclocross race is no longer than an hour, so training for 4 to 6 hours in the saddle on end is not necessary.
When it comes to shoes, running shoes or road cycling shoes won’t do for cyclocross. Running shoes have too soft of a sole, while road cycling shoes are far too stiff for comfortable running. Generally, spending more time off the bike means looking for a mountain bike shoe with enough flex in the toes section to run and stiff enough in the heel to handle your pedaling. While there are a few emerging gravel and cx shoe models, find what works best and is most comfortable for you.
While people refer to Cyclocross bikes as CX or Cross Bikes, most competitors will either use a modified road bike or a CX bike with skinny, knobby tires, disc brakes, and a slightly modified geometry to allow for higher clearance when passing over obstacles.
For more riding and gear tips, Head to the Thread + Spoke Blog to learn more.
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