Cyclocross (CX) has been popular in Europe for decades and has developed a great following here in the UK.
Most of the racing is done in fields with obstacles varying in difficulty and style. You may come across stairs, sand traps, STEEP hills and very tight turns. Our sister site BikeExchange Australia, along with help from their mates the Commonaeros, identified some of the key CX skills that should help you get through the course unscathed and at the front of the pack.
In addition to these it's worth noting that courses are generally fast given the races are only between 45mins and 60mins in duration. Getting used to riding at a high intensity is a great way to condition yourself for the demands of Cyclocross. The courses are also short in distance (normally 2-3km in length), so learning to handle your bike in tight situations is going to be a huge plus for you.
For anyone out there looking to get involved in this fun and challenging cycling discipline, here are all the tips and tricks you need to know and master before entering your first race.
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This technique is most commonly used to clear small barriers and obstacles. It requires you to clear both your front and back wheel off the ground and enables you to remain on your bike and carry as much speed through the course as possible.
As you approach the obstacle shift your weight to the back of the bike and lift the front wheel. Shifting your weight back will make lifting the front wheel easier and will also help to lift the back wheel once you shift your weight forward. Once your front wheel is just about to clear the obstacle, shift your weight forward and pull up on your pedals to lift the back wheel. It's best to lift your pedals with both feet level, this will ensure the back wheel comes straight up and doesn't shift to either side. Momentum will carry you over the obstacle and gravity will force your rear wheel down so feeling confident shifting your weight back and forward is the key component of this skill.
If you are new to CX, start with a small branch as your obstacle and build from there. As you become comfortable with a small level of clearance, try increasing the level required to clear, as well as increasing the speed at which you attempt it.
Mastering this technique will also give you a lot more kudos from the rowdy crowd and keep the heckling to a minimum.
Mounting and dismounting
This technique is also used for clearing barriers but it is reserved for the bigger ones, or if there is a succession of them. At first this may take some time and practise but is essential as almost every course will require you to get off your bike at some point. Planning ahead and getting off your bike early is the key. Dismounting this way will enable you to carry as much speed as possible through obstacles and also give you time if you are having trouble unclipping from your pedals.
All the action for this skill happens at the back of the bike but it is essential you keep a firm grip on the bars and top tube as they act as your connection to the bike and will create a stable platform for you to get back on.
As you approach the obstacle unclip from your non-dominant side, the side you would unclip if you were stopping at a set of traffic lights. With the other foot still clipped in, swing your non-dominant side over the bike, this will be your first point of contact with the ground. Once you are approximately two to three metres away from the obstacle, unclip your other foot and start running alongside your bike. You can then simply jump over the obstacle, holding onto your bike with one hand on the handlebars and the other on the top tube.
Once you are clear of the obstacle place both hands on the handlebars and hold on firmly. With the bike still in motion jump up, swing one leg over the bike and aim to land with your backside on the seat. This will take lots of practise but is well worth it, especially as courses get more demanding and obstacles become larger.
This is another skill that pays to start easy and progress up. Start with no obstacles and get used to hopping on and off your bike. As you get more confident increase the speed and difficulty of the obstacle you are trying to clear.
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Many of the obstacles you face in CX racing will be too difficult to simply jump or run over. Steep hills and stairs are commonplace and require you to carry your bike. The best way of doing this from a speed and safety point of view is shouldering.
This technique requires you to dismount your bike and carry the bike on your shoulder. The top tube of most CX bikes are flatter than a normal road bike, making this technique more comfortable.
Mastering this technique is more than simply throwing the bike over your shoulder. Shouldering correctly enables you to control the front end of the bike by holding onto the drops, enabling you to run at full speed whilst still having total command of your bike.
A bit of practising and you'll have these fluid moves nailed in no time.
Keen to get into CX or perhaps looking to progress your abilities? Check out this great article on our site which will walk you through choosing a cyclocross bike;