#crossiscoming – yep get used to that hashtag. It’s that magical time of year when cyclists don’t look totally nuts jumping on/off our bikes, bounding over barriers, heckling fellow riders and eating waffles.
It’s been described as both a steeplechase on a bike or an hour in hell, but almost everyone who does it once, is immediately hooked on the sport. So what is Cyclocross (CX)? It’s a style of bike racing that blends road biking with off road terrain and obstacles held on a 2.5-3.5KM looped course, with races lasting anywhere from 30 or 60 mins.
For triathletes, cyclocross may seem somewhat of an unusual way for people to enjoy the bike, but in fact it’s a great sport you should be doing in your off-season.
Below are my top 5 reasons for why triathletes should jump onto the Cross ‘bandwagon!”
1) Bike handling
Cyclocross courses can combine elements of grass, dirt, sand, gravel and asphalt. It also includes tight turns, barriers, hill run ups, and off-camber riding sections – all designed to challenge your bike handling skills. To be good at Cross demands that you learn how to control your bike smoothly on different terrain, at varying speeds, while navigate obstacles (not unlike transition!).
This is a great opportunity for triathletes to get outside their comfort zones and experience handling a bike in a variety of tricky situations. CX builds a lot “on the bike” confidence that will allow you to get a deeper understanding of bike handling and learn to tackle riding in just about any weather or condition. CX in many ways is similar to time trialing, where it’s all about being as efficient as possible on the bike and course. The best riders know how to smoothly take the right lines around corners, over rough terrain and barriers, conserving energy and speed.
2) Race efforts are more like a “time trial.”
When I first started racing CX, people told me it was like a criterium (requiring high/short peaks of power). Well, from my experience as a “crit” guy, it is nothing like a crit. Think instead of an uphill time trial (TT). The ability to hold power at or near threshold is extremely important, as well as the ability to push yourself for short periods above threshold and recover. Be prepared that unlike standard bike road races or criteriums, the “sprint” happens in the beginning of the race instead of at the end. Races are also based on time, lasting anywhere from 30 to 60 mins and the number of laps you will complete on the course will be calculated on that time.
3) Low cost
Cross is a bargain as far as race entry costs. Expect to pay anywhere from $25 – $60 for events. That’s a fraction of what many triathletes spend for even small sprint events. Yes the “swag” may not be as good as some tri events and we don’t all get medals but you will get rewarded by meeting great people, doing a challenging fun event, a great workout and have an increased appreciation for the bike.
4) Good way to carry over fitness and add some cross training, there is even some “running!”
Ok not that much running, but having the experience and ability to run efficiently for short burst will be a benefit. Also depending on where you live, the timing of CX events beginning in the Fall and running into early Winter gives you great way to stay active, keep your fitness level high and provide some foundation for the next season.
CX also requires all over body strength and conditioning, including your legs, core, arms and back muscles.
The actual race is only half the fun for CX. The community and environment surrounding the races are easily the other half of it! Here you’ll find people cheering, good natured heckling, cow bells ringing, beer or bacon hand-ups, waffles and maybe even a few crazies riding around in costumes. CX is also one of the most accepting, non-intimidating, ego-free disciplines one can take up on the bike. Add to that that many CX races take place in our local parks – expect some beautiful scenery as an added bonus.
How to get started?
To ride CX you can use a dedicated CX bike, Mt Bike, or Fat Bike. You’ll also need gearing that will allow you to ride a variety of terrain. Many riders will use a 11sp 11-28 or 11-32 rear cassette to cover just about anything a course can throw at you. Since courses can be muddy, you will need to use wider tires (700x33c) that have more a aggressive off-road pattern to hold traction as well as cantilever or disc brakes that will help give both powerful braking as well as shred mud. You’ll also need bike shoes with built in cleats that you can run comfortably in when required to navigate over barriers or up short steep hills.
So if you’re ready to give CX a try, a good place to start is by checking the local race scene/teams for races or clinics in your area as well as websites such as NYSBRA.com, cnycyclocross.com and Bikereg.com. There are also great websites like cyclocross.com that have dozens of skill-based videos to get you started. If you don’t have a CX, Mt or Fat bike, stop by your local shop or check online for deals or ask a friend if they have a spare you can borrow. Then get out to your local park and start practicing cornering, dismounting and re-mounting you bike.
Give this sport a “tri” and see if you don’t become one of the many who get hooked!
About Noel Bonk – Founder BonkWerx Coaching
Yes Bonk really is my last name! I have been passionate about going fast on a bike since I was old enough to turn the pedals. As a USAC Coach, with over 15 years of racing experience (many of which were done while balancing being a tech entrepreneur and raising 4 kids), I now specialize in helping others get fast and stay strong all-year round.