Winter might be around the corner but that’s no reason to stop riding – there’s plenty of kit to keep you out there whatever the weather. In fact this winter is the ideal time to try our new favourite sport. Yep, we’re talking cyclocross.
What is cyclocross?
Back when the road racing season was concentrated in Europe, cyclocross developed as a way for professional road riders to maintain fitness during the winter. Normally held in a park and lasting an hour or so, it has rapidly increased in popularity, offering a quick blast of bike fun without lasting so long your fingers fall off. With seven or eight laps of a circuit with small climbs, descents and obstacles, cyclocross tests bike-handling skills and also means kids and friends can watch on as you (hopefully) stay upright and upfront.
We’ve been racing at the North Wales Cyclocross League (NWCX) and can’t recommend it enough. It is friendly, exciting, frankly pretty silly, and a brilliant way to spend a mucky hour or so each weekend before retiring to the warmth of the pub.
With muddy conditions, intense levels of activity, and plenty of dismounting and remounting of the bike, there's a whole raft of kit that is either designed specifically for cyclocross or is popular with 'cross racers. For most beginners, the cycling kit you already have is good enough, though we wouldn't recommend bringing a high-end carbon road bike to races. However, if you have a bike you’re happy to get a bit mucky and which can take a wide tyre, a simple change to tougher tyres can get you started.
A specific cyclocross bike will have disc brakes, offer light and nimble handling and have wide grippy tyres. The Specialized Crux Sport also has the latest trend – a 1X drivetrain, which does away with the front mech while having a larger gear range on the rear cassette. Cyclocross races are short and sharp affairs, and don’t have long climbs or descents, so there’s less need for the number of gears offered by traditional systems. This means one less thing to worry about when changing gear and one less thing to get clogged with mud.
Cyclocross bikes are incredibly versatile. They’re designed to make riding on rutted slippery surfaces easier, and along with disc brakes and strong wheels they’re perfectly suited to the British winter. You might find you buy the Trek Crossrip 2 for cyclocross but end up using it on the road too – with mudguard and rack mounts this could be the only bike you ever need.
Cyclocross clothing and kit
Because cyclocross races are short and sharp, and despite the fact they take place in winter, you don't need to worry so much about getting cold. Regular cycle kit should be fine, but don't forget all that mud — your best club ride kit might not be the best choice. With that in mind, make sure you have something warm to wear when you arrive and as you warm up, and something dry and warm to get changed into after the race.
Warm hands and feet are a must though – even an hour in the wet and cold can have your fingers numb. The Specialized Deflect H2o Winter Glove is waterproof and with grippy palms, is the perfect insulation for your vital extremities. Trust us, holding on to the bike is kind of essential...
If you normally ride a road bike you might not have off-road style shoes. Different to road shoes in that the cleat is recessed into the sole, and with tread and maybe even studs to aid running off the bike, a sturdy pair of MTB-style shoes is essential. The Specialized Comp is a comfortable shoe offering serious pedaling efficiency to get you around any course, delivering the right mix of performance and durability for a variety of trail conditions. As for the pedals, a pair of the popular dual-sided Shimano M520s, with their mud-shedding easy-to-clean design, is ideal if you’re just starting out in cyclocross.
For any advice or tips about cyclocross, get in touch or pop in for a chat, and be sure to check out our full CX range. Even better, come and say hi at the next NWCX event. There’s a whole world of winter fun out there waiting for you!