What is Cyclocross?
Cyclocross is off-road racing which takes place on cross country style courses, typically over parkland or wooded areas, or a combination of both. Riders tend to ride cyclocross bikes which are similar to road racing bikes with drop handlebars and better brakes. It is quite possible to enjoy cyclocross on a mountain bike and races can be entered with either type of bike. The cyclocross season runs from September to January or February and the sport originated in Europe many years ago as a way for road cyclists to keep fit during the “off” season.
Cyclocross (often referred to as CX or Cross for short) will often incorporate a number of obstacles in courses which necessitate the rider having to dismount and run with the bike, before remounting and pedalling on. These can include steep slopes, short sets of steps and barriers, either man made or natural. It therefore draws on a number of skills and there is certainly an emphasis on skillful bike handling. Races are run on private land or park areas which have been sectioned off from the public and courses are marked out with tape. You may find short sections of Tarmac or gravel on cyclocross courses but the main surfaces will tend to be off-road grass and woodland paths.
Cyclocross-specific bikes look at first glance to be similar to road bikes, but there are a handful of distinctions. CX bikes will have greater clearance between the tyres and forks, to give more clearance in the often muddy conditions to allow bigger, treaded tyres to be fitted.These give more grip when off-road. The riding position will tend to be a bit more upright than on a road bike and many cross bikes have disc or cantilever brakes, again to help give enough clearance when mud builds up.
What You’ll Need
You don’t need a cyclocross-specific bike to start with but you will need a bike suitable for off road riding, so typically a mountain bike. You’ll also need a cycle helmet, which should be properly fitted – sitting on the top rather than the back of the head and with the strap adjusted to allow space for two fingers but not more between the strap and chin. Given that the season runs through autumn and winter, cycling gloves are essential too, insulated enough to keep hands warm but not too padded as to make changing gear difficult.
Once a child is sold on the joys of cyclocross, you may want to consider a cross-specific bike. These do have the advantage of being a lot lighter than the typical mountain bike. here are a number of manufacturers now producing scaled down cross bikes for younger riders, with 24 inch, 26 inch or 650 wheels – smaller than the full sized 700 wheels seen on adult sized bikes, which are seen on most bikes in the under 14 category (and with many of the taller under 12 riders).
As with road bikes for younger riders, there is an active market for secondhand bikes, with many parents selling them on within the club. So bikes tend to keep their value if well maintained and you shouldn’t lose out too much as you “trade up” to keep up with growing children. Also, a cyclocross bike can easily double up as a road bike, though not really the other way round, given the wheel clearances needed when riding cross.
Most riders start out with flat pedals and progress to either toe clips or, more commonly, pedals that connect to clips on the bottom of the shoes. The commonest clip system used in cross is Shimano’s SPD system. This is the one most often found on mountain bikes shoes – for cross, riders would need the proper tread found on mountain bikes shoes, rather than the much smoother surface of road shoes.
As with other cycling disciplines, probably first on the list of clothing “extras” would be a pair of padded shorts or even Longs in very cold weather. These sometimes come with straps to go over the shoulders – these are known as bib shorts and can ensure no gap appearing between the top and shorts. The addition of a pad will make for a more comfortable time in the saddle. Given that cross happens during autumn and winter, full length bib longs may be a better bet, though plenty of young riders use their summer bib shorts coupled with a full length base layer.
There are also cycling specific jerseys, which are made of materials designed to wick away perspiration and keep riders at a comfortable temperature. Long sleeve tops will tend to be best as temperatures plummet.
As with other race formats, youth riders are divided into age categories so that people will race against others of very similar ages. For our local cyclocross league (the Eastern Cyclocross league), the relevant date for determining age categories is 31 December. So, for example, if you are 10 on 31st December 2014, you would enter the Category C (under 12) races, even if you were still 9 (and therefore under 10) when the league started in September.
Cyclocross youth race categories
• Youth A (commonly referred to as Under 16) for those aged 14 or 15 on 31st December during the current season
• Youth B (Under 14) for those aged 12 or 13 on 31st December during the current season
• Youth C (Under 12) for those aged 10 or 11 on 31st December during the current season
• Youth D (Under 10) for those aged 8 or 9 on 31st December during the current season
• Youth E (Under 8) for those aged up to 7 on 31st December during the current season
Courses for under 12s, under 10s and under 8s will be “cut down” versions of the adult courses, so they will be a lot shorter and will have most, if not all, of the trickier obstacles removed, making them suitable for younger riders. Once riders get to under 14, they will compete on the full adult course, although occasionally the very trickiest parts of the course may be omitted.
Races vary in length, with riders in all the under 12 categories riding for 15 minutes and the under 14s and under 16s riding together for 30 minutes.
We are very lucky to be part of the Eastern Cyclocross league. It’s a very well organised league (you can view your individual lap times when race results are posted online for instance) and there are a large number of events to choose from within striking distance of Colchester. The Colchester Rovers-organised cross race is held at Mistley, while other local clubs (Amis Velo and VC Revolution) organise races at Hilly Fields, close to the centre of Colchester. The league features 18 races and final league standings are calculated on riders’ best 10 results – so you don’t need to commit to every race to get a good overall result.
We have regular coaching sessions throughout the autumn and winter, held every other Saturday morning provided there is no league cyclocross race that day. The coaching takes place at Hilly Fields in Colchester and the sessions are led by the Club Coaches David Triggs or Tom Starmer. Coaching sessions are always well attended and are an excellent introduction to the sport, and to cycling generally, in a friendly and supportive atmosphere. Sessions will help riders develop their bike handling skills, race technique and general fitness.
There are also other coaching sessions for those in the under 14 and under 16 categories, run by Mark Wyer and British Cycling, and these are held in varying locations around the region. Have a look at our events calendar for more details.
Redbridge Cycling Centre also holds one-off cyclocross coaching days in school holidays, whilst there is an excellent cyclocross course at the Maglia Rosso cycle shop in Hawstead, near Bury St Edmunds, which is currently free to use.
We would recommend joining the Colchester Rovers Youth page on Facebook. This is often the best and easiest place to get up-to-the-minute information on what’s going on.
You can also email David Triggs, the club coach, or the Youth Coordinator for more information on youth cyclocross coaching and events.