Our resident ‘Cross guru, Glen, explains everything you need to know about how to start racing ‘cross and where to ride locally...
So, here’s the background,... There are various claims for the first ever cyclocross race, but basically cross started as a way to train through the winter. The road surfaces in most countries in the mid 1900’s were pretty poor and the bikes back then had to be tough to deal with the winter. Many of the faster riders had “lightweights” for their summer racing and so the older “standard” bikes that they owned for the winter often got adapted (out of necessity) for cross. To this day the approach of tweaking a ‘cross bike until it’s perfect for you rather than having a standard bike like in road racing still prevails – this is part of the spirit of ‘cross.
Another important part of ‘cross is that everyone from the family is part of the day. The kids race in the morning, the vets and women at lunchtime and the seniors and juniors in the afternoon. It’s not uncommon to see adults helping organise the kids races, before the kids help in the pits and with support for the adult races – it’s a great day out and because the races are short you can get back in time for a late Sunday roast!
Adult races are typically anything from 45 minutes to an hour long and everyone starts together. Over a lap that is usually 2-4km long the race strings out quite quickly into smaller groups with some nice close racing between riders of a similar speed. The great thing is that whatever speed you’re racing at, you’ll have some tight competition and this quickly improves your skills on a bike.
Skills in general will improve greatly after a season of ‘cross. Riders are forced off their bikes for steep banks and planks so you quickly get the hang of fast dismounts and re-mounts. Then your corning is tested by different conditions and intentionally off-camber turns. Finally your anaerobic system is tested and trained by the constant fluctuations of power needed to race a lap of the course. You’ll find all of these things improving even if you’re not racing – just riding bridle paths locally is a great way to improve your fitness through winter.
Locally we’re completely spoilt with where we can ride. From The Velo House I’ve mapped out a local 15km route called "Short and 'Cross", a 25 mile loop called “Crowborough 'Cross”, another 25 miler to the north called “Northern 25” and a route that links the whole lot together – “Big and ‘Cross”. Part of the fun of the ‘cross bike is that you can use it to explore so use my routes as a starting point and then add in your own bits – let me know if you find some nice additions!
Once you’re ready for racing, the website you need to look at is the London League site. In the news and calendar sections you’ll find all the upcoming race dates and times. Generally you’ll be able to pay cash on the day, but signing up in advance really does speed everything up. You can pay for a day racing license but again having BC membership is really much better value for money and it’ll cover you for lots of other cycling activities and racing, but if you’re trying it for the first time just turn up early and sort it out on the day.
You’ll find that most organisers and racers are friendly and approachable if you need information or help and this really sets ‘cross apart from it more cliquey road racing brother! I’m not knocking other types of racing, it’s just that in my experience ‘cross always feels like the most comfortable happy atmosphere and that’s why #crossisboss
If you’re around on the 3rd of December I’m organising a ‘cross ride from The Velo House – you’ll need a ‘cross bike and we’ll be aiming to ride at a moderate pace (if you can average 16/17mph on the road you’ll be fine), if you’d like to come along or have any questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Glen Whittington and Pip Jenkins.
Glen rides for the Southborough & District Wheelers. He writes his own blog at aeightracer.wordpress.com and is a contributor for Simpson Mag. He races Mountain bikes in the UK National XC Points and Eastern XC Series, Road bikes in the Surrey, South-East and Eastern Leagues, TT in the South East Region and 'Cross in the LCCA League. He receives personal support from Helly Hansen, The Velo House, and the.æight.bicycle.cømpany @eightbikeco #aeightracer