Mud, dirt, grit: the cyclo-cross season is upon us. For many road cyclists, the next couple of months mark the digging out of the 'cross bike, no doubt still covered in a layer of crusty dirt from the previous season, for a season of short but sharp 'cross races.

For those taking it seriously, it's a case of race-bred bikes with a single purpose in mind; light, fast and stacks of mud clearance. Water bottle mounts are superfluous, deep-section carbon rims are a virtual necessity. But, while that's OK if you're racing, what if you don't want to initiate a self-induced heart attack racing around a muddy field for an hour?

I recently discovered the joys of getting out on a 'cross bike for just riding around on. Nothing groundbreaking I'll admit, but after years of people telling me about the unbridled joys of hacking around on a 'cross bike in the off-season, I decided it's high time I found out. And boy, have I been missing out.

There was no expensive race entry fee, no travelling involved, and no killing myself trying to keep up with the fast boys. Instead, I had an energetic and hugely enjoyable ride around south London taking in several parks and cheeky off-road trails in-between, all linked together with main roads.

I opted to take the new Genesis Vapour cyclo-cross bike out for a first test ride. Picking my way through the early morning traffic, I soon swapped Tarmac for gravel and dirt trails as I headed first into Richmond Park. With the low-profile knobbly tyres inflated to 60psi, I hadn't lost much in the way of speed on the road sections and as soon as I headed into the cover of the woods and began seeking out trails, they afforded plenty of traction through even the boggiest sections. Swooping and carving through the tree-lined trails, hopping over roots and dodging errant dogs, I soon realised I was having more fun on two wheels than I had experienced in a long while.

Heading out of the park, skipping across the pavement and main road, I dived into Wimbledon Common and began a further exploration of trails, and was delighted to find many sinuous pieces of singletrack. While not the most demanding on a fully fledged mountain bike, on the 'cross bike the combination of technicality and speed was spot on.

Key to the enjoyment was the bike's ability to simply go wherever I wanted. Along roads, through parks, down river paths, along bridleways, nowhere was out of bounds for the 'cross bike. It reminded me of the very reason I began cycling (among others), that of exploration. And a 'cross bike perfectly encapsulates the human desire to explore. Know no limits, as they say.

So for me, I'll be taking the 'cross bike out a lot more this winter. I may even race, but there may be more joy and satisfaction from the simple act of 'cross riding.