A beginner’s guide to cyclo-cross – part one: taking the plunge

Cyclo-cross season is in full swing and George is ready for a slice of the action

There’s no going back now. By putting digital pen to paper, I’m committing myself to the mud-covered, lung-searing, thigh-burning world of cyclo-cross this winter.

I’ve previously dipped my toe into cyclo-cross, having ridden a handful of the bikes that have passed through RoadCyclingUK. While I’ve had a blast hacking around the woods or linking roads and bridleways on a winter loop, the race scene has largely passed me by having pinned on a number only once. And that was way back in 2012.

It was hard, no doubt about that, but damn good fun, too. I’ve threatened to return but, you know… excuses. It’s time to change that – I’ve scoured the local leagues in the south east and circled a handful of dates in the diary (the British Cycling website is a great resource to find events near you) to see what cyclo-cross racing is really about. Now the clocks have gone back, cyclo-cross should provide a regular source of motivation as we head into winter – an hour of high-intensity racing at its rawest, yet most accessible. Cyclo-cross races are wrapped up in an hour and attract riders of all abilities, who often race as part of one field. And there’s no bunch to be dropped from (hurrah!), with races strung out over the course and rival riders always ready to engage in a battle.

There’s no cyclo-cross brand more Belgian than Ridley but this X-Night Disc Rival 1 has a UK exclusive paintjob


Indeed, cyclo-cross is a fascinating sub-culture within our sport, from the thousands of frite-munching, beer swigging fans who pack out Belgian races week-in, week-out, to the hero-worshiped stars of CX in the sport’s home land. Here in the UK, race organisers have experienced a swell in entries – and, of course, we have our own world champion and one of the hottest properties in cycling, rising star Tom Pidcock.

Pidcock won his 2017 junior world title in January on a Ridley and the Belgian brand has some serious clout when it comes to cyclo-cross. Look at the start line of any World Cup or Superprestige race (or indeed any ‘cross race in Belgium) and chances are you’ll see more Ridleys than any other brand.

Ridley cyclo-cross bike
Ridley cyclo-cross bike
Ridley cyclo-cross bike
Ridley cyclo-cross bike

Naturally, then, I’ve turned to Ridley to provide the machine for this season’s cyclo-cross action and, more specifically, the X-Night Disc. This £2,899.99 model comes equipped with a SRAM Rival 1 groupset, hydraulic disc brakes and Fulcrum Racing Sport DB wheels wrapped in Clement MXP tyres. It also has a UK exclusive paintjob – a Belgian blue and pink which has earned plenty of admiring looks from cyclists and non-cyclists alike here in the Factory Media office. It’s a stunner.

To give you a bit of context on where the X-Night Disc Rival 1 sits in Ridley’s cyclo-cross line-up, the range is based around four frames: the aluminium X-Bow and X-Ride, along with the carbon fibre X-Night we have here and its lighter, upscale sibling, the X-Night SL. There’s natural progression through the range, with the X-Bow (£999.99-£1,099.99) straddling both the cyclo-cross and commuter camps, thanks to the presence of mudguard and rack mounts. The X-Ride (£1,499.99-£1,899.99) then steps things up with a lighter aluminium frame and a more aggressive geometry inspired by Ridley’s racier rides.

The X-Night Disc is Ridley’s second-tier frame and this model comes with a SRAM Rival 1 groupset, Fulcrum Racing Sport wheels and Clement MXP tyres

That’s where the X-Night (£2,199.99-£3,199.99) and X-Night SL (£3,499.99-£4,999.99) come in. These are races bikes, with not a mudguard mount in sight, and both carbon frames share the same geometry – one which exposes Ridley’s Belgian cyclo-cross roots. Compared to the more compact geometries often found on today’s cyclo-cross bikes, it’s a traditional setup.

The high bottom bracket (64mm on our 54cm bike) is at the heart of that and is designed to work with the long seattube, steep headtube angle and short wheelbase to provide fast, nimble handling on tight cyclo-cross courses. The geometry means that while I typically ride a 56cm road bike, I’ve sized down to a 54cm on Ridley’s advice.

The X-Night has arrived here in the office, so now there are no excuses. It’s time to get acquainted with the bike before pinning on a number once again.

But first, where are the frites and beer?

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