Ok, we’ll hold our hands up, a cyclo-cross bike isn’t essential in order to make your first foray into racing.
Most local events will let you race on a mountain bike but a ‘cross bike will allow you to take advantage of the benefits of a dedicated machine – namely speed.
At first glance a cyclo-cross bike looks like a regular road machine with knobbly tyres but the differences are more significant than that, with a refined geometry (a high bottom bracket to improve clearance over rough ground and relaxed angles to improve stability), and increased clearance for mud and wider tyres.
Cables are also typically routed along the top of the toptube to avoid discomfort and to keep the cables out of harms way when shouldering the bike.
Versatility is the buzzword the modern cyclo-cross bike, many of which now accept disc brakes and have mudguard eyelets, so it can double as an all-weather training bike/commuter when not being thrashed through the mud. Read our full cyclo-cross bikes buyer’s guide here.