Beginner's guide: how to get started in cyclo-cross with British champion Ian Field
Why get involved and how, what to buy and how to train
by Colin Henrys
“Just get stuck in and give it a go!"
The end of the road cycling season means the start of the ‘cross season, and for more and more people that means swapping the road bike for the dedicated ‘cross machine to keep on riding through autumn and winter.
Knobbly tyres, mud, cowbells, frites and beers have been commonplace on the Continent for some time and – just as road cycling is booming on these shores – it is starting to earn quite a following in Britain too.
Last year’s UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup included a round in Milton Keynes for the first time, and four-time national champion Ian Field believes it is the perfect sport for honing your riding skills.
Field – who kicked off his 2015/16 World Cup season in Las Vegas this month – will be back on these shores to take part in the Elite Men’s cyclo-cross race at the Cycle Show this weekend.
And he is keen to see more people get out and give it a go this year.
“Cyclo-cross is a really accessible part of the sport where equipment isn’t the be all and end all," Field said.
“There is a huge range of ability within the local races and you will always find someone near you in a race to have a good battle with.
“It develops power, speed, and technical ability in equal measure so whether using it for training or concentrating on cyclo-cross itself, it will help produce a well-rounded rider."
Field says he got involved after falling in love with the mix of fitness and technical ability demanded from the sport, and bit is for that reason he believes road cyclists and mountain-bikers should find plenty to enjoy in the sport.
“Personally I think doing cross will help anyone, whether it be the roadie whose bike handling or sprint power could be improved or the MTB'er who could improve their speed," he said.
“I think everyone could develop as a rider if they did Cross. It is a great way of introducing or keeping some intensity in your training through the winter months when many neglect it."
How can you get involved?
So how do you get involved? For some, the cyclo-cross sportive offers a handy way in – with events cropping up all over the country offering a taster of riding on mixed terrain.
The Wiggle Gold Rush sportive in Salisbury (October 18) covers, roughly: 60% road; 25% fire road/farm tracks; 10% bridleway and 5% semi-technical, single-track off-road racing, while the Tour of the Cornfields, which took place early this month, was roughly 50-50 road/off-road riding.
If racing is what you’re looking for, meanwhile, events are cropping up all over the country and a glance at the British Cycling events calendar is likely to turn up a few local options.
And while it’s the perfect excuse to add a ‘cross bike to your stable – a bike which could also double as a versatile commuting/winter training option – many races will let you enter on a mountain bike too.
Rapha’s Super Cross offers a fun, entry-level taster of what to expect from cyclo-cross racing – with added foam and tequila – and takes place on October 17 and October 18 at Shibden Hall, and November 14 at London’s Granary Square.
Morvelo’s City Cross – a take on cyclo-cross, in an urban setting – has also proved popular.
Tempted? If you’re going to give it a serious go you will be wanting to go shopping for these cyclo-cross essentials and start training too.
Aside from the obvious – knobbly tyres and mountain bike pedals, for example – the cyclo-cross bike has a number of subtle differences from a road bike.
Extra tyre clearance, relaxed geometry, more powerful brakes and a wider range of gears should all be considered.
Aluminium is often the frame material of choice – it is rigid but light enough to ride fast, and it is affordable – while carbon-fibre rules the roost the higher up the spec you go.
Mountain-bike pedals are an important investment as they are less likely to get clogged up with mud, while shoe-wise there are an increasing number of ‘cross-specific shoes on the market, like the Northwave Hammer CX shoes.
We’ve taken a closer look at all the key considerations in our detailed buyer’s guide here.
And now you’re all sorted with equipment, time to get yourself up to speed – literally.
So what does cyclo-cross training entail? Well you won’t need to log serious miles – endurance is not as important as power when it comes to a one-hour race.
Instead, Field recommends a favourite session of his – off-road interval training – in order to cover all the bases needed for a cyclo-cross race.
“An off-road interval session is hard to beat as it’s most like a race and I enjoy riding off road while trying to go flat out," he explained.
“It’s the best training people can do for ‘cross – simply break the race down into parts.
“That means starts, dismounting, remounting, cornering, off cambers, running, short sprints, longer extended sprints, technical steep climbs and descending.
“All of these areas need work so if you can build them into a circuit when you can do laps and incorporate efforts into the circuit, while carrying out the technical parts, this will really help come race day."
For more on the specifics, see what Field told us about winter cyclo-cross training here.
And that’s that, all that’s left is – as Field advises – to ‘just get stuck in and give it ago!’