What Is Cyclocross?

It’s 2020 and by now you’ve probably heard of cyclocross – one of the trendiest forms of cycling to date. If you haven’t – let us introduce you to one of the most competitive and exciting sports out there. If you’re still kind of confused about how it all works, this essential guide to cyclocross is made specifically for you. At first glance it’s quite confusing, so make sure to understand its inner workings before venturing off to a wholly new sport.

Let’s quickly run you through what cyclocross is at its essence, and then we’ll take a look at how and why you should embrace it.

Essential Guide to Cyclocross

Cyclocross is a specific segment of bike racing similar to a triathlon, with most races taking place within a 1km to 3km course. It utilizes several skills including running, riding, and biking. The course is usually comprised of multiple athletic pursuits across different terrains: sand, steps, mud, dirt, grass, and run-ups. The race has a set duration – between 30 minutes to an hour, in addition to a final lap.

The sport is set up so that it’s also a form of entertainment for those observing and cheering on. The rough terrain, winter climate, fast pace, and man-made barriers provide for an adrenaline-fueled experience. Those with incredible BMX skills often find themselves able to jump the 18-inch barriers easily using a mix of speed and efficiency. The sport is tough, and not everyone is built to withstand its exciting but hectic nature.


Cyclocross can be dated back to the early 1900s, where the French had few paved roads and needed to get around. The credit goes to a French soldier who rode his bike over obstacles to train himself, and whose name is called David Gousseau.

cyclocross decades ago

Once the potential of the sport was realized, races soon started taking place frequently. Many professional racers started partaking to maintain their fitness level throughout the winter. It especially boomed once Octave Lapize won the 1910 Tour de France and attributed it to cyclocross.


As with any sport, there are rules to cyclocross:

  • Courses are typically between 2-3 kilometers.
  • Courses need to be designed to vary the changes in pace through alternating terrains.
  • The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) stated that all obstacles cannot have more than six artificial terrains, such as unnatural sandpits and planks.
  • Races have a set duration – usually 60 minutes.

The UCI generally regulates road sections to be included in the races, even though cyclocross is mainly off-road. Every year, the UCI holds a cyclocross World Cup competition that takes place every September to January. It also holds an annual World Championship, which starts in the USA every September and ends up in Europe starting October for the remainder of the rounds.

Course Layout

As per the UCI’s regulations, courses are to be at least three meters wide to accommodate for passing. Usually, the course is clearly marked with flags, tape, fencing and/or other markers to guide the racers. Courses include a combination of:


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    • Barriers: These require you to dismount your bike and hop across one or two at maximum speed, and are around 40cm in height.
    • Pits: Due to its nature, cyclocross is tough for gear so pits are needed for bike maintenance.
    • Terrain: Races often include a wide range of terrains to offer changes of pace throughout.
    • Corkscrews: These are sharp turns that riders must twist into while maintaining speed and balance.
    • Stairs: There’s no size standard, but you’ll usually have to climb the stairs at maximum speed.
    • Run-Ups: This is a run up a steep hill that must be taken at maximum speed.
    • Flyovers: Typically included in big races, flyovers incorporate a set of ramps to form a steep bridge, connecting two sections of the race.

    cyclocross sample race course

    Races normally take place in the fall/winter and naturally have festive spectators watching.

    Why Should I Start?

    Cyclocross is very beneficial to all cyclists – roadies or not!

    • Change: It’s worth testing out the cyclocross experience because it’ll provide a change of pace from regular cycling on your usual routes. Moving forward, every type of terrain will hold a whole world of adventure in your eyes.
    • Winter Motivation: We all know how tempting it can be to neglect cycling when it’s cold outside. Every season is perfect for cyclocross, so even when you’re not out on a race you’re training for one – the perfect motivation.
    • Maintaining fitness levels: Even when it’s an easy, non-competitive form of cyclocross, it’s enough to keep you in shape.
    • Improved biking skills: You’ll enhance your technical bike handling skills and get out of your comfort zone.
    • Fun: Enough said – this is the most important reason of them all.

    Cyclocross Equipment

    Given the difficult circumstances that exist around cyclocross, professional racers usually go for a specially designed kit or have specific preferences.

    cyclist going through the woods with her bike

    Cyclocross includes:

    • A cyclocross bike, lightweight and a hybrid between a road and mountain bike.
    • Cyclocross kit, similar to a regular cycling kit, but you need to account for all the mud.
    • Warm clothes to change into after the race.
    • Cyclocross shoes and pedals to secure you against the mud. Choose one similar to a mountain bike cleat and pedal system.

    How do I get started?

    The very first thing you need to do is perform a quick Google search and find the next cyclocross event near you. The atmosphere will be festive and inclusive, so go watch so you can better understand how the races work. You can even take your kids if you need to.

    If you have the time in your schedule for training, go ahead and start using your mountain bike – there’s no need to urgently go out and purchase a cyclocross bike. Either way, it’s better to first invest in a mountain bike, which you can also use for commuting. Lastly, maintain your training until the spring arrives, so you’re good to go once the racing season starts.

    Good luck! ?

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    What Is Cyclocross? Things You Need To Know — Bike Hacks