Cyclocross (Cx) racing not only requires a unique set of skills but also some unique products. Anthony Cramer from Cecil Walker Cycles takes us through the differences between a road bike and a cyclocross bike as well as stepping us through a check-list of things you will need before you line up on the Cx start line.
The first thing you are going to need is a bike. Cx bikes have several unique features starting with the bottom bracket, which sits higher off the ground to give greater ground clearance. The front fork also has greater clearance than a typical road bike given the larger tires. Getting properly fitted to a Cx bike is even more important than getting fitted to a road bike given these differences. Very often riders will go down a size in Cx bikes to allow for the change in geometry.
Tires are the next big difference as Cx racing requires navigation across cross country tracks and rough terrain. The tires are nobbled similar to MTB tires but not as large. Tires can be anywhere from 28-35mm and run at a much lower pressure than road tires. They also offer much better grip to assist in handling and feel.
The braking for Cx bikes again mirrors mountain biking. Disc brakes are almost standard across the majority of Cx bikes due to their superior performance in adverse weather conditions. Moving away from traditional caliper brakes will also prevent any wear and tear to the rim of the wheel.
The Gear Ratio
Sizing of the gear ratio is much smaller given the speed of Cx racing is much slower than road racing. Most Cx bikes will have a 46/36 or 44/34 set up with a standard 11-28 cassette on the back. This ratio means there is a smaller difference between each gear and provides enough range to get up steep hills or power out of tight corners when you are forced to knock off a lot of speed. 1x drivetrains are beginning to make their way onto Cx bikes. This results in a smaller front chain ring, typically a 42 or 44 and a larger cassette on the back, 11-32 being the standard option.
As well as a specific Cx bike you will need to invest in some pedals and shoes.
Mountain bike pedals work perfectly fine for Cx and will allow you to clip in and out with ease. They will also shed any mud that builds up during the race. Don't try to use your road bike cleats as they will very quickly build up with mud and be very difficult to clear. They are also a challenge to get in and out of quickly.
Mountain bike shoes can be worn for Cx racing, as long as they allow some flex in the sole and are comfortable to run in. Cx specific shoes will have a raised profile on the bottom which offers more grip and slightly more protection from mud building up in the cleat.
See also: The door to Cx with Penny Hosken
As well as the additional products you will need for Cx racing it might pay to find out more about hydraulic brakes and thru axles. These are two unique features on some Cx bikes and it is important for you to know how to take a wheel off as well as maintain your brake's performance. The set up is very different to mechanical caliper braking and quick release levers.
Now that you have everything you need, it's time to practice your skills and get out there and race!