What is Cyclocross?

French Cyclocross Championships, 1930.

Cyclocross traces its origins back to the early 1900s as a way for road racers to squeeze in off-season training. Cyclists race on a closed circuit, usually about 3km long, often through mud, sand, and grass. Each lap racers must dismount and carry bikes over man-made or natural barriers, with races lasting between 30 and 60 minutes. Cyclocross bikes are generally stouter versions of traditional road bikes.

The sport of Cyclocross has seen unprecedented growth over the past five years. It is currently the fastest growing form of bike racing in North America, and it’s easy to see why. Cyclocross is a weird and wonderful mixed-marriage between road and mountain biking, two completely different bike cultures that rarely see eye-to-eye. Here, anyone from a seasoned pro to a first-timer can get the benefit of a high intensity work out, all while having a lung-searing good time. As the events are held on short closed circuits, racers are always close to their competitors while being cheered and heckled from supporting fans for the complete duration of the race.

Something unique to Cyclocross is that it holds a strong appeal for an incredibly wide range of participants. It’s common to arrive at a cross race and see an eclectic mix of roadies, mountain bikers, hipsters, parents, kids and grandparents all united in a common quest for mud, cowbells and a spectacular display of tortuous bike racing. It doesn’t matter if racers are first timers or elites – all levels of competition are supported with enthusiastic cheering from spectators.

“Tough Mudder for cyclists would be an apt description, if that weren’t so unfair to the deep history of cyclocross, a century old European sport combining elements of road cycling, mountain biking, obstacle racing, and – when you throw in all the food trucks, beer gardens, and costumes – a dash of Mardi Gras.”

Daniel Duane, “The Rise of Cyclocross”, Men’s Journal, December 2013

“Cyclocross is the sport that would happen if road biking and mountain biking fell in love and had an awesome baby. There are speedy parts and slow parts and sometimes muddy parts and even times when a rider must hop off their bike and carry it up a climb or over a barrier.”

Jason Gay, “The Dirt on Katie Compton,” The Wall Street Journal. Jan. 16, 2014.

Still curious? Watch this video from the Global Cycling Network: