A beginner’s guide to prepping for a cyclocross race

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This is part four of a series on preparing for races of different disciplines. Previous columns  covered prepping for criteriumstime trials and road races.

 Oh, the fun of cyclocross!

Whilst it has been some time since I pinned a number on and lined up for a cyclocross race, the essentials for prepping for a cyclocross race are still the same – they are all about having fun on the bike!

As the Northern Hemisphere is in the midst of their cyclocross season, here in Australia, we’re pretty much finishing ours off. I bought a cyclocross back in 2012 and a lot has change in the Australian scene since then. Cyclocross is growing fast, it is only getting more and more popular. This season the Australian National Cyclocross Series saw races across the state from Queensland to South Australia. Whilst I didn’t compete this year, it has been really fun to watch and follow on social media.

My first cyclocross race: A photo posted by Verita Stewart (@lowercasev) on

My first impression of cyclocross was that it is very different scene to road racing, probably most similar to the mountain bike scene. It is a very relaxed atmosphere, very inclusive, with all abilities and bikes catered for. There are varying levels of seriousness too, some riders are certainly out to win, but most are out to have fun. There are lots of spectators and it’s certainly a family affair with kids lining up on their little bikes, too. All I know is, if you haven’t tried it yet, I’m sure you’ll love it!

Some tips to help you prep for your first cyclocross race

Gather your friends.
The best way to tackle your first cyclocross race is to gather your friends and get them to race with you. The more, the merrier they say.

Get ready for all sorts of ridiculousness.
Cyclocross race is a bit like a criterium, in that you can expect to race up to an hour, with a consistently elevated heart rate! The difference is that you will ride on grass, mud, gravel, sand and pavement. You’ll also carry your bike over barriers and logs and up hills. You will fall over, slide around and do bunny hops. You will get dirty and have a smile from ear to ear.

Choose your outfit.
The beauty of cyclocross us that you can have heaps of fun with your outfit. You can wear a skin suit (even when it’s not Sunday) or your regular kit but it’s also perfectly acceptable to be rocking a tutu, fairy wings or super hero costume. Safe to say that you can have some fun with this!

Lower your psi.
As a roadie, you’re probably used to running your tyres at 100+ psi. With cyclocross tyres, however, you can (and should) run anything from 35 psi and lower for better traction. You can adjust your psi to suit the terrain you’re riding, so use your psi to your advantage.

Don’t worry about your bike.
Most CX races have an open category to suit beginners, where you can ride pretty much any bike. So don’t be intimidated by all the serious looking carbon cyclocross specific bikes — just grab your old mountain bike out of the shed and give it a go! You can always upgrade later.

Let go and have fun.
Enjoy jumping the hay bails, sliding through mud, and laughing when you fall off. It will take some time to wash the mud out of your hair and even longer to wipe the smile from your face. The adrenaline and endorphins from the race will keep you buzzing well into the working week. Trust me, you’ll be hanging for the next race.

Q & A with seasoned cyclocrosser and CT editor, Anne-Marije Rook, on why she loves cyclocross so much!


VS: What is your favourite thing about cyclocross?

AMR: My favourite things about cross are the inclusive community, the laid-back attitude and the fact that it’s just fun. What other sport has adults riding over an obstacle course, getting muddy and taking beer hand-ups? 

VS: What are some essential items to pack for a CX race?

AMR: A towel, baby wipes, a garbage bag and warm clothes. CX races are traditionally held during the crappiest months of the year and chances are you will get rained or snowed on. The course will be muddy or dusty and you’re going to get dirty. Baby wipes are great to clean yourself (and your bike!) after the race; and the garbage bag is for your wet and dirty clothes.

VS: What’s your number one tip for a newby cyclocrosser?

AMR: Just try it! (And maybe, if you’re worried, practice how to mount and dismount your bike beforehand)

VS: Do you have a costume or do you prefer a skin suit?

AMR: I wear a skinsuit with some cool tall socks. 
Readers, what is your favorite things about cyclocross? Let me know in the comments below!

About the author

The tagline to Verita Stewart’s personal blog reads: “Not a professional cyclist, yet” and it’s the “yet” that’s most telling. Verita is a Melbourne-based cyclist riding for Specialized Securitor. New to the sport, she’s quickly made the jump from commuting to recreational riding to racing.

She now juggles full-time work with full-time NRS racing and hopes to make the leap to the big-leagues sometime soon. Verita is full of stories and smiles and snark – and will bring all three to you on Ella. Follow Verita on twitter and instagram and strava.

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