Cyclocross (sometimes cyclo-cross, CX, cyclo-X or 'cross) is a form of
bicycle racing. Races typically take place in the autumn and winter
(the international or "World Cup" season is October–February), and
consist of many laps of a short (2.5–3.5 km or 1.5–2
mile) course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and
obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike
while navigating the obstruction and remount. Races for senior
categories are generally between 30 minutes and an hour long, with the
distance varying depending on the ground conditions. The sport is
strongest in the traditional road cycling countries such as Belgium
Flanders in particular), France and the Netherlands.
Cyclo-cross has parallels with mountain bike racing, cross-country
cycling and criterium racing. Many of the best cyclo-cross riders
cross train in other cycling disciplines; however, cyclo-cross has
reached such size and popularity that some racers are specialists, and
many prioritize cyclo-cross races over other disciplines. Cyclo-cross
bicycles are similar to road racing bicycles: lightweight, with
somewhat narrow tires and drop handlebars. They are typically
differentiated by their greater tire clearances, lower gearing,
stronger frames, cantilever brakes or disc brakes and more upright
riding position. They also share characteristics with mountain
bicycles in that they use knobby tread tires for traction and,
increasingly, disc brakes. They have to be lightweight because
competitors need to carry their bicycle to overcome barriers or slopes
too steep to climb in the saddle. The sight of competitors struggling
up a muddy slope with bicycles on their shoulders is the classic image
of the sport, although unridable sections are generally a very small
fraction of the race distance.
Compared with other forms of cycle racing, tactics are fairly
straightforward, and the emphasis is on the rider's aerobic endurance
and bike-handling skills. Drafting, where cyclists form a line with
the lead cyclist pedaling harder while reducing the wind resistance
for other riders, is of much less importance than in road racing where
average speeds are much higher than in cyclo-cross.
A cyclo-cross rider is allowed to change bicycles and receive
mechanical assistance during a race. While the rider is on the course
on one bike, their pit crew can clean, repair and oil a spare.
1 Origins and history
6 Major series and races
7 See also
9 External links
Origins and history
A cyclo-cross race in Oñati, Basque Country, Spain, in 1947
There are many stories about the origins of cyclo-cross. One is that
European road racers in the early 1900s would race each other to the
next town over from them and that they were allowed to cut through
farmers' fields or over fences, or take any other shortcuts, in order
to make it to the next town first. This was sometimes called steeple
chase as the only visible landmark in the next town was often the
steeple. This was a way for them to stay in shape during the winter
months and put a twist on road racing. In addition, riding off-road in
more difficult conditions than smooth pavement increased the intensity
at which the cyclists were riding and improved their on-the-road bike
handling abilities. Forced running sections, or portage, were
incorporated to help deliver warm blood to the feet and toes, as well
as exercise other groups of muscles.
Daniel Gousseau of France is
credited as having inspired the first cyclo-cross races and organized
the first French National Championship in 1902. Géo Lefèvre, the
originator of the idea for the Tour de France, also played a key role
in the early days of the sport.
Octave Lapize attributed his win in the 1910
Tour de France
Tour de France to
his off season training in cyclo-cross the sport began to spread to
countries bordering France. Belgium organized its first National
Championship in 1910, Switzerland did so in 1912, then
1923, Spain in 1929 and Italy in 1930.
Cyclo-cross proved itself as a sport extending beyond the boundaries
of France when in 1924 the first international race, Le Critérium
International de Cross-Country Cyclo-Pédestre, was held in Paris.
Like many international cycle sports, cyclo-cross is administered by
the Union Cycliste Internationale; although it wasn't until the 1940s,
around 40 years after cyclo-cross' inception, that the UCI began its
regulation and the first world championship was held in
The first United States
Cyclo-cross National Championships took place
on October 20, 1963 in Palos Park, IL, near Chicago. These
championships in the midwest continued until 1969.
to become popular in the United States in the 1970s, in New England
and California. The
Cyclo-cross National Championships restarted in
1975 in Berkeley, CA and have continued to be held every year at
various locations throughout the United States. The Surf City race
series held in Santa Cruz, CA has contributed to the history of
cyclo-cross in the United States. The sport has experienced a growth
in popularity in the United States since the mid 1990s. Cyclo-cross
races are now regularly held in the fall and winter seasons throughout
the United States and continue to grow in popularity.
Cyclocross is typically an autumn and winter sport, the northern
hemisphere season running from September to February. The World
Championships take place in late January. The Canada and US national
championships are held in November and January, with little racing
after that except in the climates of the Southern and Western United
States like California.
Riders' age categories for cyclocross under UCI rules are currently
determined by their age on 1 January which lies in the middle of the
international season, i.e. they compete in the same category that they
would be in for the following road season.
A Focus cyclo-cross bicycle
Cyclo-cross bicycles generally resemble road racing bicycles.
Cyclo-cross-specific frames differ with their wider tire clearances,
knobby tires, cantilever or disc brakes, and lower gearing. Cables are
generally routed on the upper side of the top tube, which allows the
rider to carry the bike comfortably on the right shoulder through
portage sections, and prevents cable contamination by dirt. Popular on
many cyclocross bikes is routing the brakes so that the right brake is
often the front brake. This is done to allow the left hand to control
speed while approaching obstacles requiring the bike to be carried,
while the right hand grips the frame ready to lift the bike onto the
shoulder as soon as the rider`s feet touch the ground. As a high-end
bicycle purpose-built for a specific sport competition, they also
differ from ordinary "hybrid or trekking" cross bikes, which are
general-purpose utility bikes fitted with slightly wider 700C tires
for use on unpaved paths or trails.
Cyclo-cross bike design and frame geometry has evolved over the years.
The first cyclo-cross bikes were touring-type road bikes, used for
their cantilever bosses, slacker angles and wider tire clearance. Over
time as the sport became more formalized, frame angles changed for
quicker handling and bottom brackets heights were raised to clear
broken ground. Most cyclo-cross frames have a non-compact (flat or
near-flat top tube) frame design for easier shouldering. Some design
features have recently begun to change, for example, a heightened
bottom bracket was typical 10+ years ago; now many
cyclo-cross-specific frames do not have elevated bottom brackets, in
fact many have a lower bottom bracket than road racing bicycles; this
is favorable since the lower seat height makes for easier remounting,
and a lower center of gravity increases stability. Many cyclo-cross
bicycles are now set up with a single chainring and chain "drop"
guards. A single chainring setup simplifies mechanics and reduces the
chance of the chain derailing on a bumpy course. People who do run a
double chain-ring set up on their bicycles generally use a 36-46
gearing. Many professional-level cyclo-cross bikes are set up with
deep-section carbon tubular wheels, not for the purpose of
aerodynamics, but to keep the wheel from being entrapped in deep sand
or mud sections. Tubular tires are used to avoid pinch flats, decrease
rolling resistance and increase grip with lower tire pressures. In
addition, single speed cyclo-cross bikes are becoming increasingly
popular for a variety of reasons, including lower initial cost of
setup, ease of use and maintenance, and decreased likelihood of
mechanical failure on the course.
Cyclocross in Portland, Oregon
Clothing is similar to that of road racing. However, since cyclo-cross
is a cold-weather sport there is an emphasis toward warmer clothing
such as long sleeves, tights, knickers and arm and leg warmers. While
many racers will use standard two-piece road kits, there is a very
strong preference to wear one piece skinsuits to maximize freedom of
movement. The other advantage of skinsuits is that they are tighter,
preventing the jersey from getting caught on stray tree branches
during some singletrack sections of the race course. The one piece
construction of the skinsuit also prevents it from exposing the torso
while the rider shoulders the bike. Mountain bike shoes are adopted,
as they allow the competitors to run, unlike their road racing
counterparts, and due to their degree of traction (compared to smooth
bottoms found on road racing shoes). Toe spikes are used to aid in
running up steep muddy slopes and in the adverse underfoot conditions.
Full-finger gloves are optional but generally recommended for hand
protection and for grip in muddy/wet situations. Experienced riders
racing in dry conditions will often eschew gloves, presumably for
better tractional feedback though the handlebar, and more natural bike
Races usually consist of many laps over a short course, ending when a
time limit is reached rather than after a specific number of laps or
certain distance; the typical length for senior events is one hour,
with 30 and 45 minute races for lower categories being the norm.
Generally each lap is around 2.5-3.5 km and is 90% rideable.
Races run under UCI rules must have courses that are always at least 3
m wide to encourage passing at any opportunity, however sections of
singletrack are common for small races in the USA and Great Britain. A
variety of terrain is typical, ranging from roads to paths with short
steep climbs, off camber sections, lots of corners and, a defining
feature, sections where the rider may need, or would be best advised
to dismount and run while carrying the bike. Under-tire conditions
include asphalt, hardpack dirt, grass, mud and sand. In comparison to
cross-country mountain bike events, terrain is smoother. Less emphasis
is put on negotiating rough or even rocky ground with more stress on
increased speed and negotiating different types of technical
Each section of the course typically lasts no longer than a handful of
seconds. For example, long climbs are avoided in favour of short,
sharp inclines. Sections are generally linked together, or long
straights broken up, with tight corners. This not only allows a
standard length course to fit in a relatively small area, but also
forces competitors to constantly change speed and effort. Accelerating
out of corners, then having to decelerate for the next before
accelerating again is a common theme.
Cyclo-cross racers take on two barriers and a run-up at Ludwig's
Corner in Pennsylvania
Obstacles that force a rider to dismount and run with their bike or to
"bunny hop" include banks too steep to ride up, steps, sand pits and
plank barriers. Besides the start/finish area, these obstacles may be
placed anywhere on the course that the race director desires. Several
race directors have tried to limit bunny hopping for safety reasons by
placing barriers in pairs or in triple (although under UCI rule no
more than two barriers can appear in succession), however this hasn't
stopped some of the best bunny-hoppers from getting over them. The
regulation height for a barrier is 40 cm although this is treated
as a maximum at smaller events. Plank barriers seem to be more common
in the US than in
Europe and UCI regulations only permit one section
of them on the course.
Since outside assistance is allowed, pits are included to provide a
consistent area for this to occur. A pit to the right of the course is
normal since most riders dismount to their left. In larger events a
separate pit lane is featured so only those wishing a new bike or
other assistance need enter the lane (this type was debuted at the
Netherlands World Cup of January 1999). In some cases pits are
provided in two different parts of the course.
Long-format races, in which riders compete cross country also exist.
Examples include the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross, a 61 km race,
Barry-Roubaix, and the American UltraCX Championship Series which
consists of seven stages ranging from 80 to 115 km.
Although cyclo-cross courses are less technical than those of mountain
biking, each particular obstacle requires specific technical abilities
of competitors. For example, dirt single-track and streams (like in
mountain biking) are also sometimes integrated into the course,
depending on the location, both of which require rider experience and
technique. Some course sections are extremely muddy, wet or even snowy
in the winter, and others are dusty and sandy. Most of these
conditions are usually considered too extreme to be ridden with the
standard 32c tire, and so much of the challenge of cyclo-cross lies in
maintaining traction through loose or slippery terrain at speed. The
power of the rider is generally higher over the whole duration of a
'cross race to overcome greater amounts of rolling resistance from
loose dirt or grass. Also common are steps, barriers, ditches, stairs,
steep slopes and very deep mud or sand which all require running while
carrying the bicycle. As a result, cyclocross is also known as the
"steeplechase of cycling." This approach was invented by
Octave Lapize and proven by
Eugène Christophe who in 1913 had to
carry his broken bike down the Tourmalet during the Tour de
France[original research?]. Although getting off and on a bike sounds
simple, doing so in the middle of a quick-paced race is difficult.
Being able to fluidly dismount at speed, pick up and carry the bike,
then put it back down and remount smoothly without losing momentum
requires practice and skill, as the competitor may do this dozens of
times every race. A faulty or slow dismount/remount may cost valuable
seconds, waste energy or cause the competitor to crash. Often, when
sections are extremely technical or become impossible to ride due to
erosion from repeated wear or inclement weather, the racer will carry
the bike and jog for an extended time to save energy.
A more recent development to overcome obstacles such as barriers and
sometimes ditches is the bunnyhop, which came to prominence in 1989
Danny De Bie used it in his successful World Championship run.
Bunny hopping has become less popular as a result of race directors
seeking to limit its use by setting up two or three barriers in a row.
Skilled riders are still able to hop the obstacles, despite the back
to back to back barriers. Sven Nys, an ex-
BMX racer, demonstrates the
importance of technical skills as he continues to dominate the sport.
Major series and races
Cyclo-cross World Championships
Cyclo-cross World Cup
DVV Trophy (Belgium)
U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross (United States)*Now defunct
Cross Crusade (United States)
Femke Van den Driessche
^ uci.ch UCI
^ usacycling.org USA
Cycling Federation rulebook
^ Cyclocross: History & What You Should Know Konrad, Gabe:
"Cyclocross: History & What You Should Know".
Magazine, 1996. Retrieved May 15th, 2012.
^ cyclingnews.com, "Who got their tyres crossed?", 9 November 2006
^ a b c books.google.com Herlihy, David V. "Bicycle: The History",
page 397. Yale University Press, 2004.
^ cvccbike.com Schwartz, Bob. The 1963 US Cyclocross National
^ books.google.com Burke, Edmund R. & Pavelka, Ed: "The Complete
Book of Long Distance Cycling", Page 254. Rodale, 2000.
^ Ballantine, Richard, Richard's 21st Century
Bicycle Book, New York:
Overlook Press (2001), ISBN 1-58567-112-6, pp. 34, 307
^ "COURSE DETAILS - 3 PEAKS CYCLO-CROSS". Retrieved 9 April
^ "Races". American UltraCX. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
^ Cary, Tom (11 May 2014). "Women's Tour 2014: Marianne Vos a worthy
winner as cycling enjoys a breakthrough moment". The Daily Telegraph.
UK. Retrieved 14 Jan 2015.
^ Brady, Patrick (1 May 2011). The No-Drop Zone: Everything you need
to know about the peloton, your gear, and riding strong. Menasha Ridge
Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-0897326605.
^ Bray, Tonya (17 Oct 2011). "Caroline Mani and Ryan Trebon win day 2
at the Spooky Cross". velonews. USA. Retrieved 14 Jan 2015.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cyclocross.
Cyclocross Magazine is a print magazine, website and online community
dedicated cyclocross news, race coverage, products, and culture.
Cyclo-cross Videos -
Helmet camera videos of
Plus One Lap cyclo-cross info/FAQ/ - Cyclocross Bike Gallery of
lightweight and custom bikes.
Cyclofiend.com CX Bike Gallery - Gallery of Cyclocross Bicycles
Video highlights of the latest European races
CyclingReporter.com[permanent dead link] Cross articles and how-tos
for beginning and experienced racers
Cyclocross Rider Video produced by Wisconsin Public Television
Cyclo-cross Organiser's Workbook". British Cycling.
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