Is Cyclocross Good Winter Training For Triathletes?

Cyclo-cross, also know as CX, cyclo-X, or ‘cross, is a type of competitive cycling and can be a great off season alternative for triathletes to have a bit of fun and keep that body ticking over, ready for next season.

Most races usually take place in the autumn and winter, from October to February – the “World Cup” period. The usual course length is between 2.5-3.5 km or 1.5-2 miles, and have various terrain such as pavement, wooded trails, grassland, and steep hills with obstacles that require riders to get off their bikes, carry them around the obstruction and then get back on.

Contests in the older divisions usually last 40 minutes to one hour, depending on the terrain. The sport is most popular in Belgium (principally Flanders), France, and the Netherlands–countries where road cycling is firmly rooted.

There are similarities between cyclo-cross, mountain bike racing, cross-country cycling, and criterium racing. Many of the top-notch cyclo-cross cyclists participate in other types of cycling as cross-training; however, cyclo-cross has grown so much that some racers solely concentrate on it, and many view cyclo-cross as more essential than other forms of cycling.

Cyclo-cross bikes are fashioned similarly to traditional road race bikes, being light and having thin tires plus handlebars that point downwards. They are usually distinguished by their bigger tire space, lower gear ratio, stronger framework, cantilever brakes or disc brakes, and more upright posture while riding.

Knobby tread tires and disc brakes, similar to those seen on mountain bikes, are becoming more common on these bicycles for better gripping power and to provide stronger braking capabilities. The bicyclists have to have bikes that are not too heavy since they must be able to carry it when they come to obstacles or hills that are too steep to ride up.

A classic representation of the sport is watching competitors struggle to make their way up a muddy incline while carrying bicycles, even though the sections that can’t be ridden are usually only a small section of the entire race route.

In comparison to other types of racing on the track and roads, tactics in cycle racing are uncomplicated, and riders need to rely on their endurance and bike operation proficiency.

Cyclists joining together in formation, with the front person cycling more vigorously to diminish the amount of wind friction for those behind them, is of much less relevance in road racing than in cyclo-cross as the average speed is far swifter in the former.

It is permissible for a cyclo-cross participant to exchange bikes and obtain technical help while taking part in the competition. Whilst the rider is competing on the track with one bike, their team can clean, mend and oil a replacement.

Racing seasons

Cyclocross mostly occurs during the fall and winter seasons, with the period from September to February belonging to the northern hemisphere. The World Championships take place in late January. Competitions for Canada take place in November, while the US and UK have theirs in January.

In the U.S., not much auto racing occurs, with the exception of states with a warm climate during all seasons, like Florida and California. The cyclocross competition season in countries located in the south of the equator generally occurs from May through August.



Cyclo-cross bicycles generally resemble road racing bicycles. Bicycles designed for cyclo-cross racing have wider spaces for the tires, knob-covered tires, cantilever or disc brakes, and gears that are lower gears.

The cables are usually placed on the top part of the top tube to make it easier for the rider to carry the bike on their right shoulder during any periods of hiking, and to keep the cables free of dirt. Many cyclocross bikes are outfitted with brakes that are installed in a way that the right brake is generally the front brake.

This is in place to let the left hand manage speed when approaching challenges that necessitate having the bike lifted, with the right hand gripping the frame in preparation for when the rider’s feet reach the ground and needs to hoist the bike onto the shoulder.

This high-end bicycle is built specifically for competitive sports, which distinguishes it from ordinary “hybrid or trekking” cross bikes. The latter are made to be all-purpose bikes that come equipped with wider 700C tires to travel down unpaved paths or trails.

The design and frame geometry of cyclo-cross bicycles have been developing over time. The original cyclo-cross bikes were adapted from touring-style road bikes, as they had a favourable design for cantilever bosses, lower geometry and space for wider tires.

As the sport developed and evolved, the angle of the frame was modified to enhance manoeuvrability and raise the height of the bottom bracket to avoid obstacles.

A majority of cyclo-cross bikes have a frame shape with a flat or nearly flat top tube, which makes carrying them simpler.

Recently, certain design aspects have begun to shift. Before, a raised bottom bracket was usual over 10 years ago, but now there are many cyclo-cross bikes constructed without heightened bottom bracket, and in reality, most of them possess a bottom bracket that has been lower than that of a road racing bicycle; this represents a positive result because the lower seat height makes it easier to remount, as well as the reduced centre of mass providing greater stability.

A lot of cyclo-cross bikes are now being outfitted with just one chainring and chain guards to prevent it from slipping off. Using a single chainring provides fewer mechanical problems, as well as reducing the likelihood of the chain coming off track on a rough course.

Those who install two cogs on their bikes often use a combination of 36 and 46 teeth on their gears.

Many professional-level cyclo-cross bikes are fitted with deep-section carbon tubular wheels, not in order to gain aero advantages, but to avoid the rims from getting stuck in muddy or sandy areas. Tubular tires are utilized to keep away from pinch-type punctures, lower the intensity of rolling friction, and enhance traction when tire pressure is lowered.

Furthermore, single speed cyclo-cross bikes are gaining more and more followers due to their more affordable setup costs, convenience, and lower risk of malfunctions while in use.


Many racers will opt to wear the standard two-piece road outfits, yet there is an intense inclination to don one-piece skinsuits to guarantee full motion.

Skinsuits have the benefit of being more snug-fitting, which avoids any possible snagging on plant life alongside the route during the mountain biking parts of the race.

The design of the skinsuit is made up of one piece, shielding the torso when the cyclist is riding the bike. Mountain bike riders use their shoes differently than their road racers, as they enhance their ability to run, while providing a more secure grip than the non-textured heels of the latter.

Spikes that attach to shoes are useful for scaling steep, muddy hills and for traversing difficult terrain. Wearing full-finger gloves is not required, but it is normally suggested for safeguarding the hands and to provide a better grip in wet or muddy circumstances.

Skilled cyclists who are competing on a dry track may choose to not wear gloves, which may provide them with increased connectivity to their bike through the handlebars and allow for easier control of the bike.


Races generally take place over a shorter track for a certain period of time, rather than a pre-determined number of laps or length. For senior races, the timeframe is usually an hour, while lower categories generally have a 30 or 45 minute duration.

Typically a single lap is about 2.5 to 3.5 kilometers in length and is able to be biked for the majority of it. Races sanctioned by the UCI must have trails that remain at least three meters wide in order to allow participants to overtake as much as possible. However, it is common to find certain stretches of single-track during smaller competitions in the United States and the United Kingdom.

A wide array of landscapes can be expected, varying from roads to paths with abrupt ascents, surfaces that are angled away from the direction of travel, many curves and, an essential element, patches where the cyclist would be smart to get off the bike and jog with it in hand.

The types of terrain that can be experienced when driving include pavement, tough soil, turf, sludge and beach. The terrain in cross-country mountain bike events is generally smoother than in other events. The focus is more on increasing speed and overcoming various types of technical issues as opposed to negotiating difficult terrain.

Drawing up plans is much less critical when it comes to off-road cycling than it is in street racing, however it can still be useful in solid segments or exceptionally windy weather.

Rather than focusing on the overall strategy, tactics centre around the selection of route, planning the speed, skills in overtaking, and the capability of the competitor to detect and use parts of the course which can be used to charge ahead or rest.

Essential Cyclocross Techniques

It is not necessary to be highly skilled in all methods of cycling in order to take part in a cyclocross race. Nevertheless, gaining some experience could make you much more competitive.

Dismount and shouldering a cyclocross bike

Cross-biking involves a special skill that is necessary for riding off the bike easily. This is particularly important in steep, muddy conditions or when dealing with obstacles.

Here’s how:

  • Ensure you are holding the top of the bars, as this is the most stable position
  • Sometimes you need to adjust your speed just before dismounting, so hold the hoods to use the brakes is necessary – but bear in mind that braking is taking away from the speed you begin running at
  • As you come up to the point where you need to be off the bike, unclip and swing your lead leg over the back wheel
  • Bring this leg in-between the opposite leg, which is still in the pedal, and the frame of the bike, and stride through as if you were starting to run
  • Plant this lead leg on the ground while unclipping the opposite leg, then bring it down to follow through and continue running
  • Once into your running stride, grab the down tube, midway along, with the hand nearest the bike, and lift it up onto your shoulder in one fluid motion
  • The top tube of the bike should rest in the groove between your neck and shoulder
  • To hold it in place as you run, hook your arm through the frame and under the down tube, while you hold onto the drop of the bars on the opposite side

Descending on a cyclocross bike

Navigating a steep decline when travelling on unpaved terrain can be intimidating at first; however it’s essential to remain tranquil and let the situation progress naturally. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Keep your brakes covered, which for people with small hands may mean getting on the drops in order to reach them, so you can adjust your speed easily
  • Bring your weight back slightly, as this will prevent you from going over the bars on steeper downhills and give greater control for manoeuvring
  • Look at where you want to go. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy to look at the massive tree you want to avoid, and in doing so you’ll inevitably drift towards it. Keep your eyes on the terrain ahead to give you time to prepare for it
  • If you need to control your speed, try to use both brakes together, or the back one mainly, as grabbing a handful of front brake could send you over the bars
  • If you feel the wheels locking and starting to slide, let the brakes go as this will give you more traction so you can regain control

Bunny hop a cyclocross hurdle

It requires some effort to do this, and it might not be necessary in all cases, but if it is mastered, it is much faster to jump over a log or anything similar by hopping instead of getting off the bike and jogging over it.

It is widely assumed that hopping on a bike is quicker than running, but in reality you bunny hop at a pace similar to running. By not having to invest time into mounting the bike again, one is able to secure the advantage.

It might sound intimidating, but follow these steps for a perfect bunny hop:

  • When coming up to the object you wish to bunny hop, it is often best to have your hands on the tops again for stability
  • Begin by straightening your arms out, and shifting your body weight right back, pushing the bike forwards, pivoting the front wheel upwards while keeping your pedals level in a horizontal position
  • Once your front wheel is up, compress your arms and legs, bringing you closer to the bike
  • Once in the air, push down on your pedals and transfer your body weight forward, bringing your back wheel up in the air. As this occurs, straighten and push down with your arms again to regain contact between the front wheel and the ground – do this rapidly if you have two or more obstacles in quick succession

Line choice in a cyclocross race

Cyclocross usually presents riders with a selection of different ways to take on the same section of terrain.

Picking the right route is vital because if the angle of the route is off then you may be stopped or take a spill while getting the correct pathway can get you through challenging sections quickly.

Looking ahead at the terrain is vital. If you are competing in a race, you should check out the track beforehand to familiarize yourself with the terrain ahead.

Keep in mind that the conditions of the race can alter throughout, so take into consideration your own decision-making and don’t just rely on the racer in the lead. As you gain experience with mountain biking on a cross bike, you will become more familiar with how your bike behaves on various types of land and in different weather conditions.

When the trail is dry, it can be easy to navigate, yet when it gets wet, it becomes dangerously unpredictable. As you gain more experience and feel more assured, you will begin to recognize this and how to tackle it.

Cornering a cyclocross bike

When you’re going across country, you typically take the corners at much slower speeds than on the streets. You can use the pedals to turn the bike on corners, and it will provide better traction when riding on muddy surfaces.

You will need to take specific action if you are making more abrupt or agile turns which require you to not peddle. The same process would be used when you are on the road; raise the inner pedal and exert pressure on the outside, extended leg to have a more secure ride.

You should slow down before the bend in the road, because sharply applying the brakes while making the turn can likely cause you to skid.

When you come to the middle of the curve, leaning in with the inside of your body will help the bike shift its weight onto the tires and keep you from losing grip as you make the turn. Additionally, this will decrease your centre of gravity, giving you more control over the bike as you go through the corner.


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