12 Cyclocross Tips

help to make yourself a better racer and keep working on improvements

The one thing that binds us cyclocross riders together is that we want to get better and better. Despite the mud, weather and other such nasties, it still is a game of percentages. Making those tiny changes and improvements can make your race that much better, so take these twelve tips to keep improving….

Hurdles

Watch: Who else but Joey?  Joey’s okay.

Joey's okay.

Barriers

Possibly the most iconic of cyclocross images is a pair of 40cm high hurdles. To the outsider, they say ‘steeplechase’ and make it obvious that cyclocross riders are facing more than the average ride-round-a-park. But how do you get the best from them?
  • Is hopping them an option? If your skills are there you can make things very efficient and potentially force a gap. But the price is high for failure. Practice with soft barriers, and practice again and again
  • For mere mortals a clean dismount and run is the norm. Nothing wrong with that, but hold your bike well and get that remount very clean to retain momentum
  • Make sure your feet clean them.  Hurdle fails are not confined to those trying to bunny-hop.

 

Reconnaisance

Reconnaissance

Given that the first lap is almost always going to play a major part in your finishing position, you will be doing yourself a huge favour if you nail that first lap. But how do you get the most from it?

  • Pre-ride the course on a few different lines, and push the harder sections at or near race-pace
  • Prepare for unconventional lines on lap 1 unless you are in the very front; you will need to be dictated to so work out a few alternative lines on those tight corners
  • Know exactly where you are going to dismount and stick to it – don’t be swayed by what others are doing around you

 

Watch: Watch Lars Van der Haar here taking the line that nobody wanted to take (30 min 25 seconds in) – did he recce that one?  I think so.  He made up 5 places in a jiffy.

The Lars line

Warm up well

Watch: Those UK Juniors getting it on with the turbo-in-a-tent at Louisville 2013

Keeping warm in Louisville

Warm up

Outside of the track and BMX, cyclocross is unparalleled for the speed and intensity of the start.  Unlike track and BMX disciplines that start fast, you also need to keep on it for an hour. Your body’s going to need to get in the zone before the whistle blows.

  • Don’t use the course recce as a warm-up – it’ll be too stop-start.
  • Rollers or Turbo are ideal, if you don’t have them / can’t bring them, then find a stretch of tarmac or failing that get off the bike and run fast on grass.
  • When it gets deep winter, keep your jacket and leg warmers on until the very last minute.  The last person to take their kit off looks the most pro, and psyches out everyone else.

 

Cross bike maintenance

Bike prep

There’s nothing quite so depressing as rolling a tubular on the first or second corner of a race, or putting a rear mech into the spokes as soon as the big cog is engaged on the rear gear. (Unless it’s happening to someone else).  Get your bike right!
  • Tyre choice is possibly more important than everything else in the whole world put together (as we all know).
  • Don’t do anything the night before a race unless you can avoid it. Get everything tip-top at least 2 days before your race so
    • you know it’s running well and can relax, and / or
    • you have time to fix things
  • B.G.T.– not a brilliant acronym, I grant you.  But a mental check to go through Brakes, Gears, Tyres first. Everything else that can crop up is usually a hex key or a bit of lube away – those three are the biggies.
  • More than one bike? Get the set-up exactly the same if possible.  Use a tape measure etc to make sure your bike change is smooth on your body

Watch: How to set up your ‘cross bike

Mud

Watch: The women’s race in the 2014 World Cup from Milton Keynes sums up how it all goes BLAM! (or is that Schlamm?) as soon as they hit the mud.

Mud

Aside from the obvious benefits to the skin that mud has given through the ages, mud can also be used to bring satisfaction to cyclocross races. Some racers (like me) only seem to start getting results when the parcours gets browner. Why?  How? If I could sum it up, I’d sell it, but here’s a few basic thoughts:
  • Dose the power and select the gear so you’re not going to spin. That spin is 100% wasted energy and you need that energy.
  • Run your tyres or tubs as low as you dare then let a little more out. What feels ridiculous on tarmac pays you back in spades in the filthy cambers and corners.
  • Go with the bike on the ruts and the lines and try only to boss it when it counts. Switching all over courses is likely to make you come unstuck

Corners

Corners

If there’s one thing that ties together ALL cyclocross races it’s corners, and the need to corner efficiently is essential, in all conditions.  Tiny gains compound over an hour long race. Here’s how to nail those bends:
  • Find our the best line for you – don’t necessarily follow others – how do they know it’s the best line??
  • Work out the best way of retaining speed whilst staying upright – accelerating is harder than simply staying fast
  • Distribute your weight between the front and back tyres. If you sit back, your front wheel is going to go away from you. Shoulders down, chin up, please.
  • Feather brakes if you need to – even whilst pedalling. Don’t slam brakes on / skid etc. That’s not of any use to you.

 

Watch: the lines available are many, and the choice is down to the rider, but some are fast and some are not!

1st lap, GP Mario De Clercq in Ronse, Belgium, 2012

Let's start at the very beginning

Watch: The Gavere Superprestige race earlier this season had a nasty spill at the start, but ignore that and check out just how far down the back of the field is after only 90 seconds of racing

Gavere Superprestige 2015

The Start

Where do I start on the start? It’s something that compounds if you don’t get it right – make a mistake here and making up places becomes tiresome and time consuming almost immediately after. Things to remember: 
  • Practice makes perfect – ensure you can click into your pedals fast by doing this time after time in your practice sessions
  • Be in the right gear, and be prepared to change gears as you gain speed fast.
  • Pick a start position that will take you to the outside line on the first corner. There’s congestion on the inside and invariably you won’t get tangled up in any collateral damage if you go wide on lap 1.

A clean bike is a happy bike

Neat and Tidy


Just like your body needs a warm-down, your bike benefits from immediate post-race fettling, too. There’s nothing worse than trying to unstick mud or (even worse) rust from mechs, cables, chains and brakes, so get some immediate defences in place, post -race
  • Rinse off the worst of the cack immediately post-race. A warm car or a roof/bike rack makes mud dry and become a problem to shift.  Save ten minutes at home by spending two minutes splashing the worst off in a puddle if you don’t have a washer at the race
  • Carry GT-80 or a similar, inexpensive lube in the back of your car and apply it to the chain and cable ferrule areas before travelling home. This isn’t the replacement for a proper clean and lube, but it will stop anything rusting on the way home (believe me, it does!)
  • Wash meticulously at home if you can’t jetwash at the race – it’s a dirty task so your shower will wait. The clock is ticking on a filthy bike. Get it cleaned and lubed properly or you’ll be replacing bits before they have had a full life.

 

Watch: How to clean a muddy bike properly and without a massive petrol powered jetwash

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Cleaning a cross bike

Be nice

Watch: Restore your faith in humankind and watch Agustin Navarro refuse to pass punctured rival Ismael Esteban at the Santa Barbara XV Grand Prix earlier this winter.

Brings a tear to the eye

Keep it friendly

All cycle sport should be friendly and very normally it is just that. But how do we balance the need to be aggressive in a race with being a good human?  Other sports struggle with it, but let’s make sure we don’t.
  • If you’re fast and lucky enough to be lapping someone, then put yourself in their shoes for one minute. Be clear and polite about which side you intend to pass, but gently repeat it if they don’t seem to hear you. No need to shout and if you swear, you are one big loser. Stop reading this and go play football.
  • Thank people for letting you pass and encourage them.  They are normally beating someone too and having a battle of their own.
  • Have a laugh. You are (probably) not in a UCI race and there is very little really resting on this. Be part of the atmosphere and craic as well as a race.

 

Tyres. Mmmmmm ... tyres.

When all else fails, buy wheels and tyres

Cyclocross easily becomes an obsession for many, but within that obsession, tyres become a passion. Don’t ever think that you can own enough tyres or tubulars. There are as yet undiscovered areas of the Amazon that will need a tread inventing for the conditions. Obviously we’re all on a budget, so:
  • Keep a stock of appropriate tyres. If you live in the north of England, then it’s very likely that file-treads and even Grifo treads are going to be of limited use, where more aggressive treads will be. Don’t just buy them cause they look nice or because folk in Belgium use them. Look outside at that ground!
  • Dry your wheels after washing them. Sidewalls, particularly those lovely tubular ones, will rot and decay much faster if left damp. Sneak them next to a warm radiator when your better half isn’t looking.
  • If you ride tubulars, consider tubeless for training (I’m a big convert, after eventually giving them a go) – the constant grief that tubulars get on a race is hard enough on them – don’t train on them too

Watch: Who else but our good friend Alan Crossjunkie Dorrington – an aficionado of tubs and cyclocross.

Watch him glue. Makes it look easy.

Cambers

Watch: 17 mins 31 seconds in here is all you need to see

Camber chaos in the Jaarmarktcross 2014

Cambers

Cambers need to be respected, because when things go wrong, they can cause massive disruption to the flow. Many of the same “rules” for cornering apply when tackling a camber. Here’s what to look out for in a Christmassy nutshell

  • Distribute weight evenly on BOTH wheels
  • Don’t Steer up the hill
  • Soft tyres win races – low as you dare
  • Pedal smooth – no bursts
  • Prepare to dismount BEFORE things go wrong

Keep the flow

Smoothie

Riding fast, cornering fast, starting fast, running fast… it’s all fine if you can do it.  But there’s all the inbetween bits to consider. How smooth can you be dismounting / remounting / shouldering the bike etc. Given you will be racing for 7 to 10 laps and doing things like that several times per lap, you could be saving about a minute over the course of an hour by nailing those transitional bits.

  • Practice, practice practice. Get somewhere nobody can watch and jump on and off the bike at different speeds.
  • Leave your pedals in the best position to go, go, go when you remount
    Click in after a couple of revs if needs be – get the power down first
  • Don’t jump sky-high. You only have to get on the saddle
  • Watch the pros and learn

Watch: 18 mins 47 seconds in here – see how smoothly they’re on and off the bike whether they choose to ride or run.  Lovely.

Masterclass

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