Cyclocross is the perfect pasttime for cyclists who don't want to take out their best road bikes in the wintery weather, but also don't want to get all the required armour and protective gear on the a mountain bike downhill session.
Contrary to popular belief though, cyclocross has been around for almost as long as competitive cycling, with the first cyclocross races believed to haev taken part in 1902 in northern France.
Originally called 'Steeple Chasing', these races were common around the French Ardennes and throughout Belgium and the Netherlands as a method of winter training for road cyclists; who would try to race across farmer's fields by hopping over fences and hedges with their bikes as they raced from town to town - or steeple to steeple.
Whilst it was being done throughout northern Europe throughout the first half of the 20th century, gradually growing in popularity, it wasn't until 1950 when the UCI officially sanctioned it with its own World Championships. At this point, national championships had been contested in France for almost two decades.
How Does Cyclocross Work?
Cyclocross is a discipline that combines fine bike handling skills with athletic skills, namely cycling and running (in cleats, usually). The races take part on circuits that are usually between 2-3km long and often draw large crowds in the areas they are held.
Where road racing criteriums are held in cities and on road courses, cyclocross races are held in the countryside and combine many different kind of terrain that all demand a different riding style.
It's not unusual for cyclocross courses to include sand, mud, dirt and gravel along with tarmac and flatter road surfaces. The terrain isn't limited to flat routes either, with short hills often a feature.
Another commopn feature is steps, fences or hills that are desnigned to be too steep to ride of involve obstacles that mean you have to dismount and climb over them.
The riders wear the same kind of attire that road cyclists do, with sponsored teams taking part although cross racing is a much more individual effort than the peloton-nature of road racing.
What About Cyclocross Bikes?
Cyclocross bikes look very similar to road bikes at a glance, with the dropped handlebars and quite aggressive gemoetry that is so typical of a thoroughbred racing bike.
Take a closer look though and you will see that the bottom bracket tends to be thicker and wider, making the frame much stuffer and allowing it to comfortably take on the kind of terrain you encounter on a cyclocross course. The geometry of the frame may also be slightly different to a pure road racer, with a tighter back triangle and more compact reach that makes the bike handle better.
There is a much larger clearance between the frame and the wheel which allows for mud, snow, sand or otehr clumpy materials to pass through without affecting the bikes performance, especially when braking.
The tyres too are different, usually featuring treads like you would see on a mountain bike although not as prominent. The wheels the tyres sit on are much the same as standard road bike wheels, although they may be made from tougher materials to account for the performance needed over rough terrain, rather than being built to be fast.