‘Starting Cyclo-cross’ with Helen Wyman

Photo Courtesy of ©cyclephotos.co.uk

Photo Courtesy of ©cyclephotos.co.uk

The Cyclo-cross (CX) season may be well and truly underway, but there’s still plenty of time to get kitted out and give it a go.

With my first off-road sportive coming up at the weekend, I caught up with European Champion and newly crowned 8 time National CX Champion Helen Wyman to get her top tips and advice on getting into cyclo-cross.

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What makes CX different to any other cycling sport?
It’s short, fast, hard racing off road. So it’s like the combination of the accelerations of a criterium, the basic skills of MTB, the bike from road racing and the heart rate of a threshold effort.

What are the differences in the set up of a road bike to a CX bike? Are there any specific differences in the way they should be set up for use?
The bottom bracket on a cyclo-cross bike is slightly higher than a road bike and the clearance around the brakes is bigger to allow bigger tyres and the mud to not clump up.

In terms of set up you may want a shorter reach and maybe a slightly smaller frame for this. I use the same set up on all my bikes but I am a cross rider first.

What first attracted you to CX?
I was studying physiotherapy at university and had placements in the summer so couldn’t train enough for road racing. In the winter I could use my commute to work placements for training so took up cross. I was hooked instantly, so then it was too late to go back ha ha!

What are your top 5 (or more) tips for those transitioning to CX?
1) Take family and friends – it’s a great day out with races for everyone and a great environment to get you out of the house on a weekend.

2) Play on your bike beforehand, get to know how it feels to slip and slide and what your bike will do when you race.

3) Try to get a day at a cross clinic so you can get an idea of how to get the most out of your racing.

4) Tyre pressure is such an important thing and don’t be afraid to lower them so you get the most out of your tyre.

5) Smile! You will absolutely love getting wet, muddy and cold as it’s only 40 minutes to 1 hour long.

What about racing? How can someone get into this?
There are a lot of local league races so check them out on the British Cycling website. Just go along and have a go. You will find instantly you will be racing with someone of your own level having your own little personal battles.

The dismount and remount is fundamental to a CX race, what key steps can you take to perfect this?
I think in the beginning it’s probably not the most important thing but it is something you can easily learn at a clinic. It’s hard to describe but very easy to demonstrate in person. I would say the most important thing in cross is knowing your minimum speed and not be afraid to run if riding is slower than that speed.

How else do you train for CX?
Skills training is really important so that you learn the feel of your bike under different conditions. After that, lots of high heart rate intervals and short sprints with some threshold work is where most of the training comes from for cross. You can be a really good level local league racer with one days cross training a week and 4 days of 1 hour each day in my opinion. If you want to be a good national level rider it takes a lot more obviously.

CX is very much considered a winter sport – what about the summer months?
Criteriums are good for summer training and you can get a good endurance base from road racing too.

There’s always much discussion about tyre pressures at races, how do you determine what pressure to ride on?
The best way to determine tyre pressure is whatever makes you feel most comfortable on your bike. As you move up levels in your racing then seek advice from the people around you. If you don’t know where to start, take a pump to your local park and try doing laps on different pressures and surfaces and see what you feel gives you the best grip.

Helen Wyman’s Kona Super Jake CX with disc brakes. © Cyclocross Magazine

Helen Wyman’s Kona Super Jake CX with disc brakes. © Cyclocross Magazine

You recently started racing with disc brakes (since UCI regulation changes) how do these differ to cantilevers, what are the benefits and what are your recommendations?
Disc brakes operate by braking on a disc at the centre of the wheel.

Cantilevers operate by braking on the rim of the wheel.

I love disc brakes as they stop you better, however cantilever bikes at entry level naturally weigh less. At my level it’s about the same so I get all the advantages of braking while not loosing the ability to carry my bike. However, it depends on your budget and if you already have road wheels, cantilever bikes are better as you can use those wheels.

Keep up to date with Helen on Twitter and Facebook.

 

COMING UP:
Part 3 of my CX adventure – tips and recommendations on how to buy a CX bike, with help from Hadron Cycles

Hayley Davies

Hayley Davies

Writer

Riding since Feb 2011 Hayley is a 30 year old female who loves adventures. If she’s not on one of her many bikes or in the water on a bodyboard/surfboard, then Hayley is probably out looking for something new to keep the adrenaline pumping!
Website: www.hjdonline.co.uk

What a difference 30psi makes…

Bike Tyre - Image ©Copyright Paul * (Flickr)

I’m a very happy man today – when I got the bike out of the back of the car this morning in preparation for the cycle leg of my commute, I spotted my trusty footpump nestled cosily amongst the pasty wrappers and empty milk cartons.  Whilst I wasn’t exactly early, I wasn’t late, either, so I thought… You know… What the heck – let’s check the pressure in the soft rear tyre. Crazy, I know.

It’s been awhile since I cycled regularly, and I never cycled that regularly even back then – if I had to guess how many miles I’d ridden in, say, the last five or seven years, I think it would barely average a couple or three hundred miles a year on my old slick-shod Orange mountain bike, if that. In the last couple of years, commuting from Birmingham to Banbury, the average had fallen further still – to all intents and purposes, I was an ex-wannbe-keen cyclist. That, let me tell you, doesn’t count for a lot.

We went crazy last year – my lovely Lucy and I took the plunge and opted for the cycle to work scheme, ordering bikes and even booking our summer holiday in the bike-friendly Ile de Re. Her Giant turned up, as it were, whilst I had to press-gang the sixteen-year-old mountain bike back into two more weeks of servitude. Come October, and a mere four months after I committed to the scheme, our company took the plunge and released the funds, and my new Kona hybrid was released from captivity.

It was a revelation. No serious off-road tool, it was happy enough dabbling with minor dirt track adventures, canal tow paths and little more serious than that, but the road ability was something else. I’d always fancied my rigid Orange, with slicks at bursting point, as a compromised but reasonable road tool – the 29” hoops on the Kona changed all that. It flew – the road miles that Orange nibbled at with unskilled enthusiasm, Kona bit great chunks out like a hungry orca. Makes me wonder what a real road bike would be like…

So in the spirit of fair play – after all, the Cycle To Work scheme is intended to be used for purchasing bicycles to cycle to work – come November I took the plunge and decided to take a crack at using the to ride to work, at least part of the 40 miles. It was, however, not a success -putting a hand in my pocket for a big wedge of cash for a train ticket from my nearest railway station to Banbury was a painful  way to start, and the amount of time it added onto the working day was just intolerable. Sorry – for me, at this time and with this commute, the train isn’t going to take the strain, it’s just going to add to the stress. For me, it seemed, the cycle commute was over.

But I had a brain wave about six weeks ago, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before – on investigation, the recent purchase of a new and slightly larger car means that I can just about bend the Kona’s gangly tubes into the back with the front wheel out without too much hassle, and a new concept was born; drive part of the way, cycle part of the way, it couldn’t be much simpler.

So this brings us back to where we started – day one, having barely spun a wheel since the end of the train experiment in November was agony, the miles that slipped effortlessly under the Kendas in November were a chore, it felt like I had to fight for every inch. The site of my trusty footpump peeping out at me from the boot litter on day two sparked a revival that blew a breath of fresh air into my whole cycling world – having your boots blown up to bursting point might make the ride a little lively, let’s say, but the pain in the backside that you get from rock-hard tyres is considerably less of a pain in the backside than the extra effort required to rotate flabby rubber.
 
 

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