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