Cyclocross Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the short answers, geared especially towards the Va/Md/DC region.
What is cyclocross?
Cyclocross began in northern Europe as winter training for pro road cyclists, who ran modified road bikes on off-road courses, but it evolved into its own class of racing. Riders do laps on a closed course (2.5-3.5 km per lap) that involves mixed surfaces—pavement, gravel, grass, dirt, sand, mud, etc.—and obstacles—mainly 40-cm high barriers and various kinds of run-ups, including stairs or steep hills. Therefore dismounting, remounting, and carrying your bike are key skills (but easily learned!). Courses in our area feature lots of tight 180-degree turns on very wet grass, with some gravel, dirt, and occasionally single-track; some have mud later in the season.
What kind of bike & equipment do I need?
Mountain bikes & hybrids are fine. Just remove any bar end attachments, which are against the rules, along with any racks, etc., which are heavy. On courses with singletrack and mud, MTBs might even be an advantage, despite their weight.
Road bikes are okay, if they have enough frame/brake clearance for fatter, knobbier tires. Older steel frames might have clearance; modern frames won’t. If there is no mud, sand, or slick wet grass, road bikes with grass/gravel tires might be great.
Cyclocross bikes are ideal because they’re light enough to carry and run with, and they have plenty of clearance for fatter tires (35 mm, generally). If looking to buy, see below.
Helmets are required.
What if I get dropped?
It doesn’t matter! Cross races string out right off the bat—there is no peloton—so riders are racing the little groups that cluster up along the course. You might be racing for first, or you might be racing that little group for 51st. Your race is wherever you are in the race. Very few get lapped, and officials almost never pull you—nobody will know! In that sense, cross races can be a little like time trials, with you just competing against your own past performances. And also that punk in front of you.
What’s the deal with costumes, beer, and cowbells?
In the US, cross evolved out of more chaotic, even guerrilla tradition. Some races feature costumed categories & some riders get decked out for any race. This crowd pioneered the practice of the beer hand-up—where spectators pass beers to riders esp. those off the back and in special need (you see less of that in Virginia, where ABC laws are more strict) The races are usually parties—often with food vendors, raffles for bikes and gear, and lots of yelling and cowbell ringing. Why cowbells? Because they are loud.
Do I need to pre-register for races?
Yes. Some events have day-of registration, but most require online pre-registration by a certain deadline. Most allow you to enter multiple races in a day, depending on how many category/age groups you fit into. Most races are listed on BikeReg.com (linked at right), but we’ll also post announcements here for most Va/Md/DC races. Race fees are usually $25-$35, and $10 extra for a second race on the same day. Race pre-registration also gets you special offers, notably a 10-issue (3.5 years!) subscription to Cyclocross Magazine for $40.
Do I need a racing license?
Yes. Virtually all races in the Mid-Atlantic require a $15 one-day license from USA Cycling, which you buy when you pre-register for the race, or a one-year USAC license for $70, which you buy on the USAC website (linked at right). The one-year license covers any races you do in any discipline—cross, mtb, road, track—and is good from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. It also gets you certain discounts and offers.