What should I expect on race day? What should I make sure to do?
Before the race:
- The night before, have your bike ready & everything packed (helmet, shoes, kit, license, pre- & post-race food/water).
- Eat pre-race meal, whatever that is that works for you. Don’t eat too close to the race time.
- Ideally, arrive two hours before your race time.
- Go to registration, show your license, and get your number and pins.
- Ask which side the number goes on, and pin it on.
- Ask where the pit is and put spare wheelset/bike there if you have one. No food/water in the pit.
- Take care of any personal business early.
- Ask when the course opens for pre-riding and go ride the course. To follow the course, keep the red tape on your right. Otherwise, warm up on the road or on a trainer, including some hard efforts. Drink water.
- Fifteen minutes before your race, be at the Start Grid. Officials will place you based on your race number and make some announcements, then start the race!
During the race:
- Listen for the start gun. Keep the red tape on your right. Don’t exit the tape. Also, don’t get caught in it.
- At the end of lap 1, at the Finish line, look for the number board telling you how many laps to go (officials determine this based on the speed of the leaders).
- If you flat or need to change bikes, you must run forward on the course with your bike to get to the closest pit. You cannot exit, cross tape, or go backwards on the course. You can only change bikes/wheels in the pit.
- With one lap to go, officials will ring a bell at the Finish line. This is the “bell lap,” and when you cross Finish again, sprint like hell to beat that punk for 43rd place!
After the race:
- Do a little warm-down ride, drink water, and eat some food with protein.
- Change into clean clothes (please) and join the party.
- Results are posted near the Finish, usually within an hour.
- Go home and obsessively check crossresults.com until they post the data.
- Take notes on how you did and what you should work on to improve.
Some racing tips:
- Starts are fast; be ready, and try to position yourself early. Burn one match here. But don’t freak out or blow up; you have plenty of time; know your pace and find it.
- You’ll probably settle in with a group; try to hang with that group and compete against them. Stay with them for a lap and see how it goes. If you can, leave that group and bridge up to the next group.
- Pick your moment to pass or to drop someone. Don’t get rushed. You only have so many matches to burn.
- When passing someone, do it decisively. Pass them fast and hard, and do not under any circumstances look back.
- After hard efforts—dropping someone, catching someone, hills, runups, etc., find a place to ease back into a sustainable pace and recover just a little bit, so you’re ready for the next hard effort.
- For descents & sprints, get in the drops. Practice this.
- For mud, learn to love the fishtail. Control your front end, and let your back end do whatever it wants to. Whatever you do, never stop pedaling. Same goes for sand and loose gravel.
- Use the whole width of the course, tape to tape. This is key for mud, where you can often find more traction on the grassy margins.
Okay, I’m hooked. What do I look for in a cyclocross bike?
The best bike is the one that fits you and that you can ride comfortably and run with on the course. There are many, many choices, but some key areas include:
- Frame material: Weight is a factor because you will be lifting the bike, carrying it, and maybe throwing it over your shoulder and running with it. Carbon is generally lightest, and also stiff, which is nice for the start/stop sprinting of cross. But it is expensive. Aluminum can be very light, but lightweight steel is making a big comeback and can feel more comfortable on rough terrain. After the frame, wheels contribute most to overall bike weight, so that might be another area to splurge/save weight.
- Disc vs. Cantilever Brakes: Most new cross bikes come with disc-only options. Disc brakes are stronger, can stop shorter, and are better in deep mud (cantis can get clogged). But they are usually heavier, more expensive, and pads can wear down quickly in the grit. Courses around here don’t tend to get a lot of mud, so cantilever or v-brakes are fine, and even preferable to many. Debates abound on the internets, so read up, but also talk with people who have used both.
- Wheel & tires: Clinchers (the standard bike tire) are just fine, and you can put a 32-mm cross clincher tire on almost any 700c road rim. The only limitation is tire pressure—for traction on tight corners, you want to run the lowest possible pressure, and with clinchers you risk a pinch flat. Tubulars (glue-ons) are the choice of most pros and many amateur racers: you can run incredibly low pressures—into the ‘teens!—without flatting or, if glued properly, risking a roll-off. They require a dedicated racing wheelset (and probably a spare, since you can’t quickly fix a flat), and gluing expertise. Tubeless promises to be the best of both worlds, letting you run lower pressures without risk of flatting, and some pros are now doing this successfully. Tubeless rims also compatible with standard clincher tires w/ tubes, allowing for greater versatility. But at very low pressures, they can “burp” off the rim on tight cx turns, and for regular riding/training, you still have to carry a tube in case of a flat. If you go tubeless, you want to makes sure to buy tubeless-specific rims and tires (unlike MTB tubeless, which can work with some standard clincher rims and tube combinations). Again, read up on the internets, but more importantly, talk with people who use them.
- Where to buy? Bikenetic Full Service Bicycle Shop, silly! They know cross bikes and carry Kona, Jamis, and Raleigh–all of whom carry several cross racing models, plus Surley, Salsa, Bianchi, and others. For a decent intro or pit bike, maybe go used on the Facebook DC Used Bike Marketplace.