Anyone can race ’cross! Here’s some things you need to know before you race around in the dirt, grass, mud or snow. For starters, everyone is not only invited, but highly encouraged to give ’cross a shot. We don’t discriminate—we take ‘em ALL! Young, old, pro, newbie, male, female, everyone is welcomed at a ’cross race.
Roadie or trackie, mountain biker or fixie whip-skidder, all types of riders are encouraged. Sorry, no fixie bikes allowed, but flip that hub and mash with the singlespeeders. Hybrids and hardtail mountain bikes are excellent options to ride in your first cyclocross race.
Races are divided by category and gender: men race men, and women race women. Even kids have their own races. All racers have categorized options when lining up against others based on ability and/or age group.
Regardless of how many years you’ve been riding and even if you’ve never raced before, cyclocross welcomes you. Those without the stereotypical pencil-thin roadie physique can even occasionally throw down the power in their own Clydesdale race in certain parts of the country.
The other reason anyone can race cyclocross is because of the shorter duration of the events and accessibility. Unlike road and mountain bike racing, you don’t need to spend hours on the bike during the week to be competitive in this sport. A few quality hours during the week can prepare you well to race on this weekend, and so the sport is compatible with the workingman or workingwoman with kids and a busy life. Cyclocross races are often very accessible, closer to urban centers than road or mountain bike races, and pick-up or underground races are easy to hold in local parks, school campuses and abandoned areas (with permission), in day light or at night.
Categories can differ depending on whether or not the race is sanctioned by USA Cycling and the number of racers. If you are already familiar with the USAC through road and/or mountain bike racing, then you know the drill, though we’ll have a piece on how to upgrade coming out soon for those who are still foggy. Often, you can buy a one-day license, so don’t stress about this until you’ve tested the waters and fallen in love.
As a first timer, you’d start off as a Category 5 under the new 2013 USAC system (women start at 4), and work your way up. If the race in not USAC-sanctioned, then you are typically free to enter any category you please, though some independent governing bodies like OBRA in Oregon have their own ranking system. But in the majority of unsanctioned races, they use an A/B/C system, where A’s are the fastest, and C’s are the beginners.
So, no matter who you are, go grab a bike and head to the nearest race!
Get schooled in cyclocross with our Cyclocross Academy class list here, and make sure you’re subscribed to Cyclocross Magazine, your guide for getting into the sport, and upping your ’cross knowledge. Not subscribed yet? For the newbies, our Issue 21 has a great feature on buying your first cyclocross bike, and Issue 22 has a story on how to get into racing and what to expect at your first race.
Thanks to Mathew Shimoko for leading our FAQs effort.