Been hearing a lot of cowbells ringing in the nearby park lately? Seen some very muddy bike riders running with their bikes on their shoulders? Wondering why anyone – anyone – would get more excited to ride their bike when the weather turns foul? Sounds like you’ve stumbled into the wonderful, crazy world of cyclocross!
What is cyclocross?
Cyclocross is a cycling sport in which racers compete for 30 minutes to an hour on a course, usually between one and two miles in length, that poses a variety of challenges: stairs or steep hills that must be run up with the bicycle on the shoulder, barriers that must either be bunny-hopped or jumped over, and technical terrain that challenges a racer’s handling skills. Traditionally, a cyclocross course has four different surfaces: dirt, sand, grass and pavement. Cyclocross is a fall/winter sport, and thus many races contain mud, ice, snow, and adverse weather conditions. Races are not cancelled in such weather – rather, the muddier, the colder, and the harsher the conditions, the more ‘classic’ a race is thought to be. The best cyclocross racers are not only incredibly strong, but are able to handle their bikes in all conditions, on all terrains.
Cyclocross was first developed in Europe in the early 1900s as a way for road bicycle racers to stay in shape during the cold winter months. In those early days, cyclocross riders would take their bicycles out to farm pastures and ride along dirt roads, through plowed fields, and climb over fences and up hillsides. As the sport progressed, races began to be more official, with courses that repeated from year to year and riders who began to distinguish themselves as specialists, or ‘veldrijder’. Today, cyclocross is a sport in its own right, with professional racers and teams, cyclocross-specific bikes, a six-month race calendar, and a UCI-sanctioned World Cup circuit and World Championship.
Cyclocross in the United States
Although cyclocross is most popular in the countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, it has gained an incredible following in the United States, as well. Over the past two decades, the sport has grown from regional hubs in Portland and New England to spread to all corners of the US, with nearly every state offering a local series. In the US, cyclocross is an all-inclusive sport, with categories for children, teenagers, and masters riders all competing on the same course as the ‘elite’ men and women. Indeed, it is this ‘community’ aspect of cyclocross – where every racer is a fan, and every fan is a racer – that has helped create such a large following. The short courses, usually close to urban centers, are ideal for spectatorship, and fans come to ring cowbells at racers, have picnics, and race themselves. Interested in learning more? Head over to our Cowbell user forums and become part of the community!
Popular series in the US include Portland’s Cross Crusade, which boasts upwards of a thousand racers at some of its events, the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross, with races in each region of the country, and the Ohio Valley Cyclocross Series.