What is it like to race cyclocross?

Try Cyclocross in Scotland

Fiona finds a great sporting atmosphere in Falkirk as she takes part in her first cyclocross event

I had heard that cyclocross would be fun. (Fun – and muddy.) And everyone said that cyclocross is a great way to stay in cycling shape this winter. Having now taken part in a Scottish Cyclocross series race at Falkirk I agree wholeheartedly.

I decided to race simply for fun. I had just bought a new Planet X cyclocross bike (for commuting on pot-holed city roads) and a friend suggested I use the bike for its proper purpose. The first chance came at an event in Callendar Park at the weekend.

I had no expectations and very little experience of cycling off-road but I still gave it my all during the 40 minutes of the race.

What’s it like to race cyclocross?

Lining up at the start of the event – which sees cyclists racing laps against each other and the clock on a marked-out course – I was surprised to find so many female competitors taking part. There were around 30 women on both cyclocross and mountain bikes and aged from about 20 to 50.

According to the organisers there has been a huge growth in women racers, as well as two other categories, children and male 40+.

The women race their event alongside the Juniors (17 and 18-year-olds) and the Vet 50+ Men. Other age categories race at a different time.

Right from the start it was a case of riding as fast as you could to see off as many people as possible behind you. I had no idea how fast to ride, given the 40 minutes of cycling ahead, but I just went flat out.

The cyclocross course – among the easiest in Scotland, apparently – included a number of obstacles, including a couple of very steep but short hill ascents, wooden planks to run over, tight bends, cambered sections, slippery downhills and a great deal of mud and soggy grass.

I wasn’t anywhere close to the leaders but despite my inexperience and lack of technical skill I still felt as though I was part of the race

I had planned to be judicious at every obstacle but instead raced over and around each challenge as fast as I dared. I wasn’t anywhere close to the leaders but despite my inexperience and lack of technical skill I still felt as though I was part of the race.

Seven things I learned cycling cyclocross

1)   Cyclocross is very friendly. As riders overtook they seemed cheery and if they heard me coming up behind they gave some space for passing. Many riders encouraged me to ride faster as I passed them.

2)   There is a great deal of competitive spirit and the spectators like to cheer you on.

3)   Families love cyclocross. I met kids and their mums and dads who were all racing in their own categories.

4)   Cyclocross is for all abilities and experience. You can ride it slow and safe or fast and at the edge of your technical limits.

5)   Accidents do happen but the medical experts are on the scene very quickly to help with any injuries.

6)   It’s best to try to ride the steep uphills. They are rideable with a bit of oomph and if you choose to walk instead you’ll end up falling far behind.

7)   Cyclocross bikes are superb for these grassy, muddy courses. They grip the ground when needed and feel light enough to ride at speed on the flatter sections. The disc brakes keep working when mud clogs up every area of your bike.

The results of my Falkirk cyclocross

The races end after the set time (my category is 40 minutes, while for senior men it’s 60 minutes) or after you’re lapped by the lead riders. So, on the day I raced four laps of the course in around 38 minutes, while the leaders ended up doing five laps. I was lapped by the fastest male 50+ rider during my fourth lap

I spent the entire race breathing hard and pushing through lactic acid burn in my thighs. But despite the pain, I kept smiling and often felt myself grinning while racing. I really loved the challenging aspects of off-road cycling on a “road bike with grippy tyres”.

I was overtaken by a few riders and managed to overtake many more. I was very surprised to come home 10th lady and second lady vet (over 40s). I was exhausted but thrilled.

I will be racing cyclocross again – it’s by far the best fun you can have on a bike in winter.

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5 comments on “What is it like to race cyclocross?
  1. Alicia says:

    Thank you for writing this, I’m doing my first cyclocross race tomorrow and am absolutely bricking it, you’ve given me some reassurance!

    • Scotland Outdoors says:

      Hi Alicia

      How did it go? We’re really pleased you enjoyed the feature – and hopefully you enjoyed the race as much as Fiona enjoyed hers!

  2. Yes, how did it go Alicia? Was this the Aberdeen event? My friend and amazing rider Elizabeth Adams was in the top three senior women I think.

    • Alicia says:

      It was the event at Knockburn and went well thanks. I didn’t do nearly as well as you did but had a lot of fun and everyone was amazingly friendly and welcoming. I’ll be doing another one as soon as I can swop my old touring bike for something a bit lighter!


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