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File:Cyclo doherty.jpg

A cyclo-cross racer carrying his bicycle up a steep slope.

Cyclo-cross (sometimes cyclocross, CX, CCX, cyclo-X or 'cross') is a form of bicycle racing. Races take place typically in the autumn and winter (the international or "World Cup" season is September-January), and consists of many laps of a short (2.5–3.5  km or 1.5–2  mile) course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike whilst navigating the obstruction and remount in one motion.[1][2] Races for senior categories are generally between 30 minutes and an hour long, with the distance varying depending on the ground conditions. The sport is strongest in the traditional road cycling countries such as Belgium (and Flanders in particular), the Netherlands and the Czech Republic .

Cyclo-cross has some obvious parallels with mountain bike racing, cross-country cycling and criterium racing. Many of the best cyclo-cross riders cross train in other cycling disciplines. However, cyclo-cross has reached a size and popularity that racers are specialists and many never race anything but cyclo-cross races[citation needed]. Cyclo-cross bicycles are similar to racing bicycles: lightweight, with narrow tires and drop handlebars. However, they also share characteristics with mountain bicycles in that they utilize knobby tread tires for traction, and cantilever style brakes for clearance needed due to muddy conditions. They have to be lightweight because competitors need to carry their bicycle to overcome barriers or slopes too steep to climb in the saddle. The sight of competitors struggling up a muddy slope with bicycles on their shoulders is the classic image of the sport, although unridable sections are generally a very small fraction of the race distance.

Compared with other forms of cycle racing, tactics are fairly straightforward, and the emphasis is on the rider's aerobic endurance and bike-handling skills. Drafting, where cyclists form a line with the lead cyclist pedaling harder while reducing the wind resistance for other riders, is of much less importance than in road racing where average speeds are much higher than in cyclo-cross.

A cyclo-cross rider is allowed to change bicycles and receive mechanical assistance during a race. While the rider is on the course gumming up one bicycle with mud, his or her pit crew can work quickly to clean, repair and oil the spares. Having a mechanic in the "pits" is more common for professional cyclo-cross racers. The average cyclo-cross racer might have a family member or friend holding their spare bike.

Origins and history[]

There are many stories about the origins of cyclo-cross. One is that European road racers in the early 1900s would race each other to the next town over from them and that they were allowed to cut through farmer's fields, over fences or take any other shortcuts in order to make it to the next town first. This was sometimes called steeple chase as the only visible landmark in the next town was often the steeple. This was a way for them to stay in shape during the winter months and put a twist on road racing. In addition, riding off road in more difficult conditions than smooth pavement increased the intensity at which the cyclists were riding and improved their on-the-road bike handling abilities. Forced running sections, or portage, were incorporated to help deliver warm blood to the feet and toes, as well as exercise other groups of muscles. Daniel Gousseau of France is credited as having inspired the first cyclo-cross races and organizing the first French National Championship in 1902.[3] Géo Lefèvre, the originator of the idea for the Tour de France, also played a key role in the early days of the sport.[4]

After Octave Lapize attributed his win in the 1910 Tour de France to his off season training in cyclo-cross[5] the sport began to spread to countries bordering France. Belgium organized its first National Championship in 1910, Switzerland did so in 1912, then Luxembourg in 1923, Spain in 1929 and Italy in 1930.

Cyclo-cross proved itself as a sport extending beyond the boundaries of France when in 1924 the first international race, Le Critérium International de Cross-Country Cyclo-Pédestre, was held in Paris.[5]

Like many international cycle sports, CX is administered by the Union Cycliste Internationale; although it wasn't until the 1940s, around 40 years after cyclo-cross' inception, that the UCI began its regulation and the first world championship was held in Paris in 1950.[5]

Cyclo-cross began to become popular in the US in the 1970s and in 1975 the first race was held in New England but the first US National Championship was held in Berkeley, CA. The Surf City race series held in Santa Cruz, CA holds a lot of history of cyclo-cross in the US. The sport has experienced a growth in popularity in the US since the mid 90s[6] and now the northwest hosts some of the largest events in the country.[citation needed]

Racing seasons[]

Cyclocross is typically an Autumn and Winter sport, the northern hemisphere season running from September to February. The World Championships take place in late January. The Canada and US national championships are held in November and December, with little racing after that.

Riders' age categories for cyclocross under UCI rules are currently determined by their age on the 1 January which lies in the middle of the international season, i.e. they compete in the same category that they would be in for the following road season.



Cyclo-cross bicycles roughly resemble road racing bicycles. The major differences between the two are that cyclo-cross frames have wider clearances, knobby tires, cantilever brakes, and lower gears. A rear brake cable routed on the upper right side of the top tube allows the rider to carry the bike on the right shoulder through portage sections. As a high-end bicycle purpose-built for a specific sport competition, they also differ from ordinary cross bikes, which are general-purpose utility bikes fitted with slightly wider 700C tires for use on unpaved paths or trails.[7]

Cyclo-cross bike design and frame geometry has varied over the years. For example, a heightened bottom bracket was typical 10+ years ago; now many cyclo-cross-specific frames do not have elevated bottom brackets. Many cyclo-cross bicycles are set up with a single chainring and chain "drop" guards. A single chainring allows for a tighter chainline, thus reducing the chance of the chain coming off on a bumpy course.


Clothing is similar to that of road racing. However, since cyclo-cross is a cold-weather sport there is an emphasis toward warmer clothing such as long sleeves, tights, knickers and arm and leg warmers. In the warmer races there is a very strong preference for skinsuits for maximizing freedom of movement. The other advantage of skinsuits is that they are tighter, preventing the jersey from getting caught on stray tree branches during some singletrack sections of the race course. Mountain bike shoes are adopted, as they allow the competitors to run, unlike their road racing counterparts and their degree of traction (compared to smooth bottoms found on road racing shoes). Toe studs are used to aid in running up steep muddy slopes and in the adverse underfoot conditions.


Races almost universally consist of many laps over a short course, ending when a time limit is reached rather than after a specific number of laps or certain distance; the canonical length for senior events is one hour. Generally each lap is around 2.5-3.5 km and is 90% rideable. Races run under UCI rules must have courses that are always at least 3 m wide to encourage passing at any opportunity, however sections of singletrack are common for small races in the USA and Great Britain. A variety of terrain is typical, ranging from roads to paths with short steep climbs, off camber sections, lots of corners and, a defining feature, sections where the rider may need, or would be best advised to dismount and run whilst carrying the bike. Under-tire conditions include asphalt, hardpack dirt, grass, mud and sand. In comparison to cross-country mountain bike events, terrain is smoother. Less emphasis is put on negotiating rough or even rocky ground with more stress on increased speed and negotiating different types of technical challenges.

Each section of the course typically lasts no longer than a handful of seconds. For example long climbs are avoided in favour of short, sharp inclines. Sections are generally linked together, or long straights broken up, with tight corners. This not only allows a standard length course to fit in a relatively small area, but also forces competitors to constantly change speed and effort. Accelerating out of corners, then having to decelerate for the next before accelerating again is a common theme.

Obstacles that force a rider to dismount and run with their bike or to "bunny hop" include banks too steep to ride up, steps, sand pits and plank barriers. Besides the start/finish area, these obstacles may be placed anywhere on the course that the race director desires. Several race directors have tried to limit bunny hopping by placing barriers in pairs or in triple (although under UCI rule no more than two barriers can appear in succession), however this hasn't stopped some of the best bunny-hoppers from getting over them. The regulation height for a barrier is 40 cm although this is treated as a maximum at smaller events. Plank barriers seem to be more common in the US than in Europe and UCI regulations only permit one section of them on the course.

Since outside assistance is allowed, pits are included to provide a consistent area for this to occur. A pit to the right of the course is normal since most riders dismount to their left. In larger events a separate pit lane is featured so only those wishing a new bike or other assistance need enter the lane (this type was debuted at the Zeddam, Netherlands World Cup of January 1999). In some cases pits are provided in two different parts of the course.

An exception to this short course format include the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross, a 61 km single lap race held annually in Yorkshire.

File:Cyclocross runup.JPG

Cyclocross racers take two barriers and a run-up at Ludwig's Corner in Pennsylvania.


Although courses are less technical than those of mountain biking, the particular obstacles require specific technical abilities of their competitors. Steps, barriers, ditches, stairs, steep slopes and deep mud or sand require running while carrying the bicycle. This approach was invented by Octave Lapize and proven by Eugène Christophe who in 1913 had to carry his broken bike down the Tourmalet during the Tour de FranceTemplate:Or. Although this sounds simple, doing so in the middle of a quick-paced race is difficult. Being able to dismount, pick up the bike, put it back down and remount smoothly and quickly without losing any speed requires practice and skill. However, the best cyclo-cross racers in the world, and some top-level local competitors, make it seem effortless.

A more recent development to overcome obstacles such as barriers and sometimes ditches is the bunnyhop, which came to prominence in 1989 when Danny De Bie used it in his successful World Championship run. Bunny hopping has become less popular as a result of race directors seeking to limit its use by setting up two or three barriers in a row. Skilled riders are still able to hop the obstacles, despite the back to back to back barriers. Today Sven Nys, an ex-BMX racer, demonstrates the importance of technical skills as he continues to dominate the sport.

Cyclo-cross championships[]

  • The Cross Crusade
  • UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships
  • UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup
  • Superprestige (Cyclo-cross)
  • GvA Trophy
  • National Cyclo-cross Championships
  • U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross


  1. UCI Cyclo-cross regulations
  2. USA Cycling Federation rulebook
  3. Cyclocross: History & What You Should Know Konrad, Gabe: "Cyclocross: History & What You Should Know". Bicycle Trader Magazine, 1996. Retrieved August 19, 2005.
  4., "Who got their tyres crossed?", 9 November, 2006
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Herlihy, David V. "Bicycle: The History", Page 397. Yale University Press, 2004.
  6. Burke, Edmund R. & Pavelka, Ed: "The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling", Page 254. Rodale, 2000.
  7. Ballantine, Richard, Richard's 21st Century Bicycle Book, New York: Overlook Press (2001), ISBN 1585671126, pp. 34, 307

External links[]

Template:Cb start Template:Bicycle racing Template:Cb end

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