Cyclocross racing is a hybrid on-road and off-road race that lasts for half an hour to an hour and involves obstacles like barriers and steep hills. Cyclocross bikes have knobby tires, a narrower frame, and different gear ratios than road bikes. The race format is similar to a criterium road race.
Bicycle racing has evolved over several decades from simple road racing to various forms of road and off-road racing. One of the fastest and most physically demanding types of racing is a hybrid type of on-road and off-road racing called cyclo-cross racing. Cyclocross racing involves a special type of bicycle that can handle road speed and off-road traction and vibration, and cyclocross courses are typically short circuits and vary in terrain and obstacles. A cyclocross race typically lasts for half an hour to an hour and features pavement, dirt, steep hills and ramps, grass, and various other challenges for the rider to overcome.
Cyclocross bikes look very similar to road bikes, but have several important differences that adapt the bike to the type of terrain it will be ridden on. For example, cyclocross bikes come with knobby tires like a mountain bike, but the tire size is 700c, which is much larger than a mountain bike and similar in size to a road bike tire. This allows for less rolling resistance but more traction control when cornering and on loose terrain.
Another feature common to cyclocross bikes is a much narrower frame design than a road bike, allowing for more off-road control but still allowing for an aero position on the road. Cyclocross bikes feature drop handlebars similar to those on road bikes. The cyclocross bicycle fork typically features more of a sweep – or steeper angle – than a road bike fork to provide more stability on off-road sections. Cyclocross bikes also feature different gear ratios than a road bike. The gears are better suited to mountain biking, but most cyclocross bikes try to strike the middle ground between road bike speed and mountain bikes’ easier shifting for steep climbs.
Cyclocross race courses feature obstacles such as barriers that force the rider off the bike. The cyclist must then shoulder the bike and jump over the barrier, or he can jump over the barrier if he is particularly skilled. This often adds a unique feature to bicycle racing not common in other forms of racing: the need to get off and run. Because cyclocross courses can also feature run-ups — steep hills that most riders have to dismount and climb, hence the name — riders can spend a significant amount of time getting on and off their bikes, depending on the course structure.
The format of a cyclo-cross race is quite similar to a criterium road race, where the course is fairly short and the riders ride for a set amount of time plus a set number of laps; for example, riders may race for half an hour plus five laps. This format makes the race short but very intense and very fast, making bike handling a vital aspect of successful racing. Due to the demands of cyclocross racing, aerobic strength becomes vital to the racer’s training regimen and performance during the race.