cyclo cross for kids

The number of children taking part in cyclo cross events across the UK has exploded in the last couple of years. With cyclo cross events offering Under 8 right up to Veteran categories, it is a sport that all members of the family, no matter what the age or ability can take part in.

In order to write this article, we enlisted the help of Linda Cantelo whose daughter is a member of the Solent Pirates. As a volunteer for the club, Linda spends a huge amount of time at cyclo cross events. There is little she doesn't know when it comes to the kid's events.

So if you are looking for a fun new activity for your kids to take part in, that might just afford you some time in the saddle too, read on. We guarantee you'll be signing your kids up for their first event by the time you finish reading.

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Cyclo Cross has been described by many as a hybrid between road cycling and mountain biking with a few obstacles thrown in for good measure. These off road events are open for people of all ages and all ability.

Competitive cyclo-cross events consist of multiple laps of a short (3.5km-3.5km) course which features varying terrain including pavements, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles. The rider must expect to be on and off the bike a lot and get very very muddy. Races for adults typically last between 30 and 60 minutes ad between 10 and 30 minutes for kids depending on their ages.

The majority of races will host all categories on the same day – under 10′s, under 12′s, youth, junior, senior and vets categories will all take to the start line at different times making it a brilliant day out for the whole family.

kids cyclo cross

1. Kids love the opportunity to get muddy. This might not be the best news for the poor parents who are left peeling caked off mud off their children’s clothes. But trust us, this task will be rendered completely insignificant when you see the smile on your kid’s face as they make their way around the course, covered in mud.

2. Due to fact that cyclo cross is off-road, you do not have to worry about the dangers of other road users. A muddy course does mean the kids will fall off the bike from time to time but the landing is usually pretty soft as the events will be held in a field with grass and mud underfoot. Your child will also get great satisfaction boasting about their latest war wound in the guise of a yellowing bruise on their knee.

3. Cyclo cross will help to improve your kid’s bike handling skills making them more confident in the saddle.

4. For younger kids the races are usually just under 10 minutes long. Once the first lap is over nobody really knows who is first or last. You don’t have that feeling of hanging out the back and being embarrassed and all the riders finish on the same lap, whether they have been lapped or not. Once the lead rider has gone through the finish line the riders all finish the next time they cross the finish line so it’s possible that the last placed rider who may have just been lapped for the fourth time could cross the finish line second and only the results published later will give their actual placing.

Islabikes Luath

The Bike

Younger kids will cope fine on a mountain bike. Past the age of 10, kids can continue to use a mountain bike, however if they want to be a little bit more competitive, it is worth looking at investing in a bike more specific to cyclo cross bike.

Some kids do have specific cyclo cross bikes but most are road bikes that have been adapted with nobbly tyres. The most commonly used bikes are Isla Bikes.


Riders must wear a helmet and gloves are advisable too. With regard to clothing, opt for clothes that you don’t mind getting caked in mud – so probably a good idea not to opt for the Sunday best. A water bottle at the finish line is also a must!

As your child becomes more competitive you can choose to upgrade their gear with clipless shoes and pedals and a better bike but really this is certainly not a requirement at entry level.

cyclo cross for kids 2

First and foremost, you have got to be able to ride a bike. After that confidence is the most important skill. It can be quite fast, often all of kids under 12 will set off together and race on the same course.

Some courses can be quite technical so kids will need to get used to getting on and off their bikes. There is a specific technique for this, but beginners need not get too caught about this.

You should be aware that it is physically demanding so kids will need stamina in order to complete the event. There is no requirement to complete a certain number of laps so kids are free to go at their own pace and will still finish at the same time as the leader.

All kids under 12 race usually for 10 mins, this is increased to 30 minutes for the under 14's and under 16's.

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Cyclo cross events are pretty unique in that they offer an Under 8 category all the way up to Veteran 50+. So everyone in the family can join in from Granny to your youngest kid! Kids can start racing from a pretty young age – the youngest competitor in the Solent Pirates is four years old.

Some races will require British Cycling Membership or a race licence but the majority of non-competitive races for kids won’t require a licence. If in doubt check out the British Cycling website for further details

While you don’t need to be a member of a club to enter races, it can be a good idea. It's a great way of getting more involved in the community and will mean that your kids will see familiar faces at the start line and quite probably entertain themselves for the remainder of the day while the rest of the family are racing. They have a great time and you get to ride, it's win win. To find your local club check out British Cycling

The cyclo-cross season runs from September to January. There are events all over the country most weekends. Check out where your nearest cyclo cross event is here.

Also worth a read:

How to: Take your family cycling without killing each other

Time in the saddle makes me a better mum

How to buy a second hand kid's bike