5 Essential Skills for Budding Cyclo-Cross Riders
Fully prepared for tumbles in the mud, and with the ambition to take part in a race this winter, Beth Hodge headed along to a Cyclo-cross (cx) skills session at Cyclopark in Kent, under the guidance of British Cycling Level 3 coach Huw Williams. The session consisted of more women than men of all ages, something that Huw has seen more and more in recent times. Looks like us girls are not so scared of mud and bruises after all!
If like Beth you are thinking of taking up cyclo-cross of have just taken it up then we are sure that the following top tips for budding crossers from Huw will help you no end.
Fast cornering on a cx bike involves identifying the line that offers the most traction. This line might change several times during a race as surface conditions alter due to the weather and the impact of other riders.
Tyre pressure is also a significant factor in how much grip is available. Riders should look ahead, rather than down to identify the best line, and look ‘through’ the bend to establish a fast exit line. Applying more pressure to the outside pedal that is in the lowest position and pushing down slightly on the inside handlebar as the bike leans into the corner maximizes grip.
2. Running Dismounts
The key factor in cyclo cross racing is keeping momentum going whatever situations the course or other riders confront you with. This often means getting off the bike in circumstances where riding is not possible then back on again where it is, often several times in a single lap. The ability to do this at speed, without stopping the bike gives the rider a big advantage over others who have to slow or stop.
Factors influencing when to get off the bike for an obstacle are running speed, surface conditions and the position of other riders around you. Leave the dismount as late as possible before getting off the bike but allowing enough time to pick the bike up if it needs to be lifted/carried over the obstacle.
Dismounting on the non-chainset side (left) is preferable but practicing dismounting from either side is advised. For dismounting on the left, approach the point at which you want to get off and adjust the speed accordingly. Unclip the right foot and swing it backwards, over the saddle and rear wheel placing it on the floor behind the left foot, unclipping the left foot and stepping off the pedal in a running motion as you do so. This a ‘step-back’ dismount and can be advanced into a ‘step through’ dismount which more efficiently maintains momentum and brings the rider off the bike with a more natural running momentum.
The technique is the same for the step through dismount, but lean the bike slightly away from you as you bring the right leg over the rear wheel and step through between the frame and your left leg, unclipping the left foot as you take the first running step. In both cases it is essential to keep looking ahead to maintain a straight line and riders should think about selecting the correct gear in advance of the dismount, anticipating the remount that is to follow.
3. Running Remounts
To remount the bike, run with it in your right, hands on the brake hoods or middle and top of the handlebars and again, keep looking forward to maintain a straight line.
Spring off the left foot, pushing the bike forward as you do, and swing the right leg over the saddle, landing on the inside of the upper thigh before rotating the body in one smooth movement into the riding position.
Engage the pedals quickly bearing in mind that the running section might have compromised cleat performance by gathering mud or gravel. Banging the shoes on the pedal axles can help clear this and assist clipping in.
4. Carrying the Bike
In many circumstances the bike has to be lifted or carried in order to clear obstacles or get up unrideable, steep banks.
For lower obstacles such as planks or very short sections that are unrideable, simply lifting the bike a few inches is often enough. To do this place your hand on the top tube in the middle of the dismount phase and lift the bike only as high as necessary to clear the obstacle in question.
In practicing this maneuver, find the balance point of the bike that allows both wheels to stay parallel as you lift the bike to avoid clattering either wheel on the obstacle and losing momentum.
For longer runs it is much more advisable to place the bike on the shoulder and lock it into position enabling you to run more easily. To do this bend down and place your right hand under the down tube, lifting the bike and pushing your elbow through the frame as you rise, and slide the bike onto your shoulder.
Dedicated cross bikes have a flattened top tube and this should enable you to balance the bike quite comfortably in this position. Reposition the right hand by bringing the arm under the down tube and grasping the end of the left handlebar. This will allow you to turn the bars into your chest and effectively lock the bike into a secure position, allowing you to run with it, using your free left arm to balance.
Whether carrying or shouldering the bike, holding it in a slightly wider position across the body makes it harder for other riders to come past you as you effectively make yourself bigger and block their line. In both cases when you put the bike back down do so in a smooth, ‘quiet’ motion as dropping it hard onto the ground risks unshipping the chain.
5. Race Starts
Fast starts are an essential part of cx as races often go from wide-open start straights into narrower channels, so positioning yourself close to the front of the race in the opening stages is essential. Use the practice laps to identify an optimum starting gear and the line of the course that offers the best traction.
Adopt a strong starting position, pointing your bike straight ahead on the line you want to travel and have your strongest foot clipped in with the pedal positioned very marginally below the down tube, for a strong first pedal stroke. The other foot should be positioned with the heel resting on the other pedal, toes on the floor to balance. Hold the bars firmly with a strong upper body, leaning slightly forward looking directly ahead at where you want to go. On the starters gun, make a strong initial push on the leading pedal and the other foot will be in the optimal position to clip in as the other pedal comes round.
Want to know more?
British Cycling's "Get Into Cross" page provides a race calendar and other useful info. For updates on future courses at Cyclopark follow them on twitter @Cyclopark. For more info on Beth, the author of this post, you'll find her on Twitter @bethbrynhodge
Like this? We think you'll love these fab articles too: