The following is from our friend Kurt Maw, of Comprehensive Training:
Every year, you hear a bunch of us raving about how much fun cyclocross is and how great it is for bike handling skills, power development and most importantly fun! This inevitably leads to lots of questions, so before the questions start rolling in, here are a few quick primer Q&As and some video links to what cyclocross racing is all about and to prove that yes, cyclocross is for everyone!
Q: Do I need special bike for 'cross?
A: The answer is no. While there are 'cross specific bikes out there that do have benefits, first time racers can use a standard mountain bike or could use a road bike but that is not recommended. Generally, mountain bikes or 'cross bikes are recommended. As far as cost, 'cross bikes do not need to be carbon fiber or super expensive, in fact, you can get decent entry level bikes for about $1000. That being said, there are lots of used bikes out there.
Q: How long are the races?
A: 'Cross racing is done by time, not distance. Each race, is done for a set amount of time, ie, beginners usually race for about 40 minutes. The actual racing time is determined by the average speed of the lead riders after a lap or two. Lap cards are displayed at the start finish line and count backwards to let you know how many more laps you have to do. Typically, a lap distance is 1.5 - 4km long depending on the course.
Q: What category do I race in?
A: Beginners (first timers) have to race as a Category 4.
Q: How much running is involved and how tall are the barriers?
A: The amount of running depends upon the course, but generally, the distances are short, a few yards at a time between barriers or for a run-up. Barriers are used to add an extra obstacle and are generally 40cm tall.
Q: How long is the season?
A: In New England, the racing starts in late August/early September and goes until the weekend before Christmas (current schedule).
Q: Do I need a special license?
A: Just like doing a triathlon without a USAT number, you will need to purchase a one day license to race a cyclocross race. If you are planning on doing more than 5, then the cost one day licenses will cost more than an annual membership, so you can purchase one at www.usacycling.org.
Q: Do I need special clothing?
A: Technically no, any cycling clothing will work. In fact a member of Comp Racing once won a race with baggy shorts on. The only technical riding wear you need are shoes, such as mountain bike shoes with SPD cleats or if you are not using clipless pedals, trail running sneakers would work as well (this is not recommended though).
Q: How do I get on and off my bike quickly?
A: While there are lots of ways to do this and there are techniques, for your first race, just do it however you can. If you have time before racing to go to a practice or watch some videos, there are so great instructional videos available.
That should cover the basics and answer a few questions. If you already own a 'cross bike, we'll see you out there! If you own a mountain bike and want to try, just pick a race and give it a go! If you have questions, don't hesitate to ask!