Image: Charlie Tompkins

What is cyclo-cross?

Cyclo-cross is an intense, short, closed-road form of cycle racing. The season usually takes place in Autumn/Winter, with the first races in September, and final races generally taking place in early January. Riders traditionally use bikes with drop handlebars and fitted out with 32mm+ knobbly tyres, but these aren't compulsory.

What's good about it?

  • Cyclo-cross races take place off-road, so there is no traffic to worry about

  • You can ride a specialist CX bike, a MTB, a hybrid, or even a road bike (if you can fit fat enough tyres)

  • Races are short - generally around 1 hr

  • Races involve multiple laps around a short course so you don't need to feel like a newcomer if you're lapped.

  • Race speeds aren't as high as road races, and courses are not as technical as xc MTB races, so a high speed or serious crash is unlikely

  • Races are broken down into age and gender categories, so you don't have to be first to be first

What's not so great?

  • It's a winter sport - this means it's often muddy. Cleaning your bike becomes a very regular thing. if you are keen on wearing your flashiest kit and riding in glorious sunshine, best look elsewhere.

  • It's a winter sport - It's often cold and frequently wet.

  • Although there are a lot of bikes that you can possibly use, many road bikes -even those with disk brakes- don't have the clearance for a big enough tyre

  • Cyclo-cross is hard on kit. Mechanicals are common, and can be expensive. Wear and tear is also high, so brake pads, cables and bearings often need more attention and more frequent replacement

Image: Charlie Tompkins

First race: Do

  • Check your bike over the day before, including taking it for a short ride.

  • Turn up with plenty of time. Race HQ and the course are not always close, so aim to arrive around an hour before the start.

  • Always ride the course before hand. If you find a bit you can't ride, watch other people try out and see what they do.

  • Thank marshals and race organisers

First race: Don't

  • Don't try and ride everything, particularly when conditions are tough. It's often quicker to get off and run with your bike, rather than falling off/ploughing through ankle deep mud

  • Don't try to bunny hop running boards… if you can't do it every time, don't try it any time.

  • Don't put your bike on your shoulder when carrying. While this is the classic image of cyclo-cross most people have in their head, 90% of the time, it's unnecessary. Unless you're going to be running for a while, or it's really steep and technical, use the 'suitcase' method, with one hand on the top tube and one hand on the handlebars

Anything else?

To avoid paying for a day license, you'll need to have a British Cycling race license. The cheapest way of doing this is with a Silver Membership. Even if you don't decide to make a habit of slithering round muddy fields every Sunday, your membership brings a host of other benefits.

Races are gridded at the start, with the fastest riders usually starting first. All riders finish on the same lap as the leader, so even if you only manage a few laps, you won't be left riding around on your own. Unlike road races, cyclo-cross doesn't work on a category system, so there are likely to be some very fast and serious riders racing alongside people just looking for a new challenge. In practice, this is rarely a problem.

Make sure you are prepared for the post race clean up. Putting muddy bikes inside your car usually needs a bit of preparation. Many courses have changing rooms, but not all, so be prepared for the glamorous activity of changing in your car.

Image: South West Cyclo-Cross League

Cyclocross in the South West

Races are organised by South West Cyclo-cross

Races take place on Sundays - All start times are for male and female races, which run at the same time.


10:30 Under 8s

11:00 Under 10s/Under 12s

12:00 Under 14s/Under16s/Novice 16+

13:30 Junior/Senior/Veteran 40+/50+/60+

Race Format

  • Under 12’s: Race over a shortened course that allows parents to watch their children participate safely.

  • Youth: Generally race over the full circuit, but sometimes with difficult obstacles removed. Duration of race 30 minutes.

  • Senior, Junior, Veteran and Ladies: Compete on the full circuit for a duration of 60 minutes. All competitors finish on the same lap as the winner. The lap score judges will count down the last five laps, lap number boards will be displayed at the finish line.