Gear Advice and Tips for Beginners from some of Cyclocrossracing.com’s Pro/Elites
Depending upon where you are on the cyclocross scale of beginner-ness you might have some different considerations to make when getting involved in cyclocross for the first time. For many, just getting geared up is the most difficult obstacle as the price of bikes and the options available appear limitless. But for others the big thing is overcoming the intimidation factor because just diving right in doesn’t seem an option with all these fit people riding around in their fancy jerseys and all performing the same mounting and dismounting technique. Let us help you break it down to the elements and make that leap into something that is way more about just getting out there and doing it than conforming.
The Pro/Elite team at Cyclocrossracing.com was poled for essential tips for beginners and so the majority of the following is their advice to you.
Nathan Bannerman of Walla Walla, Washington, a deep in our Inland Empire region claims that “its important to get a bike that fits you well” and to “invest in a good pair of cycling shoes”.
Race ready cyclocross bikes can range anywhere in price from about $600 on up to $5000 and beyond. But over the past few years with CX going mainstream more options are available and the prices have come down making it a little less daunting. But keep Nathan’s recommendation in mind you won’t skimp on the bike. Since a CX bike is one of the most versatile bikes that you can buy (it will make a great commuter bike with all that extra fender space, they make great fire road bikes, and some even road race on cross bikes). The weight of the bike is important in cyclocross because you will be slugging your bike over barriers and sometimes up steep hills. However, don’t let the bike be your barrier to getting to the barriers. All of us here at Team Cyclocrossracing.com would agree that its more important to just get out there and race!
A helmet and cycling shoes are other required gear but these shouldn’t set you back too much unless you want to make a fashion statement or make the step up to the stiffer carbon versions. It makes an edge at the highest level but if you are just starting out, just pick out something you can afford.
Pro roadie and crosser of our Seattle squad says not to underestimate the importance of handlebars on your bike. Again, this is for the beginner who has made the plunge and is getting serious about the sport. Jess says:
“Cyclocross is a lot harder on your upper body than riding on the road. Having a handlebar that’s the proper width and drop is so important for comfort and control. I personally have very narrow shoulders and feel like I lose control when I’m too low on the bike. I also like to occasionally ride on the top of my bar through bumpy power sections. I use a 38 cm wide shallow drop bar with an ovalized top. This allows me to have a bar that’s roughly the same width as my shoulders, sit comfortably on the tops, and still feel like I have a lot of control when I ride in the drops.”
Jessica is more than just a racer, she is a guru cross clinician in the Seattle area and is passionate about getting newbies into the sport. She doesn’t just spout off a hit-list, and the way she explains things you can tell she understands the sport better than most. Here are the two technique tips that she recommends that you take serious note of:
- Know the balance point of your bike - Take a look at any of my cross bikes that have more than half a season of racing on them and you’ll see a spot on the top tube and another on the down tube where all the paint has dulled and maybe started to wear off. These are the balance points of my bike, i.e. the place on my bike where when I pick it up it’s equally balanced fore and aft so there’s no risk of dragging either wheel on the ground or hitting them off a barrier. This is the place where you always want to pick up your bike because it will make getting it off the ground and over an obstacle so much easier.
- Tire pressure - if you’re a beginner chances are you’re still using clinchers and chances are those clinchers say something along the lines of “minimum inflation 60 p.s.i. (or 4 bar)” Please ignore that. There is no reason to ride more than about 40 p.s.i. on a clincher, and often you should run far less. While I’ve been unable to find a rider weight to tire pressure chart my best advice is to use your best judgment. Tire pressure can change dramatically from course to course so it’s best to pre-ride every course and maybe do some tricky corners and technical sections a few times. If you’re bottoming out a lot you want to add pressure to avoid a pinch flat, if you’re sliding all over the place you want to take out a little. It’s not an exact science but it’s a silly little thing that can easily make or break your race.
The Technique & the Plunge:
Once you are geared up you can start working on the cyclocross specific technique which is not required, but necessary to make you competitive and keep you in the game. Not only that, but its fun and functional. Masters Elite crosser Doug Reid once fled an angry mob in India on his 100-pound fully-loaded touring rig by running and mounting his rig in cyclocross fashion.
Corey Stelljes of our Upper Midwest pro/elite squad gives this advice regarding gear upgrades for that performing edge: If I had to recommend one piece of equipment to upgrade it would be wheels and tires. Tubular wheels and tires are a great way to go and the new Clement tires are light and very durable.
Regarding technique, Corey Stelljes continues:
- Find a friend or club. Cyclocrossers are a social bunch and eager to help new people get into the sport. Someone who has been around a while can help with technique, race choices, and moral support.
- Attend a clinic. It seems that clinics are popping up all over the place now days, many in conjunction with mountain bike or cyclocross races.
- Practice. My first year racing cross I would train myself to learn the proper dismount technique by getting off my bike cx style each time. Even on my commute to work.
Nathan who is always good at getting right to the point adds, “Ride! Spend lots of time in gravel, grass, and dirt”. That’s another way of saying to just get a bike and get out there, take the plunge and don’t obsess about the minutia until you know its your thing.
Good luck and we hope to see your screaming, happy, mud splattered faces at the races!