Beat the Off-Season Slump with Cyclocross

It’s been called the most fun you can have on two wheels—that is when you actually get to stay on your bike. Every winter a growing number of road cyclists and mountain bikers are trying cyclocross—lung-busting short track races that include fast sprints on a mix of terrain and a variety of natural and manmade obstacles. One minute you’re cranking down a dirt hill, and the next you’re shouldering your bike through a muddy bog or over a rickety wooden staircase.

“It’s a balls-out aerobic time trial,” says Michael Hosang, an avid cyclocross rider from Virginia Beach, who also directs a local race. “I normally hate time trials, but then you add jumping off your bike and pushing through a sandpit, while you rub elbows with the guy next to you. There’s so much excitement that you don’t realize you’ve been pushing it in the red for so long.”

The sport was started in Europe over 50 years ago as a way for cyclists to maintain fitness levels during the winter. In the U.S. it’s still considered a fringe sport, but in the last five years regional race directors have seen a steady increase in participation. Cyclocross races are now taking place in most urban areas in the South.

Cross racers tackle one-to-two-mile loops on dirt trails, asphalt, grass, or gravel, all in the same course. The short course has enabled cross races to become rowdy spectator events with beer gardens and big post-parties.

“Crits are boring to watch, because it’s just bikers going around in a circle,” says Hosang. “With cross, people can see all of the action.”

CyclocrossTRY CROSS:
12/5,12/12 : Mud, Sweat, and Gears Cyclocross Series
msgcross.com.

Catch the last two races of this growing series at Steele Creek Nature Center and Park in Bristol, Tenn.

12/6: Capital Cross Classic
potomacvelo.com.

The D.C. area’s big cyclocross blowout takes place at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Va., on a course that features a mixed bag of terrain from soft grass to hard-packed dirt to an asphalt descent. Watch out for some off-camber turns and three course obstacles.

12/12: Virginia Beach Cyclocross Winter Endurance Challenge
vbchallenge.kalerunning.com.

Head to the coast and try cyclocross at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex on a two-mile loop course that will mix dirt, grass, hills, pavement, and plenty of obstacles.

1/9-24: North Carolina Cyclocross Winter Cup Series.
nccyclocross.com.

This race series takes place on the weekends in January throughout North Carolina with cross comps in Mooresville, Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Greensboro.

CyclocrossCYCLOCROSS BIKES have a frame that closely resembles a road bike but knobby tires and cantilever brakes are used for the off-road conditions. Many riders first trying the sport just choose to use a mountain bike. The best bang for your buck with cross bikes is the Red Line Conquest (redlinebicycles.com).