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The cyclo-cross season has already begun but if it’s not on your radar or has fallen by the wayside since your family grew, now could be the time to consider it.

In the UK, cyclo-cross (CX) is the fastest growing discipline, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a bit like a cross between road and mountain biking; imagine a road bike with knobbly tyres and a LOT of mud. For kids and adults alike, it can be a lot of fun. If you’ve got children who have mastered their bike on traffic-free trails and would like to try something new, cyclo-cross could be the answer for them.

Why would you get children into cyclo-cross?

  • Well if you’re already involved in the sport, it would make sense that you might like them to enjoy it too. A shared interest with your little one is something to cherish.
  • It’s a safer alternative to road riding and racing. With cyclo-cross courses taking place away from traffic on predominantly soft ground at lower speeds, the chance of taking a tumble is high but the risks involved are low.
  • By building confidence off-road, their on-road handling skills will improve making them a safer all-round cyclist.
  • It can be difficult to get out over the winter, so it’s a good chance to embrace the elements and learn to enjoy what different seasons have to offer. There’s nothing like being out in torrential rain and caked in mud then getting back to a warm shower and a hot chocolate.

How to get involved

The British Cycling website is a good place to start if that’s where you’re based. They have a directory of clubs in which you can filter using ‘cyclo-cross racing’ to see which clubs near you cater to the sport. You can then find out if there are any races going on which are local to you. It’s likely that the junior races will be alongside adult races on the same day, so maybe you can give it a whirl too!

In terms of a bike for the sport, the one they have will likely do the job. Of course, there are specific cyclo-cross bikes but if they’re just giving it a go, they don’t need a drop-bar bike – a mountain bike will do just fine. The same goes for gear. Ensure they wear clothes that are comfortable for their bike and suitable for the weather, and they’ll be happy. Since the cyclo-cross season runs over winter (September–February), you’ll want to make sure they’re wrapped up warm and remain relatively dry.

What’s involved in a cyclo-cross race 

Cyclo-cross races, unlike road racing, are usually short and sharp. They are often time-restricted, with adult courses lasting between 40 minutes to an hour, and junior races being 10 or 15 minutes. The courses will be around 2-4 km, with participants lapping the course within the allotted time frame. The course is usually over grassy, hilly terrain with various obstacles and there’s the need to occasionally get off the bike and carry it (though this is less likely in junior races). Since they’re usually local league races, the atmosphere is great, especially for kids. No doubt they’ll love it and will want to return for more.

Discovering a sport that can push boundaries whilst being a lot of fun can be a hugely rewarding experience for young people. Cyclo-cross is certainly one of those activities. But don’t blame us when the inevitable pile of muddy gear grows throughout winter! You might instead want to hose down more than just the bike.