Fiona Millburn is a cyclocross racer from Sydney. Fiona spent her 2015 travelling across Europe and North America, playing mechanic for her husband, Garry Millburn. Fiona will be sharing some of her CX knowledge with us throughout the 2016 season.
Words: Fiona Millburn // Images: Jeff Curtes
Mud, sand, unrideable obstacles, the cold winter air and the unmistakable sound of cowbells. This is cyclocross. If you are unfamiliar with cyclocross you are probably wondering why on earth anyone would want to race on such a treacherous course, but I assure you it is one of the raddest and friendliest sports going around.
Lets get down to business.
Cyclocross is typically considered a Belgian sport although its has roots dating back as far as the 1900s in France. Apparently a man named Daniel used to ride his bicycle alongside his horsemen friends through fields and decided perhaps he could make it into a little race with his friends - otherwise known as the French CX World Championships of 1902 (Ed: this may or may not be true).
Cyclocross bikes to the untrained eye look a bit like a road bike kitted out with narrow MTB tyres, however they do have many other unique features such as more clearance on forks and chainstays, slightly higher bottom bracket, variances in geometry and either disc or cantilever brakes.
The riders themselves tend to wear skin suits, a one piece suit that resembles what you might wear in a time trial, but they can be a little warmer to accommodate for the harsh winter conditions that races are generally held in. Oh yeah, did I mention CX is a winter sport?! We’re pretty lucky in Australia that winter doesn’t get so cold.
Races are generally held on a 2.5-3km circuit, and last for between 30 minutes and 1 hour, depending on the category you choose and whether it is a club race or a national event. Some races have the 80% rule where if you fall more than 80% behind the leader you will be pulled from the race, however this generally won’t happen at your local club race, because there would be an uproar! So you simply keep racing and you will end up doing one less lap than the winner! (They hold out lap boards so you don’t have to keep count)
The course typically starts and finishes on a paved section while the rest of the course will have a range of surfaces and obstacles such as grass, mud, sand pits, barriers, steep run ups and even stairs. If you encounter an unrideable section you simply dismount, carry your bike up or over the obstacle, remount and continue on your way. There WILL be times where those freaks of nature come flying past you and simply bunny hop or use their unfathomable power to conquer the obstacle.
The community behind cyclocross is pretty passionate about their sport, I mean what is there not to love about getting muddy, shouldering your bike and running up some stairs full tilt?! Not only are they passionate about cyclocross they are probably the friendliest bunch of cyclists you will ever meet. Expect to hear lots of cheering, cowbells and even a bit of banter while you race, you might even have someone offering handups of beer or a doughnut too. I advise against this...doughnuts and beer while your heart rate is through the roof is a bad combination...but each to their own!
I’m fairly confident after reading this you will want to come and race cyclocross. So let’s run through a list of what you are going to need:
- Most importantly a bike, however it doesn’t have to be a cx bike as club races usually have an open category for mountain bikes, hybrids etc. Just make sure you have some tyres with a bit of grip.
That’s it! You don’t NEED anything else. By all means you can turn up with your cx bike kitted out with tubular wheels and a badass skinsuit...but really you are more than welcome to turn up with a bike and your regular kit and just have some fun.
Now for my recommendations to get started:
- Contact your local club and find out about their races. Go and watch a CX race in the flesh. It will be a great experience and you will get to meet a bunch of people, pick up a few pointers and just generally see how the day runs.
- Do some off road riding before coming to race so you have a feel for it.
- Keep an eye out for local skills clinics. A lot of clubs organise free clinics for beginners. These are also a great chance to meet people in a similar position to you.
- Practice getting on and off your bike...it will happen many times during a race and I assure you this is completely normal.
- Get ready to have some fun, because that’s what cross is all about.
Whether you are fast, slow, or in between, you will have a great time racing cyclocross. No one really cares how good or bad you are, everyone will just be stoked you’re out there having a go.