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Your first cyclocross race

Published 2011-10-14

My friend Thom posted a longish and helpful blog post called Cyclocross for Beginners. BikePortland contributor Tori Bortman has written several primers about cyclocross. I’m sure there are other good resources. These are all fine but kind of long-winded.

I personally showed up to my first cross race with about this much preparation: I watched a video.

The purest, most fun way to prepare for your first cyclocross race is to show up ready to race, and expect the unexpected.

That‘s really all the preparation you need. For details, read on.

Show up ready to race

  • You will need to ride a bicycle and wear a helmet. So bring those.
  • Wear whatever you feel most comfortable wearing when you ride your bike, but bear in mind:

    • Everything you bring onto the race course will probably get covered with mud, or worse.
    • Anything you bring onto the race course may get whanged up in a crash.
    • (These hints apply to your bike as well.)
  • Bring enough money, in cash, to pay the race fee and race organization licensing fee. Some venues may charge for parking as well. $50 will probably cover all that and leave plenty left over for waffles.
  • Pack a towel and dry clothes to change into after the race.
  • Pack a lunch and something to drink.
  • Arrive at least 30 minutes before your race. Pre-ride (aka “preview”) the course, but ask first. (Riding on the course when other fields are racing is a big no-no.)

Expect the unexpected

  • Races start out fast and chaotic, and get worse from there. This stupidity will last for no more than 45 minutes.
  • You will suffer. You will either be too hot or too cold, or somehow both at the same time. You will get dusty, muddy, or wet. Your muscles and lungs will hurt. Don’t worry, everyone else is suffering, too.
  • You will have lots of fun. The fun will come at unexpected moments. Probably right after a crash. (Remember: mud is soft.)
  • If you race on a full stomach, you will probably barf.
  • At some point during your race, you’ll have to get off your bike, and carry it up something or over something. You’ll know to do this because everyone else will be getting off their bikes, too. As at a dinner party: look at what everyone else is doing, and do that.
  • Ride as fast as you can until someone tells you to stop. When you stop, you will feel like utter crap and total hero at the same time.
  • Stick around after your race to watch the other races. They get faster as the day goes on.
  • Walk around the course and find the place where everyone crashes, the place where everyone runs, the place where everyone pedals really fast, and the place where everyone makes a scary face.
  • Make sure to tell everyone you talk to: “this is my first race!” Don’t forget the exclamation point.