Training: Cyclo-cross can make you a better rider

By Neil Pedoe, Cycling Plus | Monday, November 9, 2009 4.00pm

Cyclo-cross bikes aren’t just for ’cross racing – they’re tough, versatile and great for winter training too. The challenging surfaces and obstacles you'll encounter in the rough stuff will make you a better, faster and fitter rider.

If you want to put some extra fun, skills training and traffic-free miles into your riding, find out more about the essential skills you’ll need with our handy guide below.

Cornering 

Holding speed through corners and powering out of them is essential for all cycling disciplines.

Skills school: Set up a square with 20-30m sides. Ride around it hard for five minutes, recover for two minutes then repeat in the opposite direction. Practise braking skills, get used to the feeling of the bike sliding slightly under you and perfect your gear selection for sprinting out of corners.

Bunny hops

An essential skill for racers and a priceless road technique for hopping up kerbs or over potholes.

Skills school: Roll towards a stick on the ground at about 5mph. As you get close, stand up on the pedals with your feet level and your hands gripping the tops or the hoods of your bars. Rock backwards and bend your knees to lift the front wheel over the stick. Then, just before your back wheel hits the stick, jump up and push the bars away from you while rolling your wrists. This will lift the back of the bike up and over the stick.

Running dismounts

In ’cross racing, riders do this to clear some hurdles or before a section where they have to shoulder the bike. It’s equally useful for a commute if you’re in a hurry.

Skills school: Again, ride towards your stick on the ground slowly. When you get a few bike lengths away from it, unclip your right foot and swing it over the back of the bike onto the same side as your left. All your weight will be on your left foot until your right foot steps through onto the ground. As it makes contact with the earth, unclip your left foot and bring it forward for your next stride.

To start with, try unclipping your left foot and keeping it on the pedal before you swing your right leg over. Don’t try this with smooth soled road shoes – rubber soled touring, commuting or MTB-type SPDs are much safer. Practise until you get faster and smoother at doing this.

Running remounts 

Getting back on your bike at pace is just as important as dismounting at speed.

Skills school: With your hands on the top of the bar, leap onto the saddle so that both feet hit the pedals just an instant after you land on the saddle. To protect the family jewels, try to land off-centre and slightly at an angle, so that the top of your right leg takes the force. Then centre yourself.

Portage 

Running while carrying your bike is handy for unrideable terrain.

Skills school: Dismount as before but then reach down the left-hand side of the bike and grab the down tube with your right hand. Now lift the bike until the top tube is resting on your right shoulder. Meanwhile, use your left hand to hold the left-hand end of the bars. Once the bike is up, move your right hand to grip the left-hand side of the bars from underneath the down tube. This will keep the wheel from flapping around.

Going up 

Climbing steps or heading fast uphill is great for cycling fitness.

Skills school: Find an unrideable uphill bank or flight of steps 10-15m long. Ride up to this hard, dismount, shoulder the bike and power on up. Jog, roll or walk back down and then remount at pace before repeating.

Starting sprints 

Great if you have to stop and start on a commute or for the beginning of a race.

Skills school: Warm up for 10 minutes then, from a track stand, put in a hard sprint effort, with smooth shifts that get you to race pace quickly. You should do five 20-second efforts with a 60-second recovery.

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