Fast and furious, 50 minutes of eyeball-popping effort. Yet some of the safest and informal racing available which welcomes newcomers through to elite. Muddy marvellous! Thin tyres, thick mud and some of the most exciting racing you will ever come across, that's Cyclo-Cross.
Cyclo-Cross was an almost exclusively winter sport, but now summer evening races are a good taster. Short courses (often less than a mile long) on grass, generally in public parks or on playing fields, are usually tackled on machines which look very similar to Road bikes. Thin tyres have a knobbled tread and powerful brakes and low gears make Cyclo-Cross bikes easy to handle on the rough. Mountain bikes may also be ridden in local events. Mass starts make for fast races which are usually no more than an hour in length, shorter for juniors, women and veterans. With ice, tree-roots and even man-made obstacles in their way, the best riders are extremely agile at mounting and dismounting whilst keeping forward momentum.
Races have a relaxed, informal atmosphere and entries are usually accepted on the day. You do not have to have a licence, you can pay an on-the-day membership levy, but once you get into it, it is worth visiting the British Cycling site to see if a race licence is worth your while.
A provisional licence is enough to avoid paying a membership levy at events. There are categories for younger riders, usually with a reduced entry fee. The short lap length means that the better riders often lap some of the slower competitors, but that’s not the end of the race, you can still submerge yourself in the action, enjoy your own private battles and forget whether you are first or a hundred and first.
Cheltenham & County riders compete every season in the Western League. Events for the summer and autumn/winter leagues can be found on the British Cycling cyclocross calendar. There are also nearby events in the South West or Midland leagues.