Healthy Obsession: Cyclocross

Cyclocross isn’t your typical bike ride.

Dan Grant of Wilmette compares the sport to one big party and gives us the inside scoop on why cyclocross is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S.

MIB: What is cyclocross and how do you get started?

DG: Cyclocross is a combination of mountain biking and road racing with a bit of NASCAR thrown in. Bikers race several relatively short laps (1-2 miles), covering grass, dirt, sand, pavement and steep hills—plus jumping over obstacles. Approximately 90 percent of a course is rideable, and for other 10 percent, riders dismount and carry their bikes while negotiating obstacles. The races are timed and, depending on the difficulty, last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

The sport has a rebellious and fun spirit and the races have a party atmosphere. During the race it’s common to have rock bands or a DJ playing as well as beer trucks and barbeque. It’s the most joyous and social sport I’ve ever encountered.

MIB: What kind of gear do you need?

DG: To race, you need an appropriate bike, a helmet and some kind of eye protection. You can ride a mountain bike or a cross bike (a kind of hybrid road bike). I wouldn’t recommend riding on a traditional bike.

MIB: Can you train year-round?

DG: You can train year-round just by being on your bike. There are training groups specific to cyclocross, which I highly recommend. Higher Gear in Wilmette and Highland Park is a good place to check out if you’re interested. To get started, just sign up for a race and plan to start out in the back of the pack. There are typically no age restrictions, and various age and ability categories. A rookie can connect with a training group and find race schedules at

MIB: Your favorite thing about the sport?

DG: Cyclocross is extremely challenging, yet fun. You can be a serious racer or a casual competitor. There are many talented riders who compete at the national level, yet there are also riders who are there to have fun and get in a good workout.

My most important piece of advice is to have humility, because a unique aspect of the sport is the heckling. In most sports, spectators cheer the competitors, but in Cross the spectators heckle the riders and some are quite creative. But it’s all in good fun. Some riders and judges even dress in costume.

Another interesting aspect of Cross are what’s known as “handups.” Spectators along the course try to entice riders by handing out strange items like ribs, beef jerky, beer, Twinkies, dollar bills, etc.

MIB: What are the health benefits of cyclocross?

DG: It’s a sprint and your anaerobic capacity and aerobic system are tested. Your heart rate is near your maximum for almost the entire race. Your mind is turned off to the outside world during the race, so much so that sometimes you don’t hear the people heckling you! It’s really hard, but great fun.

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