The Bike institute are big fans of cyclo-cross and our store on Dorset St sees many cross riders popping in for repairs, sales or just a bit of a chinwag. We sell lots of cross bikes and even sponsored their recent event at Punchestown which was fantastic day. What started out as a small activity amongst passionate riders in Ireland has now followed the UK in becoming a fastest growing cycling sports. Not only is it a fun and challenging off-road sport that is full of mud, sweat, blood and a few tears, there has also been a huge surge in women joining events around the country. We asked one of our favourite cyclists, Natalie Grieve, about cross and why more women are partaking in this growing sport.
What is Cyclo-cross racing and what attracted you to it?
Cyclo-cross is a type of bike racing. For the most part, the course is off-road but there are sometimes portions of pavement included in the course. You can expect to encounter a mix of grass, dirt, mud, gravel, sand, stairs and barriers. The races are based on a set time (measured by numbers of laps), not distance, around 40-60 minutes depending on the category.
The season runs from October – January with several race leagues in Ireland.
My husband started racing and kept going on about how much fun it was so I decided to give it a go. I was terrified at first as had never ridden off-road before, but am slowly getting better with practice and enjoy playing in the mud.
Can anyone do it? What level of fitness do you need?
It is accessible to anyone with a cyclocross bike (some beginner races allow MTBs). There are different categories for different abilities and it’s a great way to improve your bike handling. The good thing about it is, if there are any features you find too challenging, you can get off the bike and run.
About the bikes, what makes a decent cross bike and is ladies geometry important?
Good clearance for tyres plus mud, cantilever or disc brakes depending on personal preference, a bike you can shoulder easily and lift over barriers. Tyre choice is important; I use tubular tyres on my race bike.
I am 5’4 and didn’t opt for a women’s specific bike. The only issue I have had size wise was with toe overlap when cornering on my first cross bike, not an issue with the bike I have now.
Why is it that so few women cycle in events like these than men?
We have had up to 30 women racing cyclocross this year (compared to 3 when I started 3 years ago) and we have had women only races for the first time this year in the Ulster and Fixx leagues. I think the numbers in road racing and triathlon are growing as they are maybe less intimidating forms of cycling for beginners. Cycling used to seem like a bit of a boys club, but I do think this is changing.
I got more into cycling by going on women’s beginner road spins that were organised by Orwell Wheelers, a lot of women have taken part in that program in recent years. Great way to start and gain some experience. There are women’s road racing leagues too that are aimed more at beginners and are getting a good turnout. Hopefully now that cyclocross race organisers are putting on women’s races the numbers will increase again. It is a friendly scene and you get plenty of cheers from the spectators regardless of where you are in the race.
There are women’s mountain bike groups around Dublin now aiming to get beginners into the sport. I went on the Liv Dublin spins this year and learned a lot. These groups are very sociable too, most road spins involve a group coffee stop.
Cheers Natalie! For more on the Dublin Cross scene see Dublin City Cross facebook page for latest info.