For many of us February is when we finally hang up the ‘cross bike for the season; time for some much needed maintenance to be carried out. Perhaps you’ll be having a brief rest before hitting the road? Well maybe you should hang on before putting your ‘cross bike away for the summer. You may have noticed that the new word on the street is ‘gravel’ and what’s a gravel bike, if not a cyclo-cross bike? Loads of new events are springing up that can be ridden on a ‘cross bike; and in the summer, when there’s no mud! My favourite events are the CX Sportive series, and not just because they are, like me, based around the South of England!
The CX Sportive idea is a simple one, take your usual road sportive, with gps routes, signage, feed stations, support vehicle, time standards and route it along the kind of paths you would never take your road bike down. While tarmac will figure heavily, a lot of it will be broken, pot-holed, even cobbled. And then there’s the off-road stuff! Farm tracks, bridleways, sandy lanes and single track will figure in different amounts and will keep you on your toes.
Modern ‘cross bikes are fast and nimble on the road, and with bigger – preferably tubeless – tyres they can handle a hell of a lot more than a muddy field. If you’ve only ever ridden your ‘cross bike in a race, you may be surprised at just how capable they are. And if you’ve grown up with Mtbs you might not think a ‘skinny’ road bike up to the job; well they are!
Are you the kind of rider that likes covering long distances at speed? Then a ‘cross/gravel bike may be what you need. While they won’t appreciate taking huge air and crunching landings, handled properly they can take a surprising amount of abuse. Mind you CX Sportives won’t take you down those kind of routes, so don’t worry if, like me, you like to keep your wheels on the ground!
A cyclo-cross bike isn’t compulsory for their events, you can ride any bike you fancy and they’ll even indicate in the results who rode what. The atmosphere at the start is always friendly and sometimes it’s surprising to see what people choose to ride on some of the events! Another subject that will get endlessly debated is tyre choice. For me, it has to be fat and tubeless! Fat to offer better grip and some cushioning, especially on those long, dusty summer rides! And tubeless because I hate punctures; I found Schwalbes G-Ones to be perfect as long as it’s not too muddy.
The CX Sportive series consists of six sportive events and the Battle in the Bowl race. With the exception of the CX Century and the Ridgeway 100, each event has three route options and a start/finish that offers parking, toilets and usually showers. The CX Century and Ridgeway 100 are point to point events, so require a little more planning for riders.
The CX Century is one of my favourite rides and a ‘must do’ for any UK based long distance, off-road rider. Starting in Winchester it finishes up in Eastbourne after 100 miles of gruelling – but not technically difficult – chalk trails. The route travels the length of the South Downs National Park and takes in some beautiful views. Usually run off in glorious sunshine, the white chalk can become blinding as you reach the end and you’ll be grateful for the well stocked and frequent feedstops. Ridden on a ‘cross bike with no suspension, only 40mm tyres to lessen the sting, it’s a proper old school challenge. Modern mtbs have made the South Downs Way much more achievable, so it’s nice to tackle it with less technology between you and the trail. Give it a go, you won’t forget it!
The Battle in the Bowl is a one-off day of racing over a four mile circuit. Based in Matterley Bowl near Winchester, the Battle in the Bowl’s main event is the two-hour Elite CX race. This one is designed for all those ‘cross racers who now have some road miles in their legs and fancy something a little different from the usual hour-round-a-muddy-field race! There is also a shorter Open category race, where any bike is welcome and even encouraged! Under 16 and under 14 riders will also have their own races.
So that is just one series of events to keep your inner ‘cross monkey happy, there are others and we will cover them over the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled. I also hope to run some more reviews on the kind of bikes best suited to these kind of events and the kit that goes with it.
Below are this year’s dates and there is a rumour that new events will be added, if they are, we’ll keep you informed. Look out for me at the CX Sportives and if I’m suffering, give me a push!
12th Feb: Chilterns Wildwood CX
5th Mar: Surrey Hills Gravelcross CX
9th Apr: South Downs Gravelcross CX
21st May: Battle in the Bowl
8th Jul: CX Century: The South Downs Way
5th Aug: Ridgeway 100: Century to the Stones
24th Sep: White Horse Ridge CX
15th Oct: Gold Rush CX
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