Women’s Cyclocross Season is Here!!

By Kari Studley, PT, DPT, CYT

Women’s participation in cyclocross events in the Northwest and nationally is on the rise. The fun factor may have something to do with it. Photo courtesy of Woodinville Bicycle Photo courtesy of Woodinville Bicycle

Women’s participation in cyclocross events in the Northwest and nationally is on the rise. The fun factor may have something to do with it.

So, what is cyclocross? Other than the most fun found on two wheels, it is an off-road style of bike racing that runs locally from September through December. In Europe the cyclocross season is October through February. Race courses are typically a 2.5- to 3.5 km-long figure 8-style loop and held in a style similar to cross-country mountain bike racing. Events are generally held in parks and make use of all terrain including grass, dirt, mud, trails, pavement, sandpits, etc. The international cycling federation (UCI) and USA Cycling sanctioned competitions must feature at least one obstacle that requires riders to dismount their bike to negotiate it. Although this can be environmental such as a steep hill, valley, ditch or log, it is most commonly achieved with two manmade 16-inch tall wooden barriers placed about three meters apart.

While cyclocross bicycles look like road bikes with knobby tires, a road bike won’t work for ‘cross, because it requires bigger tires and they will not fit in the smaller clearance and space between the brakes and fork of a regular bike. Cyclocross bikes also have a different frame geometry and design that allows for better turning and clearance of ground obstacles. Sometimes the top tube shape is also flatter to make running with the bike on the shoulder easier and more comfortable. For some category of racers, cyclocross can be done on mountain bikes; however, they can be heavy and challenging to run with over barriers.

The Pacific Northwest is home to large cyclocross communities and holds the record for the most participation. Cross Crusade in Oregon often has 1,000 to 1,400 race participants while Seattle commonly draws 500-800 racers at early season competitions. Nationally, cyclocross is one of the fastest growing cycling disciplines. Proof being through USA Cycling race permits. In 2005, there were 237 USAC cyclocross events. Less than 10 years later, in 2014, that number more than doubled at 526!

Ride while holding on to a friend — the double bikes tag drill — helps riders learn balance and gain confidence in their bike handling skills. Photo courtesy of Woodinville Bicycle Photo courtesy of Woodinville Bicycle

Ride while holding on to a friend — the double bikes tag drill — helps riders learn balance and gain confidence in their bike handling skills.

With all of this growth, a few years ago a group of women asked: “Why aren’t more women racing cyclocross?” which lead to the establishment of the Washington Women of Cyclocross (WWCX) in 2012. The organization is a non-profit grassroots group of people passionate about increasing awareness of the sport for women and creating a welcoming community for ladies to experience and participate in.

The objective is to help grow the women’s ‘cross population and support and inspire them to have confidence in their cycling goals and potential. To do this, the group started the first-ever (and only) women’s-specific cyclocross race, which expanded into the WWCX Cyclocross Festival and Women Celebration race. With unique events such as the “Mom’s Race,” where the categories are based on the age of the oldest child and the popular women’s-only clinics, lead by local elites and experienced women, the event continues to grow every year. If you missed this year’s edition (August 29, 2015), mark your calendar for next season, as it has become a tradition to gather the weekend before Labor Day at Saint Edward Park in Kenmore, Wash. WWCX also likes to support women in their roles outside of cyclocross — whether professional, family and cycling advocacy — through the WWCX Rider of the Week initiative found on the organization’s Facebook page (facebook.com/womencx).

The cyclocross community has been very supportive of promoting an encouraging and positive race experience for female riders with a couple of prominent races series now offering an “all women” specific time slot. This means ladies get to race with and around other women of all levels. And the participation numbers reflect how successful this has been in Washington. In 2011, there were 1,773 unique women participants in all of the cyclocross races in Washington State, with an average of 59 registered per event. Three short years later, in 2014, total women’s participation grew to 1,940. More impressive was the increase in average per race participants, which reached 303! This means more women are racing cyclocross and usually racing more than one race at the event.

Even better, this past January at the 2015 U.S. National Cyclocross Championships, 23 women from Washington competed in 11 different championship events with four reaching the podium. Another indicator that the sport is expanding nationally is the numbers of attendees for both Elite categories at that event: 50 women were at the starting line, compared to 55 men.

Odds are there is a race (or two) scheduled nearby throughout the fall. Go see, experience and try this sport out for yourself and meet the welcoming cyclocross community — you’ll be hooked. Bring the kids; there are events for them too. The hardest part will be trying not to get addicted to the fun on two wheels.

Kari Studley, PT, DPT has been hooked on cyclocross since her first race (on her mountain bike) in 2003. She is the 2013 Masters Cyclocross World Champion, a 3-time National Cyclocross Champion six-time Washington State Cyclocross Champion, and 2009 Single Speed Cyclocross World Champion. She enjoys helping promote and create more opportunities for women to experience and race cyclocross through Washington Women of Cyclocross facebook.com/womencx, womencx.com.

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