No-one ever accused me of being a fashionista. Ever. I’m a bike mechanic who’s constantly tinkering with dirty stuff, usually outside, so my mode of dress is always functional: old Danner boots, loose jeans, black t-shirts (much to the dismay of a certain co-worker)… My attitude towards bikes and bike clothing is often very similar. Function first.
Let’s start with shoes. For cross, since we are dis-mounting and running over barriers, we need a good pair of “mountian bike” shoes. Notice how I said GOOD. Sometimes good things are expensive. Sometimes they are not. Expensive things are not always good. My criteria in picking a Cyclocross (mountain bike) shoe is: buckles or tight fitting straps, excellent fit, two hole SPD mounting, doesn’t stretch when wet, and last easy to run in. I’ve always found that the shoes with 3 straps don’t hold tight enough (especially if they have a stiff carbon sole) for cyclocross. Look for a good tread pattern on the bottom, something that will be easy to run in, and the SPD 2-hole standard threaded slots. My shoes of choice are the Giro line. They’re mid-range shoes offer more features than many competitor’s high-end shoes. Here’s a review of the Privateers (women’s version is called the Manta). We’ll pair our shoes with a pair of mountain bike pedals. Our pedal of choice at Belgianwerkx is the Crank Brothers Eggbeaters. We’ve also had a lot of luck with the Shimano SPD mountain style. Both of these companies offer a wide range of styles to fit your budget. Be wary of the least expensive offerings from either company, they’ll wear out fast.
Wool! Wool socks are awesome for CX. They offer a little extra warmth, most won’t stink too bad after a race, and they wick sweat really well in the early season. The best sock we’ve ever used is the Sockguy Turbo Wool Socks. They’ve got a thicker base, but the upper is nice and light. Makes for a really comfortable sock when you’re pounding your heavy feet across the frozen ground at the end of a late season CX race. We liked them so much that we commissioned custom ones for our team and our customers.
There are so many good helmets on the market we have a hard time making a recommendation here. Get to your local bike shop and start trying some on. Since fit varies so greatly between models and brands, we offer helmets from Lazer, Giro, Bell, and Uvex. All are good, however, the most important part is a good fit. Helmets slipping over your eyes or back on your head is a big no-no. Extra features to look for is an optional winter pad set, or a cover that can keep your head warm on winter days. Some of the new “aero” helmets have limited ventilation, which are perfect for cooler weather. I prefer a simple cycling cap under my Bell Gage when the thermostat drops. We’ve always like Gary Rothera’s caps, handmade in the USA, so we got him to make us some in 3 sizes.
Keeping warm in a cross race is always a concern, but almost never a problem. I overdressed for my first few races. Unless it is late season Packer weather (<40 degrees) a light baselayer is all you need under your kit. Some armwarmers might be good, but be careful you don’t overdo it. I prefer long fingered gloves when the weather drops below 60. CX racing is HARD, and a few minutes in, you’ll be warm. Speaking of that, during my warm-ups in cold weather (about an hour) I wear a pair of tights and a light softshell or wind jacket. I keep them on until there is only 5 minutes or so left to race. A friend, team mate, or family member usually grabs the extra clothing from me at the start line.
What the what? Embrocation (embro for short) is a warming cream or lotion that some CX racers use to keep blood flowing to the leg muscles and skin during cold weather. Imagine Icy-Hot without the Icy. It takes a while to start working, so put it on a while before your race. DO NOT TOUCH YOUR EYES OR SENSITIVE SADDLE AREAS ONCE YOU PUT IT ON!!! Embro is made out of Capsaicin pepper, not unlike mace… There are varying degrees of warm to hot here, find one that works for you. We’re huge fans of the Enzo’s line!
A bib short and a jersey is okay for cross, especially if you’re looking for something in the closet you may already have. Look for something that fits tight. A loose jersey will ride up and snag on other riders, stakes, the ground, trees, etc. In cross, you will be running, and jerseys tend to ride up the stomach and this can be a real problem, especially for girls. Also, the jersey can snag on your saddle during re-mounts. The BEST thing for cross is a skinsuit. Skinsuits are normally used for time-trials or crit racing where aerodynamics are a priority over storage (pockets) and comfort. We don’t wear skinsuits in cross for aerodynamics. We wear them because they’re easier to run and move in. They don’t snag saddles when you hop back on your bike. The tight fit doesn’t rip as easily when you take than inevitable low-speed spill. Most manufacturers also use a thinner pad in their skinsuit than in their regular bibs or shorts, this is a little easier to run in. You’re not spending more than an hour in the saddle anyway, so a big thick chamois isn’t necessary. Lastly, since a CX race is so short, you won’t need a place to stash anything. If you’re concerned about a place for your water bottle during warm up, just stash it in in your skinsuit.
Anyone want to add anything? Sound off in the comments below!
Nicholas Moroder is the everyday face of Belgainwerkx. He has been wrenching on bikes for 10 years and is a Certified Retul University fitter. He's the kind of guy who can tell you what tire is best for your wet rides, or what brake pads will make your rims last the longest. He manages the service, product , fitting, and day-to-day operation of the shop.
Photography by Darren Hauck.