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Cross-dressing

Let’s talk about cross-dressing. No, not that sort of thing, but dressing for cyclocross racing. Just as MTB technology has driven bicycle product development in cyclocross, so it has also opened up the range of options when it comes to riding kit.

While there is very little specific cyclocross kit available, there is plenty of kit that can cross over from other disciplines: road and MTB. I’ll start at the bottom and work upwards from there.

As far as cyclocross racing is concerned perhaps the greatest benefit to come from MTBs is the great selection of shoes that can be used off-road. Today, thanks to Shimano’s introduction of SPD pedals some 25 years ago, you can get shoes that have recessed metal cleats to clip to the pedals and soles with more than adequate grip. They’re certainly a better choice for racing cross than modern road shoes with their smooth and incredibly stiff carbon soles.

Off-road shoes from Shimano can be picked up for less than £40, but if you want to spend more you can go up to £150 for top-of-the-line shoes from the Japanese manufacturer, while for the ultimate experience many would consider a pair of Sidi shoes as having no equal, but then again they do retail at over £300 for the latest designs.

Working your way upwards and shorts are the next thing to consider. But what about leggings, I hear you ask. What about them? A cross race only lasts a little over an hour so you’re not going to get cold enough to warrant leggings. However, I would suggest giving your knees some love and keeping them warm with either three quarter length shorts or regular shorts and knee warmers.

When it comes to which brand of shorts to actually go for, the most important factor is comfort. If the padded insert doesn’t suit you then the shorts will simply be a waste of money. My personal preference are the Btwin 3/4 bib short from Decathlon. Not only are they a sensible price at £45 but at that price I don’t mind if they get trashed in crash while racing. Obviously, if cost wasn’t an issue and I wasn’t worried about ruining them, I’d go for a pair of the bizarrely named Assos tK.607_s5 Bib Knickers.

Steer clear of mountain bike baggies for the simple reason that you will mess up if you try and do a classic cyclocross running mount or dismount. The excess material of the shorts will get caught on the nose of the bike’s saddle. Just trust me on this one.

Move upwards again, and it’s time to look at covering your upper half. My preferred combination is a base layer and then an old long-sleeved jersey. If the weather is really wet then I’ll maybe swap the jersey out for a lightweight waterproof. Once again the choices here come down mainly to how much you want to spend. Some people swear by Merino wool base layers, and as an owner of many I’ll agree that they are good, very good, but I’m just as happy wearing a synthetic base from one of the well-known discount supermarkets. It’s not like you’re making a fashion statement as no-one is going to see it, and you just need it to wick your sweat away.

On the jersey front, in an ideal world I would always race in one of Isadore Apparel’s Long Sleeve jerseys but I’m not going to subject a brand new £115 top to the rigours of a cross race where I’m going to be constantly shouldering a muddy bike. I’ll wear it for a couple of seasons on the road and then when it’s looking a bit tatty relegate it to cross duty. The issue of shouldering the bike is one of the reasons why I’m not keen on wearing a waterproof shell layer. Not only does it get in the way but it can get overly hot, too.

Finishing your ensemble off, you should be okay using whatever helmet you’ve already got. Of course, I’m assuming here that you’re only helmet isn’t a full aero time trial one. If it is, then you’re doubtless the type that likes toys and gadgets so just buy a new lid anyway. Oh and get a pair of clear glasses. Mud is your enemy and an eye full of it off the leading rider’s back wheel is no fun. There’s no reason to spend big on Oakleys either because at some point you will lose them in the middle of a race. Again, trust me on that one.

Now you’re kitted up just get out there and enjoy it. It’s meant to be fun after all.

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