Ask Ben’s Cycle: What Do I Bring to My First Cyclocross Race?

The cyclocross season in Wisconsin opens this weekend, and many of us are already packing our bags and getting ready.

We’ve had several of our cyclocross clinic participants ask about what to bring to a cross race. The answer is a little complicated.

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Here’s most of my pile, including two helmets, two pairs of shoes, and ziploc bags of clothing.

 

If you are just starting out, and it’s your very first race, bring a bike, helmet, kit, shoes, and socks. If it’s rainy or muddy, pack rain gear and an extra kit so you can ride around the course to see what it’s like, then change before the race. Just check the weather forecast the night before, assume it’s going to be wrong, and be prepared.

I race for the Milwaukee Bicycle Company Cycling Team, and I’ve been doing this cross thing for a long time. I’m not great with thinking before a cross race, so the more I can do prior to the event, the more I can just show up and race.

I compiled a checklist of what I bring to races and added some links to other lists. In Wisconsin, we are lucky in that SRAM neutral support is at every race, so I don’t bring much in the way of tools (not that I could use them very well anyway).

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Ron Knutowski of the Milwaukee Bicycle Company Cycling Team aboard a MBC Mettle

I usually bring everything to every race and just leave it in the van (except the clothing I wear. I wash that!). That way, I’m prepared for pretty much anything.

Clothing

  • Rain jacket, rain pants, Wellingtons or waterproof boots.
  • One set of jersey/shorts and one skinsuit. One to warm up in, one to race in.  I bring short and long sleeve skinsuit to every race.
  • Long sleeve jersey for warmups.
  • Extra base layers.
  • Vest, arm warmers, leg warmers, knee warmers. These are for warm-ups. I don’t like racing with anything on my legs unless it’s really really cold, like below 20 degrees.
  • Two pairs of shoes. Race pair and backup, just in case one breaks or I need to pre-ride in the mud.
  • Overshoes or neoprene booties. Again, only for warm-up.
  • Two helmets. Again, in case of a mechanical.
  • Two pairs of gloves. By October, I’m bringing four or five pairs. Short and long-fingered race gloves, a light, medium, and heavy pair of warm-up or standing around gloves.
  • Tights or warm up pants.
  • Two to three pairs of socks, preferably wool, although your race socks can match the kit!
  • Large ziploc bags. I store race kit in one, warm up kit in another, extra gear in a third, vest and warmers in a fourth. After the warmup, all that kit goes into one bag for the wash. The ziplocs allow for better organization.
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I even label most of the bags so they are easier to find. The less I have to think before a race, the better!

  • Winter jacket. It will look good on the podium.
  • Cycling cap. During warmups, while you’re on the trainer.
  • Beanie – wool.
  • Winter cap – I don’t like wearing anything heavy under my helmet during a race, so I have a lightweight beanie for racing. Then a winter cap or something warm for immediately after the race.
  • Sunglasses with multiple lenses.

 

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This large duffel bag is just my clothing for race day. It doesn’t include the winter gear or rain gear, which are in separate bags. And this is why I drive a van!

Gear and Equipment

  • Bike. Make sure it’s clean, tuned-up, and ready to ride. Take off the water bottle cages, your saddle bag, and anything else you’ve attached to the bike. I’ve been doing this long enough so that I have an identical Milwaukee Mettle I use as the pit bike. I justify this by not having a road bike and using the pit bike to train!

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    Rick Walls and his Milwaukee CX bike

  • Pump. I’ve had good luck with the Specialized floor pump. The Joe Blow models also work well.
  • Gauge. Meiser presta 30psi gauge!!!
  • Tools: multi-tool, small Phillips and small regular screwdriver, disc rotor tool.
  • Chain lube: Just in case I didn’t add it the night before or if I have to wash my bike between events.
  • Spray adhesive: I hate using pins on the skinsuit and the adhesive washes out.
  • Safety pins – in case you run out of spray adhesive.
  • Towels: beach and hand. I use the beach towel to wrap around myself as I change into and out of my kit. I use the hand towels to wash off the mud and grime after the race.
  • Baby wipes – great for cleaning everywhere after the race
  • Heat packs. I use the little ones I can put in my gloves and shoes. If my hands and feet are warm, I’m good.
  • Water bottles for before and after the race.
  • Energy drink mix.
  • Gels – it’s nice to take one right before the race for a little extra juice.
  • Snack bars or sandwiches – eat a little something one hour before the race to keep your hunger pangs at bay.
  • Food for after the race. Be prepared since there may not be food for purchase.
  • Folding chair.
  • ipod or music player – good for warming up.
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MBC Cycling Team Vicki Pink

  • Water – bring at least one gallon of water, not only for drinking, but for cleaning. My friend Patrick always brings a thermos of hot water to clean off the gunk on his body. Great idea, but I’m not that organized.
  • Embrocation – many cyclists use the warming oil or cream on their legs and/or toes/ hands to keep the cold off. I tend to use Mad Alchemy non-warming embrocation to keep the mud, rain, and other debris off my legs without using the warming element.
  • Stationary trainer – it’s nice to warm up under a tent.
  • Rear wheel – warm up on the trainer with a regular tire, not a cross tire.
  • Spare wheels – I bring wheels with tires that have different treads for different conditions. Many pros have a dozen or more wheel sets. I’m down to four: a file tread tire (Challenge Chicane) set, a medium tire (Vittoria XG) and two sets of mud tires (Challenge Limus, Vittoria XL). I have two mud sets because I’m more likely to be switching bikes in a muddy race. Or ride what ya brung.
  • If I’m traveling and staying overnight, my list grows to food (gf bread, peanut butter, tuna – good protein source, fruit), French press, Valentine coffee (hotel coffee is usually undrinkable), laptop, changes of clothing.

Here’s a video from Chris Mayhew at cxhairs.com.

 

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Chris St. Clair of the Milwaukee Bicycle Company Cycling Team on his Mettle.

And here’s an article from USA Cycling about how to prepare for your first cross race. This article from cycle-smart  goes into more depth.

We would be remiss in not bringing up beer. Seems that cyclocross racers like their beer. Sometimes during, but mostly after the race! We’d recommend Milwaukee Brewing Co. beverages!

 

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