By Jason McDowell Creative Director Published Aug 30, 2019 at 11:01 AM Photography: Jason McDowell

The opening of cyclocross season is but a week away, and with the #crossiscoming hashtag fully ablaze, we're going to take a look at what this sport is all about.

Cyclocross (aka cross or CX) is not road racing, and it's not mountain biking. It's kind of both smooshed together, which perhaps makes it more accessible. It's a short lap race (usually 30 minutes to an hour) on road-style bikes with tires that are bigger than a road racer's and smaller than a mountain bike's. Race courses roll over variable terrain (like a county park, for instance) and are designed to challenge both fitness and finesse. If you imagine something like a Mud Run but on nimble bikes, you're most of the way there.

CX is a multi-terrain support.

Cyclocross has picked up a bit more attention in the cycling arena thanks to the success of its biggest atheletes in the road racing scene, including the Tour de France and the Giro Rosa.

To be competitive, riders must manifest their technical skills across a variety of turns, terrains, barriers and straight-up open chases. You have to choose the right lines to get through corners as efficiently as possible, and know when it's faster to hop off the bike and run instead.

One local who is on a journey to perfect this knowledge is Racine's own Kaitie Keough, who became a world-class racer last year by winning the Jingle Cross World Cup. She ran, carrying her bike for nearly half the race.

While there is solid competition at every level, it's still a welcoming sport to introductory riders. This is thanks to what I call the four S's of cyclocross.

  • It's softer when you fall
  • Speeds are slower on grass
  • Participants are more spread out
  • And the scene is great!

If you slide out on grass, it's more comfortable than landing on pavement. The resistance from the terrain (the grass, mud, sand, etc.) still provides an intense workout but without getting dangerously speedy. Unlike road racing, you don't have to ride shoulder to shoulder in a peloton, and because the courses are wider than mountain bike single tracks, you don't often get caught up in lines of competitors.

Running up hills may be easier, but it also spikes your heart rate, making recovery at the top harder.

And the CX scene so far has proven to be very open, welcoming and encouraging to participants of all skill levels. Teams that compete against each other during a race often work together with each other on the sidelines.

If you peruse internet forums of local cyclocross groups, you'll see questions from first-timers nervously asking what kind of equipment they'll need. Often the relaxed response is, "Just show up, run what you brung and have some fun. Worry about the rest later." Thus, the introductory categories (Cat 5 and Singlespeed) tend to be looser on the official rules. Heck, even the more competitive categories know how to have fun as long as your fun isn't getting in the way of others. (Tamale hand-ups, anyone?)

Costumes welcome at Halloween races.

Season kickoff

The first race of the season begins with Flyover Silver Creek in Manitowoc on Saturday, Sept. 7. For those not able to go the distance, Cross-Shoosko is the very next day, Sunday, Sept. 8 in Milwaukee's Kosciuszko Park. (See the full schedule below.)

Flyover Silver Creek will feature – surprise, surprise – the flyover for which it is named and will require riders to dismount, run up the stairs and roll down the other side. Advanced categories will also have to suffer their way up Heckle Hill, though those who can ride all the way up it on their last lap will be treated to a $1 bill (if they can grab it).

The Flyover and Heckle Hill are two prominent features of the Flyover Silver Creek cyclocross race. (PHOTOS: Flyover Silver Creek (Left), Kelly Lambeth (Right))

Milwaukee's first CX race of the year, Cross-Shooshko, was cancelled due to weather last year (at the behest of the County Parks; cross races are rarely cancelled despite inclimate weather) but it's back again this year with proceeds benefiting the Down Syndrom Association of Wisconsin.

You can save a little bit of money by pre-registering by the Wednesday night before each race, or you can always register the day of the race.

Full race schedule

8/24 Kenosha Kutters CX Kenosha Cancelled
9/07 Flyover Silver Creek Manitowoc Pre-reg
9/08 Cross-Shooshko Milwaukee Pre-reg
9/15 LAPT Lion Cross Waterford Pre-reg
9/21 Trek CX Cup Waterloo World Cup Pre-reg
9/22 Trek CX Cup Waterloo World Cup Pre-reg
9/28 Humboldt Park CX Milwaukee Pre-reg
10/05 Grafton Pumpkin Cross Grafton Pre-reg
10/12 Badger Prairie Cross Verona
10/19 GP Jo Van Deraffe Waterloo Pre-reg
10/20 Tough Udder Dousman Pre-reg
10/26 Cross Fire Sun Prairie
11/02 Estabrook Beer Garden CX Milwaukee Pre-reg
11/03 Battle of Waterloo CX Waterloo
11/09 Sun Prairie Cup Sun Prairie
11/16 Fat Kats CX Race Sheboygan Falls Pre-reg
11/23 WI State CX Championship Waterloo
Jason McDowell Creative Director

Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.

In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.

Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.