Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, there’s a good chance that you’ll have noticed an influx of cyclocross and gravel bikes on roads and trails up and down the country.
This growth in popularity of all-road drop-bar bikes has also seen a range of new cyclocross events, leagues and sportives sprout up around the UK throughout the year, offering roadies the chance to ditch the turbo trainer, improve their bike handling skills and score some off-road action.
Not sure where to start or just want a new ‘cross challenge? Stick the following 10 events in your diary and experience the best CX the UK has to offer.
1. West Midlands Cyclocross League Round 8
When: November 10 2019
What? It might seem odd to single out one round from just one of the UK’s burgeoning CX league scene, but this is no normal ‘cross race. Pro rider Evie Richards and her coach, ex-British national ‘cross champion Liam Killeen, are behind the event, which has a specially designed course packed with testing features such as mud, climbs, runs, woods, jumps and descents on the edge of the Malvern Hills.
2. Battle of the Bowl
When: May 17 2020
Where: Matterley Basin, Winchester
What? This end of season CX race borders on an out-and-out gravel grinder (thanks to the inclusion of some quick compact grit) but also has a tight, technical grass track section too. The Matterley Bowl site hosts both a two-hour race for elite, club and league racers over the four-mile course, as well as a five-lap open category race for those who can’t quite stomach 120 minutes of relentless off-road riding.
3. The South Downs Way
When: July 4 2020
What? Although this strictly falls outside what is generally considered the ‘cross season, the South Downs Way CX sportive is a great way to get the most out of your cyclocross bike come summer. The 100-mile route follows the South Downs Way national trail from Winchester all the way to Beachy Head. While not technically demanding, the huge climbs and sweeping descents make it a physically epic one-day challenge.
4. 3 Peaks Cyclocross
When: September 27 2020
Where: Helwith Bridge, Yorkshire
What? The toughest cyclocross event in the calendar will be entering its 58th year in 2020, and is definitely a bucket list race for those who take their CX seriously. While its distance (a mere 38 miles) might sound like a straightforward Sunday stroll, that’s before you look at the terrain. Only 18 miles is on tarmac, a whole four miles of the route isn’t rideable – leaving you to carry your bike on your shoulder – and there is the small matter of 5,000ft of climbing, including – you guessed it – the three peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent.
5. Thetford Gravel Ride
When: November 23 2019
What? Organised by bike retailer Evans Cycles, this event is a great introduction to riding off-road on a cyclocross bike. There are two distances to choose from (42 miles or 53 miles) but both have a 50:50 split of road and off-road sections. You’ll encounter gravel, grass, sand and mud as you weave your way around Thetford Forest and onto the Icknield Way. As you can expect for the location, the route is undulating, but there aren’t any long or steep climbs to worry you on either course.
When: November 24 2019
What? The Chiltern Hills are renowned in the road cycling community for being some of the best climbs within riding distance of London. But the area has serious CX chops too. The Badlands CX sportive pits entrants against either 36km, 45km or 75km of rising and falling road, gravel and dirt paths. The course is more physically demanding than most, while the dense woodland should protect you from the worst of the elements as autumn turns into winter.
7. London and South East series
When: Weekly until February 9 2020
Where: Various locations in London and South East
What? For those wanting to take on the cut-and-thrust world of CX racing, a local league is a great place to start. Generally running from September to February, the weekly race series are held at various locations within a specific area of the country, enabling you to dip your toe in the ‘cross waters or embark on a fully-fledged tilt at glory in your local league.
The London and South East series hosts rounds from Crystal Palace to Brighton and everywhere in between, and ranges between urban races (featuring obstacles such as actual concrete steps) through to muddy woodland jaunts.
8. Yorkshire True Grit Dark Skies
When: February 22 2020
What? If you go down to the woods of North York Moors National Park, you’re in for a big surprise. This event sees 100 competitors take on an adventure across 50 forest and moorland miles, and if that wasn’t hard enough, the only light guiding you will be those on your bike and helmet. The sister event of the summer Yorkshire True Grit, the terrain thankfully isn’t as technical, although what it lacks in rocky routes it sure makes up for it in leg-sapping climbs. And with a kit list including an emergency foil survival bag, you know this isn’t for the faint-hearted.
9. Cotswold Cross Enduro Sportive
When: March 29 2020
What? There’s something for everyone at this enduro sportive deep in the valleys and villages of the Cotswold Hills. With 35km, 55km, 75km routes on offer, it’s the ideal race if you’re looking to get some miles in ahead of the road season or are wanting to finish your winter ‘cross pursuits with a bang. All of the courses are a mixture of on and off-road, combining quiet roads with green lanes and bridleways. And, even if you’ve taken part before, there are new route variations for the 2020 edition, so there will be something new for you too.
10. Haldon Heroic
When: April 18 2020
What? Like the Cotswold Cross Enduro Sportive, there are three different lengths (15 miles, 37 miles and 51 miles) on offer at this south Devon event. Each uses a mixture of country roads, green lanes, forestry tracks and open common, but it’s the CX-Mega route that will test even the best. The circular route hugs the edge of Dartmoor National Park, combining off-road sections of gravel, mud, grass and stone with paved segments featuring gradients of 20 percent. If the technical terrain doesn’t get you, the energy-sapping climbs will.