Cyclocross is the best discipline of cycling. Period, the end.
‘Cross racing demands the perfect combination of fitness, speed, risk taking, strategy, technical skills, and gear. It’s a relatively short burst of all-out effort that leaves you completely spent. It doesn’t matter whether you’re racing in 1st or 21st, going shoulder to shoulder and battling competitors through each turn is exhilarating.
Now, whether you're a seasoned racer or a newbie gearing up for your first cyclocross race, having the right equipment is crucial for success. There’s a lot of gear you need, and a lot of gear youmight need. To help you prepare and pack The Bag, here's a comprehensive list of must-have gear for your next cyclocross race. Below these full descriptions is a checklist version you can download or print.
- Cyclocross Bike: Trusty steed, nimble and capable Your bike is your most essential gear, obviously. Ensure it's in top-notch condition with properly inflated tires, a cleaned and tuned drivetrain, and functioning brakes. You can race on a mountain bike or a gravel bike, but a cyclocross-specific bike with features like wider tire clearance, CX specific geometry and mud shedding capabilities is ideal. The mountain bike and gravel bike simply won’t be as fast around the entire course. But, if you’re just starting and haven’t decided to invest in a cyclocross bike yet, race what ya got! It’s fun, regardless.
- Helmet: Safety First Protecting your noggin is non-negotiable. Maybe we should have put this first. We’re firm enforcers of “no helmet, no riding, anywhere, anytime.” All helmets that are sold in the US and most other countries have met country specific safety standards. So, typically more expensive doesn’t mean safer. More money means better ventilation, or better aerodynamics, better (lighter) materials, or some combination of all of those. For cyclocross, you don’t need an aero helmet. Aero helmets are usually tested with a head on wind, as if you’re riding in a straight line. Cyclocross is a) lower speed and b) constant turns, meaning aerodynamic gains are greatly reduced. Assuming you’re not a pro cyclist, you’re either not losing any benefit or even gaining an advantage from better cooling if you’re wearing a more traditional, vented helmet. All of that being said, even if a non-vented aero helmet might not gain you time, it might keep you warmer during a blustery, cold winter day at the races.
- Cycling Shoes and Pedals: Pedal, run, pedal, run Clipless pedals are a must to really race, and everyone will be weating mountain bike shoes. There are some cyclocross specific shoes out there, but most people don’t buy these. Gravel shoes are popular now as well, and will work. The point is to be able to run in them comfortably. The racier and stiffer the shoe, the less comfortable the running is, but the better the power transfer to the pedal is, so choose where your preferred balance is when choosing your shoes. Pro tip - if you wear shoes with laces, always pack an extra pair of laces. If you have a spare set of pedals, pack ‘em, and don’t forget a pedal wrench.
- Clothing: Expect all conditions Kit is critical. Conditions change fast during cyclocross season and between pre-riding the course, warming up and racing, you could need three different outfits. Here’s what we’d pack for one day of racing where you’re racing once. This is assuming you want to pack The Bag to handle any Fall/Winter weather. If you pack this stuff in The Bag just once, chances are you’re good to go for the whole season. As stuff gets used and dirty, just wash it and stick it back in.
- Race jersey and a jersey to warm up
- Extra pair of bibshorts/shorts
- Long Sleeve jersey
- Warm jacket (that you can ride/race in)
- Rain jacket (that you can ride/race in)
- Race socks, and extra pair.
- Thermal socks
- Very warm gloves you can ride in
- Lightweight full finger gloves you can ride in. Like a mountain bike glove.
- Short finger gloves
- Short-sleeve or sleeveless base layer
- Long sleeve base layer/thermal layer
- Arm warmers, leg warmers, knee warmers
- Neck warmer
- Winter hat that fits under your helmet
- Thermal headband that fits under your helmet
We know this is a lot, and that this stuff is not cheap. We don’t want to discourage anyone from going out and racing, so if you have a bike, helmet and some shoes, just go race. We built The Bag and are obviously a bit obsessive about packing and cycling in general, so this is just our organizational perfect-world list.
- Eyewear: Pink eye anyone? Protect your eyes from mud, debris, whatever’s kicked up by the racer in front of you, and the sun with a good pair of glasses. Any sunglasses work, but cycling specific models should be shatterproof (in case of crash) and offer better than average field of vision when in a riding position. Look for models with interchangeable lenses to adapt to different light conditions, including a fully transparent lense. These are great to have when it’s overcast, wet and muddy. Without them, you’re likely going to be swiping at muddy eyes the whole race. No fun. Nowadays, you can get good ones with a couple extra lenses for well under $100.
- Tubes and tires: Be Prepared for Flats The pros are running tubular tires. Most amateurs are probably running tubeless tires. Obviously, to the best of your means, have tires that are built for the conditions you race in. Consult your local bike shop for help choosing. But, so you’re prepared for untimely issues, pack a couple spare tubes, extra tire sealant, some tubeless plugs, a patch kit, tire levers, and a pump.
- Tool Kit and spare parts: Be Self-Sufficient A good cycling specific multi-tool with a chain tool and Allen keys can save the day. You should have the right tool to adjust anything on your bike that is adjustable. A good full size pedal wrench is always good to pack as well, just in case you need to swap pedals. The leverage of the big wrench is key. Most races will have a mechanic on site to help racers also. Then, in terms of spare parts, it’s good to have an extra chain link, a couple extra bolts for things like your stem, or saddle or bottle cage. It’s always a good idea to take an allen key and check every bolt in your cockpit, saddle and seat tube collar before hitting the start line.
- Nutrition: Fuel up beforehand The race, at most, is an hour. You don’t need to eat during it. Many riders won’t even take a bottle on the bike and will remove both cages. Keep in mind, if you do choose to take a bottle, that you might need to shoulder the bike. Usually, this means you’ll want to put the bottle cage on the seat tube, and remove the downtube cage. The important nutrition window is before the race. Eat a good carb rich meal three hours before race time. What works for you and your stomach and tastes is personal, but be sure to test it out. Avoid fiber and anything else that might have you rushing to the toilet. An hour out, get some hydration and maybe a bit more carbs. Sipping on a carb mix drink is great. If you want to do some caffeine, down a caffeine gel about 20 min before race time. Lastly, have plenty of water and some recovery drink for afterward. At Parc, chocolate milk is a favorite post race treat, for after our stomach calms down. ‘Cross gut is a thing!
- Race Numbers and Safety Pins: Don't Forget Your ID Bring your ID, your safety pins for attaching a number, and your number if you already have it, obviously. NEVER rely on the race organizer to have pins left for you. We always have about 50 packed.
- Towel: good ‘Crossin is dirty If all goes to plan, you’ll get wet, dirty and sweaty. It feels great to be clean and dry before stepping on the podium for your picture.
- Warm-Up and Recovery Tools: Take Care of Your Body Anything you have that helps you warm up, get limber, stretch out or recover. For some, it’s a massage stick or foam roller. Others rely on massage guns. Personal choice and not a necessity.
- Cycling Gear Bag: Your Command Center Now what are we packing all of this in? Just tossing it all in a bin? Yuck. A big duffel bag, where it’s all loose? No thankyou. A backpack you’ll be digging through later? Heck no! Invest in a quality cycling gear bag to keep everything organized. We’re clearly biased. The Bag was created because no other gear bag or product met our needs. Nobody made a gear bag for cyclists that satisfied us. We wanted a gear system, not just another big bag. A good gear solution should have a few things:
- Pockets that allow you to see your gear, so you can quickly grab what you need without any searching.
- Utility at home. Why have two things when you can have one? The Bag works at home, allowing you to store and access the items you use every ride. When it’s time to pack the car, just stick The Bag in the car and go. No running around the house, shoving items into some black hole of a bag!
- Compartments to separate clean and dirty items.
- Varying sizes of pockets
- Enough room for the gear you need, and the gear you MIGHT need
- Easy ways to carry and be accessed.
- Weather and moisture resistance
- BONUS: Pro items If you pack these last few things, you’re way ahead of the curve. Cyclists packing these items are gonna be the hero when the time comes.
- Toilet paper: Two words for you - Porta Potty. Do not let some poorly serviced port’o’jon ruin your race day. Pack your own, rolled up in a ziploc bag. This is something we actually just keep in the car at all times.
- Hand warmers: Those air activated little packets you buy for skiing are perfect for cold races, whether you’re racing with them in your gloves, or the family you dragged to the race to watch is using them.
- Electrical tape: Whether you’re doing a quick fix on the bike or taping your gloves or shoes for extra warmth, just having a bit of tape can be a lifesaver.
- Shoe spikes: When it’s muddy, many racers will add spikes to their shoes for extra traction. These are purpose built, screw in metal spikes. Most mountain bike shoes will have two spots to add these on the forefoot, under your toes.
- First aid kit: Stick a small one in The Bag or the car. Crashing in cross is generally not a big deal. Lots of dirt and grass mean landings are mostly soft. But every once in a while, you’ll need a first aid kit. Good to have it close by.
Below is the concise checklist of all items mentioned that you can print or download for your next cyclocross race weekend.
Preparing for a cyclocross race requires thoughtful consideration of the gear you'll need. From the essential bike components to the often-overlooked details like a well-organized gear bag (The Bag, from Parc), each item plays a role in your success. By packing strategically and investing in quality gear, you'll be ready to tackle the challenges of cyclocross racing and bump some shoulders in the mud. Cya between the tape!
P.S. Please remove your saddlebag, lights, computer and any mirrors before lining up. These don’t belong on the race course. If you want to use your Garmin or other computer to track stats, put it in your jersey pocket while you race. On your bars, it’s likely to pop off mid-race.