Off Road Riding for Skill Building

Off Road Riding for Skill Building

The offseason is the perfect time to build strength and new skills -- and we think the best way to do this is riding off the road and on the beaten path (or local trails). 

The Importance of Bike Handling

Bike handling is king whether you're a roadie, triathlete or general bike enthusiast. It prepares you for different road surfaces such as torn up asphalt, cobblestones, unexpected gravel, grass and more, and it will come in handy the next time someone makes a weird move in a group ride and you have to respond quickly! 

If you're a draft-legal cyclist, you're probably more used to skills-specific training sessions practicing clipping and unclipping, mounting and dismounting, sharp corners and more, but often times triathletes tend to spend more time on the cardio and less on the bike handling (we understand - there's only so many hours in the day!). 

The offseason then is the PERFECT time to start building these skills for the next season. So how do you start? One of our favorite fall cycling activities in Portland is here again and we couldn't be more excited...cyclocross! 

 What is Cyclocross ?

Cyclocross or "cx" is a type of bike racing where riders ride off road and over a series of obstacles -- anything from barriers, stairs, ramps, mud and sand pits, rivers, mulch hills, and anything really a race director wants to throw in! The courses are often winding and up and down punchy hills, and riders have to be ready for all kinds of conditions. In Portland, the rainy season brings mud, wet courses and a great excuse to get dirty. 

Skills to Know

Before jumping into your first cx race, there are a few skills you should practice first. We recommend starting on flat pedals so you don't have the added stress of clipping in and out while you're practicing so many new movements! 

Mount and Dismount - this is probably the most important skill to know as you'll be getting on and off your bike MANY times in a race. For those who do flying mounts and dismounts in triathlon, it's not too different -- swing one leg over your bike, set it behind you (we've seen in front each their own), twist the foot that's still on the pedal to unclip (or ignore this if you're on flat pedals), step down and run! In triathlon, you take off your shoe but keep it on for cx!  

Mounts are where it gets fun. While you're running next to the bike, you hop over the bike (many use the seat on the thigh as a guide to roll onto the saddle) and get moving while the bike is in motion. It may take a bit of practice to get a smooth flying mount without stutter stepping or landing awkwardly on the saddle (yes, we've all been there), but practice makes perfect! 

Note from a triathlete: I personally dismount and mount on different sides for triathlon. As we're only getting on and off the bike once in a triathlon, it doesn't really matter. For cx, I had to learn to mount and dismount on the same side to keep barriers efficient and safe for everyone around me as well. Something to think about!

If you need a visual of mounts and dismounts, check out this video from GCN.


Sharp Turns - most of these courses are tight with sharp turns and will require you to have your wits about you. If you've never ridden like this before, consider heading to your local park and setting up a course with cones on grass -- practice taking tight corners slowly at first until you can build up speed and figure out the best lines and how the riding surface feels. And yes -- surface matters. Cornering around sand will feel different than mud, which will feel different than gravel, which will feel different than grass, which will all feel very different from road if that's all you're used to. 

Lifting your Bike - excuse me? Lifting the bike? What could be so complicated about that? It's all fun and games until you get a pedal in the back, a bottle cage in the shoulder, or you hurt your back wrenching a bike from the top tube rather than throwing it over your shoulder. 

These races are so short you won't need water - taking the bottle cages off will give you a smooth and open area to rest over your body like the man pictured above. Lifting the bike onto the back gives you more space to run and transfers the weight of the bike from your lower back and arms (if you were to just lift the wheels) to the shoulders which can hold and balance much more. Once you get the hang of this move, you're off to the races! 

Skills Practice - If you want some help with these skills or expert advice, check out your local racing scene to see if anyone is offering clinics. In Portland, we're incredibly lucky to have such a supportive race scene, and there are a number of beginner-focused clinics to sharpen your skills before race day! 

One of our favorite FREE clinics in Portland is held at Trophy Cup every Tuesday from Sept 12 to Oct 17 at 5:45 pm. Find more info here!

Looking for weekend racing in Portland, check out Cyclocross Crusade AND their super helpful "New to Cyclocross?" page which breaks down the racing, rules, gear and more! 

Trying Something New

This time between summer race seasons is a great time to try something new. It keeps you refreshed and helps you maintain fitness and improve skills as you take a break from the grind of everyday training (unless fall/winter is your main season!). 

Don't be surprised if you see a few of us from A2 racing at the local cx races in the coming weeks. But on which bike? We'll be ready to reveal that very soon...

Stay tuned...