Cyclocross: Family, Spectator, and Rider Friendly Fun!

If there is a story that captures the essence of cyclocross, it’s the story of Ciara MacDonald’s first race at eight years old. Her father, Bryan MacDonald, and two brothers were racing cyclocross at the time. Ciara would bring her bike and ride around the course. At the final race of the season, she insisted on racing despite wet and frigid conditions. Her father tried to talk her out of it, but she persisted. She raced through the mud and crashed in an ice puddle, but she finished cold, muddy, and wet. During the awards ceremony, she was called up to the podium and given a standing ovation for her efforts. Her father says that’s what hooked her, all the way to several appearances at CX Junior Nationals.

For the uninitiated, cyclocross is a hybrid of road and mountain biking. The races are held on relatively short courses and last forty-five minutes (or less for juniors), which makes the sport challenging, fun, and family and spectator friendly. Riders go up and down ramps and stairs, through standing and running water, through mud and sand, and over barriers. They haul their bikes up steep hills that may or may not have spectators handing out liquid refreshments or heckling competitors (albeit in a supportive way).

All of this makes cyclocross the perfect entry into bicycle racing. CX develops the endurance needed for road racing and the technical skills needed for mountain bike racing. CX requires technical skills for maneuvering around tight, slippery corners on off-camber grass slopes, and the mountain biker’s ability to ride out technical descents into a mud bog. Additionally, having the “right” equipment is less important. Many racers start on mountain bikes before buying a cross bike. Some racers stick with the mountain bike.

While many CX riders are out for blood (mostly their own), everyone is out for the fun. Michael Emde of Emde Sports says one of the reasons CX is popular is the party atmosphere, where “everyone is having fun and no one is looking at your place. Getting dropped is not so demoralizing as it is in road racing.” Thanks to the shorter laps, spectators get to see racers multiple times—a plus for parents watching their kids and kids watching and razzing their parents. “The spectators are yelling and screaming. People are having fun [while] getting a workout,” Emde explains.

At a recent School of Cross Junior CX team meeting, parents and riders agreed that cyclocross is fun.  Coach Tom Ryse gives the same reasons as Emde when explaining why riders and spectators enjoy the sport. He adds that the kids and adults race the same course. When they participate as a family, the parents and kids can talk about the race and the course. More important, perhaps, are the friendships that develop among the riders on the team. “I guess that’s what makes it fun,” says Ryse.

“It’s fun!” is the reason each of the SoC riders gave when asked about why they race cyclocross. Liza Mattana says her daughter Maddie finds riding and racing fun because the smaller group of kids who make up the team is a good fit. “It’s a good community,” Mattana says. “They keep coming back because they like riding with each other.”  Some of the parents even end up following their children into the races. They come out to support their kids, see them having fun, and decide to give it a try themselves. If this sounds like fun to you, even if you don’t have children, come out and give it a whirl. You’ll be glad you did. //

Inland Northwest Fall Cyclocross Races

Wildwest CX Series

See for current information.

  • September 16 & 17: Helena, Mont.
  • September 30 & October 1: Sandpoint, Idaho
  • October 7 & 8: Bozeman, Mont.
  • October 28: Missoula, Mont. (Finals)

Inland NW CX

See for current information.

  • October 7: Cougar Cross WSU Campus
  • October 8: Palouse CX at Sky Ranch, Moscow, Idaho
  • October 15: Riverstone, Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho
  • October 22: Riverside State Park, Spokane
  • November 4: Walla Walla, Wash.
  • November 12: Walter’s Fruit Ranch, (Greenbluff) Mead, Wash. FINALS//


Bradley Beck teaches English courses at Spokane Falls Community College and loves to bike no matter the weather. He wrote about tips for booking vacation rentals in June.

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