Sportive vs Cyclocross

What is cyclocross and how does it compare to riding a sportive? That’s what we’ll aim to uncover in our look at sportive vs cyclocross events.


We’ve discussed sportives in detail before but in brief, it’s a non-competitive, mass participation cycling event.


Cyclocross Rapha Supercross

Cyclocross at the Rapha Supercross

Cyclocross events are very different to sportives. Firstly, it’s a type of race, so cyclocross is closer to a race than a sportive.

Secondly, cyclocross, although ridden on bikes that, from a distance, may appear very similar to road bikes, is ridden off-road.

Cyclocross bikes are off-road equipped road bikes. They still have drop handlebars and solid frames and forks but they have knobbly tires and disk or cantilever brakes with more clearance for mud. The geometry is slightly, but not radically different to a road bike. Slightly higher bottom bracket clearance, to avoid mud and debris.

As we said, cyclocross is ridden off road. Usually riders compete around multi laps of a course containing man made an natural obstacles. These may include: sand, barriers, short sharp climbs, steep descents, steps, jumps and flyovers and anything else the course designer deems appropriate.

Not all sections of the course will be ridable by all competitors. Cyclocross riders practice dismounting and shouldering their bikes. This is either to climb or run over obstacles or if they think it will be quicker running with their bike than trying to cycle.

Cyclocross races can be very, very muddy. Though this is not always the case, it’s more likely as the winter wears on. The cyclocross season typically starts around September and continues until the road season kicks off again in the spring. Some riders use it to maintain focus and fitness over the winter and other riders focus solely on cyclocross.

Cyclocross racing is very hard on the bikes competitors use and the best will have spare bikes in the pit lane, which they can swap to if they have a mechanical or if their bike becomes too clogged up with mud.

Cyclocross is a very friendly and accessible type of bike racing, for both spectators and competitors. There’s often copious beer, cowbell ringing and Belgian frites on offer. For competitors, there are usually novice categories and it’s often fine to ride on whatever bike you have lying around (mountain bike, hybrid or specialist cyclocross bike).

One of the biggest and toughest cylcocross races in the UK is the 3 Peaks Race in Yorkshire:

3 Peaks Cyclocross from Orlando Beakbane on Vimeo.

Sportive vs Cyclocross

Although we’ve said cyclocross is very different to a sportive, there are actually a growing number of cylocross sportives. These are essentially non-competitive cylocross events or off-road sportives.

One such event is the Lakeland Monster Miles CX sportive.

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