Although less well-known in the UK than other off-roading cycle racing disciplines, cyclocross (sometimes known as cyclo-cross, ‘cross, cyclo-X or simply CX) pre-dates both BMX and mountain biking and is hugely popular in some of the lower European countries, particularly Belgium.
In layman’s terms, cyclocross is a hybrid of road racing and mountain biking, and as such provides a perfect access point to cycle training and competition for young riders as it facilitates the development of both handling skills and strength within a safe environment. Whilst the discipline has been around since the beginning of the 1900s it is only in recent years that similar bikes are being seen more commonly in this country due to the new popularity of “adventure” or “gravel” bikes – drop handlebar bikes with relatively light frames and wider, off-road tyres. Effectively there is little difference between adventure / gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes, except that the latter may have a slightly more aggressive geometry designed to place the rider in a more aerodynamic position.
Cyclocross races are held on off-road circuits, usually marked out with tape, and are traditionally held in the Autumn and Winter months (though at amateur level a Summer series is often held also) wherein the difficulty of the terrain and weather conditions are as much as an opponent as a rider’s fellow competitors. (Getting muddy is very much a part of the cyclocross culture.) If you think about a cross-country running race but on bikes, then you’re pretty much there.
In terms of equipment, cyclocross bikes are an excellent starting point for young riders as they are versatile enough to be used for off-road riding but light enough to be used as an effective road racing machine simply through changing to slick tyres. The club has a number of cyclocross bikes which can be loaned to members for up to a year in order to facilitate the rider’s development. More details can be found here.