What is Cross-Country Cycling?

Dan Cavallari

Cross-country cycling is a type of mountain bike riding that involves riding a variety of trails over easy to difficult terrain. Unlike other types of mountain biking — such as downhill mountain biking — cross-country cycling involves a significant amount of both climbing and descending, as well as maneuvering over obstacles such as rocks, roots, berms, and other natural obstructions. A rider must be in good physical shape to take part in cross-country cycling, as a ride can last anywhere from one hour to all day or more. Cross-country racing combines cross-country cycling with the element of competition, and a different types of races challenge the rider's skills, fitness, and perseverance.

A cross-country cycling track running towards mountains.
A cross-country cycling track running towards mountains.

The bicycle a cross-country rider will use is designed to handle difficult terrain while still maintaining an aggressive riding position and light weight. Because a cyclist will do a fair amount of climbing while cross-country cycling, a light bike is important so the rider does not have too much extra weight to lug up hill. Cross-country bicycle frames are usually made from aluminum, steel, carbon fiber, titanium, or other lightweight but strong materials. Wheels are built to be light and strong, and many modern wheels feature tubeless tires to save weight and to allow the rider to run lower tire pressures for traction.

A man cross-country cycling.
A man cross-country cycling.

Cross-country cycling is an intense sport that requires the rider to be in good physical shape. Most races feature categories ranging from beginner to professional, and cross-country cycling has been an Olympic sport in the past. A cross-country race is set up over pre-determined terrain, and the course is marked beforehand in most cases. Riders will complete several laps of the course, and the goal is to do the laps faster than any other competitor.

Other cross-country races stress endurance over a long period of time. Marathon race courses can be 50 to 100 miles long (80.4-160.9 kilometers), all off road. The 24 hour race is a cross country race that has competitors riding all day and all night for 24 hours straight. Competitors can stop at any time to eat, take a break, or change out equipment, but the primary goal is to do as many laps as possible within those 24 hours. Racers in this type of race do not spend as much time in head to head competition as they would in other types of races; instead, they spend much of the race alone, trying to push the body and mind to keep going.

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