According to USA Cycling, cyclocross is America’s fastest growing cycle-sport. Participation has grown from 32,000 to 72,000 in the just the last five years.

125% growth over 5 years sure ain’t bad.

Here at home, similar trends are afoot. The feeling that the start line is getting a little crowded is definitely justified. Rumour has it that a Novice category will be added to  2013 races – A definite sign that cyclocross in Alberta is maturing. I’m unsure of whether this decision was a result of an active effort to grow cyclocross, or simply a response to the burgeoning Sport class (usually easily in excess of 40 racers). I’d imagine it’s likely a bit of both.

Over the same 5-year period, Alberta race numbers are up an average of 52% over 2008. Based on registered participants in regularly sanctioned ABA races the specific categories break down like this:

  • Elite – Up 5%
  • Expert – Up 10%
  • Sport – Up 137%
  • Women – Up 65%

Especially exciting are the big jumps in the Sport and Women’s categories. Even just looking at a two year spread back to 2010 the entries into Sport increased 29% and Women increased by 23%.

In bicycle commuting women are often considered an “indicator species,” representing one of the catalysts to mainstream adoption – I wonder if the same can be said of their healthy presence in cyclocross? Regardless, the foundation of the sport here at home appears to be very promising!

Cyclocross is without a doubt a great gateway-drug for new racers – It’s much more casual, spectator friendly and inclusive than some other disciplines and the races are short, albeit painful ;-).

Newcomers may also consider the risks to be a little lower – No horrendous road rash resulting from a cross-lane skid, or broken limbs from washing out while bombing down a mountainside at 40km/h.

Thinking back on my own experiences, I know the presence of a Novice class in the mountain bike scene was pivotal to the sincerity of my interest in the sport. Unless you’re brought up racing or are a natural aerobic powerhouse, getting up to the start line can be an intimidating prospect. Anything done to lower the barrier to entry is a good thing. Besides, while getting lapped and pulled off the back of a race may be an important way to develop your character, it doesn’t do much for your morale.

The downside for sandbaggers like me is that the competion in the Sport class is likely to narrow a bit – Almost assuredly requiring more strict adherence to Rule #5. Broadcasting results will also be slightly more humbling… As a close friend put it:

“Coming in 14/40 just sounds a lot better than 14/20…” – Anonymous

I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a huge châpeau to all the race organizers, clubs and sponsors out there who ensure that we have a full roster of races year over year. I think the lions share of this growth can be traced to the great races they’ve been putting on year over year.