Cyclocross Course Design

I’ve been one of the local course designers for the past few years and am wondering what course features everyone here likes?

I’ve always tried to balance the course so it’s not insane for new people, but still has difficulty and features that the experienced riders will like. The courses I’m usually setting up are the early season races that are in open parks so the design is very open to anything.

Courses usually end up with plenty of tree slaloms but these are the features I always try to include so you get some well rounded training:
-Hairpins with sufficient space to re-accelerate to full speed before next turn/obstacle.
-High-speed turn, usually at bottom of hill, preferably into an uphill for momentum preservation and uphill power.
-100-200 meter stretch with no interruptions for pure power application
-Technical descent

Love to hear what others like to see or include!

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I just started racing CX last year, and did the Golden B2B Series, and all of the Shimano CX Cup series in the Boulder area. I really enjoyed all of those courses.

Every race was a little different, made good use of the landscapes, and were challenging. Nice work!

I like CX courses with lots of turns, on flat areas and off camber. Sand pits are great, but if they are too long I end up running them to save my legs. Barriers on straight sections are fine, but in a turn I tend to lose momentum. A course also needs plenty of width to pass too.

My favorite course here in Colorado is the Schoolyard Cross. It has everything, plus the climbing is awesome.

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Good question - I think so much depends on the terrain you have available.

Mud is probably the most desirable feature - kinda like powders days for skiers. Fun mud, not run the whole course mud like Nationals this past year, ouch. Nor adobe mud like we have here in CO. Grassy mud like what New England or the South enjoys.

After a stair run up is classic. Longer the better but even 3-4 steps is pretty cool. Lots and lots of turns like you mentioned. Slow the big powerful riders down and make it a race of who is the best bike driver - not 100% fitness (like dirt crits).

For barriers, you can have a little 4" that is beginner friendly and also bunny-hop’able for the more advanced racer. And of course regulation size barriers and natural features that force a dismount like a super steep run up, a ditch of an off camber that challenges one to ride it but running it might be faster.

Fun stuff, course design is an art and a skill - have fun and let’s also hear what Coach @Brandon has to say sine he’s raced cross in Europe and New England.

Love this question and I could go on for days! My biggest piece of advice is to use as many of the natural features as possible. One thing I distaste is when designers make too many turns using stakes and tape. I understand the need to lengthen lap times, but it needs to be minimized. A good balance of fitness features (hard climbs and some straightaways) and technical features (tricky off cambers and cornering) are nice. If it’s all twists and turns then the course dictates the speed and not the racers. A good course strikes the perfect balance of the rider needing speed, power and skill.

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What I try to do and teach others, is to find two to three main features of a given property you’d like use. Figure out how to utilize each of these features to the maximum. For instance, feature 1: a sledding hill. You’ve got the going up the hill for a climb, you can put a barrier at the bottom, you can do a technical descent and you may be able to add some turns in at the top of the hill for a bit of recovery. Find feature 2 & 3 and your cool stuff. Now connect them and you’ve got your length to the course!

I like this method as utilizing the features 3-4x in different ways allows spectators, friends, family to have a couple vantage points to see The whole race.

I host one of the most well attended local races on the Wisconsin calendar outside of Trek Cup. I use three main features, a wooded section with lots of bike driving swooping around trees with an off camber super short run up, a sledding hill climb, tech descent and barriers on the top part of the hill and lastly an off camber hillside that I can setup several different ways for unique driving each year.

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Sounds awesome, I would like to race a course like that!

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Heck yea, Schoolyard does CX right. I love their sloggy grass sections. But what’s my favorite on that course is the two/three switchback uphill/downhill portions on the first part of the course. It’s not as injury-inducing as many of the CycloX races have been. It’s easy enlightening for beginners but you still have to pay attention if you’re going fast, which I like bc it’s not too easy.

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When I did my very first cyclocross race, there was this spiral feature where you would ride into the center, and then spiral back out, so that you would have riders going the opposite direction on both sides of you. It was so fun… it was one of my first memories of why i loved cross so much. after many years, i have never seen anyone else do it. Not sure why. You should try that!

I think Brandon gives some key advice. And I think a layout should use what you have on hand to make the best course possible, not to start with predetermined ideas of what a CX should have and then trying to figure out how to place those elements on the venue.

I’m the course designer for DCCX, one of the largest races on the east coast. Our course design was inspired by the Providence Nationals course at Roger WIlliams Park which had a great mix of pavement and off-road sections and also a interwoven style that made it possible to view racers in close proximity multiple times per lap.

We don’t have a lot of extreme terrain, so we try to get the most out of what is there. One way to do that is to use the same feature more than once in different parts of the track.
I actively try to make the course feel like you are on trails going somewhere, and not feeling like you are looping thru a tape maze or spending a lot of time in the same small area of the venue.
Our course design is also consciously designed to make it more interesting for spectators. There are several places to watch where you can see the same rides multiple times per lap- the racers like that as much as the spectators do. The road, off-road power, tricky turns etc are interspersed so that there are lots of changes in what the current challenge is.
Here’s some short highlight video from CXhairs (btw, the stairs don’t go anywhere- they are just a feature built for the race course)


This is the 2017 Day 1 layout. Subsequent years are similar. Day 2 is reversed direction, but the same start’finish stretch.

-Marc

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Following. I have a vacant “green space” 1.5 acres adjacent to my house that I would like to add a few laps and features to. Not much opportunity to build anything, but maybe develop a large outer loop with several inner loops for turns, etc…

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