Cyclo-cross bicycles generally resemble road racing bicycles. Cyclo-cross-specific frames differ with their wider tire clearances, knobby tires, cantilever or disc brakes, and lower gearing.
Cables are generally routed on the upper side of the top tube, which allows the rider to carry the bike comfortably on the right shoulder through portage sections, and prevents cable contamination by dirt.
Popular on many cyclocross bikes is routing the brakes so that the right brake is often the front brake. This is done to allow the left hand to control speed while approaching obstacles requiring the bike to be carried, while the right hand grips the frame ready to lift the bike onto the shoulder as soon as the rider`s feet touch the ground.
As a high-end bicycle purpose-built for a specific sport competition, they also differ from ordinary cross bikes, which are general-purpose utility bikes fitted with slightly wider 700C tires for use on unpaved paths or trails
Clothing is similar to that of road racing. However, since cyclo-cross is a cold-weather sport there is an emphasis toward warmer clothing such as long sleeves, tights, knickers and arm and leg warmers. While many racers will use standard two-piece road kits, there is a very strong preference to wear one piece skinsuits to maximize freedom of movement. The other advantage of skinsuits is that they are tighter, preventing the jersey from getting caught on stray tree branches during some singletrack sections of the race course. The one piece construction of the skinsuit also prevents it from exposing the torso while the rider shoulders the bike. Mountain bike shoes are adopted, as they allow the competitors to run, unlike their road racing counterparts, and due to their degree of traction (compared to smooth bottoms found on road racing shoes). Toe spikes are used to aid in running up steep muddy slopes and in the adverse underfoot conditions. Full-finger gloves are optional but generally recommended for hand protection and for grip in muddy/wet situations. Experienced riders racing in dry conditions will often eschew gloves, presumably for better tractional feedback though the handlebar, and more natural bike portage.
Races usually consist of many laps over a short course, ending when a time limit is reached rather than after a specific number of laps or certain distance; the typical length for senior events is one hour, with 30 and 45 minute races for lower categories being the norm. Generally each lap is around 2.5-3.5 km and is 90% rideable. Races run under UCI rules must have courses that are always at least 3 m wide to encourage passing at any opportunity, however sections of singletrack are common for small races in the USA and Great Britain. A variety of terrain is typical, ranging from roads to paths with short steep climbs, off camber sections, lots of corners and, a defining feature, sections where the rider may need, or would be best advised to dismount and run while carrying the bike. Under-tire conditions include asphalt, hardpack dirt, grass, mud and sand. In comparison to cross-country mountain bike events, terrain is smoother. Less emphasis is put on negotiating rough or even rocky ground with more stress on increased speed and negotiating different types of technical challenges.