Over the last couple of years, more and more people are opting for cyclo-cross bikes to keep up their road mileage through winter, but are we forgetting their original purpose? If you haven’t taken your cyclo-cross bike off-road yet then it’s certainly worth considering. Here Sean McFarlane gives his eight essential tips for first-timers giving it a try

[1] Don’t throw away the tyres that (usually) come with the bike, or at least don’t misplace them. So many people I know take them off straight away and have trouble finding them later. Also consider experimenting with tyre widths and tread types. There’s a wide variety which make a significant impact on handling.

[2] Remember you’ll undoubtedly get more muddy than road biking and prepare for what that means i.e. choose coffee stops that have wipeable seats, wear appropriate clothing, consider SPD or even flat pedals rather than road cleats.

[3] If you fancy raising the heart rate a bit more, try some cyclo-cross racing. It’s a sport that’s increasing hugely in popularity and is a great way to train over the winter.

[4] If you don’t have a cyclo-cross bike, consider making your own. I’ve seen plenty of old mountain bikes (usually with no suspension) being rejuvenated very successfully.

[5] Unless you really know exactly where you’re going, get a decent mapping system with GPS. Being lost in winter is no fun and can become a serious safety issue.

[6] To disc or not to disc? It is a big question. With disc brakes being made legal in cyclo-cross racing a few years ago, the technology has seriously moved on. My bike was bought a few years ago and doesn’t have disc brakes but if I were to buy one today I would more than likely opt for discs. Their ability to allow you to brake later and reduce skidding do it for me. Plus they cope far better with the inevitable mud.

[7] Cyclo bikes are great commuting bikes, particularly in winter when our cycle paths can get cluttered with leaves, mud, ice and a host of other nasties. The extra confidence that a cyclo-cross bike gives you here can be very welcome.

[8] Explore! I like to try and do all my rides on about 90% tried and tested routes and 10% on new, even ambitious stuff. That way you’ll discover some great virgin trails, which is fun.