Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cyclocross is for crazy people.

What is cyclocross? What is it about?

For thsoe who don't know much about it, Cyclocross is nuts. In all honesty it really is. The season starts in the fall and runs through the winter. When all the other cyclist are putting their bikes up until the weather gets warm again, cyclocross racers are just starting. Rain? Snow? Mud? C-c-c-cold? Yep, whatever it’s doing outside the ‘cross racers head out into it. Master’s World Championships were held in Louisville this year in the middle of January and the final round of races were held on “frozen muddy ruts”. Cyclocross uses bikes that are pretty much road bikes with tires that are a bit wider – say, 33mm wide instead of 23mm wide with a little bit of tread – and ride mostly off-road. Sure, there’s some pavement but there’s also sand, grass, single-track, hills or stairs steep enough that you are faster to run up and the infamous barriers. Barriers are usually found in groups of two or three forcing most racers off their bikes to hop off, run over the barriers, toss the bike down, hop on and pedal away as fast as you can. All of this done on a course no longer than 2 miles for a time of no more than an hour. The end result is pretty much an all-out sprint. Go right up until you’re about to puke and then back off just enough so you can maintain that effort for 45 minutes to an hour.  Add to this the atmosphere where heckling the racers is encouraged, costumes are common and beer hand ups are practiced (just try chugging a cheap beer while you are so far in the red zone you can hardly see straight). So I think you can see what I mean by “nuts”.
Halloween race at Uncle Steve's. Photo courtesy of Noah Hutson

I tell people that cyclocross can be explained two ways. It’s a lot like when you were 8 or 9 years old and you got together with your friends on your bikes. Someone would say “OK, we go down the sidewalk, up the driveway at Tommy’s house, around the car, around the tree in his front yard, over the fence…”

Or you could explain ‘cross as in the early 1900’s several French guys were drinking too much wine late in one fall and talking “We should host a bicycle race…”
“Yes, let’s do that. It should be really hard”
“Yes, Yes! (Oui! Oui!) We will make them take their bicycles built for the road and race it in the fields and forest. We should also put the logs right in their path.”
“Oh yes, that would be excellent! And it should be when the weather is horrible outside”
“Agreed! But we should get them drunk first so they will be much more agreeable to race.”

So if it could possibly be miserable out why would anyone want to do it? I explain it as being like heroin in this manner: Right after your first race you’ll be sick and want nothing more to do with it. But 20 minutes later you’ll be jonesing for more and more. You may even decide to race in a second category that very same day. You will now be hopelessly addicted. In several months you’ll end up with an identical bike and three sets of wheels for each bike (each set having course-specific tread) as long as your wallet and/or significant other allow.

Larry P at Uncle Steve's Halloween race. Photo courtesy Noah Hutson.
Besides, what drives people to do any sort of activity that is difficult, strenuous, challenging or just plain hard?
Why not?