7 Reasons To Race Cyclo-cross
9th January 2013
At the last check, the cyclo-cross sector was growing at over 20% per year and racing fields at local events are frequently over 100 riders. Why so much growth? I believe it’s because cyclocross is fun. Mix equal parts irreverence, beer and mud and it’s easy to understand why so many people are riding knobbly tires and drop bars from September to February. But if you are still on the fence, I’ve compiled a list of seven reasons you should race ‘cross in 2013.
1. Racing in mud is much more fun than training on wet roads.
There are few things drearier than 3, 4, or 5 hour rides in the rain. Sure, mudguards make it more tolerable and dragging friends along makes it almost pleasant for the first month or so. But after 6 weeks, the amusing topics of conversation start to fade, the incessant bike washing and flint-induced flat tyres start to irritate, and rides turn to death marches of stoic silence through the storms. Contrast this with the excitement of a mass rush start into a singletrack section in the middle of a muddy field in Cheshire with 80 other lunatics on knobbly tired road bikes. You might lose your breakfast at some point, you’ll possibly plant your face into earth, but you’ll finish the day with a smile (or at least a happy grimace).
Image courtesy of the Sports and Exercise Engineering Blog
2. ‘Jan Ullrich Syndrome’ Will Be A Thing Of The Past.
Does this describe your winter ride prep? Breath in, suck in the gut, slowly ease jersey zipper upwards, release gut and hope the zipper is strong enough. As we get older, our metabolisms become cruel. A few easy weeks, and suddenly, our jerseys and shorts become sausage skins, their sublimation’s stretched and distorted over pasty, wobbly bodies. Race cyclo-cross and this won’t happen! Just because ‘cross is fun, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Cyclo-cross workouts are all about speed change: sprints and power workouts, both on the bike and off, are critical for best performance. Your training won’t be much more than 10-12 hours a week, but the intensity of the workouts means none of the dreaded ‘Jan Ullrich syndrome’ (Tour winner, Ullrich, suffered from huge weight fluctuations between the racing and the off-season) when spring road racing and training comes around.
3. It’s not just racing, it’s a scene
Bicycle road racing snobbish? Yes. A few years ago, black shorts and white socks were the required dress code for bicycle racers in the United States. The dress code may be gone, but the stuffiness still permeates. I think most cyclo-cross races require some kind of clothing, but the interpretation of racing attire is much more liberal. Tank top jerseys, capri trousers, dresses, brassieres, short shorts; I’ve seen it all on a cyclo-cross course, and those are just the men’s races.
Cyclo-cross legend, Sven Nys, demonstrates how to deal with rowdy crowd members…
If it’s bonkers to race ‘cross in a tu-tu on Halloween night in the middle of London’s famous Herne Hill track, imagine the audience that comes out to watch you in that tu-tu! Beer drinking (sometimes to excess), beer hand-ups, cash hand-ups, music, horns, lots of screaming; this is not the Tour De France, and that makes it awesome. If you can’t win, you might as well have fun.
4. Crashes are almost enjoyable
I’ve become something of a cyclo-cross crash connoisseur: the early season crashes are a little more predictable. The grass is dry and earth below it is relatively hard-packed so most crashes are graceful slides or collision-related falls with your fellow competitors. Later in the season, as the grass becomes slippery and the dirt underneath becomes slop, crashes become unexpected and, as long as you’re watching rather than participating, hilarious. Front wheels disappear, handlebars become vaults, saddles turn into catapults, and riders become slow motion crash test dummies. I averaged a crash every couple of races this year, but unlike my far more occasional road crashes, I suffered not a speck of road rash, not even broken skin. My ego is punished relentlessly by cyclo-cross, but my body rarely pays a price.
5. Improved handling skills
As #4 in this list highlights, your mission is to stay upright in difficult conditions as much as it is to win. Managing your bike successfully through sand, mud, and, occasionally, over other riders requires more balance and coordination than 99% of the time on your road bike. If you race cyclocross, that 1% of the time on the road bike that requires some neat manouvering to save your skin will come much more naturally. Lars Boom’s finesse over the cobbles and Peter Sagan’s amazing switches and saves can be credited to their extensive off-road backgrounds early in their careers. Even if you don’t race, riding the ‘cross bike is a great way to hone your skills!
6. The courses aren’t boring
Hillingdon, my local road circuit, is a yawn…a 2-3 minute lap of gradual corners and gentle dips and rises. Yet it’s really the only option if I want to get some late season/early season racing in on the road. Why do that when I can race slippery off-camber sections, power through sand, race around switchbacks, and scud through fast, grassy, sweepers at any one of 3-4 cyclocross races on the same weekend as that boring criterium? If, like me, you’re tired of the local road circuits, grab a cyclo-cross bike and get out to the dirt!
7. Kit can be low cost
Of course, the coolest cyclo-cross bikes aren’t that much cheaper than a pimped out road bike: disc brakes, carbon fibre frames, and electronic shifting abound at the top of the market (great article on the best cyclo-cross bikes here). But, many people race mountain bikes with skinny tires and a standard fork. If you’re confident in your strength and you race quite a few muddy circuits, consider a single speed – a simple drivetrain and frame can put the cost of a new out-of-the-box bike at below £600.
The Colnago is perhaps not the best ‘good example of low-cost cyclo-cross kit’…but if you are tempted and want to have a go at ‘cross, then why not head over to Paul’s starter cyclo-cross bikes here?