By Heidi Westfall –
Fall is coming. Yes, it is time to hang up the skinny tires and downhill bikes, it’s time to cross over from summer to fall, which means only one thing – Cyclocross season is coming. Time to let the cow bells ring. Affectionately known as Cross, cyclocross started in the early 1900’s as a way for European road racers to stay fit through the winter months. From a humble start of navigating the muddy backroads and cobblestones of Europe, cyclocross has evolved into cycling’s fastest growing sport.
Today, cyclocross is a mash up of pavement, gravel, single track, stairs, grass, sand and barriers. All lovingly put together in a closed course. Usually found at local parks Saturday mornings September through December, Cross attracts an eclectic family-friendly tribe of fun loving diehards. Whether the summer was spent on single track, pavement or gravel, cyclocross welcomes all cycling enthusiasts to come out and play.
Cowbells and donut hand ups are just part of fun. The real fun is out on the course. Cyclocross is not about staying on your bike, it is about navigating each lap most efficiently. This can mean running the stairs, bunny hopping the barriers or carrying your bike up a grass hill. It's this combination of cycling, stunt riding, carrying, running and scrambling over obstacles that makes cyclocross so exciting, such a phenomenal workout and so darn much fun! The best part of cross is that you are welcome to come as you are at local races. Bring the bike you have and give it a go — cross, gravel, or mountain bikes work great. There isn’t any better tribe to spend Saturday mornings riding bikes with.
From the first mud soaked image or tutu clad cyclocross U-Tube video this sport can look a little intimidating. Remember, looks can be deceiving. Cross is fun. All out fun. Whether a toddler on a strider bike or Grampa kicking up mud to the chasing Cat 1-2 racers, there is a place for you to soak in the love on a great course away from traffic, surrounded by cheering and yes sometime tutu wearing team mates and toddlers alike. Super hero capes also welcome. So how do you learn to navigate a cross course and find the local races? The best place to start is at your local bike shop, cycling club or team (CyclingWest.com has a great directory of teams and clubs to help you find your local cross tribe). Many shops and teams offer cyclocross clinics in the late summer and early fall. These clinics are a great place to learn the basics of dismounting and remounting on the fly, riding sand, cornering on mixed surfaces and meet other cross converts. Whether you are a newbie or seasoned rider, clinics are a great way to start off the season. Having an understanding of cross skills and getting to practice them will make you more confident and make you appreciate that you will probably get a little dirty. Okay really dirty. Everyone, yes everyone, even the most experienced riders will tip over out there on the course. Cross is not always a graceful sport. That is all part of the fun. If you really get excited after your first cyclocross race and want to make an impression the next season join a Cross training program. The conditioning and strength building are quite different than preparing for long road rides or technical MTB tracks. Look for a great cycling coach to help you prepare for being part mountain goat, ballerina (running through sand may look graceful but it will work you!) and sprinter rocking that tutu or super hero cape.
Sometimes it’s hard to hard to fit in riding, family, friends and time to play into a busy schedule. That is the beauty of Cross. It is a timed race. Depending on your category races last from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. Leaving lots of time for full day of activities after all the donuts are gone. And don’t feel bad if you want to bail on a drizzly Saturday morning. Even the most seasoned Cross disciple may wake up whiny, making up many, many lame excuses while dreaming of fireplaces or beaches in their pj’s, anything to skip out on suiting up for the race. But Cross is calling and you can still can take the kids to pumpkin patch, hike with the dog or brunch with friends – after the race. Even if you have convinced yourself that skipping the race would be better for the whole family. The whole family will be more grateful if you get out there. The smiles and cowbells are worth every minute. Just remember with fall comes the mud, sometimes rain or snow, along with a little sunshine and always the cow bells cheering every rider on. Cyclocross can be a sport of all seasons wrapped into one day. Bring layers and a towel. Your friends and family are more likely to let you back in the car for the ride home if you at least attempt to towel off.
Have fun out there!