By Tyler Wren
Fall is one of my favorite times of year- I get time at home here in Utah, a little break from my training regime, and, Cyclocross!! To me, ‘cross is cycling’s most fascinating and technically challenging discipline. It combines fitness, bike handling, cornering, pack riding, running and, of course, dismounting and remounting. Plus, it is much more exciting than slogging out base miles through our Wasatch winter weekends or watching last year’s Tour de France and “The Price is Right” while pouring sweat over your trainer.
The best way to become a better cyclocross rider is by simply training on your cross bike. Anyone can have fun riding and racing a ‘cross bike. Fortunately, here in Utah we have a great cross clinic series run by Contender Bicycles starting soon in Sugarhouse Park (for more information, email [email protected]), and a phenomenal race series beginning the first weekend in October along with several other weekend and midweek series (see the calendar of events for details). The practice is open to ‘cross riders of all abilities, so please don’t feel shy about showing up.
When you want to progress and work on your technical ‘cross proficiency, it is also important to be aware of some fundamental cyclocross skills and ideas on how to navigate a ‘cross course as fast as possible. With this article, I want to equip you with some ‘cross basics to get you ready to make the most of your training sessions. Start slowly and deliberately to make sure you build on good habits.
First off, you need proper equipment. All the major bike shops in the city carry good cyclocross bikes, which have slightly knobby tires and a more upright geometry than your road bike. You also need a good set of mountain bike shoes and pedals. Your road bike shoes will not suffice, and neither will toe clips.
The most important and unique skills to be mastered in cyclocross are dismounting and remounting your bike for barriers and run-ups. This art form is best perfected with the help of an objective third eye, be it an experienced ‘cross friend or the other riders at Sugarhouse Park, but you can get started on your own with these basic instructions. I also like watching YouTube clips of ‘cross stars like Sven Nys, Lars Boom or Americans Ryan Trebon and Tim Johnson to see perfect technique in real time.
Focus on perfecting your dismounts before thinking about running with your bike or remounting. Practice dismounting by setting up a small barrier, like a small log, in a grassy field. Approach the barrier at a moderate speed with your hands on the brake hoods (or bar tops if you have brake levers there). Unclip your right foot and swing your right leg behind the saddle, over the rear wheel and leave it behind your left leg. Next, let the saddle rest against your right hip as you grab your top tube with your right hand, leaving your left hand on the bars. Grab the top tube close to your seat post. Next, unclip your left foot and hit the ground running, landing on your right foot first. At the same time, lift the bike off the ground and over the small barrier. There are some situations in ‘cross where it is more efficient to shoulder your bike, such as dismounting before a steep run-up, but concentrate on perfecting the simple bike lift first, as this is the most basic and commonly used method.
Once you feel smooth and unafraid of crashing while dismounting and getting over that small barrier, start working on remounting your bike. Begin by practicing this separately from your dismounts, and at a walking speed. Your right pedal should be at 12 o’clock (top of pedal stroke) after your perfect dismount. Put both hands back on your bars, either on your tops or brake hoods, whichever feels more comfortable. Then leap off your left foot, throwing your right leg over the saddle and landing on the inside of your right thigh. Remember that you are doing this at walking speed for your first few attempts, to avoid the inevitable beginner’s stutter-step. You want a clean, stutter-free leap from left foot to the saddle. The leap should propel you forward, so avoid jumping too high in the air. Once you have landed on your right thigh, slide onto the saddle, clip your right foot in and begin pedaling, clipping the left foot in as its pedal comes to the top of the pedal stroke.
When you feel confident in both your dismounting and remounting, it is time to combine the two into one fluid motion. Again, keep it slow and deliberate until you feel confident. Place your bike softly back on the ground after lifting it over the barriers so that you do not lose your chain or control of your bike. Work on dismounting just a few steps before your small practice barrier and remounting as soon as possible after clearing it.
Hope to see you at the Sugarhouse ‘cross practices and then the races this fall!