Monday, September 8, 2008

Cyclocross - or, "What was I thinking?"

A couple of years ago I got a Specialized Tri-Cross Sport bike that I used for commuting back and forth to work. Cyclocross bikes look a lot like road bikes.

When I got that bike I had visions of using it in some cyclocross events, but had nothing definite in mind. Then last October I went up to Boulder to watch the Redline Cup, a professional cyclocross race. And I got a little bug to try it.

First, a little background. The exact origins of cyclocross aren't known. But the conventional wisdom is that during the off-season European road racers in the early 1900s would race each other to the next town and that they were allowed to cut through farmer's fields, over fences or take any other shortcuts in order to make it to the next town first. This was a way for them to stay in shape during the winter months and put a twist on road racing. In addition, riding off road in difficult conditions increased the intensity at which the cyclists were riding and improved their on-the-road bike handling abilities.

Cyclocross races take place typically in the autumn and winter (the international or "World Cup" season is September-January), and consist of many laps of a short (2.5–3.5 km or 1.5–2 mile) course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike whilst navigating the obstruction and remount in one motion.

The mounting and remounting are the distinguishing skills for cyclocross. Being able to dismount, pick up the bike, put it back down and remount smoothly and quickly without losing any speed requires a huge amount of practice and skill.

Yesterday Phil and I attended a cyclocross clinic to learn those skills. Let's just say that while experienced crossers "ever so deftly hop back on the bike" after a barrier, beginners flail around and try not to do permanent damage to their tender parts while remounting.

So, we are going to practice [a lot] and we may even enter a race (or two) this season. It will be a good way to improve our bike handling skills, and the races are short and intense, so it will help with our winter fitness, too.

Besides, we've already decided we aren't going to have children, so there is an acceptable level of risk in the potential damage we may suffer before we are able to "deftly hop back on the bike."

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