It’s hard to believe that cyclocross season is upon us. This might not mean much to most of you. After all, even though it is considered the fastest growing segment of competitive bicycle racing in the US, it remains a bit of a niche discipline that a lot of people, even cyclists, don’t know much about. That’s a shame—because it’s awesome. For years, I had cycling friends tell me about cyclocross racing, trying to tempt me to participate. Their descriptions of it: “60 minutes of torture,” did not sound appealing, even when they expressed the dichotomous sentiment that it was some of the most fun they had ever had riding a bike. It didn’t make much sense to me, and their descriptions failed to tempt me. I guess I just didn’t get it. Then, a few years ago, finally tired of having them pester me about it I decided to enter my first cyclocross race. While registering, I asked how many laps the race was, clueless at the time that even asking that question revealed my rookie status. During the race, I certainly agreed with the “torture” description. Afterwards, I agreed even more with the “fun” description. I was totally hooked!
What is cyclocross?
Hopefully most readers have at least a general idea of what cyclocross is, but for those that don’t – it could be rudimentarily described as being similar to mountain biking with a road bike. The course is mixed surface, with everything from pavement to grass, dirt, rocks, sand, roots, stairs, wooden barriers, mud, snow, and ice. You ride, you bunny-hop (if that’s your thing and you have enough skills to avoid face-planting), and you shoulder your bike to run some sections. To the uninitiated, the bikes look very similar to road bikes, with drop bars and rigid frames and forks. The main difference are the knobby and higher-volume tires. The race takes place on a closed course, with each lap usually taking anywhere from 6-10 minutes. Race duration, depending on age group and class, generally lasts for 30-60 minutes, with the number of laps raced determined only after the race begins, and calculated based on how many laps the fastest riders should be able to complete within the designated time period.
Why is it so awesome?
- It is a great way to maintain year-round fitness
- It very accessible – there are a lot of opportunities to race along the Front Range
- The races are short so you can fit them into your schedule
- It will improve your bike-handling skills
- It is a wonderful and interactive spectator event
- Everyone is suffering together, so there is a fantastic sense of camaraderie and support among racers
- It is a great reason to buy a new bike (not that anyone needs another reason to do that!)
- It is just plain fun!
How can you learn more about cyclocross?
Starting in early September, there are local and/or regional cyclocross races pretty much every weekend – sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. If you have never seen a cyclocross race, I would suggest first just going out as a spectator to see what it is all. The local race schedule is available at coloradocycling.org. Seriously, check it out. Even if you think it might not be your thing as a participant, it is the best spectator environment in all of cycling. You can watch from pretty much any spot on the course. Crowds tend to gather at the most technical sections so they can witness crashes, run-ups, and other forms of struggling and suffering. Cheer the racers on, heckle them, give them good or intentionally bad or misleading advice about which line to take through a that section of the course, offer them a donut hole or beer hand-up as they ride by – whatever you want. It’s all in good fun. Take your friends, take your kids, and check it out! And who knows, you just might decide that all of that suffering looks like so much fun that you will enter the next race. I highly recommend it.
I hope to see you out there. I will be the one with the pain-face as I pass by you every lap, wondering why I am putting myself through such torture, but then smiling uncontrollably at the finish and asking everyone in ear shot when the next race is, so I can do it all again. Oh wait… that description fits pretty much all of us.
Trent Newcomer is a veterinarian and the franchise owner of Velofix Colorado, a mobile bike shop operation that serves the Front Range, from Fort Collins to the entire Denver metro area. Book a bike service appointment and have them roll up to your home or business at velofix.com.