My son took this picture. Trying to make it up a slippery hill takes total commitment!
This autumn, I have started to race cyclocross again, after retiring from it 16 years ago. I’ve always liked ‘cross, so when my son decided to try the sport, I dusted off my skills hopping on and off the bike. Why cyclocross?
‘Cross is a great way to improve your bike-handling skills. Learning what it feels like just before your tires slip on grass or mud is useful for all off-pavement riding.
It’s also great training, because you only can accelerate when you have traction, so to go fast, you have to sprint. Most of all, cyclocross is great fun!
Cyclocross has changed a lot in the 16 years since I last raced. Back then, it was very much a niche sport, and apart from the National Championships, the fields of riders contained no more than 20 racers. Today in our region, it’s rare to have a field with fewer than 60 starters, and there are several categories on the course at the same time, so it’s much more crowded. On the plus side, more riders on the course mean that tactics are becoming more important. You need to plan when to go hard and when to rest while waiting for an opportunity to pass a slower rider from a category that started ahead of yours.
Another big change has been the courses. The UCI has changed the rules for cyclocross, allowing a maximum of two barriers per lap. This means fewer opportunities to dismount and remount than in the past – taking away one of the most challenging and enjoyable parts of the sport.
Equipment-wise, the most significant change is that today’s racers ride much wider tires than we did in the 1990s. Back then, 28 mm tires were considered wide… In ‘cross, even more than in other forms of cycling, tires and pressures are the most important aspects of your bike’s performance.
Cyclocross is becoming the most popular category of racing, complete with food stands, beer tents, corporate sponsors… but it’s still a great grass-roots sport where anybody can show up and race.
The Winter issue of Bicycle Quarterly will feature cyclocross, including a story about the 1980s Alan cyclocross bike that I am racing again. In the mean time, maybe you’ll give ‘cross a try as well?