Cyclocross Mud Contest: the Answer


Last week, I asked readers to guess how much mud my cyclocross bike carried at the end of a recent race. The answers varied greatly. Clearly, the mud around the bottom bracket and chainstays looked impressive, and some thought it added 30% to the weight of the bike. (Many readers also overestimated the weight of my bike.)


Others figured that there wasn’t that much mud elsewhere on the bike, and thought it amounted to just a few hundred grams (< 1 lb).

The answer lay in the middle: There was some heavy mud, but pine needles and wood were mixed in with the soil, and they are relatively light in weight. The bike carried 1040 g (2.3 lb) of mud. The bike’s overall weight, mud-free, is 10.0 kg (22.0 lb), so the mud added 10.4% to the bike’s weight. That’s quite a bit of mud weighing the bike down, and makes me wonder about using superlight parts on a ‘cross bike!

To my surprise, not just one, but two readers guessed remarkably close to the actual figures: Jesse Prichard from Spokane and “Paul in Dallas” both came up with 1 kg and 10%. Since Jesse was the first to enter, he is the winner. Congratulations! You won a 1-year subscription to Bicycle Quarterly, starting with the special 50th issue.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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22 Responses to Cyclocross Mud Contest: the Answer

  1. ORiordan says:

    Jan – I thought the competition was open until November 25?

    In the previous post, I said I was interested in checking out a theory, and another poster correctly guessed this was to do with “the wisdom of crowds”. This is when the aggregate views of a large number of people may be more accurate than an individual.

    I calculated the average of the entries to be 1.677kg (3.68 lb) 16.69% so this particular crowd maybe wasn’t so wise…

    However it probably wasn’t the best test of the theory as people could see previous entries so maybe there was some conscious or unconscious “herding” of the crowd going on rather than everyone’s entry being totally independent.

    • I am sorry – I initially published an incorrect date, which I later corrected. I apologize to anybody who was preparing their answer based on the initial published date.

      The “wisdom of crowds” approach is interesting. It probably works well for subjects where the answer is known. Wikipedia comes to mind.

      When trying to figure out something to which the answer is unknown, asking more people won’t necessarily get you a better answer.

      If a lot of people had weighed their bikes after cross races, then the “wisdom of crowds” approach probably would have yielded better results. Since there is little data, the most reliable method probably would have been to estimate the volume of mud on the bike from the photos, and then calculate its weight – ideally after taking a soil sample from Woodland Park.

      • Patrick O'Riordan says:

        The originator of the wisdom of crowds concept (Francis Galton in the early 1900s) found that the average of a “guess the weight of an ox” contest at a country fair was very close to the actual weight. I’ve seen a “guess the number of M&Ms in a jar” contest and again, the average was very close to the actual number.

        These examples work on the basis that most people’s guesses will either be an over or underestimate so the average of everyone will be pretty close to the actual number.

        I’m pretty sure that if people had actually seen your bike and the guesses recorded independently, the average would have been closer to the real answer.

      • It works at a county fair with an ox, because most county-fair-goers have an idea what an ox weighs. If you showed people in the New York subway an ox and asked them to guess how much it weighs, I doubt you’d get a useful result by averaging the responses…

  2. GuitarSlinger says:

    Jan – The ‘ trick ‘ to cyclecross .. assuming you’re serious about winning .. is having multiple bikes [ usually four ] with a crew handing them off to you and cleaning [ and lubing ] the one you just handed them in case you need it later in the race . That is when having ultra light cross bikes and parts becomes beneficial . And yes … I did say four bikes for what is usually a one hour race .

    BTW – An interesting contest . Wished I’d of checked in earlier and given it a go myself .

    • At my level, you don’t need multiple bikes to win😉

      It’s tempting nonetheless. I’d have to pay my son to be the pit crew, though, and the entry fees already are expensive enought!

    • Conrad says:

      Yes, a spare bike and someone to stand around in the rain and repeatedly clean it for you would be nice. If you are not a pro, and therefore don’t have a person being paid to do this, its not anywhere near as likely to happen as everyone says it is🙂

      • It also would somehow make cyclocross less of a “just hop on the bike and go” event. Before I can get too serious, I’d have to train seriously for ‘cross. While ‘cross is great training for randonneuring, long rides at relatively moderate pace don’t prepare me for the short intensity of a ‘cross race. I like it the way it is right now, where I do a few races a year, and once in a while, I may be reduced to riding a single-speed for the latter part of the race.

  3. MattS says:

    ‘Superlight parts’ on a CX bike are rarely used in my region, or on any of the bikes I’ve ever seen core CX racers use. Richard Sachs’ team, for example, uses SRAM Rival components over Force or Red, both lighter and more expensive. Sure, they are on steel bikes, so not representative, but many racers don’t bother going higher than Force or Ultegra for components. Wheels are where I see people spending the most on weight savings, typically in deep carbon tubulars. Overall, sensible weight savings that get the bike down to 17ish pounds tend to be quite effective, particularly when some of these savings come from eliminating a chain ring, front derailleur, and shifter (guts or lever). I don’t even know what my steel cx bike weighs, but it’s light enough, 22lbs, however, would have me looking for savings, as I have a hard enough time lifting my bike over all manner of barriers when I’m seeing double. That’s where the overall weight of the bike matters most to me.

  4. Rick Harker says:

    Yeowsers. If I had that much mud on mine it would entail a complete strip down and rebuild.

  5. Michael says:

    What kind of brush do you use?
    I was thinking of getting one of those plasticky bristle brushes with a handle from the hardware store but looks like the bristles would scratch the paint.
    Have any recommendations?

  6. Scott Snelling says:

    I also enjoy entering a cyclocross race about once per year. Maybe I missed it in some of your previous blog and BQ articles, but I would be curious to hear your thoughts regarding fit for cx versus rando. It seems fit for cx is much less important, since the races are short. I am guessing you may run a somewhat different (smaller) seat height and reach to the bars on your Alan cx bike versus the Rene Herse?

    • If you want to be competitive, fitness is extremely important for cyclocross. You need to accelerate very hard at the beginning of the race to get into a good position before entering the narrow sections of the course. I struggle with that, since I am not a sprinter. Then you need a accelerate out of every corner…

      You get faster by doing high intensity, then rest. This applies to all cycling, no matter the distance. In the spring, I do hill intervals to increase my fitness for randonneuring. I continue the intervals throughout the season, but not to the extent I did when racing. Nor do I ever manage the intensity that you do in an actual race. So compared to someone who races on the road, randonneuring is not good preparation for ‘cross. On the other hand, ‘cross allows me to carry my form later into the season, so I have only about 5-6 weeks off the bike, rather than 2-3 months. These days, I do my best out there, but my ambitions for winning races aren’t that great. It’s mostly about having fun!

      The fit of my Alan ‘cross bike is similar to my Herse randonneur bike. The Alan used to be considered “too big” for me, but I found that the taller frame makes it easier to pick up the bike. (I don’t have to lift it as high to get it onto my shoulder.) Now I ride frames that are even taller (but no longer), so the Alan almost seems small. In fact, it is just right!

      • Scott Snelling says:

        Interesting. Thank you for your response. I have tended to run my seat relatively lower for cyclocross, with the idea that it allows me to move around more on the bike for absorbing bumps and faster cornering. With my singlespeed setup, many of the accelerations are out of the saddle anyhow. I am not particularly competitive, but have fun.

      • I generally run my seat a bit lower than is the norm, so I guess there is no need to lower it more for ‘cross. So perhaps our seat height is the same (with respect to our inseam) on our ‘cross bikes…

      • marmotte27 says:

        Yous still managed to win a cross race, if I understood correctly?

      • I did win the Category 4 Masters 45+ in Seattle’s Woodland Park (the photos are from that race), but that doesn’t mean much! It’s the category of the slowest and oldest riders out there, and the course really suited my skills and my bike. Next season, I’ll be in the Cat. 3s, and then it’ll be much harder just to stay at the front, much less ride away from the group.

  7. Jon Blum says:

    Great contest! I would like to try that experiment with the ox in the NYC subway. Based on my years of riding the subway, I think most New Yorkers would ignore the ox. Except maybe the transit police, so perhaps this isn’t really a good idea. But it was a great example.

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