So what do you get when you mix a mountain bike, road bike, and a Wookie? Cyclocross is the answer and the Utah Cyclocross Series is in full swing. I have been racing in the series for the last 10 plus years and it’s still my favorite form of bike racing. So most of you are probably asking what is cyclocross anyway?
Races consist of multiple laps of a short 2 to 3 mile course featuring pavement, dirt trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles such as logs and man made barriers that require the rider to dismount, carry the bike over the obsticle, and remount in one motion without slowing down. It’s quite a dance that looks like magic if you are good or like Chris Farly on ice skates if you are bad. The competition lasts for 30 to 60 minutes plus one lap. The sport was developed in traditional road cycling countries such as Belgium (and Flanders in particular), The Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The Dutch show up by the thousands to stand in their mud boots in freezing temperatures to eat waffles and watch Cyclocross. The story is that Cyclocross was developed by professionals looking for a way to stay in shape during the off season winter months.
Race season in the US generally begins as soon as the leaves on the trees start changing colors and the regular mountain and road racing season ends in September. Three months of racing lead up to the National Championships in January. Top domestic racers then make the jump over to Europe and do their best against racers on the home turf of cross. The Utah Cyclocross Series is in its 14th year and Utah has incredible talent in the ranks with Bart Gillespie, Alex Grant, Ali Goulet, and others. Attendance to the series has grown tremendously in the last couple of years and cross is growing rapidly all over the US.
So what does it take to get into the sport and can you use just any old bike? Take the speed and light weight set up of your favorite road bike, the knobs on your rugged mountain bike tires, and a pair of old school cantilever brakes for mud clearance and you have your trusty race steed. My first cross bike was a 1993 Specialized Allez that I took to a local frame builder to widen the rear triangle for mud clearance and weld on brake bosses for mtb cantilever brakes. It worked great but today my Cannondale CAAD9 is a much lighter and a more capable race weapon. Many first time racers use their stock mountain bike and that is allowed except for UCI sanctioned events.
Other than the bike all you need is a helmet, your race kit, mountain bike shoes, and a love for pain and punishment. From the second the gun goes off it is pedal to the medal and most of the race is spent in the anaerobic zone pushing as hard as you can. These intense efforts let you know your limits and pushes you to a new level. It will make you a faster rider.
So what does the Wookie have to do with anything? Cyclocross is all about fun and personality. Race crowds are full of spectators dressed up in all forms of costume from Raggedy Ann, tutus, and even a Wookie handing out $ to racers at the top of the run up. Small stands pop up selling Belgian waffles, hamburgers, and frits. The environment is rarely serious and everyone just comes to have a good time. So now that you understand the basics of cyclocross there is plenty of racing left this season to come out and give it a try. Feel free to swing in for more info and a look at a cross bike up close. See you at the races.