Monday, September 12, 2011

So you think you wanna race cyclocross...

Dear readers: No, I'm not completely lazy, but I do recognize that it's been a long time since I've posted.  You see, I work at a certain high-tech company that shares the name of a particularly tasty fruit, and we have been working really hard on a couple of really big products.  Between that, family, riding my bike, running, eating, and sleeping, there wasn't a lot of time left over for blogging.  I promise a catch-up post in the near future.

So, cyclocross season is upon us.  For those of you not familiar with cyclocross (a.k.a. CX), then you should just read Slonie's CX Comic.  Short version: it's kind of like a criterium with lots of technical turns raced on dirt / mud / grass / sand / whatever, plus barriers that you have to hop (on or off the bike) over, hills too steep to ride up (so you have to carry your bike and run), and, if you're lucky, some puking and a fair amount of beer drinking.  In other words: FUN!

I decided to start familiarizing myself with cyclocross last year.  Took the kids to watch a couple of races nearby our house, talked to a bunch of guys (and gals!) who race, and thought hey, that looks like something I'd like to try!  So in the spring, I built myself a cross bike on the cheap figuring that even if I don't like racing, I know I like riding on dirt so it won't be a wasted investment (I think I almost have my wife convinced of this).

I'm lucky to have the Fremont Older Open Space Preserve near my office, which allows me to get out and ride on some varying terrain during lunch one or two days a week.  A couple of months ago I started doing this, and I'm loving it.  I am fully jazzed for CX season, hooray!

...except CX is a whole lot more than just pedaling and successfully navigating technical terrain.  You've gotta get off the bike and back on while moving.  This is kind of counter-intuitive if you come from other cycling disciplines.  I mean, usually when you get off the bike while moving it's called "crashing".  Cyclocross's version is a little more controlled, however.  Here's a great demo video:

These guys, of course, make it look really easy.  Having not been able to make it to any CX skills clinics (family comes first, yo!), I got to thinking I'd better start practicing this on my own.  So, that's what I went out and did today:

Yup, I went around and around the dirt track that surrounds the Golden Gate Park Polo Fields, practicing dismounts and remounts.  Exciting stuff.  But I learned a very valuable lesson: I suck.  I need a crap-ton more practice, so I'm going to be out there next Monday morning, and the Monday morning after that, doing dismount / remount drills while waiting for it to be light enough to ride on some of the dirt trails that criss cross the park.  Hopefully, as I improve, I will not crash stupidly (lightly skinning my knee, putting a small hole in my Castelli bib knickers, and scraping up my 9-sp Dura Ace shifter in the process) as I did today.

This, of course, doesn't help my confidence at all.  One of my little demons is that while I find racing thrilling and fun, it also scares the bejeezus out of me.  This past January I had a really bad crash in a racing clinic criterium -- front wheel got clipped and I went over the bars at 28mph.  I was lucky that I only sprained my neck, shredded my kit, and sustained a bunch of road rash / bruises.  One other guy that crashed with me separated his shoulder.  All of our injuries could have been a lot worse.  I haven't raced since then.

Now, the speeds with CX are a lot slower (unless you're this guy), but there are trees, barriers, and, perhaps most importantly, guys with handlebar mustaches and tall socks to contend with.

I know I should just suck it up, go out and race, and have a good time.  A successful outing for me will be: Stays upright, no mechanicals, doesn't get lapped, finishes, drinks a beer at the end.  Beyond that is just icing on the cake.  So hopefully I'll see you out there.  Don't forget your cowbell!


  1. Once I'm done with Everest (you'll know by the blog post), hit me up whenever you want to do some loops in GGP. I'll join on my CX rig. The best description of a CX race I've heard is that it's like a time trial in a washing machine :). You're much better about this than I was. The first time I rode my CX bike was at BASP last year. Yup, first time in a race, that's how I roll. Also the first time I tried dismounting and mounting. I found that while I was pretty good at jumping off and on, it's finding the pedals right after landing in the seat that's the hardest. Velonews had some good videos on that at some point. I'm sure they are still somewhere in the interwebs.

  2. Ugh. Not sure I'll ever be coordinated enough to master the mounting/dismounting. I'd probably just stick with crashing. Good luck with training and don't let work eat you alive.