Riders carry their bikes over obstacles on the course during the 2006 Outdoors Inc. Cyclocross Championship.Photo courtesy of Joe Royer, Outdoors Inc.
Competitive bicycle riding and running are difficult enough, so what would happen if you combined the two?
You would end up with a grueling form of bike racing designed to test the rider's ability to endure and overcome pain. In a word, you would get cyclocross.
Cyclocross races are typically done on road bikes outfitted with knobby tires and the courses are short circuits between one-half and one mile long, usually laid out on a grassy expanse that includes short, steep hills and strategically placed barriers.
Cyclists jump from the bike in advance of the barrier and, bike in hand, leap over the obstacle and remount the bicycle without slowing down. Cyclists race around the cyclocross track like this for about 45 minutes.
Since 2005, Memphis, Tennessee, cyclists Joel Glasgow and Robert Taylor have been hosting informal cyclocross races in Midtown's Toby Park. Riders trickle in around dusk, drop $5 and race for 40 minutes around an impromptu course that circles baseball diamonds, traverses gravel roads and challenges riders to trudge through strength-sapping grassy fields.
Taylor has been a part of the cyclocross community in Memphis for more 20 years, since Joe Royer, co-owner of Outdoors Inc., started cyclocross racing in Memphis in 1986 with a race at Shelby Farms. Twenty-one years later, Royer's race—the Outdoors Inc. Mid-South Cyclocross Championship Race—is world-renowned.
The City of Memphis Chamber of Commerce has featured the race as a major attraction in its Relocation Guide and professional cyclocross national champion Paul Curley has called it "a race worth traveling to."
Cyclocross originated as a form of offseason training for road-bike racers looking to stay fit and stay on the bike during the winter—the "dead season" of cycling.
It is an ideal offseason activity for cyclists as the races are typically short, and jumping off the bike to leap over a barrier "brings your feet back" from the numbing chill of a cold winter wind. Plus, the occasional jog keeps the heart rate high and the insides warm.
Cyclocross gained more converts in the early 1990s as mountain bike riders joined the ranks of offseason road racers in this chilly test of endurance.
"There used to be eight people lined up at the cyclocross starting line," Taylor recollects. Now, cyclists from all over the country travel to Memphis to join a cadre of Bluff City cyclocrossers at Harbor Town's Greenbelt Park, each seeking victory in the Outdoors Inc. Cyclocross Championship Race.
"Cross is not an every-man sport," Royer cautioned. "It's a training exercise." Taylor agreed, saying its "the hardest thing to do on the bike. It's very demanding."
As with any form of athletic competition, cyclocross racing requires intense physical preparation and unfaltering dedication, if one intends to compete seriously. But beginners to cyclocross have the opportunity to push their physical limitations, and both runners and cyclists might find it just the sport they've been looking for.
Robert Taylor recalls that the neatest thing he's seen at a cyclocross race was "a 10-year-old at the race trying to lift his 30- or 40-pound bike over the barricades."