As fall arrives and riding outside becomes more difficult due to lack of daylight and falling temperatures, it might just be time to hang up the bike and take a five-month hiatus. Well, that might be the conventional wisdom, but did the deep thinkers advocating for major couch time ever hear of cyclocross?
Cyclocross, or just "cross" as it's known by the sport's insiders, is one of the fastest growing segments of cycling. Besides the numerous one-day races, there are many events featuring 3 to 6 races over several months, with an overall winner crowned at the series finale.
Undoubtedly, the reason cross is so fun is that it's a participation sport. Unlike road racing where the fear of getting dropped seems to take a lot of the fun out of participating, the nature of the courses in cross are such that, like mountain biking, after a few minutes everybody is riding by themselves.
Much like a time trial, if you want to go fast then push the pace. If you just want to get out and ride on a closed course with a few friends, then find a comfortable pace and put a big smile on your face as you complete each lap.
Don't get me wrong, there are riders who are trying to win, but for many others just showing up and toeing the start line makes them feel like a winner. For those riders it is about having fun and looking for a way to race a bike at a time when having peak fitness isn't really in the cards.
Fittingly, most cross races are about 45 minutes to one hour in length. Even if you can't get on your bike during the week, most riders have enough fitness to be able to stay upright for an hour. And since most races finish on the same lap as the leader, if you are having an off-day you can just putter around until the more serious riders finish and you'll be done as well.
Another component to cross races is the party atmosphere. Local clubs bring their own easy-up tents, drag in a barbecue grill and sip their favorite brew before the merriment begins. Again, the more serious participants may wait to eat and drink until after they have raced, but others aren't shy about munching a brat and a beer and then trying to hold it all down out on the course.
With all the holidays that come during the fall season, "themed" races are a huge hit. Halloween costume races, turkey trots and Santa Claus have all found their way into the festivities at a cross race. Lance Armstrong once spent an entire race trying to catch Santa Claus, not realizing that Saint Nick was a former Olympic cyclist and medalist.
If one of your goals is to ride the National Championships, then cross might just be the ticket. Because cross is a participant sport, if you have a racing license then you can attend Nationals. You have to ride a qualifying race to make it to the final, but again, if that is a goal then go for it. If not, have fun and watch your friends race for a stars and stripes jersey a few days later.
The bottom line is that cross offers a great way to keep the passion for cycling going during those months when environmental factors and other reasons make riding at a high level a near impossibility. Some might even call it "cross" training, but I would never make such a bad pun.
In the next column we'll discuss the equipment needed to get you started for a season of cyclocross.Search for a cycling event