What's so attractive about riding your bike around a muddy track with unrideable obstacles throughout the cold winter season?
Well, I'm not too sure, which is why I caught up with International Mountain Biking Association special projects and publishing director Pete Webber to figure out why he'd rather cross it out than sit back and relax during the coldest months of the year. Pete has been racing cyclocross for over ten years now, securing a second place at Nationals in 1993 and winning the cyclocross stage at the 2000 Tour De Dewey. Here's what he had to say:
Dirt Rag: Why is cyclocross so much fun?
Pete Webber: I think it is true that other types of bike racing are not as much fun as cyclocross. It is hard to describe exactly why, however. I think it's a combination of things. Cross is grassroots and low key. It is about family, the people, the culture. The races are short and tight, the competition is always close and there aren't many racers on the course. It's fast and intense and always exciting. Plus, the season is short and well-defined--only two months separate the first and last race in the schedule, so your energy is always high.
DR: What is this "dismount" that I hear so much about and how can I master it myself?
PW: The cyclocross dismount isn't difficult--just swing one leg around the back of the saddle and jump off. The tricky part is doing it at high speed. To score in races you must learn to dismount without slowing down. Practice getting off at higher and higher speeds--resist the urge to grab the brakes--the speed at which you can successfully dismount will surprise you.
There are a couple of subtle skills that will help: Always get off on the left side of the bike--away from the drivetrain. Unclip your left foot and rest it on the pedal at the beginning of the dismount to avoid getting stuck in the pedal. On high speed dismounts, bring your right foot forward between your left leg and the bike--you'll be able to plant your right foot down first in a normal running stride.
DR: What about getting back on?
PW: The cyclocross remount is more difficult to explain. How does a person leap skyward into the saddle without causing serious damage down under? There is only one way to learn this elusive skill--spend some time watching an experienced crosser do it and then go practice it yourself about a thousand times.
DR: I've heard a bit about the run-up, too. How can I master that?
PW: Running is what sets cyclocross apart--you must embrace it no matter how much you hate it. Some things to remember: Carry your bike on your shoulder; don't push it along at your side. You'll be able to use a normal stride and run faster. To shoulder the bike comfortably, stick your right arm through the frame, around the downtube and grab the handle bar. Practice putting the bike on your shoulder and repeat the same motions and bike position every time. Make running a part of your workouts.
DR: Do you really need a cross bike to do cyclocross?
PW: No, but I highly recommend it. Part of the allure of cyclocross is riding skinny tires and drop bars off-road. A cross bike is faster than a mountain bike. It is also more difficult to ride--harder is better in cross, that is why it is a cult sport. Picture yourself smokin' into the first turn of a race, sketched out in a two-wheel drift, shoulder-to-shoulder with a pack of crazies--it's just not the same on a fat-tire mountain bike. However, with just a few modifications, a mountain bike can be nearly as fast a cross bike.
On some technical courses a mountain bike can be faster. Switch to skinny knobbies, a rigid fork, get rid of the bottle cages and bar ends and you're ready to race. Rear suspension mountain bikes don't work very well because their extra weight and squishiness will slow you in a race, and many are difficult to shoulder. Dig the old rigid bike out of the garage rather than suffering on a full suspension. Some folks suggest that a road bike can be modified for cross, but that sounds scary to me.