Monday, December 5, 2005


October is the most beautiful of months, with bright foliage, crisp air, and harvest time. But the months that follow can be just nasty. That in-between time prior to the consistent snowfalls of January and February leave wretched 35-degree weather, wind, and rain with the remains of dead leaves. There is little for any of the senses to revel in. But there is one thing left for me: cyclocross.

Cyclocross is the craziest of cycling sports, the bastard child of European road racing. It began in the 1940s and '50s as racers would shod their bikes with wider tires for better handling on the wet winter roads. Because northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands are home to a lot of farmland, cyclists would occasionally need to get off their bikes and carry them through fields or ditches in search of better roads to ride while logging thousands of off-season miles. Now, decades later, this has evolved into an organized sport. On any given weekend in the Netherlands, Belgium, New England, or California's Bay Area, you can find one of such events.

What is cyclocross (CX)? Well, it's mostly contested on short (1-3 miles) courses that may contain pavement, sand, gravel, and grass. Well, that is, before the season's rain or snow turn it into a pit of mud. In order to replicate the trekking through ditches and whatnot, racers must dismount their bikes at high speed and run over natural or man-made barriers or up steep embankments. Races are often short for a cycling event (45-60 minutes), but oh, the pain! And unlike two-hour mountain bike races, these are often hotly contested, with races being decided in only the final lap.

Now, this wouldn't be quite so bad if it were all contested on fat-tired mountain bikes with shock absorbers. But those would be far too slow; and besides, we must keep with its tradition in evolving from road cycling. Imagine riding on 1"-wide tires with downcurved handlebars, no shock absorption, and brakes that will barely stop the weight of your wheels once they get clogged with mud. It gets even more fun riding sidehill on wet grass, hugging tight curves through mud and slush, or slogging through deep sand pits. Add to that the hills and barriers that must be run over in the 40-degree weather, and you've got yourself one helluva psychotic affair. And maybe therein lies why lovers of bike racing like me are so drawn to it.

And what are such CX fans like? Who are these lunatics who brave all kinds of natural phenomena to cheer on the competitors? The general portrait would be a Dutch man who worked on a fishing wharf since he was twelve. After filling himself with sausage and beer, he and his best buds grab their cowbells, rain jackets, and galoshes and head for the top of the course's steepest hill. What sport would be complete without such great fans? And if there is any sport with more color and character than cycling--well, there just isn't.

So, there you have it. That's 'cross. Why did I write a post about it, knowing no one cares? 'Don't know. But it's just damn cool, and I'll always love cycling. Long live December.

VeloNews: your source for bicycle racing coverage.

1 comment:

halfmom said...

I think you have to have a sense of balance for that - something which I DON'T have - so I'll enjoy your descriptions instead.