Posted by: cdmmtb | September 24, 2010

Cyclocross – Crossing the Barrier Between Pain and Fun

Let’s face it, mountain biking can be painful at times.   Climbing, crashing, bonking and hiking are all integral to our beautifully dirty sport.     There’s another equally painful – yet otherwise completely different – off-road cycling sport kicking off right now in Southern California – Cyclocross!

Some differences are obvious, such as the bikes themselves.   Cyclocross bikes are essentially road bikes with frame and component modifications designed to make them more stable and comfortable off-road.  Their light weight frames and skinny knobbies make them ideal for a ‘cross course.  Yet you’ll see a handful of mountain bikes being ridden at almost any cyclocross race.   In fact I saw a rider at the 2009 cyclocross nationals racing on a hardtail mountain bike!    Anyone with a serviceable mountain bike (hardtail preferred) can enter a local SoCal ‘cross race and be confident they won’t be the only one out there on fat tires.

Another difference that is a key part of the fun equation is the layout of a cyclocross course.  A typical course snakes through an infield area, with multiple turns and barriers all falling within eyesight of spectators.     That means you’ll never be out of sight or sound of cheering (and sometimes heckling) crowds.  It really is quite a contrast from a solitary mountain bike trail out in the hills.

Here’s another fun difference  –  race length.  Amateur class ‘cross racers typically enter races that are 30 to 50 minutes long.    Contrast that with a typical mountain bike race length of 60 to 90 minutes and suddenly the commitment doesn’t seem as daunting.

Then there’s the barriers – short wood walls, steps, sand pits, mud bogs and “run-ups” (short, super-steep hills) that force most riders off of their bikes and onto their feet to leap, sprint, hobble and limp over or through said obstacles.    This adds  fun and an element of cross-training and coordination not normally required for mountain biking.

So with all the “fun” differences, where does the pain kick in?    In a word: pace.  The pacing of  ‘cross is such that it is almost constant pedalling with very few downhills and coasting opportunities. That translates to minimal opportunity for recovery.   So the best way to dial down the pain is to slow down your pace.

That is definitely a good idea for your first ‘cross race – set a goal of having fun and finishing and don’t focus on speed.   Oh, and the race is over at a fixed time, no matter how many laps you’ve completed, and no one in the crowd will really know what position you finished in (unless you win!).

So grab your trusty mountain bike, get out there and give it a go!

Interested?  Check out the SoCalCross website here.

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