As the mountain biking season has progressed through late summer and fall has drawn closer, I’ve had quite a few fellow racers suggest that I give cyclocross a try. Most have assured me that I would love it and I’m sure they’re well intentioned in that suggestion. I’m not so sure. I actually do own a cyclocross bike, but I use that for commuting to work and general fun on dirt roads, not racing.
Admittedly, I’ve never actually participated in a cyclocross race, but I think I can reasonably make a judgement on it since I’ve done lots of races over the past 20+ years. Given the various qualities that make up a cyclocross race, I just don’t see it as a combination that I will enjoy. In a similar way, I’ve never had pickled eggs but am quite confident that I don’t like them. I know that I despise the taste of vinegar and can’t stand hard boiled eggs, so it’s a pretty safe assumption that I won’t like them together. It’s not like they’ll taste like lemon muffins or something when combined. Moving on, here are the reasons why you’re not likely to see me dressing up in spandex to show up at any cyclocross races.
1. Pain. All racing is painful but there are degrees of pain. When I race, it takes me a while to warm up and get into the flow of things. I never start out hard very well. With cyclocross, the races are often under an hour in length. 45 minutes plus one lap? Who came up with that torture recipe? It takes me that long just to get into a groove. With a race that short, you have no choice but to start full-on and spend the remainder of the time dancing around and just over your anaerobic threshold. Ouch.
2. Mud. Fall in New England is generally dominated by rain. There is the occasional sunny day but things rarely dry out much this time of year, so you’re almost guaranteed to have sloppy conditions. I wear out parts fast enough as it is and subjecting a road bike to a thorough grit bath isn’t going to help. On top of that, its going to get all over me too: on my legs, up my back, in my eyes. There’s nothing quite like silty mud working it’s way through lyrcra shorts making every pedal stroke a sandpaper-like chafing experience. Anyone who has had this happen knows that the greatest pain is yet to come when attempting to clean off in the shower that evening. Bite stick anyone?
3. Cold. Cyclocross season is in autumn, and autumn is generally cold. Due to the erratic, random nature of the weather in New England, it is possible that a race might fall on a day that’s not uncomfortably cold; but, for the most part, the fall season tends to be cold, damp, raw, windy and generally miserable. Very much like going to the beach in Maine. No thanks. As the season progresses, you have no reason to expect anything but for conditions to deteriorate. Somehow, the cold in the fall is worse than in the depths of winter. I’ll take the fatbike out in -15F in Vermont before I’ll spend time outside in a 40 degree rain with mud soaking through my shorts.
4. Skinny tires. Talk about using the wrong tool for the job. Yes, I know that’s coming from a guy who rides a rigid, single-speed mountain bike. To me, using a 38mm tire for riding on dirt is like taking a pogo stick out for a snowshoe. The distinction between 28, 32, 38 and 42mm is pretty much academic. I’ve been mountain biking for so long that anything less than a 2.2″ tire feels narrow to me. I like being able to float on top of soft soil and I’m not a fan of getting rattled so hard that my fillings fall out. There’s a reason why you won’t see treads like that at a mountain bike race: skinny tires belong on hard, smooth surfaces like pavement.
5. Running. Cyclocross isn’t just about riding a bike, it has sections that force you off the bike – intentionally! I hate running. Hate it. Hate is a warm and fuzzy word when used to describe my feelings about running. I’d almost rather go to the dentist. When I have to get off the bike and hoof it up a hill or through a technical section of trail, it feels like admitting defeat . When I do have to resort to running, I instantly go anaerobic, my heart rate jumps immediately to 100% of my max. and I start sucking in air like there’s not enough oxygen to support life. See item #1 labelled “Pain”.
6. USAC. I don’t need someone telling what length sleeves I can wear, how much my bike can weigh, or what other races I may enter. I’m not a fan. Enough said.
So, if you happen to like cyclocross racing, I’m happy for you. Seriously. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can hammer out at full effort from start to finish and have the skills to handle a skinny tired bike on off-road terrain. It’s not an easy sport. While it may not be my preferred activity, it’s still bike racing and I can’t say that I actually dislike it. I’d still rather take on that pain prescription before wasting time on a golf course or bowling. Instead of any of that, I plan on tooling around in the woods on my fat bike later this fall, not competing with anyone and loving it.