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A Race Discipline for Everyone

September 4, 2012

To hear USA Cycling tell it, cyclocross is bicycle racing’s fastest growing discipline. It’s no wonder with short courses that are great for spectating, short races and a short season that make for lighter training loads for racers, typically cooler temperatures as a Fall sport, and the crazy, fun atmosphere that accompanies most cyclocross events.

If you’re unfamiliar with cyclocross, it is most often described as a mix of road and mountain bike racing, although that’s not quite the whole story. The bikes used most resemble road bikes with drop bars, although wider tires and either cantilever or disc brakes are standard equipment. Riders can use any bike they like though and mountain bikes (without bar ends) are particularly welcome at nearly every event.

Sean gets it done on his MTB at the Cyclocross Scuffle. Photo by Jim Hicks.

The riding takes place on mixed surfaces: pavement, grass, sand, and dirt all feature on the typical cyclocross course. But so do steep uphill sections, barriers—either manufactured 40cm tall wooden planks, or natural ones such as logs–and long, deep sand pits. These features often require riders to dismount and portage their bikes over or through them, although skilled riders can jump or ride many obstacles.

Mason shows his barrier riding skills at last year’s Cyclocross Scuffle. Photo by Jim Hicks.

For the riders themselves, it’s really a mixed bag of riding techniques. Part criterium racing with short courses and lots of turns, part mountain biking with technical riding often rewarded, and part time-trial effort where all out effort is often required. No one skill carries a successful CX rider, although strengths can be played to depending on a given course.

What really gives cyclocross—or CX or cross—its uniqueness though is the atmosphere surrounding the events. You’re more likely to hear a non-riding friend or significant other shout “Why are you riding so slow?!” to a racer than offer a supportive cheer, just as likely to see cold beers at 10 am as you are warm coffee, and more likely to hear pumping music than the sound of carbon wheels whizzing by. It’s the party aspect—the pure fun—that draws many to CX and is what seems to be driving the sport’s increased popularity. The good-natured heckling and festival feel make CX a great scene to be a part of whether riding or just watching.

Team Super Awesome has been known to bring the party to local CX races and pro riders alike. Photo by Team Super Awesome.

Of course, bicycle makers have responded in kind. Nearly every maker has either started offering a cyclocross bike, or drastically increased their offerings over the last two years. One big change that has resulted in many new bikes coming to market is last year’s rule change allowing disc brakes in sanctioned CX races. New equipment allowances together with increased interest have meant more CX bike options than ever before. Specialized’s expanded line is a great example of this. From the original Tricross—a do-it-all drop bar bike—there is now a separate race-specific CX bike, the Crux, with no less than 5 different complete bike models and 4 available framesets to build the CX bike of your dreams. Trek has followed a similar path—the Ion aluminum CX models as well as the all-new 2013 Crossrip, a versatile bike that’s home commuting and racing, accompany the two Cronus carbon race bikes.  Venerable CX bike makers are also expanding offerings—like Independent Fabrication’s Ti Factory Lightweight Planet X joining their standard steel, stainless steel, and Ti CX offerings, all available with disc brakes as an option, of course.

There’s also been a growth in CX-specific teams. Specialzied has long sponsored top-tier CX racers, and they support a growing number of grassroots teams too including Austin’s own Team Super Awesome.  Trek recently launched the Trek Cyclocross Collective featuring none other than Katie Compton, the United States’ most decorated and successful female CX racer, and is supporting Bicycle Sport Shop’s own Cyclocross Team, together with Durata Training, Real Ale, Grease Monkey Wipes, Kneadz, Bikecaffe Austin, and long-time friend to the shop Susan Beth Photography. The shop’s foray into CX mirrors the overall growth of the sport in Texas, which is also reflected in the fact that the Live Music Capitol of the World will host the US National CX Championships in 2015—scheduled to take place in the City’s crown jewel, Zilker Park.

Just some of the tips from Durata Training‘s recent in-store CX training seminar.

There’s no shortage of interest in cyclocross and “gravel grinder” rides in general. And the shop is really excited to be joining the fray. If you take a look at the events and resources tab on the shop’s website you’ll see the rescheduled Reveille Roubaix and a brand new cyclocross events calendar, which lists most of the area’s open practices, including one hosted by a member of the shop’s CX team, there’s also a listing for the First Annual Bicycle Sport Shop Six Shooter Cyclocross Race, with more races and events to be added.

Given the good-natured fun of cyclocross, the great workout it provides, the plethora of bikes that can be used for the discipline, and the number of places to try your hand at the Country’s fastest growing segment of bike racing, there’s no reason not to come out and give it a try! You won’t be disappointed!

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