The anti-parachuting lobby (if such a thing does indeed exist) tend to pose the question, “why jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane?” It seems a reasonable enough question. Over the past few days, I could probably paraphrase the question most often asked regarding my cyclocross exploits as, “why jump off a perfectly good bicycle?” Which is probably an equally reasonable question.
I’m not entirely sure how cyclocross got its muddy claws into me. I’ve been aware of the sport on a professional level for a while. I watched a few World Cup races online over the past few years but I can probably trace the recent upsurge in enthusiasm to a few specific places. Firstly, Twitter introduced me to ‘crosser Jeremy Powers and his web series Behind the Barriers. Powers is an enthusiastic & engaging American that you can’t help but like and Behind the Barriers piqed my interest & made me look further.
I sought out some YouTube videos of the three big race series in the cyclocross calendar, the World Cup, the Superprestige & the GvA Trophee. Whilst the former purports to be a World event, the latter two make no such pretense, taking place ostensibly in Belgium & Holland, the undoubted heartlands of cyclocross. The Cyclocross World Championships, held in Belgium earlier this year, attracted a crowd of 61,000 and had Belgians locking out the top 8 places in the Men’s Elite class. Cross is BIG in Belgium.
However, what took me from enthusiastic spectator to competitor (ok then, participant) was the realisation that cross was occurring on my doorstep. I knew John & Dave from the Tuesday night chaingang but only picked up on their involvement in the cross scene after they started posting their brilliantly irreverent series of YouTube videos under the Dig In banner. They showed cross as inclusive, challenging, but above all, massive amounts of fun.
So earlier this year, in January, they put on their own race, Dig In Around the Dock, in Bo’ness and “encouraged” everyone they knew to enter. Local races can be undertaken on specific cross bikes, road bikes with mud tyres or mountain bikes. I was happy to stick some muddy tyres on my winter bike & give it a go but a fortuitous search on ebay revealed a Giant cross frame for sale. One of the benefits of being 6 ft 3 is that you are somewhat outside the bell-curve as far as “normal” frame sizes are concerned and so, with very few bids and a very reasonable closing price, the Giant frame was mine. A few evenings in the garage and the cannibilisation of the winter hack saw the bike come together and it was time for me to pin on the race number & line up on the start line.
Cyclocross races, in my limited experience of two, tend to comprise of a first half that sees you racing and a second half that sees you barely surviving. Putting this into perspective, my Garmin told me that my average heart rate for the 52 minutes of my most recent race was 176bpm.
So why jump off a perfectly good bicycle? Well, for those not familiar with the format, cyclocross comprises a number of laps of an off-road course, with steps, barriers or obstacles to negotiate. The “fun” that these obstacles cause, has rarely been more graphically displayed than in the YouTube hit, Joey’s OK. Hilarious, eh?
Finally, why has cross grabbed me & why might it grab you if you let it? Mountain bikers can’t help but love it. One of the joys of mountain biking is riding your bike where you probably shouldn’t! Feeling your bike squirm around on mud, gravel & rocks gives you a great feeling of control (in between the long periods of panic at your shocking lack of control.) Cyclocross, however, gives you that feeling with the added stupidity of doing it on something that is much closer to a road bike. If you’ve never been mountain biking and all your experience lies on the road, cross will blow your mind. Slithering through mud, tackling grassy downhills that you probably wouldn’t choose to walk down, what’s not to love? The steps, barriers & obstacles? These are all just added skills which will provide fun and a certain sense of the bizarre to your bike riding.
Do it – go on, Dig In.
Tags: Belgium, cyclocross, Dig In