Criss Cross Cyclocross

Bicycle riders are a different breed. They love to punish themselves and test their endurance over grueling miles, climbs and adverse conditions. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked by non-riders, “Why do you do that to yourself?” I always say it’s like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer; it just feels so good when you stop. We have garages full of bikes and each one is a necessity for reasons only understood by bikers. 

Now you’re probably familiar with road cycling and mountain biking, but have you ever heard of Cyclocross? Yes, C-Y-C-L-O. Not cycle and not psycho … Cyclocross. Parks, schools and grassy areas around the country are becoming the stages for spectator friendly and entertaining Cyclocross races.

A Cyclocross bike is strangely similar to the 10-speed Schwinn you rode around as a teenager. The frame design is a bit more relaxed than a road bike and they have plenty of room for beefy cross tires. Most modern cross bikes are sporting disc brakes, but the traditional riders prefer good old rim brakes. 

Who needs brakes anyhow?  All they do is slow you down. 

Don’t worry if you don’t have the right bike. Most cross racers start on a mountain bike or hybrid. If it rolls and pedals, you can usually race it. No kickstands or bar ends though. Racers wear traditional looking bike gear and pin numbers to their backs called bibs. 

Weird. 

So now the race course resembles a human sized mouse maze and is defined by thousands of feet of posts and barrier tape. The difference is that this maze goes over grass, roads, sand, rock, tree barriers, stairs … and there is no chunk of cheese at the end. Mud is usually part of the mix, considering most of these races are scheduled during fall months. Waves of riders race the course based on experience and category. At times the classes overlap which creates a nonstop stream of racers snaking around the course. Just to make it a little more difficult, racers will encounter barriers. Barriers can sometimes be ridden over; mostly crashed over so the tactic of choice is the dismount, run and hop. 

Oh yeah, don’t forget the bike. 

Once clear of the obstacle, carefully but quickly hop back on the bike and pedal your tail off to the next obstruction. Obstacles can be man-made barriers, logs, stairs hills - you name it. My favorite courses include items that reflect the flavor of the course.

Picture this for second. A steady flow of riders around a snaky, muddy, crazy, climby course of mayhem. Drop in the spectators. Along the sides of the course, cross fans support/heckle racers in a loud and circus-like format. Nothing better than eating a big mud sandwich after a crash just to hear the roar of the crowd just a few feet away. 

Speaking of eating, there is cross tradition of the “Hand-Up.” The hand-up is where spectators hand racers various items as they ride by. There is no tactical advantage to accepting a hand-up but the draw is too great to resist. Liquid hand-ups are usually beer or booze of some sort. I’ve chased Jägermeister shots with a bacon hand-up before. Not sure why my brain thought THAT was a good idea. The 5-second-rule gets thrown right out the window since most of the snacks hit the ground at least once or twice. At technical, steep or sloppy areas, fans unleash a barrage of cheers, cow bells and horns. Some hand-ups are cash. Many pile-ups have been blamed on a dollar bill that was dropped on-course. My last cash hand-up was delivered by a Barbie doll on a stick. 

Again … weird.

HoliMont will be hosting its first ever Cyclocross race on Saturday, October 8, 2016 during Ellicottville’s Fall Festival. If you’re looking for a fun way to bike in the fall or you’re just looking for something entertaining on a fall Sunday, check out the Cross Schedule and come see for yourself why cross racing is booming. Local cross information can be found at wnycyclocross.com.

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