Off and Pedaling: Ten Lessons from a Cyclocross Newbie


Photo: Christina Cooke

This post originally appeared on the Willamette Week website on October 5, 2010. You can find it there here.

At 8:50 on Sunday morning, I stood with my bike at the starting line of the two-mile cyclocross course at Alpenrose Dairy with no idea what I was getting myself into. Curious about the sport’s appeal among local cycling enthusiasts, I’d borrowed a friend’s thick-tired single-speed and registered for a race, the first in the eight-week Cross Crusade series. (Check out WW’s 2005 cover story on the muddy bike sport when you get a sec.)

Drawing more than 1,500 participants per race, the Cross Crusade is the largest series in the Portland area—and, in fact, the world, says Race Director Brad Ross. Ross says his main goal with the series is to get people having fun. “It’s about riding a bicycle and going as fast as you can and drinking beer when you’re done,” he says. Still, as I waited in the drizzle for the race to start, I nervously wondered what, exactly, the off-road, obstacle-ridden course would require of me.

Turns out, cyclocross really is a ton of fun. But there are some things you should know. These are the lessons I came away with:

  1. Don’t let pre-race screw-ups psyche you out. If, the night before the race you attempt one of those smooth, swing-your-leg-over-while-still-moving dismounts from the bike and WHAM, fall over in the street, don’t let it mess with your head. Just decide, for the sake of everyone’s safety, not to try anything tricky during a real event until you’ve had more time to practice.
  2. Crinkle up your race number before you pin it on your jersey. Apparently, its what the cool kids and pros do. The crinkled paper hugs your body more, trapping less wind as you accelerate—and gives you less of a brand-new-white-tennis-shoes look.
  3. Turn on your powers of observation. If you find yourself in a sea of men at the starting line, it’s possible that you’re about to race the men’s category, not in the mixed heat you intended. If this slips by your keen powers of observation, know you’ll be fine; men make fine racing companions.
  4. Don’t overthink the course. If you pause to analyze each dip and blip, hairpin turn, slippery corner, and steep descent, you’ll freeze up and won’t get anywhere. It’s better to turn your brain off, put yourself on autopilot and just go.
  5. Pick an ass and gun for it. Choose a nice one ahead of you, get close and try to pass it (accidentally racing in the men’s heat wasn’t so bad, actually).
  6. There’s no shame dismounting your bike and pushing it. If an incline is too steep (which, with a single speed, it often is), clip out, dismount and run. You might even be faster that way than struggling halfway up the hill, losing momentum, falling over, untangling yourself from your spokes, etc.
  7. As you’re descending a steep, muddy hill with your body hanging off the back of your bike, try not get the front pad of your spandex shorts stuck under the back lower lip of your bike seat. If you do find yourself helplessly hooked to the back of your seat with a tire spinning under your ass, stay calm and do your best to keep pedaling. With effort, you’ll eventually manage to straighten your legs and pop yourself up and over your seat, back into a normal riding position. While your pride might hurt a bit, especially since this is likely to happen at a highly-spectated point on the course, the rest of you will be fine.
  8. Once the race is over, you can stop racing. If everyone else has stopped sprinting and is walking their bikes off the course, it likely means the race is over and you can stop running over the barriers. If you fail to notice, a race official will probably cue you in, gently.
  9. Have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously or you’re missing the point.
  10. Find the free coffee tent and rehydrate with a cup of joe. Or tea or cider. Throw a tip in the jar if you’re in the mood. Then find a strategic spot on the sidelines and watch others pedal hard.

Photo: Laura Cooke

Cross Crusade race series schedule:

  • Race 2: October 10Rainier High School, Rainier, OR
  • Race 3: October 17Sherwood Forest Equestrian Center, Sherwood, OR
  • Race 4: October 24Portland International Raceway, Portland, OR
  • Race 5: October 30Clatsop County Fairgrounds, Astoria, OR
  • Race 6: October 31Clatsop County Fairgrounds, Astoria, OR
  • Race 7: November 7Washington County Fair Complex, Hillsboro, OR
  • Race 8: November 14Barton Park, Barton, OR

3 Responses to “Off and Pedaling: Ten Lessons from a Cyclocross Newbie”

  1. aperkiss Says:

    “As you’re descending a steep, muddy hill with your body hanging off the back of your bike, try not get the front pad of your spandex shorts stuck under the back lower lip of your bike seat.”

    Happens to me ALL THE TIME when I’m racing!! I was told recently it’s because my shorts are too big. Who knows…

  2. jamie fitzgerald Says:

    I was hanging out with CM and L watching your race. Good job out there. I have to admit that I witnessed the spandex-bike saddle incident down away from the run-up section. It was very funny and made me giggle like a school girl. I find that cyclocross races are full of near-disaster moments like that. Will we see you race more…….?

  3. julie Says:

    christiiiiiiiina, you’re my hero! and i miss portland. awesome post/column, per usual.. see you soon and talk to you sooner i hope!

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