What do you get when you take a road bike, replace the skinny tires with ones more like that on a mountain bike, then ride it on a course that forces you to not only get off said bike, but to carry it over obstacles and hazards? Let’s also throw in cold weather, mud, rain and an unrelenting, lung bursting, pace.
Cyclocross is one of the fastest growing segments of bicycle racing in this country. A long time staple of the European cycling scene, this exciting and colorful sport has rapidly gained popularity here in New England and the West Coast with much growth in the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West. Many of the top-ranked racers are from Massachusetts.
Every August, certain members of my bike club start to lose interest in road racing. This turns into outright mania once September rolls around and the fall ‘cross season gets underway. This year, even I fell under the spell of cyclocross, with only one race under my belt, I am hooked!
(click thumbnail below for larger view)
At races, a home-grown carnival atmosphere abounds. Racers are urged on by cries of, “Hup! Hup! Hup!” (Dutch for “Go! Go! Go!”), the clanging of cowbells and good-natured heckling, which itself is form of sport for some cyclocross fans. You’ll even hear the cyclists yelling back to the hecklers and each other during a race.
Each race day is segmented into categories allowing an entrant to compete against others somewhere in the range of their age and ability. This means there can be nine or more races during the course of a day. Each heat can range from 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the category. This means you get to see a lot action in a short amount of time.
Because of the mostly off-road terrain, crashes are not uncommon but injuries, while not exactly rare, are usually not severe because of the much lower speeds attained. If rain is in the mix of conditions, you can pretty much be guaranteed to see some messy, muddy wipeouts.
Race courses are very spectator (and photographer) friendly: since they are laid out in a way that makes the cyclists double back in tight, twisting turns, one can often see a lot of the course from a single vantage point. You are allowed to walk right up to the edge of the racecourse just about anywhere along the route. And with little effort, you can see the whole race by moving around the course a bit.
The schedule of races is fairly full from mid-September through Thanksgiving in New England, offering a race or two nearly every weekend, some mid-week races and at least one additional race in early December. In warmer parts of the country, racing continues through the winter.