The Case For 'Cross
Cyclocross is a great
way for beginners to experience racing. Thanks to Steve
Balogh for his excellent local cyclocross photos. This
is the Tailwind Fall Cyclocross Series race in Lower
Huron Metropark, Michigan.
Wolverine Sports Club rider Mike Aderhold discusses
cyclocross tire set-up with Mark Trzeciak of Bikesport,
it be great to have one bike that did everything?
You could ride on the road- fast. You could ride
off road and you wouldn't have to baby your bike.
You've thought about trying bike racing but you
don't want the embarrassment of being dropped, you're
afraid of crashing and you don't want to buy a delicate
race bike that is only good for one thing.
What if you could have one bike that
worked as a road bike, touring bike, commuter bike,
race bike, and even off-road bike? You could even
bolt a pair of aero bars on it, put road tires on
it and try the local triathlon or duathlon!
What started decades
ago with the first World Cyclocross Championships in Paris
in 1950 is emerging as the new Euro-rage in the U.S. Not
yet a mainstream sport, cyclocross remains small but is
growing rapidly. At a local cyclocross practice at Helm's
Haven (Hines Drive and Outer Drive) in 2002, then-Wolverine
Sport's Club Vice President of Racing (and cyclocross
champ) the late Michael R. Rabe introduced 22 people to
cyclocross. In 2003 The Tailwind Cyclocross series routinely
attracts over 100 people for each race to their seven
race series in Fall and Winter.
Cyclocross is an activity
for people who want a lot of variety and don't want to
worry about road rash. It's perfect if you want to try
competition, but you're not too competitive. Cyclocross
involves several laps of a course usually 1-2 miles in
length that incorporates riding on pavement, grass and/or
dirt and short sections where the rider has to run with
their bike. Most cyclocross events are timed and last
45-60 minutes, or about 12 to 15 miles. Due to the terrain
drafting plays almost no role, there is generally no pack
riding. Instead, riders are mostly on their own or in
groups of 2-3. Speeds are lower and the riding surface
softer so falls are very forgiving and injuries are rare.
Barriers provide a unique challenge to cyclocross.
Cyclocross bikes are
essentially extra-durable road bikes with wider,
more comfortable knobby tires for off road traction,
a more upright, shorter riding position (for most
people) and cantilever or even disc brakes. To some
people, cyclocross bikes resemble old touring bikes.
Cyclocross bikes do triple (or even quadruple) duty
as a touring bike, road bike (add narrower road
tires if you wish), off road bike suited for all
but the worst off road terrain and even part time
multisport bike. You can race it, train on it, commute
on it, do the local charity ride on it and take
it up North to ride the back trails- all on one
Cyclocross bikes are the go-anywhere,
do-anything alternative to slow, clunky mountain
bikes and ultra-lightweight, delicate road bikes.
Think Rally Racing for bicycles: The appeal of cyclocross
is uniquely European.
The large tires on a cyclocross bike are
the keys to its comfort and durability. Tires on a road
bike are normally 23 millimeters wide, cyclocross tires
are between 30 and 35 millimeters wide with a higher
profile. Cyclocross bikes take any size road tire. You
can put on wide 35 millimeter knobby tires for soft,
muddy conditions and ride at 40 p.s.i., then switch
to 23 millimeter narrow road tires with 110 p.s.i. for
fast road riding. Many cyclocross bike owners buy two
sets of wheels- one permanently set up for the road
with higher, tighter gear ratios and another with gears
for hilly terrain and fat, soft, knobby tires.
Natural run-ups give runners and triathletes an edge
over bicycle racers. Roadies, mountain bikers, triathletes
and casual cyclists can all benefit from skills learned
Rider position on cyclocross bikes varies
with rider preference but many of the same fit rules
apply. In his excellent book "Cyclo-Cross Technique
and Training" (Velo Press), author Simon Burney
says "Ideally, you should use a position that is
1 cm. shorter in reach and the same or no more than
1 cm. lower in saddle height." In general, when
we size a cyclocross frame for a customer at Bikesport,
Inc. we go 1-2 cm. shorter in reach and 1-2 cm. shorter
on seat tube than standard road geometry. The changes
in the rider's position will depend on how the bike
is going to be used. Casual riders and tourists will
be more upright with shorter reach while racers will
have a very road-like position.
Huge crowds pay admission to watch the European superstars
in cyclocross races. Cyclocross is an enormous Fall
and Winter sport in Europe.
Set-up of cyclocross bikes is a mystery
to most U.S. bike shops. They are still unfamiliar with
the dual brake levers, occasional reverse cable routing
(for better dismounts) and drivetrain/chain line issues.
Gearing selection is tricky also with many cyclocross
bikes only using a single front chainring and a wide
ratio rear cog. "We do a lot of cyclocross set-ups
here so we have learned how the bikes need to be built"
Said Nate Griffith, Bikesport, Inc. Manager. Griffith
recently returned from his first U.C.I. cyclocross race,
a world-caliber event where he placed in the top 20.
He has scored impressive results in his last four cyclocross
starts, including one third place and one overall win
in the elite category. Former Michigan 40+ State Cyclocross
Champion Michael Rabe used to say, "You have to
understand, the set-up takes some practice- it varies
from frame to frame. But the nice thing is that we can
easily customize the set-up to each customer's preference."
"The man most responsible for us
learning about cyclocross is the late Michael Rabe of
the Wolverine Sports Club", says Bikesport, Inc.
owner Tom Demerly. "Right now in the store we have
ten cyclocross bikes being set up for this weekend's
race in the Tailwind Series. Michael R's practice nights
have put the sport on the map during 2002 and on into
2003 Nate Griffith and Mike Aderhold are continuing
the legacy that Michael R. Rabe started." It's
a tall order. Rabe was an enthusiastic promoter of cyclocross
before a cycling accident claimed his life on May 2nd.
The first ever UCI sanctioned cyclocross race held in
Michigan has been named in honor of Michael R. Rabe.
He would have approved.
seems like a natural for entry level riders: The
speeds stay low because the majority of the terrain
is grass. Riders rarely go over 18 m.p.h. Cyclocross
teaches good bike handling skills on all surfaces.
For riders nervous about being in a tight pack cyclocross
is an ideal introduction to racing. For mountain
bike riders tired and bored with the same old weekend
trail ride cyclocross adds variety.
The start can be crazy but...
Packs never last long in cyclocross racing. Here
Jonathan Card races at the Tailwind Fall Series
Cyclocross race in Riverside Park, Michigan.
The unique feature of cyclocross is the
mounts and dismounts. Riders are forced, either by terrain
or barriers, to dismount, run with their bikes, and
remount as quickly as possible. Watching top riders
perform this seemingly chaotic ballet is a study in
elegance. Good cyclocross riders loose no speed over
the barriers, literally moving the same speed on foot
as while riding. Their dismounts and mounts are smooth
and lightening fast. In recent years, top riders have
generated controversy by simply jumping the barriers-
without dismounting their bikes. "Bunny-hoping"
has been banned in some competition but others allow
it as it is a sensation for spectators. Nate Griffith
of Bikesport, Inc. jumps most barriers. "I'm comfortable
on the bike and it saves a lot of time" says the
The departed master of cyclocross set-up, the late,
great Michael R. Rabe (former Michigan State Cyclocross
Champion) works with Bikesport Manager, Nate Griffith,
on translating a road bike position to a new cyclocross
bike for Colin McMahon during the 2002 season.
The growth of cyclocross in the U.S. is
definitely underway. Pockets of interest exist on both
coasts, the Northeast and Midwest. For now the sport
is limited to mostly bike shop employees, mountain bike
and road racers and a few enterprising beginners.
The masses have yet to discover the sport.
"I'm not sure if this will catch on with consumers,
but we are seeing increased momentum and interest in
2003. " Says Tom Demerly.
"Everything about cyclocross makes
sense, you can use the bike for road riding, off road
riding- everything. Mountain biking is not practical
for most people since they have to drive 45 minutes
each way to the trail. A 1-hour ride effectively takes
almost three hours counting drive time. Mountain bikes
are slow and heavy- no fun on pavement, which is where
most people live. With a cyclocross bike you can ride
the roads, the parks, the trails. I go on rides in the
evening linking trails, roads and parks together here
in Dearborn. In one hour I get a great ride in through
three parks with a lot of variety right off my front
porch. Especially in the off season, this is perfect."
Some cyclocross bikes use a simple single chainring
with chainguard keeping the bike light, dependable
added, "Consumers are weird, they don't make
intelligent buying decisions, they make decisions
based on emotion, appearances and whatever is fashionable
in the mainstream. Mountain bikes are mainstream.
They are accepted. A person will walk right past
a cyclocross bike to buy a full suspension mountain
bike then de-tune the suspension to ride it on the
street or easy trails. It makes no sense. They pay
for suspension parts they don't need and de-tune
them. Mountain bikes aren't practical in the real
world, but that is what people think of when they
want to buy a versatile bike. Customers don't understand
the advantages of cyclocross yet. It is still at
least two years from mainstream acceptance. Consumers
have to accept it at their own pace, the bike shop
guys are already doing it- they understand the value
of it and appreciate it. We've sold a dozen cyclocross
bikes in the last two weeks- eight to bike shop
employees or "insiders", only four to
consumers. Consumers are always the last media to
understand the value in a developing trend. They'll
have to see it in the magazines or on TV for a year
Wide, knobby tires with powerful cantilever brakes
give the bike comfort on all surfaces and sure-footed
Will cyclocross explode over the next
two years? Maybe. Cyclocross has the potential to appeal
to a broad spectrum of cycling enthusiasts. It is spectator
friendly: Races cover laps that usually last 4-8 minutes
so spectators see action frequently. The Autumn setting
is picturesque and pleasant with cool temperatures.
Robert Linden of Tailwind Enterprises features hot cider
and doughnuts at his events. For multisport athletes
it incorporates cycling, teaches valuable bike handling
skills (at safe speeds on forgiving terrain) and includes
short running sections. There is a healthy dose of euro-cache'
to the sport, it has the same appeal as rally car racing.
If you are already a racer and want to broaden your
racing experience there is nothing to match the thrill
of cyclocross. Tom Demerly relates his experience from
a recent race: "You're going full-tilt, 100% effort
and you come into a set of barriers. You have a split
second to dismount, clear the barriers and get back
on. The Fall colors are flashing by you, the terrain
is a blur, it is a wild ride, super fun. I love this
kind of racing: Fast, safe and full of fun."
© Tom Demerly, Bikesport
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