In lots of ways, a cyclocross bike makes the perfect bike-to-work purchase. Comfortable and stable, with clearance for mudguards, sensible gearing, high volume tyres and drop handlebars, it will serve you well on the daily commute and the odd blast on a local bridleway. If you are one of the many riders who have taken advantage of the scheme and plumped for a ‘crosser, have you considered unlocking its true potential? Have you thought of entering a race? After doing just that with mixed results, Cycling Plus doctor Andy Ward decided he needed to hone his cyclocross skills. Rapha, organisers of the Super Cross series, gave him a chance to do just that…
I love my cyclocross bike. After making my acquaintance on tarmac, I couldn’t wait to get it on the rough stuff – throwing myself down some local bridleways with a massive grin and a muddy arse. It was only a matter of time before I started browsing the British Cycling website to find an event I could compete in. My first attempt was a floodlit race on the local Beaumont Leys course. Made up partly of an old BMX track, it was a blast, but I soon discovered that there was more to cyclocross than riding fast down ridiculously steep banks. There were hurdles, off camber descents and bits where you had to carry your bike. It was clear that I was losing a massive amount of time on those sections – I had work to do. Fortunately Rapha came to the rescue. Their Super Cross series gives riders of all abilities the chance to race cyclocross over three dates at the end of October. Having entered the Misterton Hall event I was grateful for the chance to learn some skills from the 2011 National Champion and Team Hope rider Paul Oldham.
The training session took part at Broughton Hall in Yorkshire, venue for the Super Cross meet on 20th October. It’s a lovely old house set in beautiful, peaceful parkland. Paul turned out to be a modest and down to earth Lancastrian, blessed with awesome bike handling skills. He told us that there were four main techniques that we would have to master if we were to get better at ‘cross: the dismount, the remount, shouldering the bike and cornering on mud.
Skill One – The Dismount
Every cyclocross race will include the odd hurdle. Whilst some top riders will bunny hop these, mere mortals like me need to get off the bike and lug it over them. In a nutshell, this involves riding up to the hurdle whilst unclipping your right leg, swinging it behind the bike, threading it inside your left leg, grabbing the top tube with your right hand, stepping off the bike – lifting it up and jumping the hurdle. Sounds simple eh? Certainly Paul made it appear so. I had a bit of previous at this, so felt reasonably confident, although neglecting to unclip my left foot did lead to an ungraceful sprawl during one attempt.
Paul’s top tips – get unclipped and ready well in advance of the hurdle and practice balancing on your bike with your right foot in the dismount position.
Skill Two – The Remount
Having cleared the hurdle, unless you want to carry your bike for the rest of the race, it is necessary to jump back on it. Experienced cyclocross riders will do this without breaking stride and with virtually no loss of pace. French junior cyclocross champion Quentin Jauregui demonstrated that the benefits of this skill can be carried into road racing with a remarkable fast change in the junior World Road Race. After watching Paul easily showing us how it was done, it was our turn. In my recent race this was my downfall and it wasn’t much better today, although with practice I did get a bit slicker. I’m blotting out the time I missed the saddle and landed on the back wheel.
Paul’s top tip – get the pace up before remounting and slide onto the saddle, putting the top of the inner thigh on first, not jumping too high.
Skill Three – Shouldering the Bike
Occasionally in a cyclocross race the conditions justify carrying the bike for a longer distance. A steep slope or thick heavy mud can be unrideable. At these times Paul explained the need to shoulder the bike, making it easier to carry and run at the same time. After performing the dismount, with the right hand on the top tube, swing the bike onto your shoulder, wrap your right arm under the down tube and grab the left handlebar. As usual, Paul made it look easy. Whilst lifting the bike onto my shoulder was not too bad, coordinating this with grabbing the handlebar proved more difficult.
Paul’s top tip – use the momentum of your first step off the bike to help spring the bike upwards.
Skill Four – Cornering on Mud
If there’s one thing ‘cross is really known for, it’s mud. Taking the tight corners of a cyclocross course can be difficult enough at the start of a race. After dozens of riders have been round them several times, cutting up the racing line, they can become a nightmare. Paul showed us how to “square up” the corner, keeping to the firmer ground. Although slower in the corner itself, the better traction reaps dividends on the exit.
Paul’s top tip – keep your tyre pressures low to improve grip on slippery ground – as low as 25 psi on tubulars, 30 on clinchers
After putting our new skills to the test we finished with some cake and a cuppa and had a chance to chat with Super Cross organiser Ian Cleverly about the forthcoming series. Whilst the events will feature elite riders like Paul and some fiercely competitive racing, that shouldn’t deter ordinary cyclists from signing up and giving cyclocross a go. True, the skills might sound a bit intimidating, but the fun race allows riders to miss out the most technical sections by taking the tequila shortcut (with its obvious forfeit) or by riding through the “foam tunnel”. The beauty of cyclocross racing is that races run for a set period of time, not distance, allowing you to go at your own pace – provided you don’t mind being lapped by the faster riders. The Super Cross promises to provide a fantastic atmosphere to race in, with the crowd fuelled by Belgian beer, waffles and frites, fired up by a DJ and frantically jangling cowbells to keep you going. You don’t even need a proper cyclocross bike – a mountain bike or hybrid would do. Why not put that commuting bike through its paces? The ride to work may never be the same again.
Entries to the Rapha Supercross Series are still open at http://www.rapha.cc/super-cross
Andy Ward http://twitter.com/awkwardcyclist
This entry was posted on Monday, October 8th, 2012 at 9:00 am and is filed under Blog, Cycling Plus, Features, Know How. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.