Why I love Cyclocross

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: Rides

Why I love Cyclocross

For me, cyclocross is the most fun you can on a bike in less than an hour! I don’t care much for racing any longer, but ‘cross is a different matter.
Cyclocross is a very technical sport, where leg power counts only for so much. Coordination is equally important. You choreograph your dismounts and run-ups to lose only a minimum of speed. It’s fun when you get it just right: Step off the bike, jump a barrier, and remount, all in one smooth motion.
Coordination also is important when cornering on mud. Traction is limited, yet the more speed you can carry through the corners, the less you need to accelerate on the straights. This saves valuable energy, and over the 40 minutes of a typical race, it adds up to a substantial advantage.
Last weekend’s MFG race in Seattle’s Woodland Park was the best cyclocross course I’ve ridden. (Thank you to the organizers for putting together such a superb event!) The course had a beautiful flow to it. You arrived at corners at high speed, and after a few weeks of rain, the ground was fairly slippery. This meant that in almost every corner, the bike started to slide a little.
When you look carefully at the photo above, you can see how my bike is leaning further than I am. That shows that the bike is sliding – just a little bit. The key is not to overdo it – a big slide will cost speed and may even have you fall – but still go as fast as possible.
The right choice of tires (and pressure) is key. I absolutely love my FMB Super Mud tubulars – they were perfect for this weekend’s race. Having a bike with a front-end geometry that allows precise handling control helps, too. If you can feel that the bike is about to lose traction, you can neutralize the slide as it happens, rather than react to it when it’s almost too late…
Last weekend, things came together, and I really enjoyed my race. There was mud on my face at the finish (above), and I was completely out of breath, but I think you can see the smile in my eyes.
My old Alan worked really well, too. I really love how the bike seems to spring out of corners like a cheetah – it really “planes” well for me. It may be old-fashioned these days, but it still works as well as it did when I first raced it almost 20 years ago. That shouldn’t come as a surprise: These bikes have won more ‘cross world championships than any other.
My bike picked up a lot of mud during the race. The faster you go, the more mud gets kicked up by the tires! It’s a good test for the SKF bottom bracket that I installed last year – I no longer have time to overhaul bearings after just a few races.
About half-way through the 40-minute race, so much mud had accumulated on the freewheel that the chain started skipping in the cogs that I used only a few times per lap. I just kept it in the one cog that worked well and rode it as a single-speed. (The largest cog also worked, but I was afraid that, if I used it, I wouldn’t be able to get back into my “favorite” cog.) I was glad I have a six-speed freewheel, which doesn’t clog up as easily as more modern drivetrains with closer-spaced cogs. And I was glad that the narrow tread (Q-factor) of my cranks facilitated my spin at high rpm on the slight downhills.
After the race, BQ contributor Hahn Rossman joked that I should join him in the single-speed race… It’s almost tempting, because the lack of multiple gears didn’t slow me down all that much.
Cleaning the bikes was the least enjoyable part of the day, but it was well worth it for the fun we had earlier. Before I cleaned the bike, I weighed it to see how much mud had accumulated on the bike. (I had weighed the clean bike for the feature in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 12, No. 2.) That gave me the idea for a contest: Can you guess how much mud my bike carried at the end of the race? Both in absolute weight, as well as a percentage of the weight of the bike? (For example, if the mud weighed 5 kg and my bike 15 kg, then the correct answer would be “5 kg/33%”.)
The reader with the best guesses will get a 1-year subscription to Bicycle Quarterly (or an extension of their subscription if they already subscribe). And if there is a tie, the first reply wins. Simply put your guess in the comments until Tuesday, Nov. 18… Let the fun continue!

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