Or, How I Fell In Love With Cycling All Over Again
Sept. 27, 2010
Total mileage: 2,677
The arc of a cycling season can be compared to that of a love affair. In early spring, just the thought of your bike makes your heart beat a little faster. There’s still snow on the ground but you’re dreaming about days together under a warm yellow sun. And by the time summer arrives you’re spending hour after beatific hour in each other’s company. Seems like you can never get enough.
But as the sun lowers with each passing day, you begin to be bothered by little things–a saddle sore, unraveling handlebar tape–and before you know it, the bloom is off the rose. That quirky click of the chain passing through the derailleur used to be charming, but now it’s just darned annoying. You find yourself looking often and longingly at other bikes. The same old routine has become dreadfully boring. Baby, it’s time to spice up the relationship.
For me, Cyclocross was the titillating adventure that made me fall in love all over again with cycling. Cyclocross, or CX, or ‘cross, is basically cross country track & field with a bicycle. Riders race across grassy and sometimes muddy terrain, hopping off the bike when necessary to carry it over obstacles. The sport is wildly popular in Europe and rapidly gaining fans in the states.
For the past three Tuesday evenings, I’ve been loading up the Sweetpea and driving to a private CX track outside Lawrence. With 10 to 12 other beginners, I’ve been instructed in the intricacies of the sport at free clinics offered by Renaissance Coaching. First Jef and then Amy ran us through drill after drill until twilight, when we got a chance to ride the track a couple of times before we reluctantly stopped and drove home in the dark.
I really didn’t know what to expect the first night. I’d seen ‘cross races on YouTube but, as with everything else, doing is always more instructional than watching. The first surprise was the tire inflation. Jef suggested 30 psi. I’m not sure, but my jaw may have dropped. The ‘cross tires I’d put on the Sweetpea took a maximum of 80. Being a roadie, I was used to inflating to the max, as much as 120 psi for road tires. 30 psi sounded like riding on a flat. And, indeed, that’s what it felt like. But what we lost in speed, we gained in stability on the rough terrain.
The next surprise was Jef’s announcement that the sport of ‘cross was 95% bike handling. Uh-oh. I thought it was about going fast. Bike handling is something I stink at. But I gulped, took a deep breath, and decided to give it a try for at least one night.
For the next hour and a half we practiced finesse. We tried to outdo each other at riding slowly. We played follow-the-leader, weaving between obstacles. We bumped into each other intentionally and worked to maintain our balance. We learned how to jump off the bike while it was still rolling, then leap back on it. Drill after drill after drill. I never worked so hard in my life. At the end of the evening my hair was drenched with sweat, my forearms were quivering, and I felt worse than if I’d ridden 50 miles although the odometer read less than five. In short, I was hooked.
I don’t know if I’ll race this year, but you can bet I’ll be riding ‘cross as often as I can and well into December. It won’t put many miles on the Sweetpea, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s an awesome workout and wildly fun. Finally, a reason to look forward to winter.
Entry filed under: Bicycling.