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Live, Play

Cyclocross is Coming

August 18, 2015
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You guys. It is the middle of August and as far as I’m concerned that only means one thing: cross is coming.

Have you heard of cyclocross? Have you ever tried cyclocross?

If the answer to either of those questions is “no”, that’s ok. We can still be friends. But you should probably learn more about cross because it, really and truly, is the best thing ever.

I mean, doesn’t this look like fun?

Ok, maybe not.

Cyclocross is a mixture of mountain biking and road racing and it’s pretty much the most fun thing you could possibly do on a bike. No, seriously. It is a damn blast. It also hurts. A lot.

Cyclocross races are circuit-style events that happen on short (2-ish mile) courses that cover pavement, dirt, sand, snow and pretty much anything else. Races are 45-60 minutes long and obstacles on every lap force riders to get off their bikes, throw them on their shoulders, and run like hell. And yes, sometimes the weather sucks. But that’s exactly what you want. Rain and snow and mud? That’s not “bad” weather. That’s “cross weather”.

Cross season begins in the early fall and runs through the end of December. You know, the time of year that those of us who live in places that get real, bona fide winters want to hang up our bikes and hibernate under down blankets. But we don’t do that because it’s cross season and cross is worth going out in the cold for.

This is Katie Compton, the #1 women’s cyclocross racer in the world. This is not what I look like when I race cross.

This is what I look like when I race cross. I (obviously) did not take this picture – I wish I could remember who did.

But the best part of cyclocross, as far as I’m concerned, is the community. It’s the people that hang out in the freezing cold to ring cowbells and heckle their friends. It’s the handups that are given to the riders as they go flying by – everything from beer to bourbon to bacon. It’s the fact that you see the same people at the races every single weekend. And you’re all out there suffering together.

Cross is probably the easiest, most beginner friendly cycling discipline to get into. While mountain bike races can be long and lonely for beginners and road races are downright terrifying, cross races are just (really painful) fun. You may feel like you’re in no-man’s land if you get dropped (been there, done that … many times) but the reality of circuit-style racing is that you’re never out there by yourself.

Another one of my favorite things about cross? It’s one of my very favorite things to shoot, especially late in the season when things get sloppy.

All that to say, cross is coming. And while I promise that this won’t become a cyclocross blog, there will be plenty of talk of dirt and mud and blood. Because I may be a little bit obsessed and I think you all should be too.

Want to try it? Many bike shops and local cycling clubs offer free clinics this time of year to teach you everything you need to know before your first race. Things like how to dismount and remount your bike and the proper form for a bacon handup (this is important stuff, you guys). A hardtail mountain bike will get the job done for your first few races but once you become addicted (and you will), you’ll want to upgrade to a cyclocross bike.

Live, Play, Travel

Raising Rippers, Boulder Style

May 26, 2015

 

Several years ago my husband and I volunteered at the first “clean up” day at the weed strewn tract of land that would later become Valmont Bike Park. While we had been racing triathlons and casually riding mountain bikes for years, we were still fairly new to the cycling community, and we were definitely still new to Boulder. So on a sunny Saturday we donned some work gloves and spent an afternoon pulling up weeds, picking up trash, and trying to imagine the world class cycling facility that was being promised. I don’t think either of us truly bought in to the hype.

Fast forward six years and it’s hard to imagine that I ever had my doubts.

Here are the stats, for the uninitiated: A 42-acre world class urban bike park that is absolutely free to the public. Trails and features for everyone from total newbs to the folks that love nothing more than flinging themselves off wooden structures that are many, many feet off the ground. Multiple pump tracks, a dual slalom course, big ass jumps, a sandpit, two sets of stairs for cyclocross, many rock and log features, and several miles of rolling trails make this a place that is fun for just about everyone who has any interest in riding a bike. Valmont has been home to everything from the weekly short track mountain bike series to cyclocross nationals and it served as a gathering ground when the Boulder cycling community lost one of its own.

But for me, it’s something very different than all of that.

When I was growing up, learning to ride a bike meant making laps on the sidewalk between our house and the neighbor’s while my dad hung on for dear life behind. Once I was off and pedaling, my two-wheeled adventures mostly meant trips around the block or to the 7-11 up the street. I didn’t wear a helmet (no one did back then) and my tires never left the pavement. I loved riding, but I had no idea that there was a whole other world of adventure beyond the confines of the neighborhood.

Compare that to my kid, who at two and a half years old has spent more afternoons cruising around on dirt than many adults have in the entire course of their lives. I started taking him to Valmont when he was around 20 months old, back when “riding” his Strider meant walking slowly along, his feet never really leaving the ground. Now, he flies. And every time I watch him fearlessly ride up to a new feature or pick up his feet and go cruising around berms, I feel grateful all over again for this community that puts such a premium on keeping all of it’s citizens – from the very youngest to the very oldest – happy, healthy, and active.

I love that my kid has a place to rip it up in relative safety, a place that is enormous and far enough from cars that I don’t have to worry about him getting hit. I love that he has a place to learn the rules of the trail and to practice yielding and sharing his space. I love that he can ride around with his little toddler buddies while pros do hot laps on the XC trails just a few feet away. I love that he sees both kids and adults being active and having fun in the outdoors. I love living in a community that thinks these kinds of things are very, very important.

I know that Boulder is somewhat of an anomaly and that not all communities have the desire, or funds, to give their kids (and their adults, for that matter) this type of environment in which to learn some new skills, stay healthy and active, and have a hell of a lot of fun outside. But I also hope that it can serve as a model for other places. With sky high obesity rates and electronic devices constantly begging for our attention, sometimes we need a little push. Give people a rad place to come together and play outside, and chances are they will … or at least that’s the thought that’s going through my mind when I’m chasing my little ripper around the trails at Valmont.

[A housekeeping note: My Facebook button is broken. I’m working on getting it fixed! In the meantime, you can follow along on Facebook by clicking here and liking my page. Thanks!]