Intro to Cyclocross

By Khem Suthiwan

This article was published five years ago, but with cross season about to kick off we thought this might help motivate someone to give a try!

Since my finish at the IRONMAN World Championships in 2015 I’ve been trying to find new and fun things to do. Hiking, camping, the Triple Bypass, the Casco Bay Islands SwimRun race – just to name a few. A few months back I went to Interbike in Las Vegas, the largest cycling industry trade show in North America. In conjunction with Interbike was CrossVegas, the UCI Cyclocross World Cup season opener. This was my first experience watching a cross race and I found it very intriguing. The atmosphere was so different from triathlon – type A triathletes sizing each other up and on the verge of nervous breakdowns. CX riders and spectators were so laid back – throwing back beers, it was like a big party.

Khem now five years after writing this article at last years Schoolyard cross

Standing on the sidelines was Clint Bickmore, race director of SchoolYard Cross – a CX race in Lafayette, CO. He took me around and explained the course, the features, and rules. So fascinating! So the idea wheels started to turn. How about we take a triathlete and turn her into a CX racer? My first thought – how exciting! First order of business, we needed a bike. Secondly – we needed to pick a race for my debut (no brainer there -SchoolYard). Thirdly – I needed to learn the necessary skills required for CX racing, and Clint was onboard.

My first lesson with Clint was on the campus of the Alexander Dawson School – the site of SchoolYard cross. Since we were still on the hunt for a bike sponsor, I borrowed his old CX bike. We went through a few drills – scissoring, cornering, gliding, remounting. Clint stressed over and over how critical it was to learn proper technique in getting on and off your bike. We then rode around and did a “course preview” and I quickly had to remember what it was like to ride off-road, getting my butt up in the air and back behind my saddle on some of the descents. It was scary, but a fun and getting your heart rate up kind of scary.

After the first lesson, Clint felt pretty good about my newly learned skills. Surprised actually. Triathletes have a reputation for being poor bike handler as the majority of their time is spent riding on an indoor trainer or alone. All of my time riding with cyclists and the little mountain biking exposure came in handy. Amazingly the only time I fell was not being strong enough to crest over steep dirt hills. I tipped over on my side landing in the dirt and grass, laughing at myself. Another very important thing in learning CX – being able to laugh at yourself, a lot.

I didn’t get to practice my newfound skills very much as I headed off to Hawaii to join the rest of the 303Triathlon/303Cycling team to help with media work at the IRONMAN World Championships a few days after my lesson with Clint. I rode my rental hybrid bike up and down Ali’I Drive commuting from event to event, dodging tourists, spectators, and athletes. Good practice, right?

Lance Panigutti, owner of Without Limits Productions, who is also known for triathlon events across the Front Range says, “Cyclocross bikes are really the result of a road bike and a mountain bike having a baby.” He goes on to say, “using a mountain bike is perfectly fine, buying an inexpensive cyclocross bike is adequate because the atmosphere is a welcoming one that makes it ok to feel like a beginner.” Check out the Without Limits 2022 races HERE

Racing on dirt, in grass, negotiating obstacles like steps and low hurdles, sometimes in mud, snow or inclement weather makes it just that much more fun. The races are short, easy to spectate and generally they circle a spectator area that is the perfect place to hang out and have a beer and get to know everyone.

it is arguably the most user-friendly discipline of racing to get into. If you are a roadie, you bring an engine and pack skills. If you are an MTB’er your technical skills are solid and you’ll excel on short punch climbs and short bursts of effort. If you are a commuter you race an urban version all the time with lights, cars and curbs. Anyone can jump in!

It’s just 40 minutes long. Minimal training time and time away from real life and family. Plus the community is like no other. Friendly. With beer!

Lance adds that triathletes, which make up about 20% of the field usually, come in very fit from the season and cyclocross is a way to keep competing and having fun and trying some new things on a bike.It seems this is the venue to try for something fun and different, safe and unintimidating.

Back to Basics is a four week, Wednesday night cross race held in Golden starting August 31. Its a great venue to check out for beginners. Here is a link to learn more:

 

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