A Brief Appraisal of Cyclocross

By Robert Zach Thomas

I started racing cyclocross in 2005, one year after I got into cycling to lose weight and help quit a mild cigarette habit. I took to the sport with gusto and found some success, despite being exceedingly rough in the technique department. I had only one bike back then: a Redline Conquest that pulled double-duty as a crit and road racer when it wasn’t being used to slog through grass and mud. Races in the Ohio area, where I was living at the time, were casual affairs and the fields were mostly small, maybe 30 guys in Cs and 20 in Bs and As. Phil Noble was one of the fast ones, same with any of the Texas Roadhouse guys when they came to play. No one heckled in Ohio, at least not then. Ohioans are polite folk to your face and love to cheer on someone with the struggles.

Cyclocross started to blow up in 2006 and 2007 when road racers learned that it was OK to ride off-road once in a while. It’s still funny to see a road Cat. 3 enter his or her first CX race and negotiate the barriers and slow down to a crawl for off-cambers. However, the road guys always get faster — and more often than not — make ‘cross the emphasis of the season instead of an endnote. I had become a proud Cat. 3 at that point and while faster and better, managed worse results. All those roadies that learned how to handle, right? At that point I was living in Chicago and enjoyed the burgeoning Chi scene, which had fields starting to approach 65 percent capacity.

‘Cross got bigger in 2008 when all the track kids got tired of doing barspins in parking lots and started applying embro to their shaved legs and gluing FMBs to those carbon wheels. CX hadn’t reached the depths of forced irony -in the Chicago area high socks were about as wild as it got. Apparently Portland’s been a circus for years, but I haven’t been to Portland so I wouldn’t know. The heckling got better and it was far more rewarding to hear someone say, “My grandmother can drive her Rascal faster than you!” instead of the agreeable and uninspiring “C’mon! You can do it! Pedal harder!” I, and I think many others are like this, would rather be the subject of some cruel taunts and earn our fame for being ridiculed for bad dismounts and ugly socks if we weren’t going to be known for winning. Naturally, the winners of every category other than the P/1/2 were harassed as being sandbaggers..and deservedly so. Like you needed another pair of Hammer Nutrition socks. Also, it should also be said that no one cares if you win other than you and maybe your parents, but if you’re an adult and seeking approval from your parents via amateur bike racing, maybe you should do some re-evaluating.

In the past couple years, cyclocross has blown-up. All those roadies got good and also realized that stacking it in a wet grassy corner hurts a lot less than stacking it on the road in a crit. The series in Chicago has seen record registrations: over 600 for some of the races so far. It’s not Portland, but that’s incredible. We’ll see if the momentum holds, as the season is not even mid-way through. Nats are in Madison and Chicago’s got two days of UCI action on New Year’s Eve and Day. It’ll be cold and horrible, but that’s the pleasure of the sport. Right? Right.

Text By Robert Zach Thomas

Photographs by Edmund William White