First Real Cyclocross Practice Recap

I've been curious about cyclocross for years. Whether that's because I think the running parts can make up for my lack of cycling prowess or simply because it's a sport nobody outside of Belgium has ever heard of is anybody's guess. But regardless, I finally made up my mind that this year I'd dip my toe in the pool.

Coincidentally, the local paper let me know that there's a sort of weekly practice clinic that happens here in Lancaster, so when I finished my century ride last weekend, I decided okie-dokie, let's change the tires on the bike and go.

Except, I didn't do that first because I had never practiced cyclocross skills and it seemed to me that before I showed up at a real practice, I should at least understand the basic concepts.

I watched this youtube video which makes dismounts look incredibly easy. I quickly learned they're not. The guy in that video is a jerk for even pretending that it's half that easy. I went to the local high school and rode around a soccer field practicing dismounts, while teenagers in phys ed class watched, no doubt wondering what I was doing. Best as I could tell, it appeared I was trying to abandon my bicycle, as if it were on fire. It appeared I wasn't successful. When I was successful, I tried to jump over white lines in the field, in an effort to simulate the one foot tall barriers in real cyclocross races. Impossible as it might be to believe, I tripped over the paint many times.

After two of these trial runs, I finally went to my first real practice, which was attended by seven other riders, none so green as me, though - true to what I'd been assured - they welcomed me with open arms. Or rather, they would've if their arms hadn't been navigating their handlebars through the serpentine course that rounded trees. Trees, which I might add, that were at their peak period of shedding crab apples. It turns out if a round tire hits a round crab apple, the opposite of traction is the result.

Once through the serpentine, the course followed a relatively flat grass path. This part was fun, but didn't last very long. From there we descended down a hill where all of the riders dismounted their bikes to carry them up single-track into the woods. This was the running I'd longed for! Alas, it didn't last very long and the bike on my back effectively disguised the fact that I was doing something I'm considered to be relatively good at.

Upon remounting the bike the trail hit a particularly treacherous section of elevated roots. Of course, I didn't know it was treacherous when the people in front of me crossed it as if it were nothing. I only learned it was treacherous when I tried to go up on it and found myself parallel to the ground immediately. (We'd ride this trail two more times the same night. The second time I got lucky. The third time I fell again, and I'm fairly certain my one shoulder is now lower than the other one.)

After that, we practiced sprinting starts, an imperative skill in cyclocross because every rider in front of you represents someone likely to wreck who will slow you down, so the goal is to pass everyone before the course gets technical. Because this activity required minimal skill, I actually held my own here, and it occurred to me that if the sport were nothing more than a cold start into a flat sprint, I might not be entirely awful at it.

After that, however, we practiced dismounting and running over barriers, and if the standing sprint is the best part of my portfolio and if the trail riding was equal parts possibility and pathetic, the running over barriers thing was a trainwreck. I was horrible. Absolutely horrible. On the plus side, the 2 times I fell were on grass and the other riders were both knowledgable and friendly. And by the end of the hour, I'd progressed from horrible to not very good at all.

Today, two days later, I returned to the scene of the crime. I did 4 loops of the single track, and didn't fall once. I did 10 dismounts - if not elegantly - at least without falling. In fact, it would've been a remarkable run if I didn't lay my bike sideways going around the serpentine of trees at the beginning. Damn crabapples.

And after that, I signed up for my first two races. :)

Diabetes-wise, it was a nice workout and I finished with a perfect blood sugar. One thing to consider is that I either need to fall a lot less or I might disconnect my insulin pump. As workouts are an hour and the races are 40 minutes, that wouldn't be any problem at all. That said, I'm ok with learning to fall less, too.


  1. Good for you, Marcus! I've always been curious about cyclocross, but it seems REALLY hard!


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