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Feature: The New "in" Sport for Those in The "know" by Scott Fliegelman

Posted Oct 01 2008 4:13pm

SandEditor's Note: You've probably seen those funky bikes that look like a hybrid between a mountain bike and a road bike.

The bikes feature big round and sometimes fat tires on sturdy road bike frames. But the sport and the cyclo-cross bike predates the mountain bike by several centuries.

Today the sport and the bike is red hot so we asked Scott Fliegelman- Executive Director/ Head Coach of FastForward Sports, avid cyclo-cross racer, and accomplished Blogger to help explain why cyclo-cross is fast becoming the new "in" sport for those in the "know".

As autumn weather slowly arrives, many are celebrating the beginning of cyclo-cross season here in Colorado along with other ‘cross’ hotbeds like Portland, OR and New England.  Most of us have spent the past several months in training and racing myriad triathlons, running races, bike races, etc. and are ready for a change of pace. 

Cyclo-cross is a great way to enjoy all that hard-earned fitness during the fall months without much formal training, while the races are usually laid back local affairs, with registration still open the morning of the race, and on average costing only about $25.  What a refreshing change from Ironman when you sign up a year in advance, fork over $500, then hope you get to the start line 51 weeks later without injury, illness, or lack of fitness.

What is Cyclo-cross?

Frequently mispronounced or misspelled as “cyclecross”, the sport’s roots go back nearly a century and not surprisingly as a way for European road racers to stay fit during the off-season.  Stories claim that riders would race each other from town to town, frequently taking shortcuts through farms and fields, which required modifications to the bikes and a whole new set of skills for smoothly dismounting, carrying the bike, and remounting as the terrain dictated. 

The “sport” of Cyclocross caught on throughout Europe in the 1920’s but it was not until the 70’s that U.S. riders caught the fever, and has grown to become the common ground gathering for roadies, mountain bikers, and more recently triathletes aiming to improve their bike handling skills while getting a bump in their “threshold” fitness.

Where do they race?

Nearly every weekend throughout the fall, you can find a cross race at a nearby office park, recreation area, XC ski area, or just about anywhere they can squeeze in about a 2-3K lap featuring grass, a short stretch of pavement, sand, and a bit of mud or snow if you’re lucky.  Courses usually feature some short, steep climbing sections, off-camber turns, and the signature feature of Cyclo-cross… the barriers (manmade or natural) that require efficient dismounting and remounting of the bike, with perhaps a bit of running to be done in between. 

Races last only about 45 minutes, but the intensity is quite high right from the gun and the top riders come equipped with a cache of fitness that includes a fully developed aerobic engine, 40K TT ability, max power/ VO2 bursts, and a bit of running savvy doesn’t hurt either.

BMC-CX-01-001s What about the bike?

Not unlike triathlon, ‘cross bikes often draw a lustful reaction from neophytes, soon to be followed by a costly and fully committed immersion into the sport.  Actually, you can get a really good brand new ‘cross bike for about $1,000, and there are even dozens of mt. bikes to be found at any race.  As the image below helps illustrate, there are some key features that help make a specific ‘cross bike the most effective at racing ‘cross swiftly and enjoyably. 

- Tires- Average size is 700x 32-34c and feature a somewhat knobby tread.  More so than any road tire and a bit less than most mt. bikes roll on.  The pros ride costly tubular tires ($100+) for their supple ride characteristics and the ability to run low PSI for extra cornering grip without the likelihood of a pinch flat.  Most riders however, use customary clincher tires that cost about $40-$50.

- Wheels- Most choose regular 700c road wheels, but some will use pricey carbon rims in order to help dampen the ride and to lighten the bike.

- Gearing- Most ‘cross bikes come with a road group from Shimano, SRAM, or Campy, featuring a double chain ring (36/46t) and a wide-ranging cassette like a 12-27.  The bike below runs a single chain ring (42t with carbon chain guides) and an 11-26 cassette, as most courses do not require sustained climbing or descending, and this setup shaves weight and offers lower risk of breaking components.

* Please come back tomorrow for Part 2 of this great report about this fast growing cycling trend and hot sport old "old" new sport.

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