When I was in 3rd grade the Karate Kid movie along with many other martial arts films had all us kids jealous when a few lucky kids were enrolled in martial arts class. I remember one kid saying, “I’ve never done it, or been to class, but I’ve seen so many movies I pretty much know karate already.” Well I’ve never done cyclocross but I’ve watched so many cyclocross races on TV that I think I pretty much know ‘cross already. Shame it doesn’t work that way.
My pal Lee who is a great mountain biker and spin instructor in Benton IL. planned out a little cyclocross meet at Lake Benton Sunday. The weather didn’t exactly cooperate, it was in the low 40s and raining, but that didn’t stop 9 people from showing up for the event. Besides a race course we had 2 shelters, lots of food and plenty to drink.
The course is about .8 miles with a short stretch of gravel road and then the rest single track or double track trail that gets some use from local ATVs. The trail was already wet but as the rain had set into a steady light shower the mud churned. The course has several elevation changes which proved to be my ultimate undoing. There were a couple of tall pieces of deadfall that would have been no problem to bump over on a mountain bike but no so easy on my cross bike.
We started the meet with a time trail to get baseline speeds. The fastest recorded lap was our host Lee with a 6’55” or about a 7 mph average. It should be noted that he did this lap on a single speed mountain bike and was the only rider there with a mountain bike, more on that later. I think my lap time was around 9″30″ which put me around 5 mph average. Most of the guys were around 7-8, though I wasn’t the slowest.
Next up was a relay race, we paired off into 2 man teams based on the time trail trying to make them as even as possible. Our host Lee did the 4 laps on his own. I was with my pal Roberto who has some experience in cross. We needed to complete 4 laps relaying back and forth. My first lap was pretty smooth but my second was horrible. I crashed into the first tree jump, I ran off the trail twice, and I took a bath in a giant mud hole. I think the course was so much more churned up and muddy after all the laps that it freaked me out, or I was just really lucky my first two laps. I think Roberto and me got 3rd or 4th, I’m not really sure.
After the first race it was still raining, everyone was soaked and muddy we called it quits and huddled by the fire, Moe brought brats, and I brought chicken wings, courtesy of Tom. In fact I ate so much I needed to ride the trainer afterwards.
So some conclusions from the event.
First tires were pretty key. I’ve got some Michelin Mud 2 tires with some tread wear. Though the tires name is mud, I don’t really think the lugs on the top of the tire are tall enough to dig in to the mud, or least that was what it felt like. Keeping the bike going was a delicate balancing act. Push too hard and the rear tires spins, don’t push enough and you quickly come to a halt. There was no need for brakes on this course, if you stopped pedaling you quickly stopped.
Lee advised us to bring multiple bikes, but I didn’t listen. If I could go back I’d leave my cyclocross bike at home and bring the mountain bike only. I got my cyclocross bike for gravel road riding which it excels. In my opinion for a cyclocross bike to actually be the better choice a cross course would need to be mostly dry and contain lots of tarmac. Lee was on a single speed mountain bike and was the fastest rider, he might have been the fastest rider on a cross bike as well, but I imagine having twice as much rubber on the ground and lower air pressure gave him a pretty big advantage. Though the single speed probably slowed him down in the gravel road section.
I was the biggest person at the race yesterday in mass and while I’ve been on road and gravel rides with many of these guys and been more or less able to keep up, whenever I mountain bike with them it’s a different story. I firmly believe that mud is harder for the heavier rider. In cross the frequent changes of directions and speed are also tougher on the heavier rider. For me dismounting and scrambling up steep steps and running through deep mud was a massive challenge. I’m not much of a runner, but the ground didn’t offer footing suitable for any kind of running anyway.
The course distance was just right, 9 or 1o minutes is a great length for an interval and that’s what each lap was, a max effort interval, had the course been much longer I’d probably been lagging pretty hard. The relay format was great for beginners since we got 8 minutes to catch our breath and get composed for the next lap. It kept the fun levels higher then the suffer levels.
Despite the horrible weather and trail conditions it was still fun and very challenging. I’m looking forward to the next event and hopefully less mud. Thanks goes to Lee and all the guys for putting together a great Sunday afternoon event.