The aspens are turning their golden color, the mornings have a crisp feel to them, you can’t stand to look at your road bike, let alone throw a leg over it and go for a ride…it can only mean one thing – it’s cyclocross season!
Cyclocross, or “cross” as it is called, halfway between mountain biking and road cycling. Those crazy enough to compete ride on bikes that resemble road bikes, with funky brakes, high bottom brackets, and tires that are knobby and slightly wider than road tires. They ride over road, dirt and if they have enough balance and power, through sand traps. Oh and they don’t just ride their bikes, cross racers jump off their bikes, hoist their bikes on top of their shoulders, and hop over wooden barriers, like show-jumping horses. And then jump back on. Rinse and repeat for 45-60 minutes and you have yourself a cross race.
Yes, it sounds crazy, and yes cross racers are a little crazy, but that is what makes it one of the most fun disciplines of cycling to watch. I tried my hand at racing cross for a few years and then realized that watching cyclocross was a whole lot more fun. So here are a few tips for watching a cross race this season:
1. Bundle up. Unless you’re watching an early-season cross race, that fall air can be chilly.
2. Bring a cooler stocked with beer. Break it out at the race and you’re bound to make a few new friends, perhaps even a thirsty racer looking for a cold refreshment mid-race. (See # 4, hand-ups, below, for more information.)
3. Find the best spectating spot early on and stake your claim. Unlike with road racing, the start/finish line is not always the best spot for spectating. The best spot is usually where you are bound to see some sort of mishap occur (JOEY!), and that is either at the barriers or a sand trap. Large crowds gather at these locations, so stake out your spot early.
4. Hand-ups are encouraging. Because cross racers need to put the bikes over their shoulders and run with them during races, cross bikes do not have water bottles cages. But the racers still get thirsty, so many will have a designated person providing them with water-bottle hand-ups. Other kinds of hand-ups are encouraged, including but not limited to, beer and dollar bills.
5. Come hungry. A lot of races will have food available for purchase. If you’re lucky, a vendor will be selling food that traditionally goes along with cross racing in Belgium, specifically waffles and frites (or fries in English). No further explanation needed. Commence drooling now.
6. More cow bell, please. Cow bells – those bells that you see in pastoral photographs of dairy cows frolicking in western European mountain meadows – are essential if you are going to be a certified cross spectator. Ring them loudly and often as racers ride by you. No need to own a cow in order to get a cow bell – you should be able to find them at your local bike shop and some races even hand them out.
7. Finally, costumes are not only highly acceptable but strongly encouraged, both for racers and spectators. Perhaps these strapping young lads doing their best Braveheart impression will inspire you. Kilts are not required, but this is the level of costume creativity to which you should aspire.
Now you are fully prepared to become a professional cross spectator. Go forth and drink beer, ring your cow bells, and fill your belly with waffles!