My Introduction to Cyclocross – Part 1: The Bike

When I joined team Stampede, I knew that they were cyclocross crazy. I didn’t know why, but I’d seen the pictures.

Six months ago I picked up a cyclocross frame at the Newark Bike Swap. But that was pretty much all I had, the frame, fork, three quarters of a headset, and a seatpost collar clamp.

I grabbed this Salsa La Crus frame/fork from Will Neade at the Newark Bike Swap in March 2014

I grabbed this Salsa La Crus frame/fork from Will Neade at the Newark Bike Swap in March 2014

I didn’t know where to go from here. I started asking questions but the answers were full of brands and components I have little or no experience with;

SRAM stuff,
Shimano stuff (OK, so I’m a bit Campagnolo concentrated),
narrow-wide chainrings,
clutch-type derailleurs,
chain keepers,
1X drivetrain,
zero-loss shifters,
disc brakes,
tubeless tires,
mud tires,
grass tires,
dirt tires,
UST compliant,
and the list goes on.

It isn’t like I didn’t know what cyclocross is. I did, but the last time I’d paid it any attention it was 20 years ago and it was done with road bikes that had cantilever bosses brazed on and some tires with a bit of tread on them…

A pic I found on the internet illustrating what cross bikes looked like back in the 80’s.


And that was all there was to it. Today’s cyclocross bikes are more half breeds and many share drivetrain, braking, wheel, and tire technology with modern mountain bikes.

That’s just the bikes. 20 years ago cyclocross in the USA was a quiet little sport suffered by the hardcore few with a euro-centric approach to their cycling and even fewer spectators. Today it is raced by folks that wait all year just for the ‘cross season to start and the courses are designed largely for the spectators who take it upon themselves to make their own show from the sidelines. For example, according to my friend Marc aka “Fatmarc Vanderbacon”, at Granogue there was a trombone player who stationed himself at the top of one of the climbs and did his best to “score” the race through his instrument, choosing tunes that fit the moment and racers coming through.

Fast forward to last Wednesday, the Wednesday before I was scheduled to start my very first cyclocross race, and the last of my parts arrived at Garrison’s Cyclery. That evening, there was a ‘cross practice scheduled at the race venue and I knew I had to make that if I wanted to have any chance of a decent race. I finished building my bike at 4:45 pm. I rode it down the street, made some handlebar and saddle adjustments, and looked at my watch. It was 5:00. The practice started at 6 and I’d been instructed to get there by 5:30 so I could sign a waiver and pay my dues to join the Delaware Cross Coalition of Delaware (no, I didn’t type “Delaware too many times, that’s the name). I rushed around getting dressed, tools, and into the car.

I did take the time to snap a quick cell phone photo of the bike before I left, just as a record of the moment.

The initial build, not a minute too soon.

The initial build, not a minute too soon.

I made it to the race/practice venue and found a) the guy I bought the frame from and b) my old friend Marc Vettori whom I’d last seen 20 years ago when we used to ride mountain bikes together around the University of Delaware. They helped me find my way to Lisa, one of the event promoters (and coincidentally an ex-coworker of The Lovely Annalisa’s). Lisa gave me an excellent personalized tour of the course and then set me off with the rest of the group for a “race pace” loop. Well, nothing like diving right into it!

All in all, the bike did so-so. I had too much air in the tires which meant I struggled in the corners. The shifting deteriorated as the rear derailleur cable stretched into place and I missed the rest of the group loops while I fixed that. I did a couple more loops on my own though, so made out OK.

I learned that am not happy with my choice of shifting setup. I chose to fit the cyclocross-specific Gevnalle shifter which is an affordable and robust system (good for a discipline where crashing is not only a likelihood, but applauded). However, it is only fully operational when you are riding on the brake hoods. From the drops you can’t always reach it. It would be a perfect setup for someone who rides the hoods all the time, which of course I don’t. I didn’t know it until I got on the course but it turns out that I ride in the drops roughly 100% of the time.

I did some practice riding on Thursday and Friday at the park near home and tried to get used to riding the hoods more. I made it better by dropping my elbows, but the stability is just not there. I’ve got to change this.

My Introduction to Cyclocross – Part 2: Granogue Cross, coming soon.

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