Every fall when the leaves start to turn beautiful golden colors it means it’s time to hit the trails on the ‘cross bike. Cyclocross bikes are basically a road bike type frame with knobby tires. ‘Cross bikes are great for riding on pavement, dirt roads or single track trails. It’s my favorite type of cycling. Riding a ‘cross bike on trails is fun but sometimes very challenging without any type of suspension to dampen the impact on those rocky sections. It forces you to perfect your bike-handling skills on those sections that mountain bikes can easily tackle.
Cyclocross is a sport that got started in Europe around 1902 when professional road cyclists needed a way to stay in shape during the fall and winter. The first world championships for Cyclocross was held in the 1950s. Cyclocross began to become popular in the US in the 1970s but the sport didn’t experience a growth of popularity until the mid-’90s. The Pacific Northwest hosts some of the largest events in the country. Cyclocross is becoming more popular in Boise every year but I still get curious looks while riding and sometimes running with my ‘cross bike on the foothill trails.
A Cyclocross course for racing needs a variety of terrain ranging from asphalt roads, dirt trails, grass, mud, sand and short steep climbs with obstacles that force the rider to dismount and carry the bike. The courses are usually short in distance. A typical race is a timed race of around 45 min to an hour with the cyclist riding the most laps wins. Compared to other forms of bicycle racing the emphasis is on the rider’s aerobic endurance and bike-handling skills. It’s a great spectator sport. Cyclocross is not an Olympic sport, but it should be!
I raced my first ‘cross race back in the fall of 1994 with a used bike I bought for $150. The bike frame was made of steel and inexpensive components. It was incredibly heavy and I was barely able to lift it onto my shoulder to run up the steep hills with it. I’d been racing road and mountain bikes at the semi-professional level all spring and summer but racing that ‘cross bike was probably that hardest physical thing I’d ever attempted to do. Imagine racing at a heart rate of over 170 beats per minute the entire time with no places on the course to recover. I was hooked on this sport immediately.
Over the years, I’ve raced dozens of cyclocross races in various locations around the valley. Courses have been set up behind the VA hospital, out at Hidden Springs, Camel’s Back Park and up at Bogus Basin. I’ve raced at Firebird Raceway, below the dam at Spring Shores, out in some farmer’s field off Cole Road and at Eagle Island State Park. Finding good courses to hold a race can be as challenging as the race itself. I’m not racing these days, but part of me (the younger part) wants to. Still, I can get a intense workout on the trails just minutes from my house and have a blast doing it.
Just a couple weeks ago, climbing up a tough rocky single track section in the foothills above Boise, two guys on their mountain bikes much younger than me pulled over and stopped to let me ride by. As I rode past them I heard them both say, “Wow, you’re amazing!” I guess seeing some old woman like me ride up the technical part on a ‘cross bike was something new to them. I’ve been riding this section on my ‘cross bike for years, but they didn’t know it. Any day on a ‘cross bike is a good day but I had just celebrated another birthday so this one was even better!