Cyclocross defies logic.
It seems inconceivable that one could ride so fast*, and through such heinous conditions, on what amounts to a technologically deficient bike. And yet… there it is. Fast. Amazingly so. And incredibly fun. It is almost as if the ‘cross bike is the natural and obvious design for off-road riding. Not necessarily mountain biking, but off-road touring and exploring. Which is to say, I guess, that the cyclocross bike is exactly perfect for what it is used for. Which makes it exactly perfect for the gratuitous and exaggerated obstacle courses that ‘crossers are racing through every week. But nonetheless, that fact is obtuse rather than intuitive.
*I speak generally, and not of myself. Which is obvious if you race with me.
Over the weekend I experienced for the first time what I had heard others rave about since August: Cross weather. And to be perfectly honest, I had always thought that racing in the rain or mud (or rain and mud) sounded rather idiotic and futile. I’ve done that before on my mountain bike. A few times. And it was never anything at all resembling ‘fun’ or ‘enjoyable’. Instead, it most often resulted in frustration—and costly bike repairs. So, it was with some trepidation that I watched a thick, ominous, and dark wall approach from the West as I started my warm-up.
“Rain.” I moaned.
“Rain!” Everyone else cheered.
A storm had already rolled through the area, drenching the early morning racers in mud. The mid-afternoon flights rode in sunshine and tacky, fast dirt. Perfect conditions for speed and efficiency. I had hoped that I would be able to compete in similar weather and course conditions.
But the ‘cross gods had other plans.
While speaking with Daren before the race, he lamented that I had yet experienced the slick and muddy 50/50 corners of cyclocross. What are the 50/50 corners? Exactly what they sound like. That is, there is an equal chance of crashing, or not. The lingering storms must have heard him. They seemed to gather strength and courage, manifest in a swirling conspiracy of wind and rain and darkness that swooped into the area with surprising force and speed. Within minutes the tacky hardpack became a snot pooled circus of slippery uncertainty.
Some of the corners were not 50/50 at all, but rather 80/20. That’s 80 crash. 20 clean. Like this one:
When the gun went off, it was perhaps 3 seconds before the first crash occurred. I managed to avoid the pile-up, but only just. It was another 5 seconds before the next one occurred. 2 corners. 2 piles of bikes. 50/50 indeed! And so it went. Riders slipping and flailing and crashing. It was comical. Absurd. And each time I celebrated the demise of another, I myself would slip or spin or fall. The race became a mud-laden yo-yo of near misses and wet, dirty crashes. However, we were racing. Which meant that when we could, we pedaled. Hard. And in the end, and after another weekend of mid-pack domination, I was as blinkered and spent and tired as ever. Only, I was also wet and muddy and shivering.
The gritty, grimy, grin plastered on my face was utterly inexplicable.
I understand now why ‘cross bikes are built with massive clearances and equipped with out-of-date mountain bike brakes. It’s for days like Saturday. And it’s why we all left grinning idiotically instead of swearing. It’s why I won’t have to replace brake pads, cables, the chain, or the cassette before the bike is operational again. It’s why people are always going on about “cross weather” with cheery and evangelical lunacy. It’s why sunny and 65 prompts disappointment, while rainy and 35 elicits optimism.
I think I get it now.
And yet, it still makes no sense. Nothing so miserable should be so enjoyable.
Cyclocross defies logic.