Words: Rod Fountain
If Cyclocross is a winter sport then by now all the race tape and poles should have been collected, the coffee cups binned and the cowbells put on the shelf until the local pub announces they’re screening the Tour de France.
Fields and parks should no longer be racetracks, Sundays are yours again and there’s a really nice CX bike or two buried in your shed waiting for autumn to roll around again.
Does anyone really only use his or her cyclocross bike during ‘the season?’ In Molly Hurford’s excellent book Mud, Snow and Cyclocross, she is quick to dispense with the idea that people these days only ride cyclocross by way of staying fit when the weather’s too shitty for riding a road bike. Coming from a purely mountain bike and racing BMX background the idea of the weather being ‘too shitty’ to ride in doesn’t really hold any, erm, water. So I find myself reaching for the Jake when, God forbid, it’s quite a nice day and I’ve got more than just an hour or two to throw at riding. Anyway I feel I’ve earned it, all those months slogging through slush and mud would surely have been a waste of time if I couldn’t then see how fast the Jake could go in the dry (terrifyingly fast as it happens).
By riding ‘out of season’ I’ve fallen in love with both the bike and the sport even more. Skiing’s a winter sport, not cyclocross. I can’t help but agree with Bikesnob, the acerbic New York blogger who says that riders who pigeonhole themselves “are just a cleverly worded advert away from leaving bikes behind in search of the next big thing”. But what do you do on a cyclocross bike when you’re not training for the long winter series? Maybe my lack of experience in the world of cyclocross and lifelong lack of interest in road bikes is actually a good thing in this case because surely the answer is that you just ride it.
With no more races to enter, that I know of at least, the self inflicted pressure to get fit enough to bust into the top 10 has faded and made room for just going out for a ride and hunting out trouble. In a previous Jake Diary I wrote about the commute and how having the Jake made it infinitely more fun. However, despite scaring myself and grinning a lot I was always thinking how much fitter I was getting and of the benefits come race day.
The big experiment
With racing over I’m now just waiting and riding for fun and inevitably my thoughts turned to wondering how the Jake would go on the mountain bike trails I regularly roll my 140mm Carbon Lapierre Zesty over. Heading out for the playground of the Surrey Hills one sunny winter Sunday I dropped both seats in the car to squeeze Jake in alongside the Zesty, just as they are in my basement. The result was a disaster but I learned a lot. It’s a bit like in Ghostbusters when Dr Egon Spengler warns the others not to “cross the streams” of their…whatever those things they use to catch ghosts with are called. When asked why, Spengler replies, “Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping and every molecule in your body exploding”. Riding the Jake down one of my favourite Mountain bike trails felt like that because crossing the streams of cyclocross and mountain biking is just daft; chalk and cheese, day and night.
The result was a disaster but I learned a lot. It’s a bit like in Ghostbusters when Dr Egon Spengler warns the others not to “cross the streams”
After writing about cyclocross for the ‘ardcore Dirt Mountain Bike Magazine, both myself and Steve Walker, my team mate, were given a little insight into what life must have been like for Salman Rushdie after he published ‘The Satanic Verses’ and had a fatwa declared on him by some Iranian Muslims. I stand by the Dirt feature, as does Steve, because we weren’t trying to coerce anyone into abandoning mountain bikes, just saying that cyclocross is a very, very different, but oddly fun, way to spend time on a bike in the dirt. The Dirt forum went wild with (mainly derisive) comments, but to their credit lots of people said ‘it’s all just bikes on dirt so it’s got to be good, right?’ Bless ‘em, but even they missed the point (though I appreciated their support).
Cyclocross is nothing like mountain biking, and both are better for it. It’s nothing like road riding either, though I’ve never done it and so had to poll my mates who exclusively ride road. Cyclocross is just a branch, and a small one in the UK, of the cycling tree and if you’re open-minded enough to give it a try then you might find that you love it.
Or, like the Canadian mountain bike photographer Grant Robinson (an ex-Team Kona XC rider from way back), who I’m proud to call a friend, you might come to this very different but insightful conclusion: “I hate CX. Did two races years ago and can’t think of anything worse. It’s everything I hate about bike riding. Mud, cold, wet, and you have to get off an’ push all the time. Screw that. They had one here (in British Columbia) two weekends ago and there was about 4 inches of snow. The worst thing I’ve ever seen. But don’t listen to me: you should shred it if you like it!”
I’ve now written a fair few words about cyclocross and the love I’ve found for the sport, the people involved and most of all the Jake. But I could’ve saved myself, and you, a lot of time by just writing the last line of Grant’s e.mail and blowing it up to 96 point type because it cuts through all the cycling territoriality and weirdness about what you’re ‘into’.
Don’t listen to me: you should shred it if you like it!Check out the previous editions of Rod’s Jake Diaries: Part 1 here, Part 2 here Part 3 here and Part 4 here. Thank you kindly to Kona World for supplying the Jake cyclocross bike and giving Rod all those laughs!