Bearing My Cross—Cyclocross, That Is.
photography by Michael Johnson
I don’t have the right bike.
I don’t need another bike.
I don’t want to get injured.
I’m a triathlete so I’m terrible at bike handling skills.
I’m too old for this sh*t!
Oh, I had all the excuses for why I shouldn’t try the sport of cyclocross, a form of bike racing in parks and on grass that is an incestual blend of steeplechase, NASCAR, parkour, cross-country running, mountain biking, and a frat party.
Still, though, the pull of this insanity was undeniable to this middle-aged tomboy. I’d been lurking online and at clinics for about two years, expressing interest to whoever would listen that I really wanted to try this sport. I love dirt and I love riding my bike. After 15 years as a road triathlete, I was ready to try something new. But, was I ready to fail at something new?
Ugh, failure. The perennial showstopper of fun.
Well, this was my time to quit making excuses and dip my toe into the cyclocross mud. I promised Austin Fit Magazine an article about it, after all!
Stop Lurking and Start Working
It started with an innocent and half-hearted post on a local cycling club Facebook page. “Anyone selling a 49cm CX bike?” (CX is short for cyclocross.) I’m sure I even layered it with a winking emoji knowing that finding a used 49cm CX bike for sale may be as rare as a unicorn sighting. That size is reserved for shorties like me who don’t extend much beyond five feet tall. My hopes were about as high as my vertical jump.
In a matter of minutes, my Facebook Messenger notified me of the unthinkable. “I have a bike for you, Carrie. My wife is selling her 49cm Specialized Crux and it may be perfect.”
Within one week, I had a new/used cyclocross bike courtesy of Dan and Dani Pedroza, two of Austin’s finest cycling enthusiasts. Excuse No. 1 was out of the way. Let me state for the record that a special cyclocross bike is not necessary to compete, although it is preferred. Cross bikes look like road bikes, but with slightly different geometry and beefier wheels. Many athletes race on mountain bikes and even single speeds. Bottom line: If you’ve got a bike, you can do a CX race.
Well, wouldn’t you know, the acquisition of this bike coincided with a very special women’s only cyclocross clinic where volunteers (including the Pedrozas) would teach newbies like me to properly dismount and remount their bikes, jump barriers, and run through sand pits all while carrying the dang bike on your shoulder. It was a cycling boot-camp, physically and mentally daunting, but because there were donuts and beer at the end, it was totally worth it.
It was also a relief to be around so many other cross-curious ladies (that’s a thing) who felt exactly the same way I did: so excited to try something new, but scared to death of falling, looking stupid, making rookie errors. You know, all the usual stuff that takes you right back to middle school panic attacks.
The cool part? We did fall and make errors because everyone falls in cyclocross. It’s part of the gig.
Excuses be damned—they were falling like flies. I had the bike and I was learning the skills. I thought I was too old until I met some local athletes who make the age excuse obsolete.
Not only was I fresh out of excuses, but I was also running out of time because the first in a long series of races was fast approaching. So, what’s a newbie to do? Contact the race director and pick his brain, of course!
Brett Kinsey, owner and race director at Capital City Racing, was my wizard. A self-proclaimed “Cross Evangelist,” Kinsey not only walks the walk, but he talks the talk. He directs races and he wins them. He’d talk me down from the cyclocross anxiety ledge and let me know that everything would be just fine. Plus, it was his race, The Bicycle Sport Shop Six Shooter, that I was signed up for.
“Cyclocross is a big party in a field that just happens to have a bike race running through it,” he said, trying to ease my trepidations. “It’s going to be hard. There’s no getting around it. But, a new person can come out to my course and definitely have fun.” OK. I’m in for the fun part.
Kinsey designs courses in area parks that go to interesting places in the field, but come back to the beer garden and heckle zone over and over again. If there’s a sand pit to run through while shouldering your bike, even better.
You may get harassed a bit by some raucous spectators (who are also usually racing later), but you know what else comes with cyclocross racing? Beer hand-ups! Forget about Gatorade and water. In cyclocross, if you can spare a second of time to let go of your handlebars, a solo cup of craft beer goodness awaits.
Kinsey prioritizes the “fun” aspect of his races. In a lot of sports, he notes, people do their race and then leave. “I want people to stay all day long. Cyclocross is as much about the spectators as much as it is about the race because they keep the party going.”
It’s Not Just For Dudes
One of the many awesome aspects of cyclocross is the accessibility of the sport for men, women, and children! Yes, children. These kids rocked their own race (there’s something to be said for not being afraid of falling or failing) and, instead of beer hand-ups, spectators offer juice boxes or even dollar bills to the youngsters as they roll by.
That alone makes me wish I would’ve started racing as a junior!
Alas, I’m no longer a junior but a 40+ master and on Sept. 30, I lined up with a dozen other 40+ ladies, juniors 19 and under, and other women at the starting line of The Bicycle Sport Shop Six Shooter Cyclocross Race in east Austin.
“It’s just 30 minutes, Barrett. You can do anything for 30 minutes.” Yes, in my internal pep talks, I refer to myself by my last name. It sounds tougher that way).
The whistle blew and I pedaled down the field onto the 1.5 mile track of cycling chaos that included dips, twists, turns, a large sand pit and, thanks to the recent rains, several large mud pits that you muscled through with each lap—all while I was trying to race against other people. Passing people was the least of my concerns as I was too busy trying to figure out how to dismount my bike, jump (or step) over a barrier, and remount the bike without looking like a fool in the heckle zone.
I could hear cheers from friends in the crowd and the familiar BigMouth Announcing voices shouted words of encouragement (or light-hearted harassment) around the course. Thirty minutes doesn’t sound like a long time on paper, but when your heart is beating at approximately 10,000 beats per minute from adrenaline, it feels like an eternity.
When all was said and done and I crossed the finish line in the middle of the pack, I felt like a kid who had just ridden her first roller coaster: knuckles white from the death grip; heart rate racing like a newborn; head spinning from the excitement; voice and throat dry from the breathless work. My race kit and bike were filthy and caked in mud from the pits and my quads were still quivering from the effort.
Back at the team tent and beer garden, I high-fived my new friends and teammates who had been so welcoming and supportive from my first entry into this madness. It truly was their encouragement (read: prodding and heckling text messages) that got me to the start line of my first cyclocross race. Well, that, and this writing deadline.
My first words when I was finally able to talk and breathe again?
“I’m still too old for this sh*t, but I can’t wait to do it again!”
And, so I did...the very next day.
Cyclocross is Accessible to Everyone
Low registration fees make it affordable for the entire family.
Cross races range from 30-60 minutes, which is great for spectators and athletes.
Most events are two days so you can race on one or both days.
You don’t need hours upon hours of training time and it doesn’t take away from your social life. It adds to it!
Most types of bikes will work for cyclocross.
There are races for men, women, masters, children, and beginners.
CrossFit just introduced cyclocross as part of their games this year and area races are attempting to tap into potential interest with new “no license” Dirty Double where you get to ride two laps in a safe and supportive atmosphere!
To learn about upcoming races, visit:
Texas Bicycle Racing Association
Capital City Racing Facebook Page
Capital City Racing Texas
Upcoming Cyclocross Races in Austin:
November 4–5 in Moya Park
November 18–19 in Webberville