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Crossing over: Some things I've learnt about cyclocross
Your legs are no longer your own. They belong to your bike and subsequent bruising will happen accordingly. It was around my fifth attempt to unclip my right foot when I suddenly remembered what it felt like to not know how to ride a bicycle. The handlebars spun around and I could feel my centre of gravity shift uncomfortably underneath me, the grass rising to meet my elbow in slow motion.
Eight of us gathered last week on a North London playing field to master some of the basics of cyclocross. More like a primary school P.E. obstacle course than a bike race, cross seems to bring together all those bizarre and wonderful aspects of a day in a park that just shouldn’t go together. But for some reason it works. Cones to turn around, logs to jump over, bits to run, and a lot to ride.
Until recently, cyclocross was a bit of a mystery to me. A myth propagated by the wise and witty words of awesome girl racers like Heidi Swift and Claire Beaumont, it seemed like the holy grail of cycling: mud, speed, laughter, beer and frites - all with drop bars and skinsuits. I needed to know more.
The new darling of the cycling world, cross enjoys a new-found popularity among women that road racing can only sit back and enviously watch. You want to hate her (all that mud! all that cleaning!), but you can’t help but feel a little seduced. There’s just something about riding around a field at breakneck pace that makes you feel like a kid again.
Our first step was learning to dismount the bike at pace, and without losing speed, take a flying-leap and pray to land back on the saddle with feet in the right place to start pedalling again. The experts make it look so easy: Their right foot swings back over the rear wheel, and like ballet, the left foot magically unclips as the ground skips past underneath them. No slowing. No clumsy bike tackle falling down upon them. No cursing/swearing.
Whilst all the other girls were off spinning around the obstacle course, I was learning to unclip my right foot. But with constant encouragement and advice from our instructors, it didn’t take long to feel at home on knobbly tyres. So I thought I’d share what I learnt, beginner style:
1. The ground is soft. You might bruise, but the absurdity of falling in a field of cones and logs adds a dimension of absurdity which makes the minor pain not only tolerable but hilarious.
2. Be forceful when you go to unclip your left foot. It’s just a pedal. It’s made for unclipping.
3. Don’t dramatically brake when you go to dismount, just slow down. I tried braking. A lot. Braking pitches you forward and just makes it all the more challenging to take your feet out.
4. When you jump on the saddle to remount, you WILL land on the saddle, so just go for it.
5. Watch your toe placement when you corner. If you corner with one foot forward, you’ll clip your wheel and the grass will jump up to bite you.
6. When hopping over a log, you don’t actually have to lift your bike much higher than your feet. If your feet make it over, the bike will too.
7. Cross is designed to be done in the company of friends.
8. It’s a lot more work than I could have ever imagined. Dress appropriately.
9. It’s a lot more fun on your second night out.
- @tribryan Hi Bryan, that’s a discontinued Irish Country Jersey which is no longer in production, sorry to disappoint.
- @vickiewoodsford @richardhier @daithetooth Thanks Vickie, glad we were able to help too.
- @ServiceCourse @richardhier @daithetooth You’re all too kind, thank you.
- @richardhier Thanks Richard, have a good weekend. Will pass on your thanks to Peter.
- Stylish, creative, sharp? We all know a sartorial city rider that can be tricky to buy for. See our guide for hints → http://t.co/dul9phwMoX
- Who's excited for snowy racing #inbend this weekend? We brought tshirts and coffee for the weekend.… http://t.co/aYYPjQEXTG
- @playa_mansa Sorry, somehow missed this. Our backpack is great for general use. Most of us here use it both on and off the bike.
- @TheRaceRadio A man experienced in sheep aerodynamics, perhaps. → http://t.co/4ysrDy5bie
- The most recent Rapha Gentlemen’s Race took place in Adelaide with 18 teams lining up for the rolling 160km route. → http://t.co/ZQ3Dzz0NEX
- @andersmagnus Hi Anders, there’s been a delay unfortunately, but thanks for being patient. It will be out as soon as possible.