Cyclocross: The Cycling Event Even You Might Want To Watch

Categories: bikes

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What happens when you get a bunch of people to ride bikes really fast around a dirt or mud track? Throw in cowbells and beer, and then what? Cyclocross, that's what.

Arguably the best cycling sport to actually watch (unless you count the Red Bull contests where people hurl themselves off cliffs), Cyclocross season is in full swing. The Bay Area Super Prestige Series is our hometown cyclocross race, so I talked with Tom Simpson, one of the organizers of the event, about the cycling sport.

Cyclocross ends around the end of the road season, and the world championships are in the middle of winter. In the northern European, home of cyclocross, that means ice and mud. Here, at least for now, we'll have to deal with the dust. Here's how Simpson described the sport for the uninitiated:

"Cyclocross is a hybrid bike race involving both riding, dismounting from your bike to overcome obstacles, remounting to continue riding through all sorts of course conditions. It takes place on circuits from 1-to-2 miles in length, rain or shine, and sometimes is referred to as the "Steeplechase" event of cycling. Each field races for multiple laps so there are plenty of chances to see the action. The bikes used are very similar to road racing models but with subtle differences like somewhat wider tires with off-road treads and slightly greater tire clearance in the bike frame to accommodate mud -- lots of mud when/if the rain ever comes."

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What Simpson didn't mention is lots and lots of crashing, mechanical problems, and the kind of bloopers that hurt to watch:

Bay Area Super Prestige has been around since 2002, and every single weekend as many as 700 racers come out to compete. One of the most spectacular races in the series takes place November 9, at Sierra Point in Brisbane, where the last for events -- usually the fastest riders of the day -- take place "under the glow of 20 sets of construction lights," As Simpson described it.

The next race is the CandleStick Cup Race, at the CandleStick Point State Recreation Area in Bayview, on Oct. 20. The course description boats that "even if we don't get any rain between end of September and today, there's going to be a soft patch, courtesy of our 500 gallon towed water tank. That's just one of the surprises lurking in the Candlestick weeds." For some reason these people love mud. The races run most of the day, with each one lasting around an hour of anaerobic exertion.

For spectators that want to get particularly involved, cyclocross has some peculiar traditions. The most ubiquitous is the cowbell -- shunned by most of the world, the cowbell finds a home on the sidelines of the races. The other is hand-ups: spectators hand beer or cash to the racers, with the fastest and most dexterous winning the spoils.

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Tom and his son Alec Simpson own and operate Pilarcitos Cyclesports, the organization that hosts the Bay Area Super Prestige series. Tom said, "Cyclocross used to be considered an "off-season" activity for road racers. It's not the off-season any more."

Go check out a cyclocross race. You might even get sucked into racing. It'll be good practice for those of you who plan to retire to Portland when the San Francisco gets to expensive. I think cyclocross is required in Portland - it might have something to do with all the mud.

Photo Credit: Scott Crosby

Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He's can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.




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