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Calvin's Corner

Answer the Call to Cross this Fall

This article is unashamedly a promotion for cyclo-cross racing. Specifically, it is a call to everyone to get out and support your local racing scene, which this time of year is cyclo-cross. Here in the America Midwest, it is a lovely time of year. The fall colors are coming on. The leaves are crunchy under wheel and heel, and the air is delightfully crisp and clear. I had many such days, for example at the JR Ranch Cyclo-Cross race in Wisconsin. Since then, I have had many an enjoyable time at these gatherings.

I cannot claim you will be lost in a great throng of people and fans, for cyclo-cross racing (in the USA anyway) will not likely rival a homecoming football game. However, no matter where you are in your own neck of the world, it is a nice excuse for a walk or hike, and to see athletes doing some honest work. It is a time for small stories and little dramas, and possibly, here in the American heartland, a time to scope out the upcoming deer hunt.


A bearded Sisyphus appears to be condemned to run up the same hill, forever, at the Jackson Meadows Cyclo-cross race. Fans of Rock, Country, Bluegrass, Greek tragedy, and Metal are all equally welcome to come and support cyclo-cross.


Every cross race I have every attended has someone holding a small dog. This record remains unbroken.


Deer stand descent
A fast and bumpy descent past the dark red sumac and a deer stand on the crest, which I assume was unoccupied today

The racing typically with the junior division. The equipment need not be the best, because now is the time to learn the skills and just have fun. However, parents should be reminded of the tendency of children to grow. The saddle height for early spring riding may not be right for these fall events.

raise your saddle
Cyclo-cross saddle height may be slightly lower then the road, but not this low

Each sport has its own unique injuries, of course. Road riders tend to prefer the "road rash" on the knee and hip. Track riders vary this with the track burn, and sometimes for spice will add splinters. Both roadies and trackies will partake of the broken clavicle. Trials athletes, on the attempts where they almost make the wall, will see punctures in the shin from pedals. Downhill riders, well, there is not the space here to delineate the potential body damage. The cross racer will see the lacerations and contusions of the MTB racer as well as the broken clavicles of the roadies. With all their mounting and dismounting, as well the occasional tangles with the machine, you will also find scarring toward the medial body axis.

body damage
Just a small owie from the looks of it

hudson cyclo-cross
As a spectator, I could enjoyed the colors. However these Cat IV riders seem to have their heads down on this lovely climb. Perhaps they are appreciating that even the poison ivy is turning orange and red?

"To carry, or not to carry". That is the question several time per lap. Tis better on a steep climb to dismount, shoulder your steed, and suffer the run up? Or, alternatively, should one push the beast, shoving both wheels through a thousand natural shocks of roots, sand, and uneven terrain as you trod through a sea of troubles? Pushing means you will not carry the extra weight. But certainly the fastest of the pack will most often shoulder and run. Your footing is better, and you are not leaning over as you steer the bike.

Watch for riders picking the "cash tips" left by kindly but noisy spectators. Stay and enjoy the single rider crash at 25 seconds.

It is said of cyclo-cross that is will improve your bike handling. This may be true, or it may be that those lacking in handling skills are weeded out. Nonetheless, there is certainly much to learn from the sport. A basic lesson: look where you want to go. You can see it in the faces of the better riders as they anticipate the next corner.

line of sight
Look where you want to go, and the front wheel will follow, as these riders do in anticipating the apex of the corner

The well dressed specator: farm boots, pants properly tucked, a striped scarf, the ubiquitous small dog, and beer (optional)

Bike racing is hard work, but for some there is the glory of the podium. For those behind the race, the officials, the promoter, the crew, the work is hard work and yet there will be no glory. Avery Dahl, seen here on the left, is one of those behind the scene. Mr. Dahl helps to set up the course and will help take it down. But during the race he sets his folding chair at the highest point on the backside of the course. For this lonely vantage point, Avery cheers and provides all the cowbell the athletes could desire.


While I am loath to admit this, officials are even more important then mechanics. Every sport must have their officials, and Cyclo-cross does as well. If you enjoy this sport, consider getting your officials license. You are sometimes in the "hot seat", screamed at by fans, riders and parents regarding some hotly contested issue; but other times you sit alone in the wheel pit and no one cares about you at all. Where ever you end up, thank you for your service.

By evil coincidence or possibly by evil design, this bike wash station drains right into the course
. (Keep an eye on that bike being washed, it will appear again at the bottom of the page.)

Keep your registration area tidy by using the
ES-1 Event Stand. This one was at the Jackson Meadows race, and it helps prevent spectators from stepping on your bike.

A cyclo-cross course is often just what you make of it and where find it. You use what you have and make it work. Today the course weaves a series of chicanes through a type of abandon junkyard of rusty refigerators, ovens, and what may have been an old paint ball field.

space junk
At first viewing, this abandoned apparatus appears to be something from a grade-C sci-fi movie, but it was probably a satellite dish of some sort

However, this is the Midwest, and you will find here that many a race will include a corn field.

Kind of flat, kind of gray, straight rows of cut corn, and tiny moving dots? Yes, this is cyclo-cross race in Minnesota in late October

It is of course a fine tradition to hold a "kids race" as part of the day's event. Cute in word and deed; however, to me that is not the appeal. It is my hope these kids all grow up strong and healthy. Some may race in years to come, some may be champions, but I hope all enjoy cycling and stay part of our sport their entire life.


Now let's fast forward say twenty or thirty years, add a job or two, a mortgage, perhaps their own family, a bit of facial hair on some, and see how they will look:


Perhaps at the heart of things, it is about tribalism. This club proudly waves its flag

Okay, human interest: done. Now on to the important stuff: the bikes. There tends to be a wider variety of bikes at local events, in contrast to elite events. Several single speeds were in attendance, as well as one with the belt drive system. Like a belt on automotive water pump pulley, these rely on tension to keep the wheels turning.

belt drive
The belt drive system is both quiet and clean

I imagine that racing with a single speed gives one a sense of accomplishment. The derailleur bikes here this day came in both two sprocket chainrings and the single chainring. If you run a single ring, you better have a system to help keep the chain on. Interesting that now MTB is also finding use of the single front ring.

An outer chain plate with a "chain keeper" inside helps keep this chain on the single ring of a derailleur bike

Drive trains are under a huge amount of stress in any racing. Get to a climb and you listen for creaking and popping, besides labored breathing.

This noisy drive train needs some care and attention. Something here is loose and needs tightening.

Recent rule changes have brought out another innovation, seen in the image below. No, the mustache bar is not mandatory, yet. Note the rotors at the hubs. Disc brakes are now an option in cyclo-cross racing. Previously, only rim brakes were allowed. This rule revision can certainly change attitdues on equipment selection. A disc specific rim can be lighter as extra material for braking surface is shed. It will also help in tire selection, as the heat of braking is off the rim with a disc brake. Heat is the enemy of tubular tire glue.


disc braks
One of the better looking machines, according to the author

Tubular tires are the traditional choice for the cyclo-cross racer. Well, they are for those who can afford them, or get them free in any case. They are resistant to the rim pinches common in cross racing, especially at the lower pressures preferred by cross racers. They will puncture, however, from nails, thorns, glass, etc. The tubular tire system is also making inroads to the MTB racing as well. In a terse survey of tire types this day, clinchers came out 75%, and tubulars at 25% for the attending field.

Tubulars tires are adhered to the the rim with contact cements

The chain is a critical component of what drives us forward. Keep an eye out for the chains of both cyclo-cross and MTB bikes in rough terrain and you will see them bounce. This can lead to some cosmetic damage to the chain stay finish, and in extreme cases may slap against the spokes. While there is tension on the pedals the top section of the chain is taut and straight. When there is no pressure from pedaling, both top and bottom section get slapped around, and this may in some cases lead to the chain derailling at the front rings.

chain slap
Note both the nice socks and the lower section of chain as it forms a nice wave

There may be repairs required anywhere. If there is equipment that it swapped it must be in the pits under the eye of the official. But sometimes you must just stop and fix it as you can. Here we see a rider had chain tension issues stop before the descent and attempts a course side repair.


Equipment failure is a fact in racing or bicycle riding, but we should always ask ourselves "Why"?  An old adage here can help; Nature versus Nurture.  In other words, was the component just a bad designed, or a bad design for the use at hand? Or, for the aspect of "nurture", was the installation, maintenance and inspection (or lack thereof) the cause of the failure.

Remember the bike wash station and the plaid shirt?  His race ended with handlebar failure right at the stem. So, why? The stem had a narrow plate, which effectively point-loads the bar, but I would also look to over-tightness in the bar binder bolts.



Get out. Search for these races and go see them. If you race, get a bike and try it. If not, borrow a cowbell if you want, but just go. Walk the course, at least once, maybe several times, but be careful. These racing vehicles and their attending drivers are going full on, and are not looking for livestock in the track. Get in on the fun, go see some cyclo-cross.