Category Archives: Cyclocross

Double Trouble: A Weekend of Cyclocross

The XCM National Championships were now over for 2015, which means I get to enjoy a break in the normal training schedule and savour a few weeks of rest, recovery and riding for fun. After not partaking in a great deal of activity for a good week, it was time to have some fun and jump back on the cyclocross bike. Coincidentally, round one of the Manly Warringah Cycling Club CX Series and round one of the inaugural Western Sydney MTB Club CX series were running back to back over the weekend.

Prior to race day, I was trying to describe Cyclocross to a friend:

You essentially ride what is a road bike with knobbly tyres off-road, across dirt and grass, through mud and sand and often in adverse weather conditions. Courses have obstacles like barriers and stairs, where you have to jump off, run/jump/climb through with your bike on your shoulder and then jump back on again. It’s high intensity for 45 to 60 mins – your heart is trying to escape your chest the whole time.  Oh and people throw water and beer on you while ringing cowbells.

Cyclocross is a real sport – even if it sounds completely fabricated! The video below helps describe the sport and gives some background on how it originated:

The Manly Warringah (MWCC) race on Saturday was held at Terrey Hills, in Sydney’s north.  The shorter ~1.8km circuit winds around a park, BMX track and horse riding club, which makes for some great obstacles. Riders have to dismount for  a set of stairs and some barriers designed for equestrian, as well as having the option to either run or ride a few smaller obstacles, such as a telegraph pole and two sets of lower barriers and tyres. While the course didn’t have any serious boggy patches, there was plenty of mud which became more and more chopped up as the race ran it’s course.

MWCC has plenty of tight corners and few long straights, which meant those more technically proficient would come out on top. This was the case in the Women’s race, with Oenone Wood taking the win ahead of myself and Sally Potter. In the Mens Elite, Garry Millburn and Chris Aitken were neck and neck until Chris went down entering the last lap and was unable to make the catch.

Photo by Mike Isreal
Photo by Mike Isreal

Western Sydney MTB successfully launched their inaugural Cyclocross Series with race one at the Sydney International Regatta Centre at Penrith on the Sunday. A lap of the Western Sydney course (~3.4km) was almost twice as long as Terrey Hills and contained a number of fast straight grassy sections, which gave those with good fitness a bit of an edge.

Splitting the long fast sections however were some very twisty and tight cornering which worked to sort out those who could corner smoothly, without loosing too much speed – and those who could not. Two sets of barriers (low enough for some of the elite men to jump) made life difficult for many. One being near a large group of spectators, which meant timing your dismount well was imperative (or else a crash would probably be caught on camera and remembered forever). The other significant challenge was the two large pits of mud down the far end of the course – a foot deep in places meant picking a good line and hitting it with speed was a requisite.

Photo by Ben Porter
Photo by Ben Porter

Garry Millburn backed up well to take the Men’s Elite category over Ben Henderson. I was lucky enough to win the Women’s Elite ahead of Fiona Millburn.  While neither field was as big as MWCC the day before, I think it’s fair to say the Western Sydney event was a success and it will only grow in the future.

All in all, great to see so many new riders giving both races a shot – especially those on CX bikes, racing for the first time. Everyone hurts during the race, but it’s rare to find someone at the end who didn’t have a fantastic time. I am sure both clubs will see continued growth in numbers for race two and beyond.

Photo by Michael Crummy
Photo by Michael Crummy

Australian Cyclocross Magazine has a calendar of events on their website. Check it out and get involved. Most races allow you to ride any kind of bike if you are unable to get your hands on a CX specific.

New Bike Day: S-Works Crux 2014

There is no doubt Cyclocross (CX) as a sport is starting to gain some momentum in Australia, with races popping up all over the place, with more and more entrants and spectators across every iteration.

For mountain bikers and road riders alike, there is something appealing in riding through deep mud on relatively skinny tyres, carrying your bike up a steep hill on your shoulder, off camber cornering in the drops, navigating strange obstacles like a small show-jumping horse and having beer thrown on you (OK, maybe it’s just the beer), all while your heart rate red-lines for 45 minutes.

Growth in the sport however is not the only aspect driving growth in CX bike sales – riders are picking up CX bikes for commuting, for a bit more flexibility on and off-road and in many cases, because it’s so damn fashionable (especially if you have a tattoo and/or a beard – I have the former and therefore qualify as a CX Hipster).

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I started riding a Focus Mares AX, which by all accounts, was an excellent bike for the price tag. This bike taught me the fundamentals of CX and helped me to a great result in the State Championships, as well as getting me to and from work on many occasions. As with everything, it came time to upgrade to something a bit better…

I can’t even compare the S-Works Crux with my older CX bike – it would be like trying to compare a Toyota with a Ferrari. Every aspect of the ride has been improved and upgraded – making it an absolute thrill to ride, each and every time.

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The FACT 11r Carbon Frame is light, stiff and responsive, with a geometry that makes it easy to handle (noting that I am a size smaller than what I would be on my road bike) and easy to shoulder when racing.  The matt black finish, combined with the red and white is just mean (and on a practical level, easy to clean). The little detail on the top tube – mud splatter with the logo – is a nice finish.

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The bike comes kitted with a SRAM Red 22 (2×11) groupset – which was probably the most significant upgrade. For those who don’t know SRAM – it uses “DoubleTap” shifting, whereby a short “tap” of the lever changes on to a smaller cog and a longer “push” of the same lever takes you in the other direction. A bit different if you have used Shimano or Campy, but I can’t really say it’s better or worse – just different.

The benefits of the Red 22 groupset are that it’s smooth, quiet, crisp and powerful. You can also shift up to three gears at once – which has helped me out of a few tricky situations with unforeseen steep grassy hills. Mostly though is the Yaw in the front derailleur, which on a simple level means you can cross-chain (big front cog with smallest rear or vice versa) without chain rub – meaning you genuinely have 22 gears.

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The Crux also comes fitted out with SRAM Red Hydraulic Disc Brakes – which offer powerful stopping in all conditions, including knee deep mud (I’ve tested that one).  The brakes deliberately have a large amount of movement at the lever, which eliminates the instant powerful grab which can be unnecessary at times. It hardly takes anything to move the brakes (hydraulics are such a wonderful thing) and the overall experience is very smooth. I did find a little bit of noise in the wet with the Avid rotors, but swapping these out for Shimano rotors seems to correct the issue.

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The Stan’s Ironcross ZTR wheels pictured are my day to day wheels – strong and light alloy wheels with a fantastic hub that have responded well to the battering (some might call it learning) I have given them. I’m running tubeless (no question in my opinion) on Specialized Terra CX tyres, which are more designed for mud than tarmac, but we will see how they go. The bike also comes with some phenomenal Roval Carbon Disc wheels with tubular tyres. An amazing set of wheels I will be saving for races!

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Another cool inclusion on the S-Works model is the Roubaix seatpost – which helps dampen some of the vibration, especially on cobbled or rocky surfaces. It does put the seat position back a little (check your stem to seat end measurement or get a bike fit) but I do appreciate the added comfort and curious looks from other punters. I have kept the Phenom saddle on – it’s light and comfortable enough over 3+ hours, but this is purely a personal thing.

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Finally, the carbon S-Works cranks just add to the finishing touches of the bike. Beware though, although these are tough as nails, my adventures off road on rocky singletrack have put a few scratches on these guys, which lead to me getting the little rubber caps for the ends.

The S-Works Crux is the Ferrari of Cyclocross bikes. Not only does it perform without exception, but it looks the goods. I couldn’t be happier with the upgrade from the Focus, although like I said, it is probably unfair to compare the two I was riding.

If you are looking for a CX bike for either fun, practical riding or racing, have a look at the entire Crux range at your local Specialized Dealer – such as Cyclery Northside.

Race Report: NSW Cross State Championships

I didn’t ever plan for my first Cyclocross race to be a State Championship event. In fact, I didn’t actually plan on racing in this event until only a few days beforehand. Yet, having been very keen to get involved in CX for a few months, I figured with a rare weekend free from Mountain Bike events, now was as good a time as ever to have a crack!

I’ve had my CX bike for only a few weeks, after the slightly longer than expected wait to get the new SRAM hydraulic disc brakes (which were worth the delay) fitted. In that time, I had ridden it to work a couple of times and started to develop some new technique (to be referred to as “mad skills”). After deciding I was going to race, I commenced cramming, with a handful of early morning sessions on some local singletrack, at Centennial Park and practicing my dismounts on grass.

I turned up at Newcastle on Sunday morning, nervous, excited and not knowing what to expect. After signing in, chatting to a few of the locals, I commenced doing a few gentle warm-up laps. Each time I went through the course I got a little better around the tight turns, the slippery muddy descents, the obstacles and the grassy pinches. The only time I fell was in trying to clamber through the barriers to visit the bathroom pre-race!

Lining up on the start line next to champions, ex-professionals and other hugely successful women in their respective disciplines, I felt a little out of place.  At least I wasn’t the only one in their first race – and thankfully they took a bit of extra time to run through the actual rules of this sport before we kicked off (minor details, right?!). I had concluded I was just to ride my little ass off until I was told to stop.

The hooter goes and I was off to a pretty good start down the straight. As we reached the first obstacle (a large log on the right, followed immediately by a steep grassy hill), the familiar sound of un-clipping started as the girls prepared to dismount and shoulder the bikes up the hill – with the exception of Lindsay Gorrell, who jumped it flawlessly and continued up. Looks like it might be a battle for second!

Living up to my reputation, I (of course) fell twice on the first lap, both around tight right hand corners and once straight down in front of another rider, creating an unexpected obstacle for her to navigate (which she did rather well). Finding myself back in 5th or 6th, I had to make more of an effort in staying upright if I was to move up the field.

The one thing I had going for me was endurance. I might not be the best out there technically or the fastest over short sprints, but I can put myself in the hurt locker and stay there for a pretty long time. Head down and bum up, I continued onward, with the aim of trying to catch the girl in front of me. Followed by the girl in front of her and so on.

I managed to work my way back into third at about the half way stage into the race. I remember coming into a section (with a super fun, but also super long spiral in the middle of the velodrome) and seeing local favourite Oenone Wood exit in ahead of me in second place. She was going to be too much to catch so the objective now became trying to hold on and gap the rider I had just overtaken.

We were neck and neck for a long time – it was only at the asphalt section that I managed to forge a gap through diving into the drops, dropping my gears and hammering it out of the saddle like a track racer. Not the easiest thing to do when your heart rate is already in the red, but the tactic paid off.

I eventually crossed the line in third, a fair distance behind second and first, but full of the emotions of exhilaration, surprise, jubilation and relief. Most overwhelmingly, relief. My first cross race was complete – almost an hour of my heart rate close to (or at) maximum, lactic acid wanting to explode out of my legs and my lower body covered in dirt, mud and grass stains.

Thanks to Riding Focus for the awesome photos!