So summer is essentially now over (despite it hitting a glorious 22c today) and the appeal of long days out doing 80-100 mile rides is starting to dwindle. Ever since I watched the highly recommend Benedict Campbell docufilm ‘For the Love of Mud’ I’ve wanted to have a go at cyclocross (CX). Cycling is a niche sport (albeit growing rapidly) and cyclocross is a niche within that niche. Neither road cycling nor mountain biking, it sits in a very appealing middle ground, combining the challenge of off road riding with the aesthetics of the road bike, that for once is aided in its appeal by the British climate.
So as someone who is fairly obsessive and with a short attention span I have tried to learn as much as I could about the sport over the summer. The highly influencial Jan Heine (of Bicycling Quarterly and Compass Cycles) I know is a huge fan of the sport and as a bit of a Jan follower I knew that it would appeal. The races themselves are short (no more than an hour), take place on short circuits usually in parks and throw in a range of surfaces, obstacles and slopes so steep and muddy that jumping off, picking up one’s bike and running with it is the only option.
I am not at that point. No way near. I don’t even have a cyclocross bike. Instead I am going to be using my trusty Condor Heritage which has enormous tyre clearance and canti brakes albeit touring geometry and weight. Sometimes I think a lot of us procrastinate using the excuse of not having the perfect gear. Bearing in mind our plans for next year I don’t want to go and blow a grand on a Cannondale CAADX (seems to be the default choice for sub £1k CX bikes). In fact all I’ve bought is some Challenge Grifo Pro tyres which I think will come in to their own when it starts to get muddy. They are light, have very supple casings (they went on to my Fulcrum Racing 3s very easily) and most importantly are Italian. This is always the most important factor in any product choice. I think the Condor looks pretty cool stripped of ‘guards and the front rack with the new tyres. (Excuse the non-driveside picture and the mismatched bidons!).
I’ve been out on it twice, the first time (Strava link) was on the original Compass Cycles 32mm road tyres and it coped pretty well in the dry, dusty conditions. The second time (Strava link) Aimee came with me and I had the Challenge CX tyres on. I can’t say I noticed much difference on the bridleways and gravel tracks (obviously on the road it was slower ) but expect them to come in to their own when it gets muddy. Both rides were great fun but made me realise I need a lot more practice to improve my bike handling skills and confidence on loose surfaces.
I hope to have a go at some local CX races in the coming months and for this to really drive my motivation and fitness over the winter ahead of what will hopefully be a very exciting year. I am also tempted to ride Wiggle’s CX Sportive ‘The Gold Rush‘ in October. Having recently completed one of their ‘epic’ sportives in the Peak District recently I was pleasantly suprised at how well organised it was and how it wasn’t full of knobheads which is why I don’t usually bother with organised rides.