The ABA cyclocross season is like a one night stand; It’s hot, sweaty, quick, awkward, bloody fun and a wicked story to tell your friends.
I suppose a few days before the Nationals in Winnipeg and with the majority of the season over; this is a good time to reflect on this year’s cyclocross season. I’m not going to regale you with my own stories of racing agony, but I’m going to try to explain the general atmosphere of the cyclocross scene. It’s just not a coalescing of roadies and mountain bikers, it is something quite unique and rather odd.
The race schedule is very short and condensed with a race on the Saturday and Sunday of every weekend starting in September and ending in November, so you get to see/race the same people within a very short period of time. It’s sort of like moving in with someone after a month of dating just because you really want to know if it’s going to work out. This is a strategy which I normally dissuade people from utilizing as I’ve tried and failed numerous times (I’m a hopeless romantic and a huge John Hughes fan). You go from, “Who the hell is that guy?” to “Hey Brad, how are your kids doing in math”, quite quickly at the start line.
After having my cross season shortened early last due to a knee injury, I was looking forward to traveling to Calgary a few times this year to make up for lost time. So between all the Edmonton and Calgary area races this year, I’ve collected some interesting observations from the cross scene.
First of all, people are here to race. Hard. Even though most people spent the summer road or mountain bike racing, this is no half exerted venture. Most people have cyclocross bikes that are, at most, 2 to 3 years old reaching into the $5000 plus range. If you have an older bike, like Ryan Hopping and his Salsa Con Crosso, you will receive constant lighthearted derision from other racers. The days of piecing together a cross bike for racing is over. If you don’t have a carbon frame, hydraulic disc brakes and carbon wheels with tubular tires, you may as well just show up on a Huffy wearing acid wash jeans. Yet, despite the haughty bike snobbery, people are genuinely encouraging and inclusive. They want you to buy a new bike because they just love cyclocross. With everyone reloaded with new bikes, the racing is intense, short, frustrating and climactic.
After race-to-race and weekend-to-weekend, you get to know or get familiar with people who frequent the races. It’s like homeroom from the beginning of the school year to the end. You get to recognize where people sit in class, who the class clown is, who the popular kids are, who the wallflowers are, etc. Because you see the same people in such a short period of time, you can’t count on small talk to get you through the day. You can’t say, “How are you doing?” or “Nice weather we’re having this fall aren’t we?” when you just saw them yesterday. Well, you can, but you would be the weirdo everyone makes fun of. You are basically forced into some kind of meaningful conversation whether you want it or not. Because of this, you actually get to know people over the course of the racing season or, in some awesome cases, you become friends. Yes, it has been reported that there is a flutter of new Facebook friending during cross season. At the beginning of the season, Shantel and I are constantly trying to remind ourselves who is who, but at the end, I’m telling those same people that we should go on an All-Inclusive Mexico vacation in March.
These same people are also usually the ones who stay after the race and help out with taking down the racecourse. We had our redbike race at the beginning of the season so when we started to take the racecourse down, it was mostly volunteers from our own club. As the season went on and people started to get to know each other, we all started becoming accustomed to helping out with the tear down. At the Pumphouse race in Calgary, I remember the horde of people who just started to help Synergy with the clean up. The kids and parents from Juventus, Marg from ERTC, Kyle from DeadGoat and others all stuck around and helped out Marcus with pulling up the stakes and collecting the tape. Even my buddies from Pedalhead supervised the clean up from their cool down routine on their trainers. It takes a village to raise a child as they say.
Now, you would think that the frequent cross racing would create animosity, enmity and segregation amongst the racers, and it kinda does, but just during the race. Once it’s over, there is this sense of admiration for the other racers because they just went through the same hell you just did. The acknowledgment of your similar achievement kind of creates a bizarre unity with racers, and with the repeated frequency of cross racing, it magnifies the phenomenon. While I’m sure some people just straight up hate me and my racing, I’d like to think the feeling is mutual. Right after the race, we all shake hands (or in some cases, uncomfortably side hug or gymnastic hug each other) and share stories of the race. It’s like the old cartoon of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. They are good buddies and punch in their timecards and then once the whistle blows, Sam proceeds to beat the shit out of Ralph. At the end of the day, they punch out and become friends again.
By the end of the cross season, you know oddities about people like: Andre likes to collect ceramic unicorns, Marcus has an amazing beard grooming routine involving a picture of Prince, Janet can do a wicked “Carlton” dance, Shantel can put 8 pickles in her mouth at one time, Stu has a tattoo of PeeWee Herman covering his back, Katie purposely unzips her jersey for a certain someone, Kyle’s nickname of “Chocolate Rocket” has nothing to do with his bike racing, Pepper’s real name is Petulia, the entire Juventus junior squad’s collective age is still less than Peter Lawrence’s and Shawn Bunnin is a foot model in Japan.
Cyclocross: Bringing strangers together to race so they can ignore each other, then eventually become friends since 1902.
submitted by: Greazybear
Living on the 53rd parallel is both a blessing and a curse for year round cyclists. On the summer solstice we are blessed with almost 17 hrs of daylight, however, on the flip side, during the winter solstice, we receive a little more than 7.5 hrs of daylight. Some of us arrive at work when it’s dark, and head home…when it’s dark!
This is where the Serfas S500 headlight is a crucial tool in my ride all year routine. With 500 lumens and a 1 hour & 45 minute run time on the highest setting, the S500 is the perfect light to get around Edmonton in the dark hours of the night, evening, or albeit, late afternoon.
Perfect for bike path commuting, snow trail shredding, and the occasional rip on buff single track, the S500 is as versatile as it is affordable. October is a prime riding month as the single track has opened up with the lack of overgrowth and the crowds are thinned - the perfect opportunity to let-er-rip! With the 150 gram S500 in your pocket, it’s easy to get out after work for a ride in the daylight, and safely make it home in the dark, whether that be on the trail, bike path, or streets.
The official burn times are as follows:
Overdrive: 1 hour and 45 minutes (500 lumens)
High: 2 hours and 30 minutes (325 lumens)
Medium: 4 hours (200 lumens)
Low: 8 hours (100 lumens)
Flashing: 4 hours and 30 minutes
I’ve used my light for over 3 seasons now, and it’s still going strong. I set it on the highest setting and leave it burn, and I’m yet to out ride it’s beam on a ride to or from work. Easy to recharge at the office or home with the USB connection, the S500 helps get you where you need to be - even when it’s dark!
While I hate reading platitudes in bike equipment reviews like, “This is a game changer” or “best (insert whatever here) ever”, this best describes how I feel about the Shimano Ultegra DI2 electronic shifting. Like most people who first heard about using batteries to run bicycle drivetrains, especially mountain bikers, I was incredulous about the benefits versus the detriments of such a system. In a traditional sense, one of the many beautiful aspects of cycling is that it is free from technological constraints, yet ironically, we yearn year to year for the newest innovations from the industry so we can ride lighter, faster and more efficient bikes. Bikes basically have looked the same for a hundred years, yet it is packed full of modern engineering and manufacturing, so when the idea of electronic drivetrains came to light, the misoneists went on a hysterical rant whilst fondling their Garmin and updating their Strava.
After having many discussions with fellow cyclists about the positives and negatives of the DI2 system, I decided that the best way to settle the dispute was for me to actually buy a bike with such a system and test it out in a single sample size experiment. While I was eager to try out the new DI2 XTR system for mountain bikes, it was unavailable at the time. But, when the opportunity for me to obtain a cyclocross bike with Ultegra DI2, hydraulic disc brakes and carbon frame and fork came up from Opus, I immediately took it. To be honest, I have been eyeing this bike all summer as I was impressed that such a well built bike was a stock option considering that Devinci and Rocky Mountain seemed to be going with a conservative build within their cross lineup.
Out of the box, the Opus Stelle 1.0 had the looks that immediately made people look for adjectives which would describe an ugly baby: Unique, interesting or whatever. Well, whatever the looks or lack there of, I was more excited about the battery, modules and robotic noises of the electronic system. All you have to do to get the system working is to plug it in just like any other computerized toy in the house via its USB connector that plugs into the module placed underneath the stem. That’s it. I started to push the buttons and the derailleurs simply started to move. I didn’t have to connect it to the computer and program it like The Matrix, although with the Shimano software, which I have not bothered to download, you can adjust all the settings your heart desires. I find that I’d rather live in ignorance and just enjoy the simple pleasures of button shifting.
The buttons corresponded exactly like the mechanical system where the right shifter controls the rear derailleur and the left controls the front, so the system was very intuitive from the start if you are familiar with the mechanical system (You can totally change the button functions if you want to, but I don’t know why) Once riding, the system was essentially fluid and precise, just like advertised. A click of whatever button you press, the system just moves the chain to where it’s supposed to go, and I know it sounds obvious, but there has been many times where I tried to shift and it didn’t do what it was suppose to do. The brilliance is in the front shifting, the bane of my existence. I hated its poor reliability and performance. I can’t tell you how many times I looked down in vain as the front derailleur refused to move that chain up or down on the desired ring. With one easy push of a button, the front derailleur moved that chain up or down with stoic authority. I would guess that the DI2 shifting will add to our need for immediate gratification, but I will not feel guilty about enjoying the expedience of bicycle shifting.
After racing half the ABA cyclocross season so far, I think I put the system through a solid enough testing session. The results have been a resounding positive experience with no dropped chains, missed shifts or even delayed shifts. I had to only charge my battery once during the 6 weeks of riding, and that includes commuting, training and racing. I haven’t found any negatives in having an electronic system so far, and I’m sure something will come up as nothing is infallible, but even so, the positives will far exceed the negatives. Bring on the wireless electronic systems and the brain chips.
submitted by: Greazypanda
Single Speed cyclocross reminds the Spot Brand folks of another balls to the wall sport born in Europe - Rally Car racing! In my opinion, the name for this bike is, pardon the pun, spot on. The geometry of this aluminum frame is super agile as it makes you wan tot throw it around and rail corners. The bike can be run with gears, but it really shines as a belt drive single speed. The belt drive works really well - especially in the shoulder season where the roads are wet and dirty as there is no need to worry about cleaning a chain after every dirty ride. The belt is silent with no degreasing or lubing required.
The surprisingly comfortable aluminum frame is very forgiving over Edmonton's rough city streets due to the gently curving seat stays and the Time Trial cutout on the seat tube provide subtle vertical compliance. Sliding rear dropouts provide enough space to tension the Gates Drive belt properly and I’m pleased to report that they actually work - meaning once you’ve tensioned the belt and tighten down the dropouts, they hold and your rear hub stays in place. This is no small feat in my opinion with my experience of other sliding drop out designs. The full carbon fork is Spot-designed with a tapered steerer for precision cornering.
The High Vis yellow with black paint scheme looks great and draws attention, which is especially good for commuting. Random people especially kids yell “nice bike” as I ride by.
If you’re looking for a great and simple bike to bomb around town and to tackle the local cyclocross series, the Rallye Spot brand is the bike for you!
Conventional wisdom would say that testing out a fractured right elbow by going resort downhilling for a week is pushing all forms of luck. Well, who has two thumbs, speaks limited French and likes to push his luck? This moi.
Every summer, my pedal adverse friends and I head off to British Columbia for some brotherly bonding and full-face helmet downhill cycling, which involves taking a chairlift up a mountain to ride the designated trails at full speed. It’s quite a production, as we have to transport 4 portly 40-year-old guys, 4 downhill bikes and “glam” camping equipment for a week. This year, we decided to head back to Silverstar in Vernon because we had such a successful trip last year, which was full of drunken moments and the most disgusting beach in the Okanogan.
Going downhilling for me is such a wonderful respite from the series of racing during the local and ABA season. This kind of cycling involves just suiting up in protective gearing, drinking Redbull and vodka, and rolling off the chairlift to just ride down the hill without having to pedal up it. It really is a breath of fresh air, figuratively and literally. The runs are marked and rated based on their difficulty just like ski runs in the winter, so there are green, blue, black diamond and double black diamond runs. In a rare occasion of common sense, we decided to start the trip by dropping into a green run called Challenger, which had numerous off-shoots of blue obstacles like log “skinnies”, drop offs and small “kickers”. It’s a great warm-up run just because it’s still an exceptionally fun ride for a green run and it’s relatively safe. Even after the first run, my hands started to cramp up and get sore from the frequent braking. It eventually gets better as the body gets used to it, but it’s also the fact that you just start ignoring the pain or you get used to releasing the grips in the middle of the runs when you can.
After the first run and feeling edgy and tentative, we started taking some of the fast and smooth blue runs, Superstar and Shazaam. These blue runs discern themselves from the green runs by adding “tabletop” jumps, which are larger jumps with a flat top before the transitions starts, and larger berm turns. These runs are perfect for practicing the air jumps that you never get whilst cross country racing, at least for me. They have little pink flags at the start of the jumps so you are prepared for them and to mitigate the odds of a surprise launch into the air.
The next run you graduate to is called Jedi Mind Trick, which is a perfect mid-sized jump run because it is full of bigger tabletop jumps with higher lips off to the side so you can take it to get more air if you choose. This is where you start getting used to the float of a properly executed jump and appreciate the collection of body armor you have on.
The second day we decided that we had the audacity to hit the dreaded black diamond runs. To get to the advanced runs, the ski hill place a small jump that floats you over a collection of rocks. This obstacle was designed to test the rider’s ability, so if you didn’t feel that you could handle this jump, you shouldn’t continue on to the runs. I really loved this idea as it quickly and easily dissuaded some riders who shouldn’t be riding such dangerous trails from trying them out. Silly enough, this is where I had my first sketchy moment as I pedaled hard into the jump to get up to speed, but I overlanded the transition and hit the front end first and swerved off the trail. After a quick recovery, I had myself a nice, “Get it together, Mark” moment under my breath. The rest of RockStar was pure bliss with nothing but big smooth berms, tabletops and dropoffs. Tim said after that run, “Now, that’s why I come all the way here for!”
Next run was WorldCup. This was the run that everyone could appreciate as it had a little bit of everything: choppy technical sections, ladder bridge drop offs, tabletop jumps, step ups, wood bridges with a steep run off and huge wood berms. I could have done this all day long without getting bored. To make this trip even more memorable, Tim and I decided rather haphazardly to take the jump off of Walk The Line, which is a double black diamond. The ramp just launched me into the air for an uncomfortably long time where I landed nose heavy and thought that I was going to crash face first. Remarkably, the lovely Rockshox Boxxer World Cup absorbed most of the force and the rear of the bike followed through beautifully. Crisis avoided. Tim and I counted our blessings and cut off early and headed to Pipe Dreams, which was a more suitable double black diamond.
By the end of the trip, our hands were sufficiently sore, blistered and cramped, Tim injured himself, Stefan blew out his $500 RockShox shock and Ashley spend $200 in new equipment and repairs; a pretty typical trip. But, I don’t think anyone of us care because we had such a brilliant time. If any of you cyclists never ventured out to try resort downhilling, you are doing yourself a major disservice, as this is such a different and unique aspect of cycling which can help you with your handling skills and remembering why you loved cycling as a child. It’s just fun jumping off of things with your bike.
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