Pre-Season Fitness: Cross It Up

By Thomas Cooke Nov 3, 2010
Cyclocross is a great sport to take up to carry your cycling fitness from the summer and fall into the winter.

Let's say you had your best summer of road and mountain bike riding, you are feeling like you are in great shape, and you are stoked to carry that fitness into the first ski days of the year. Then what happens? The days get shorter. It gets a little colder, and the weather can be downright nasty at times. Notwithstanding the major dumpage that we just enjoyed at the end of October in the higher elevations, most people are still not going to be on snow on a regular basis until December. So what happens to your biking legs? I suppose you could run or workout inside. I'm a firm believer in staying on the bike outside until there is enough snow to ski on. Cyclocross is a great discipline of cycling that keeps you fit through the fall, and the cyclocross scene here in Utah is rocking. The recent Halloween weekend race at Wheeler Farm was a record-breaker with over 450 participants racing throughout the day, some dressed up in some ridiculous costumes. If there was a Mardi Gras in Belgium, that's what I imagine it would be like.

So what is cyclocross? It originated in Europe as a way for pro cyclists to keep racing into the winter. The bikes look more like road bikes than mountain bikes at first glance. Take a closer look at a high-end cyclocross race rig and you'll see carbon wheels, hand made tubular tires that are painstakingly glued onto the rims, cantilever brakes that provide better braking, and more clearance in the fork and frame to allow for fatter knobby tires and mud clearance. There is an element of cyclocross that is hard to describe, easier to understand if you see it done well, and that is the dismount and remount. Cross courses usually have a few sets of forced dismounts, or barriers, where the riders have to get off the bike pick it up and hop over the obstacle and remount, all in a fluid and orchestrated manner. When you see it done poorly: yardsale. When you see it done well: gazelle. The races are short and intense; about an hour long, as hard as you can manage to go for the duration of the race. You tend to stay pretty warm when you are going that hard, so it pairs nicely with our cooler fall weather.

Even if you have never raced a bike in your life nor do you ever plan on it, cyclocross bikes also make great commuters, and are super fun to ride on dirt roads, rail trails, cinder paths, etc. This comes in handy when the higher elevation sweet single track trails start to freeze up and get muddy. The season of racing starts in September with races scheduled all the way into December. Check out the UTCX website for more info on 'cross if you are interested in seeing what it's all about, and maybe stop by and check out a race or two. Thanks to Chris See for lending the photos below for this post. When Chris is not driving snow cats or riding his bikes, he's out there documenting all the cyclocross races. You can "See" his work here:


A Ski Utah rider negotiating a sand section, typical in cyclocross.


One of the best crossers around, Bart Gillespie is also a ski touring fiend.


Not just dudes. The women's races are always hotly contested and exciting to watch.