Cyclocross season is so close, I can almost taste the mud in my teeth. This season, I’ll be sporting cool new mountain bike shoes along with matching clipless pedals. However, in honor of the beginning of cyclocross, it feels appropriate to relive the story of my first cyclocross race last December.
I think my mountain bike feels jilted. As you know, I have a sleek road bike, The Rocket. What I’ve failed to mention in previous seasons is that I have another bike. Yes, the red headed step-child of bikes. Frank the Tank. Frank is a hulking 40 something pound Giant mountain bike with a tricked out Judy fork. That’s as much as I know about bike parts, so save us both from a very boring conversation and don’t ask about components or wheel size or any of that other stuff.
The past two years I’ve been smitten with the Rocket and our long, smooth, beautiful road rides. Although I’m ashamed to admit this, whilst cycling on the Rocket, Frank sat unloved, unridden, and increasingly bitter in the garage. If you’re not a cyclist, you’re probably a bit skeptical about the fact that bikes have feelings. If you are a cyclist, then you are no doubt aware of the perils that a scorned bike can unleash.
On a Sunday in December I registered for my first cyclocross race. Cyclocross is an unforgiving combination of mountain biking, hauling your bike over barriers, and then riding some more as fast as you can over a marked course. Sometimes you even have to run and push your bike. I don’t run. Ever. But there is a small group of unbalanced people who think this is fun.
So, Frank and I started the race full of excitement. (Actually, Frank was full of vengeance, but I was not yet aware of his state of mind.) Let me just state for the record that riding Frank for the first time in 2 years in a cyclocross race was dumb. Very dumb. Frank is equipped with platform pedals, not the kind that attach to your shoes. I’ve grown quite attached to The Rocket. Literally. With shoes that clip into the pedals, I pull up on my foot and the pedal comes with me. When I push for extra power, the pedal obliges.
Not on Frank. When I pulled up on my foot, the pedal spun around and impaled my calf. Then I’d angrily slam my foot on the pedal causing the opposite pedal to spin forward and gnaw on my shin. You’d think after one or two times, I’d learn and adjust. You’d be wrong, my friend, so wrong. Most of the time I was focusing all my energy on not crashing and so I’d forget that my shoes were not attached to the pedals and I’d try in vain to harness extra power by pulling up on the pedals. Every single time those pedals would zip up and nail me in the exact same part of my legs.
Despite the increasing amounts of blood and pain in the general leg area, I was actually having fun. After completing 2 laps I was scraped, bleeding and bruised, but proud to have tried something new. (Ok, so I got lapped and most everyone did 3 laps, not a measly 2, but still.) Strangely, when I stopped riding, I found myself eager to do it again. In fact, I thought “I should go mountain biking today.” So I did.
About an hour or so after cyclocross, I thought Frank and I had made amends. We’d splashed through mud puddles, cruised over rocks, and turned my legs into hamburger. So after the race, I agreed to go on a short, “flat” 9 mile mountain bike ride with my team captains, Nick and Abby. “There’s only one hill and the rest of it’s really flat.” Nick assured me. It turns out that Nick blocks out the parts of rides he doesn’t care for. Either that or he was in on Frank’s master plan of torture.
The first half of the trail was full of steep inclines followed by way too technical descents. Basically I dragged all 40 something pounds of Frank up and down hills for four and a half punishing miles. I knew this was penance for the years of neglect. That didn’t stop me from making several demeaning remarks about Frank’s weight. He had just cause to complain about my weight, too, but Frank is a gentleman and kept his comments to himself.
After all that cajoling, grunting, sweating, pushing, and pulling Frank, I was rewarded with four and a half miles of the most beautiful singletrack I’ve laid eyes on. It was smooth with some interesting curves and just the right amount of mud puddles. It was blissful. I loved every second of it and I have a feeling that Frank and I are friends again. I hope.