Friday, 08 December 2017 10:41

Things To Do on a Bike: Cyclo-Cross Featured

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As a kid Saturday afternoons meant one thing. 4 O'Clock was time for the wrestling on ITV's World of Sport. Not that pumped up nonsense from across the pond, but real wrestling, fat Northern blokes bumping into each other with their massively oversized bellies. I was a Giant Haystacks fan my self, Big Daddy was too nice and urban myth had it that he had a sister in Emmerdale Farm. Rollerball Rocco? No he looked like Bobby Ball. 

So most of Saturday was spent waiting for the blokes in leotards so what to watch. Well of course BBC had Grandstand and the proper sports and the videy printer. But apart from when the 5 nations was on and Wales were getting beaten, they insisted on showing racing. So ITV it was for the charm and wit of Dickie Davies. Of course the reason ITV showed the grapplers in the first place was because they didn't have the rights to any proper sports so broadcast whatever they could. Canal vaulting was one highlight for instance. So one autumn afternoon waiting for the blokes in leotards I witnessed the madness of Cyclo-cross. Racing in a park (probably in Yorkshire) on what appeared to be road bikes I was transfixed. I even saw the riders carrying their bikes over fences and ditches. What was this insanity? It was Cyclo-Cross and I was hooked.

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This was the early eighties and on the mean streets of the east side of Swansea, road bikes weren't cool. The east side of Swansea has of course always led the way in popular culture and the bike of choice was the mighty BMX. Not the gyroscopic bar version of today, designed to be dumped on the floor outside shops, but the original type. Anyway I really liked the look of this mad form of bike racing and took out my Raleigh Burner and pretended I was doing cross.

Of course I soon moved on Europe released The Final Countdown, I grew my hair and got into metal but as I got older and got back into bikes I'd forgotten about cross. Mountain Bikes had appeared in the meantime and it wasn't until I was in a park in Belgium and after being attracted by the smell of frites and Leffe, noticed a memory from my childhood, an actual cyclo-cross race.

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Over the last few years I've watched a lot of cross on television. Top British racers such as Helen Wyman, Nikki Brammeier  and the up and coming Tom Pidcock add an element of home interest and the amazing skills of the top riders is almost balletic. Plus we all know Sagan would be pretty tidy as well. The ease at which riders dismount to shoulder the bike and jump back on within seconds is amazing. I've tried it I've still not managed it properly. Through mud, sand, snow and dropped frites. Over hurdles and ditches. Up flights of steps, grass banks, sand dunes or sometimes sheer gloop cliffs the racing is never dull but more than that it looks fun.

Last winter I went to watch the Welsh Champs and spent most of the day laughing. The large crowd congregated at technical parts of the course and encouraged the riders to be brave and bunny hop over obstacles. Well they did until a British Cycling official told them off and after that at no point was bunny hopping encouraged. Honestly I tell the truth. But I was itching to have a go. I didn't have a cross bike and no way could I demean myself by riding  a hardtail at a cross event so I'd have to wait until this season.

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Using a mixture of telling Julie I needed it as a new touring bike and commuter, big brown puppy dog eyes and empty promises of taking the bins out she let me have a new bike and I chose a Cyclo-cross bike. Note to bike makers, a gravel bike or an adventure bike and really just cyclo-cross bikes. I've managed to sort out my TUE and obtained my licence from British Cycling and it's on I've raced and it was intense, awesome and every bit as mental as I'd hoped.

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Racing cross is hard. My heart rate never dropped below 165 from start to finish. What did get dropped was me in the first 50 metres. It's fast and not once did I ever pluck up the courage to try and dismount properly. In the corners my road riding instinct took over and I went in the drops which made the bike want to dig into the mud. The lactic ladder part of the course, a steep wooden set of stairs in the trees challenged and hurt me. But by lap 2 I'd mastered a steep muddy off camber climb and got faster and faster even overtaking some (well unlapping). When I finished I was smiling.

I often say this. The point of cycling is primarily fun. Yes it keeps us fit and yes as I've written in the past it really helps with my mental state but mostly it's fun. Cyclo-cross is challenging, it's hard, it can be dangerous, it's demanding, it takes a lot of cleaning up afterwards, it's cold, it's uncomfortable but it's fun. A lot of fun that I'd recommend to anyone. Go online, find a race and unlike a lot of cycling races you can usually sign up for a day licence at the event. You'll be a race with your peers, you'll have spectators and banter. Tea will never taste so good. Go do it I promise you'll be hooked. 

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Last modified on Sunday, 10 December 2017 15:45
Stu Thomas

A former bank worker now working for a major national outdoor company Stu is an avid mountain and road cyclist and tests kit for MyOutdoors around the BreconBeacons and South Wales. As a member of South Wales Mountaineering Club stu, along with partner Julie (who also tests for us) also both climbs and walks. When not tearing up mountain bike trails Stu can be found on the road either commuting by bike or taking part in muscle draining sportives in the Peak District.

With his retail experience and insight Stu is able to help us with real time buying trends and reviews based on a wide range of kit for comparisons. Stu has also started writing for MyOutdoors Blog, first documenting his "conversion" to a road cyclist and soon to be reliving some of his recent cycle tours that have taken in both the Balkans and Estonia/Latvia. You may even be able to pick him out in photos of wild camping in Magillicuddy's Reeks on the site - Stu gets around!

Preferred activities: Hillwalking ,mountain biking, road cyclingg, climbing, skiing

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