2009 Cyclocross Season
The 2009 cyclocross season is coming to a close
I’ve been racing cyclocross since mid October, picking the sport up again after 29 years away from it. I’m not sure why I’ve caught the ’cross bug so much, but it had something to do with building magnesium ’cross bikes and being jazzed about how lightweight and comfortable to ride over rough surfaces they are. I also am passionate about cross-country ski racing (mostly skating, some classic), and my fitness tends to go in the toilet when the weather and short daylight hours make road or mountain bike riding less enjoyable and more of a hassle. When the snow finally hits, I have to build fitness all over again and don’t start doing well in ski races until February. ’Cross seemed like the perfect answer, so I made myself a matching (other than the color and that one has a single chainring and the other has a double along with ’cross-top brake levers) pair of Zinn Magster ’Cross bikes and have been having a blast on them.
Other than a little bit of dabbling here and there, I haven’t done any ’cross since cyclocross Nationals in December 1980 (or was it January 1981?). I was 10th in those Nationals, despite riding a singlespeed! (I was on a singlespeed because Randy Whicker and I, both of us in the resident program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs at the time, had broken so many derailleurs that ’cross season that we couldn’t afford any more. So, just before the race, we cut our chains short and connected them straight around our inner chainring and a cog in the middle of our freewheel – the long horizontal dropouts on bikes of that era allowed us to pull the chain tight. But it’s always a poor idea to make a big change before a big race, and it was a particularly bad choice for that race, since on the day of Nationals it was hot – in the 60s or so, the course was dry and fast, and we were stuck in something like a 42 X 18 gear chasing Davis Phinney, Ron Kiefel and others we had been keeping up with in ’cross all season riding their big chainring and smallest cog.)
Now, the Wednesday Worlds ’cross ride meets at a north Boulder coffee shop every Wednesday morning from September through December. I guess it’s been going on for around 15 years, and these days, about 80 riders, including some pros, show up each week to try and pound the others into submission. I discovered with some hard Wednesday crashes (producing injuries to my left wrist and thumb and right ribs and elbow that I continue to nurse and tape up before each race), that my ’cross skills have gotten rusty. I’m still having a blast, though.
One of the things I love about ’cross is that, largely thanks to UCI restrictions on courses and bikes, the bikes are still funky. They don’t just work without a lot of futzing around, unlike today’s road bikes or disc-brake-and-tubeless-tire-equipped mountain bikes. The bikes are much lighter, and the pedals (from mountain bikes) and integrated shifters (from road bikes) are way better than the toeclips and down-tube or bar-end shifters we were using in the ’70s and early ’80s. But there’s still no getting around center-pull cantilever brakes, long since abandoned on mountain bikes, and we’re still using tubular tires, which require gluing and lots of care but also provide an enormous advantage over clinchers. I love working on bikes and particularly when it requires some imagination and creativity to make the bike perform the way you want. If you race ’cross, your bikes constantly demand this kind of attention. I have been writing about working on ’cross bikes each week on my Tech Q&A column on velonews.com; check it out at http://www.velonews.com/lennard-zinn.
I expect the Colorado State Championships tomorrow (December 5) and the Cyclo X Boulder on Sunday (December 6) to be my last races of the season. I race in the 45+ men’s division, but our Zinn Magster ’Cross frames http://zinncycles.pinnaclecart.com/index.php?p=catalog&parent=28&pg=1 have a Cross Dresser feature allowing quickly switching the road dropouts on both sides for rear-entry track dropouts so they can be converted to a singlespeed. So I may also do the singlespeed division in one of the races this weekend, just to do it!
I’m eager to get skiing more, now that the conditions at Eldora are good, but I’ve had a great time rediscovering cyclocross.