How to Crash Your Bike and Look Good Doing It
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a regular column on VeloNews.com written by Team Kona professional cyclocross racer Barry Wicks.
Transitioning from my mountain bike to my cyclocross bike in the fall is an adventure in rehearsed humility. I know that buried deep within my delirious, travel-addled head sits the unique skill set required to pilot my cyclocross bike around a muddy race course at speed. Tracking down and filtering that memory is a process that can usually be sorted out during the first ’cross race of the year.
I am sure every rider has a different experience making this transition. For me, the transition goes something like this:
In the weeks leading up to the first ’cross event of the year I will open my cellar door, look at my ’cross bikes, contemplate their functionality, decide that too much work will be involved to get one up and running, and grab my road or mountain bike.
Exactly two days before the first ’cross race of the year I will panic and realize that I am about to leave town to do a ’cross race and should probably think about trying to clean the nine-month old muck from the previous winter off my bikes and try and make the brakes work properly again.
Fortunately for me I work well under pressure. I usually arrive at the starting line with a reasonably functional set of bikes and some tires that I am assuming are pretty stuck onto the rims. They were pretty well glued the last time I rode them and nothing really has changed in the months since then — right?
Adrenaline kicks in about the time the two-minutes-to-start call is sounded, and I forget all my anxieties about my bikes and get ready to just stomp on the pedals.
The first few laps go smoothly until I realize that ’cross races last an hour — that is actually quite a long time. It’s just a simple fact that I cant keep going as hard as possible if I am going to finish without imploding and looking silly. I back off slightly and choose a pace that says, “Yeah I look like I am going hard but not really that hard, but still pretty hard so don’t try to attack or pass me ‘cause it won’t work. No really, don’t attack me right now!”
At this point, a perfect storm of lactic acid, euphoria and desperation collides. I usually end up going way too fast through some slippery off-camber turn, or maybe just a simple turn that got a whole lot more difficult in my asphyxiated state. I then proceed to do a roosting power-slide off the course, through the course tape and into either a herd of heckling drunk spectators or some prickly bushes or trees. The ensuing chaos spikes my already challenged heart rate, and as I remount two thoughts spring to mind — my ’cross tires are grippy but not quite that grippy. Man those spectators were really drunk!
By the time I head into the pits for a bike that has less mud stuck into the small crevices in the shifters and maybe some knobbier tires I remember what it is like to race ’cross bikes in the mud and why it is that I love it all so much.
You see, racing my bike at high rates of speed in circles can seem pretty lame from an outside perspective, but for those of us privileged enough to just get it, it all comes together at different moments.
For me, it was the instant my head bounced off the slick ground, and I saw in slow motion the faces of the cheering, heckling fans frozen in mid-yell as they realize what just happened right in front of their very lucky eyes.