Training for Cyclocross III: Longer Intervals

On October 19, 2013 by Christian

In the first article on intervals I outlined some short, intense sprint-focused blocks aimed at preparing you for the highest-order output cyclocross has to offer.

In this one I lay out some less intense suggestions. These are geared toward training the body to go hard, but not 100%, for the full 30 to 60 minutes of race. One set in particular is aimed at simulating the efforts of different parts of a race; the other is simply aimed at pushing your threshold upward.

The race lap intervals:

Think about the first lap of a race-balls out for a minute or more, then another several minutes of easing back a notch but still being well above your 45-60 minute pace, then finally settling mercifully into that pace. Let me first give credit to Josh Thornton who suggested the structure of the first-lap effort to me earlier this year—he is a smart guy, a wicked fast racer and has some fantastic ideas about training. Anyway, each of these efforts looks much like a certain part of a common race rhythm. Note: take 10-15 minutes recovery interval between each of these.

1st lap: I call this the 1-4-4 and, again, thanks to Josh for the idea. Once you’re well warmed up, the interval begins with a minute at ~130-150% of your FTP if you train with power. If not, it is a nearly all-out effort much harder than a threshold effort. Then, you drop to 105-110% of FTP for 4 minutes—this is the VO2 level effort, or if you train by heart rate just above your normal race average. The final 4 minutes is at race pace or at your threshold. Let’s say your FTP was around 300 watts. You’d spend a minute at 390-410 watts, drop down to 315-330 for 4 minutes, then down to around 300 for the final 4 minutes. It hurts.

“Middle lap” effort or the “2-7-1”: Depending on your fitness level or the time of the season you might do one, perhaps 2 of these. First two minutes is back at your VO2 level; then 7 minutes at threshold, then a final minute back up at VO2. Note these aren’t maximal levels—again, during the middle chunk of a race this is less common. We often get into the selection group at the start, settle in there, and then things shake back up in the last 10-15 minutes.

“Last lap” or 5-5-30-30: five minutes at your threshold followed by 5 all-out 30 second efforts, each of which is followed by 30 seconds at endurance/tempo pace. At first you will likely need to drop to full recovery pace for each of those 30 second recovery periods, but ask yourself: do you have that luxury in a race? No—stay up at your tempo pace and tell your body to get with it.

More standard threshold efforts are 12-20 minutes at your functional threshold power or 60-minute/LT heart rate. The point of these steady-state efforts is simple: the threshold is the one number that is most amenable to movement by proper training, unlike your VO2 max, for example. That’s why we push and prod it so much—because with the right training you can push that number closer and closer toward your VO2 max, making it possible for you to handle a harder baseline pace during a race. And that’s the name of the game.

Sometimes I have cyclists start a hard workout with a sprint block, then do one or more of these lap efforts, and finish with a threshold effort. Others they’re just one kind in a day, depending on the kind of training block going on at the moment or what kinds of racing are coming up. The point here is that all of these efforts—and the maximal sprint ones too—have to be fit appropriately into a longer cycle, whether one week, 3-4 weeks, or even the entire CX season.

Often a cyclist with some experience is really intelligent about a training day and perhaps a training week too. Harder is to build those smaller cycles into the meso- and macro- cycles that make for a great season, and this is what I think coaches are well placed to do. I am one, but I now have first-hand experience with Drew Edsall (coachdrewedsall.com), Jeb Stewart (Endurofit) and Josh Thornton (email Josh) and would recommend any and all of them. All three of these gentlemen have tons of experience in CX and beyond and I’ll speak to their graciousness and generosity as coaches.

Last thing: if you try one or more of these workouts, let me know what you think—I am always eager to get feedback so please drop a line.

Ben
ben@legsmith.com

Training for Cyclocross II: Technical Skills

On October 7, 2013 by Christian

Ben Smith from legsmith.com has some great advice for those of you who want to go faster on your CX bike. Yes, it will also hurt. If you “enjoy” this advice, check out his website for info on becoming a Legsmith client. You can get a lot faster on your bike, (if you follow the training plan,) and you get a cool sticker!.

In the last article I introduced some CX-specific workouts aimed at building the kinds of physiological strengths one needs to last for an hour of redline effort. In this one we move to the unique technical demands of ‘cross—namely bike handling on skinny tires and on building the ability to get off and back on one’s bike smoothly and efficiently, whether over barriers or at each end of a run-up or other running section.

Bike handling

To my mind there are two things to do to maximize your technical advantage come ‘cross season. First, ride mountain bikes on the most technical terrain you can find. Yes, the suspension is a luxury you won’t have later, and yes, the tires are fatter and grippier, but getting used to riding fast on your limit in the most technical stuff you can find can only be a good thing. The truth, too, is that if you race mountain bikes here in Florida our seasons overlap quite a bit. The Florida State Championship Series begins September 14 and ends December 8. The Florida Cyclocross series begins October 12 and ends January 18. In short, between early October and mid-December you could be trading bikes every weekend. I am.

The other thing is to ride your CX bike over much the same terrain on which you ride the mountain bike. You’ll be going slower, and you’ll have to pick your way through sections you can blast on fatter tires, yes. But mixing up lengthy endurance rides on the CX bike to include pavement, dirt roads if available, and single track too is a great way to build your comfort level on dicey terrain. Also great is to put together a CX circuit close to home—at a park for example—and include some hard corners, sand, gravel, mud if possible, etc. The more you hit this stuff in practice the more familiar it will feel come race day.

Barriers and running sections

A smooth transition racer can gain 3-5 seconds every time he or she dismounts and remounts. On the state championship course in Dade City, that means 9-15 seconds every lap that your opponents either lose or have to close by brute force. Ditto in reverse: even in a 30-minute race that amounts to a full minute or more just from the transitions. If you’re good with giving that much time up you may as well just wait a minute or so once the race starts, give the competition a nice big head start and then get going. Not how I roll.

So, how to get better through barriers. First, here are three very basic tips to drum into your sub-conscious and use as a transition mantra during races. “Start early. Be smooth. Step, don’t jump, back on.”

Start early. Just about everyone has barreled into a set of barriers and started the dismount too late (cue Tim Hayes video clip here). Better nearly all the time is to click out on the right side good and early, coast in without losing too much speed, and give yourself plenty of time and room to click out on the left. You get an extra couple of seconds’ recovery time and you won’t be hurrying through what should be a smooth procession. If you dismount on the drive side you’re beyond help (cue Tim Hayes public shaming here).

Be smooth. Practice without barriers to get used to clicking out on the right, swinging that right leg over, clicking out on the left, running (not jumping; run, don’t bounce over barriers) and lifting your bike just as much as is needed to clear the barriers. Yes, I know Jason and JP like to see if they can get their saddles high enough to clear the snow line; even Bart Wellens has tried that. I think it is a waste of energy. Don’t contribute to entropy in the universe; keep your bike as low as feasible.

Step, don’t jump, back on. Once you’ve cleared the barriers you’re getting back on. First rule: don’t try to jump up too high. Your saddle isn’t that high up; again, you want to slide right back on, not crash down from on high and smash something. On that note: that meaty part of your right inner thigh about 5 inches down? That’s your landing sweet spot, trust me. If you’ve learned to land on your rear end it’s a matter of time before you crunch your boys… or girl parts (I am told). Learn the inner thigh landing, starting anew at low speed if you need to. Land there, slide onto the saddle and reach for the right pedal with your right foot. It ought to be right there where you left it.

It would behoove you, or you and a group of friends, to build some barriers. Here are some directions for building them out of PVC pipe for very little money—less than half an entry fee.

http://www.cxmagazine.com/newbie-news-building-barriers

A CX newcomer last fall asked me how to get ready for races. I told him 50 dismounts and remounts 3 times a week. I don’t think he liked that answer, but the truth is that repetition is the key. I surprised myself by pulling some pretty smooth remounts in early 2011. I hadn’t done it in 15 years, but back then a group of 15-20 of us used to meet every Tuesday and Thursday evening for CX practice at the Marymoor Velodrome (now site of StarCrossed). We did drills for 45 minutes, and must each have gotten off and back on a couple of hundred times.

I suggest doing these drills, at first anyway, while you’re fresh—recovery rides are good for this. Of course, we don’t have the luxury of hitting transitions fully rested in races so at some point we need to pair anaerobic max efforts with the technical stuff. We can talk about that another time. In the next article I’ll outline some mix-it-up intervals that try to simulate race laps during various parts of a CX race.

Training for cyclocross.

On September 30, 2013 by Christian

Ben Smith from legsmith.com has some great advice for those of you who want to go faster on your CX bike. Yes, it will also hurt. If you “enjoy” this workout, check out his website for info on becoming a Legsmith client. You can get a lot faster on your bike, (if you follow the training plan,) and you get a cool sticker!.

Training for cyclocross.

Cyclocross is a strange mish-mash of needs. On one hand, you need to be able to handle your bike at speed, on skinny tires with only some bite, over often technical terrain, and you need to do it with your heart in the back of your throat and with little or no feeling in your arms. On the other, the intensity of cyclocross is more like a criterium with no drafting than like an XC mountain bike race (although here in Florida the windy single track we race on, with a constant punch-coast-punch-coast rhythm is often similar). As a result, two things are priorities in ‘cross:

being able to sprint, over and over, for the duration of the race, with minimal or no recovery. She who sprints most, hardest, wins; and
being able to carry speed and momentum through corners, through sand, and through transitions (dismounting and remounting over barriers and running sections).

That in mind, here are some training segments to work into a weekly schedule. These are useful because they can fit into just about any allotment of weekly training time, whether 6 or 17 hours. I suggest doing the sprint workouts early in the week, either Tuesday if Monday easy day has got you fresh enough, or Wednesday if you need to go easy on Tuesday as well after a hard weekend of racing.

Some sprint block variants:

8 all-out sprints of 20 seconds each, with each followed by just 10 seconds of recovery. This means a 4-minute block of mostly all-out sprinting. Yes, it will be painful and if you’re normal and doing it right by 2 ½ or 3 minutes in your arms will start to feel numb and tingly. If that happens now you know how I feel the last 15-30 minutes of most CX races. Make sure that, whatever you do after this, you take a 15-minute recovery period of easy spinning first.
15 all-out sprints of 10 seconds each, followed by 1:50 recovery/endurance pace. These don’t kill you the way the 8×20 will—but they are intense and with adequate time in between you can build a lot of them into a workout. Again, follow with 15 minutes recovery.
10-12 all-out 30-second efforts with 4:30 recovery. These employ mostly naturally produced creatine phosphate as fuel, and the long recovery time allows your body to replenish those stores.
5 minute block of race pace riding (threshold) followed by 5 30 second all-out efforts, each of which is followed by 30 seconds endurance or recovery pace. Do this one near the end of a hard workout to simulate a last lap situation.

So here are some starters. If one of these is all you can handle at first, fine. Do it and try two blocks the following week. In future articles, we’ll talk about threshold-sprint combo workouts as well as ones to focus on bike handling skills.

Cyclocross in Florida?

On September 28, 2013 by Christian

We’re lucky to have retained the services of Ben Smith PHD of legsmith.com to provide us with some free speed for our best cyclocross season yet. Please, allow Ben to introduce himself.

Ben’s first column will run Monday, please check back then!

Cyclocross in Florida?

I moved from Seattle to Gainesvillle in 2001, five years after I hung up my cleats and retired from competitive cycling. Between 1996 and 2011 the most impressive thing I did on a bike was to ride a Wal-Mart beach cruiser a mile between home and work no-handed, suit jacket and teaching stuff crammed into my messenger bag while putting in cuff links.

In January 2011 my daughter and I were browsing content on Netflix. She randomly clicked on “The 9 Ball Diaries,” a documentary about Tim Johnson’s 2007 race season. Knowing I’d done some bike racing she asked to watch it. She asked if I knew TJ and I replied that my last CX nationals in 1995—in Leicester, MA under more than a foot of snow—was his first national championship.

Then serendipity happened. Out of the blue I received an honorarium check from an Ivy League school where I’d given a lecture 7 years prior—believe it or not they’d forgotten to pay up and I’d forgotten to follow up. On impulse I got on Ebay and blew the whole honorarium on a lightly used CX bike. It arrived a few days later, I started riding it on the miles of in-town trail in Gainesville, and two weeks later decided I might try racing again.

2 seasons, 2 teams, two cycling disciplines (CX/XC) several bikes later here I am. Fitter and healthier than I have been since I was 25, having more fun in life and now able to ride in the woods with my kids, and giving coaching a go. In the next few months I’ll be contributing some articles to flcx.org on training, cyclocross skills, fitting serious training into real life, and if you’re fortunate perhaps cooking.

Ben Smith| legsmith.com

How Do I Do The Cyclocross? (part 5 of a series)

On September 14, 2013 by Christian

Surviving your first CX Race

You’ve been training, and you think you’re finally ready to pin a number on and show the world you’re a CX superstar! You might be, I haven’t seen you ride. Here’s some things you should bring with you to make your day go easier, and some things to remember once you get there.

I have used masculine pronouns throughout this piece, but most of them can be replaced with feminine with no loss of meaning, other than the stuff that dudes exclusively do, like murder themselves for the hole shot and whine about coming in 33rd vs. 34th place. I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

You will be stressed out on race day. There’s always a million things to remember to bring, it’s always ten minutes further away than the directions say it is, and so you’ll probably be running late. Hopefully this list will help make it go a little smoother.

First of all, figure out how long it’s going to take to get to the race. You want to arrive at the race AT LEAST one full hour before your race starts. Ninety minutes is even better if you are a person with friends who like to say hi to you, and you need to have a pre-race poop, and you like to get warmed up before you turn yourself inside out. (You probably do need that pre-race poop.) You should eat some complex carbs a couple of hours before your race starts, so figure out if you’re going to be driving while you do this. Don’t wait until race day morning to figure this out, you have enough stuff to stress out about then as it is.

The Night Before:

Pack Your Race Bag. If you already have a USA Cycling license, make sure it’s in your wallet. You should designate a medium sized bag to be your race bag that travels with you to every bike race you do. You should put your cycling shoes in the bag first, so you don’t forget them. Don’t be the guy (TIM HAYES) who shows up to a race with no shoes. You should then put your helmet in the bag. Then put the rest of the crap you’ll need to wear in there: skinsuit, (or jersey and shorts), base layer, cycling socks, arm/knee/leg warmers, riding glasses, Heart Rate Monitor Strap, Garmin/cyclocomputer. Chamois cream and sunscreen and embrocation and bug spray. Throw some chain lube and a bicycle multi-tool or some allen keys in there, in case you need to make a last minute adjustment. It’s not a bad idea to put a simple first aid kit in there- some gauze pads, some bandaids and a little hydrogen peroxide, or just go buy a $10 first aid kit and be done with it. A handful of safety pins (to pin on numbers) are not a bad thing to bring with you, in case the race promoter runs out before you pick up your number. Also throw a beach towel in there, both for changing into and out of cycling clothes and for cleaning up post race. If the weather is wet, you should bring two or three towels, and a garbage bag or two, for wet/dirty clothes.

You should pack this bag the night before to save your legs from tearing ass from your bedroom back to the garage to the kitchen and back to the bedroom 23 times on race morning.

If you plan to bring spare wheels to the race, it’s a great idea to label them. Use a sharpy and some 3×5 cards. Write your name and your club name and your phone number on the cards, and scotch tape the cards to the spokes, or somehow secure the cards to the wheels. However you do it, make it so the cards can be removed easily should you need a wheel change, but not so easily that the cards will fall out and blow away.

Got everything? Go to bed. Sleep the sleep of the well-prepared.

Ok, it’s Race Day Morning! Are you ready for this?

Hydration Get a cooler. Bring at least 4 full bike bottles of water. The warmer the temperatures, the more water you should bring. Bring any drink mix and/or soda and/or Red Bull that you like. I’ve found that the warmer it is, the less I like drink mixes. This is a personal thing you should probably have figured out for yourself by this point of your cycling career. It’s a good idea to bring a gallon of water with you as well, both for hydration and post race clean up. If you are over 21, you might want to bring some adult beverages with you. You should be discreet with these beverages, some venues do not allow them. Definitely do not walk up to a USA Cycling official and offer them one during the event. Wait till the end of the day for that. If you think the promoter of the race put on a great race, a cold adult beverage or six at the end of the day is a great way to show your appreciation. Be mature, be responsible, don’t be drunk if you have to drive. End of speech.

Food If you will still be driving when you get to the two hours before race time, you’ll need to prepare and pack that up, or pick it up along the way. A bagel, an egg sandwich, a bowl of oatmeal, a peanut butter sandwich, whatever you like best for your two hour meal.

Personally, I’m a fan of sugar immediately before my races- Gu, Clif Blocks, Hammer Gels, Sports Beans. Whatever. Other people like PowerBars and Clif Bars, and still other people like fruit or sandwiches. So bring whatever you’re going to eat right before your race. Remember, you will probably have some nerves, so whatever you eat should be easy on your stomach. This is something you’re going to eat right before your event starts for quick energy, so err on the side of simplicity here. Gels drop 100 calories into your system very quickly- they work.

You should also have some post race food, preferably with some protein. A sandwich is perfect. So make your favourite, and throw it in the cooler. Or a salad. Or some leftover pasta. Whatever you want, but you should probably eat something once you finish racing.

Packing the car

Put your bike in/on your car. Put the cooler and the race bag in the car. Double check that you have your helmet and shoes. Throw some lawn chairs in the car. Put your spare wheels in the car, and a spare tube, too, if you’re riding clinchers. Your bicycle floor pump and a digital pressure gauge will help you a lot. Got a cowbell? Bring it. Going to a cross race is more than just doing your event and packing up and heading home. Stick around, make some friends, cheer for your new friends, enjoy yourself. Got room in the car for an ez-up tent? Throw it in there. Shade is good. Did you remember bugspray and sunscreen? Great.

Drive to the race. You should be drinking water in the car, not just coffee. Hydrating is important.

Once you get to the race
Park with the rest of the people with bikes on their cars. If you arrive at a park and don’t see cars with bikes and a bunch of plastic course tape festooned all over the place, you’re at the wrong park, and you need to consult the GPS again. I’ve done this. More than once. It’s a terrible feeling. You’ll probably yell at your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/kids if/when it happens. I did. I had to apologize later. A lot. Don’t do this.

Ok, so you’re parked. First things first, either find the bathroom, or find registration, whichever seems most important to you at the time. At registration, ask them what side your numbers will be pinned on. If you don’t know how to pin on a number correctly, please read and memorize this. Go ahead, read it, we’ll wait.

Do NOT pin your number on the middle front or the middle back of your jersey at any FLCX race. Ever. Once you’ve picked up your number, and destroyed a portapotty with your nervous poops (EVERYBODY POOPS!) head back to the car. Once there, pin your number, or let your significant other do it for you. Take your bike out/off of the car, and make sure the tire pressure is where you like it to be. Make sure your spare wheels have slightly higher air pressure in them. The reason for this is in case you pinch flat the race wheel, the replacement wheel shouldn’t suffer the same fate. Change into your kit. Take your wheels over to the wheel pit. It should now be about 50 minutes until your race is scheduled to start.

Pre-ride the course. If there is a race going on, do everything in your power not to get into a racer’s way. If one comes up behind you, move to the side, slow down, and be predictable so they can pass you without slowing down. Equally important, do not ride past the start/finish line, you’ll screw up the timing people and officials, and probably get yelled at. Your first pre-ride lap around the course should be a slow pace, so you can note the best line through corners and around/over obstacles. If a section looks especially tricky, stop and watch how a few other riders navigate it, or ask someone else how they got over/through/around it. Your second pre-ride lap should be a little faster. If time and course traffic will allow a third lap, go for it, again, a little faster. You should have worked up a pretty good sweat by now. Head back to your car, and drink some more water. Try doing a 2-5 short sprints, just maybe 10 seconds worth of all out effort, either on pavement or on some flat, vacant grass. Don’t sprint into anyone. You don’t want to exhaust yourself, you just want to prepare your body for the coming race effort. Do as much as feels comfortable to you.

It should now be about 15 minutes until your race starts. You should eat a gel now, and wash it down with plenty of water. You should have a full bottle of water in your bottle cage, if you’re using one. At 10 minutes til race start, you should head over to staging. Staging is a corral where you wait for the officials to start your race. Ideally, you should get there earlier rather than later, so you’re closer to the front, and have less traffic in front of you at the start, particularly if you have designs on winning. The officials will call everyone into the corral, there will be some nervous dick jokes, and a few guys will complain about how bad they feel, and how sore their legs are. Almost invariably, the guy who complains the loudest will be the fastest guy in the race, unless it’s me complaining, in which case you should believe me, because I REALLY WILL GO SLOW.

Finally, the official will call all riders in your race to the line. Some races have Call-Ups, where certain riders, usually the guys who are leading the rankings or points standings, are called out of the bunch to start on the front line(s). If they didn’t do call-ups, then it’s pretty much a free-for-all as to who gets to be on the front line. If you can be on the front line, and you’re confident you can get off the line quickly so you don’t get swarmed immediately, then get up there. If you’re not confident, start towards the back.

Finally, they will say “GO” and start the race. Here’s what you’ve been waiting for. Most courses start with a long straightaway, or at least a gentle curve, that leads into a tight turn, a hole in a fence, or a section of trail thru some woods. This is referred to as the holeshot, and the guy who gets there first is the one who “won the holeshot.” This is terribly important to the guy who won the holeshot. Sometimes, he will even win a prize, but not very often. Usually, he just gets to brag to all his buddies about it. Sometimes, that’s the last time you’ll see that guy, too- he’ll just keep going and win the race.

Bike racing, and indeed all forms of human powered racing, is in large part about pain management. How hard you can push yourself, and indeed, how much pain you can endure, will ultimately determine your result. If this is your first bike race, then you should go into it with the mindset of “I just want to finish” because you’re probably going to go out too hard and fast at the start and then want to die, only to find out there’s still 20 minutes to race. You’ll do this because you don’t know any better. THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL, EVERYONE DOES THIS. Just as with time trialing, the best plan is to go as hard as you can for as long as you can, and then back it off a couple notches until the finish. Maybe as long as you can is only the length of the holeshot, and maybe it’s two laps. You just have to find a manageable level of pain that you can hold onto for the duration of the race.

This is how you learn how much you can take. This is the amazing part of Cyclocross. Because most of the time, for most people, all of the pain, the lactic acid, the gasping for air, the sweat in the eyes, the thrill of hitting 19mph on the downhill after churning through thick grass at 8mph, of staying ahead of the rider behind you, or catching the one ahead of you, all of these things coalesce into the most delicious cocktail you’ve ever sipped. Or slurped. Or gulped. I don’t judge. And the best thing about that cocktail is that it’s different every race, and the more times you try it, the better it gets. And it doesn’t hurt your liver, unless you take too many Handups…

Handups are prizes or gifts handed to racers by spectators. They are technically illegal, but it’s hard to control spectators on some sections of the course (wink wink, nudge nudge). Handups can be almost anything, but are usually dollar bills or food items that will probably make you puke while exercising, such as bacon or cookies or doughnuts or bacon doughnuts or even beer. You don’t have to take these handups, but you will earn fans quickly if you do. I even won a trophy at Swamp Cross last year for taking the most vegan ginger cookie handups. Obviously, I have lots of fans.

Speaking of fans, we should also discuss Heckling. Heckling is a tradition in Cross. Heckling should be good-natured razzing. As a racer, you should be concentrating on your race, but sometimes someone says something so funny that you have to acknowledge it. Do so- tell them “good one!” or even just laugh. It’s ok. Most spectators will be supportive and cheer for you, whether you’re in first or fiftieth place. This is another reason that Cross is awesome.

After your race, you should rehydrate, because you probably didn’t have time to drink during the race. So drink at least a water bottle’s worth before you crack open that well-earned frosty adult beverage. Ride around a little bit. Get your wheels out of the wheel pit. Then get cleaned up, changed, and cheer on the next race. Eat your post race meal. Once the day’s races are over, pack up the car, and that’s pretty much everything I can think of to tell you about your first CX race.

How Do I Do The Cyclocross? (Part 4 in a series)

On September 11, 2013 by Christian

Tires and Tire Pressure

Dave Severn sort of stole my thunder on this topic by asking the question on Facebook, but this is one of the best topics in all of CX to completely nerd out about. There’s a so many types of tires and opinions on what works best. Remember, what works for one rider might very well not work out as well for you. If you have OCD tendencies, this is the CX topic for you to obsess over.

There are three different types of rims and tires used in Cyclocross.

Standard Clinchers are a standard tire with an inner tube and a hook and bead. They are the most common, the easiest to fix should a flat occur, and they have the most options as far as tires go. They are also heavier, have higher rolling resistance, (due to the tire and tube being seperate pieces) and must be run at a higher tire pressure to avoid pinch flatting. The advantage to clinchers is that you only need one (ideally two, so you have spare wheels in case you flat mid-race) wheelsets, and you can switch tires easily for different racing conditions. Plus they can be the cheapest option.

Tubular Tires have a built-in innertube, and are attached to the rim with tubular glue, in a process that is best left to people who have glued tires to rims before. This makes them super complicated to replace should you flat them. They are also the most expensive option. The good news is that it’s more difficult to flat them, because of the different rim shape. You can bottom out a tubular tire and rim, that is, feel the rim itself contact the ground when you hit a bump, and suffer no ill effects, an event that is usually fatal to the tube in a clincher tire. This means you can run Tubulars at insanely tire low pressures, which gives you more traction, as the tire will conform to the ground rather than bounce around. This also works as additional shock absorption. Plus, you can put Stan’s tire sealant in them, both as a prophylactic measure, as well as to seal a small hole after a flat. Plus, tubular rims and tires are lighter than clincher rims, tires, and tubes. Plus, all the Pros use them. But, if you want to have options as to what tread you want to run, you’re going to need to buy more wheels- it’s basically a process that takes a day to properly glue a tire onto a rim. (You don’t have to work on it for the entire day, smart apples, you just have to apply glue to it for a few minutes, let it dry for a few hours, repeat, install tire, let the glue dry.)

Tubeless Tires are tires that don’t use an innertube, as the name would suggest. For best results, you should use them with a rim and tire that are both designed specifically for tubeless, although you can make most rims and tires into a tubeless system. The tubeless system relies on a special valve and rim strip as well as sealant inside the tire to seal the gaps and pinpricks, so there is a measure of flat prevention built into the system. Tubeless MTB tires are pretty much universally used by most riders who race MTB or just go fast, but the narrower CX versions by and large haven’t worked as well, despite what the manufacturers of tubeless tires and rims will tell you. It’s not difficult to find stories of rider’s suffering from the dreaded burp (when a tubeless tire suddenly loses a little air.) While you can run lower tire pressures than you can with clinchers, they are still higher pressure than you can with tubulars, and the chance for race-ending losses of pressure makes the tubeless option a risky choice.

I’m by far not the only person that feels that if you’re even remotely serious about CX, tubulars are the only way to go. The ability to run super low air pressure is a massive increase in performance for your bicycle. A tire at 24psi that will not pinch flat is going to corner, brake, accelerate, and climb better than a tire at 40 or 45 psi that potentially could pinch flat. If you’re skinny, you can run even lower pressures, so you have even more traction.

Last season was my first on tubulars, and there is a bit of a learning curve with them. You should train as well as race on tubulars, so that you get used to how they perform- they are that different. By training on them as well, you can dial in your ideal tire pressures in situations that aren’t a race, and won’t cost you an entry fee by guessing too high or low on your tire pressure. However, they do require more TLC than clinchers, and they are more fragile. You can cut the sidewall on rocks, for instance. Most CX courses in Florida don’t have a lot of rocks, but there are notable exceptions to this- Picnic Island in Tampa for one.

If this is your first season racing CX, you should go with clinchers. I recommend having two sets of wheels at your disposal on race day, so you don’t end up watching your race should you flat. One set should have a Grifo type intermediate tread, and the other is up to you. Personally, I like the speed of a Grifo XS type file tread, particularly on the rear wheel. You might not like the compromise of having relatively little traction, in which case, a set of wet treads is great for your spare set of wheels. Mix and match, trade with your friends, find out what you like best. Personally, I am probably going to race this most of the races this season with a Grifo (intermediate tread) front tire and a Grifo XS (file tread) rear.

What tire pressure you run is based on how much you and your bike weigh, and how you ride your bike. There are 140 pound guys like Jason Guillen who ride like they weigh 180, and there are 220 pound guys who ride like they weigh 160lbs. Obviously there are also 220 pound guys who ride like they weigh 320, too. Basically, for clinchers, you should start at about 40psi front/45psi rear and roll around your practice area a little bit. If you’re bouncing all over the place, take out a little air. If you’re feeling like the rim is going to bottom out, add more pressure. You might want to invest in a digital tire pressure gauge, they are surprisingly inexpensive. You basically want to get the tires hard enough that you don’t pinch flat, but soft enough that you don’t lose any fillings from all the bumps and ruts. What makes the tire pressure question even more complicated is that the perfect pressure changes every week. Temperature, course style, and precipitation are all a factor. You’d want a softer pressure for a course like 2012 Tampa Riverfront, that was all grass and turns, than you would for a course like 2012 Melbourne Day 1, with its long straightaways on smooth dirt roads.

File Treads

image from Embrocation
Pro:
  • roll fastest on pavement and hard pack
  • great in dry sand (and snow!)
  • decent traction in dry grass

Con:

  • not great in wet grass
  • bad in mud
  • not for the inexperienced cyclist

Intermediate Treads

image from Embrocation
Pro:
  • You must have a tire of this type
  • good if not excellent in most conditions
  • perfect traction in dry grass
  • good traction in wet grass

Con:

  • rolls slower and wears faster on pavement

Wet Treads

image from CX Magazine
Pro:
  • more aggressive tread = more traction
  • great in wet grass and some mud (and snow!)
  • still provides great (too much?) traction in dry grass

Con:

  • most rolling resistance
  • will wear out if used on road

There are also true mud tires, but I’m not going to discuss them here because you don’t really need them here in Florida. We simply don’t have that much mud. Yes, we have a couple of courses that have one or two mud sections on them, but not enough that the heavier, slower mud tires would help you.

There are obviously many more tire brands than Challenge. Some other tires that are popular in FLCX are Clement (clinchers and tubulars), Michelin (clinchers), Schwalbe (clinchers and tubulars) and Vitoria (clinchers and tubulars). There are also FMB and Dugast hand made tubulars, if you’re feeling really fancy.

How Do I Do The Cyclocross? (Part 3 in a series)

On August 24, 2013 by Christian

Clipless Pedals. Hopefully you already use them in some form on your road bike. They make everything better. I’m not going to teach you how to use them here, but I will compare and contrast some arguements for the three main options that were brought up in the Facebook post about pedals, which was started by Carlos Iglesias.

The bottom line is, you want a pedal that’s easy for you to clip in and out of, that won’t break halfway through a race, and won’t fill up with mud, dirt, and grass. We don’t have snow and ice to worry about here, but if we did that might be a consideration as well. Because of the frequency of clipping out and in, you should be familiar enough with your pedals that you don’t really have to think about the process as it happens, so if you’re not, start practicing now.

If you are brand spanking new to CX, and you don’t use clipless pedals, you certainly can use flat pedals, although it would scare me to death to do so personally. Toe Clips and Straps will work as well, but really, honestly, clipless pedals are so much easier and connect your to the bike so much better and you can get into and out of them so much easier that, really, just get the shoes and pedals and figure out how to work them and move on with your life.

 

Crank Brothers Egg Beaters
Time ATAC
Shimano SPD

All three brands have cheap, heavy models, and expensive, light models. Personally, I’ve used Shimano SPD’s and Time ATACs and I prefer the Time. I like the “float” and the mud shedding characteristics. You might like less float, or no float. If that’s the case, Shimano is probably a better choice for you.

Directly from the thread:

Timothy Reese From my mtn biking experience with Eggbeaters, they are extremely easy to bail out of. It depends if you like that or not I suppose.

Jason Guillen SPD’s despite [the fact that] they will get more mud in the cleat, I tried eggbeaters and I couldn’t hit my pedals at all. I don’t like the float on eggbeaters and I pull up on my pedals a lot apparently because I kept ripping my feet out of them the few times I’ve ridden on them. SPD’s I can tighten down to the point my feet have zero float which is my preference on road and offroad.

Kurt Leverett Whatever you can clip into fast and every time. Lots of on and off the bike so you don’t want waste time “trying to get clipped in. My fav[e] was Time – they had a platform and did not clog up with mud.

Ryan Fisher I’ve been on eggbeaters for ever and they’re mostly fine. Performance-wise it’s prob[ably] a wash. I think crank bros had some QC issues for a while and people had pedals pulling of spindles and such. I never really had that problem but heard of it from several others.

Some yahoo named Tim Hayes THE ONLY PEDAL FOR CYCLOCROSS IS TIME ATAC.

SPD tend to lose tension rather quickly and eggbeaters break a lot more than anyone else. In all seriousness, take a look at Time pedals.

Rich Dybdahl I had an Eggbeater break on me at Swamp Cross 2011. Finished the race one legged. I love my Time pedals but they are heavy so I still race [Eggbeater] Candy pedals. Might try SPD this year if Jason says they are good.

From this point the facebook thread starts repeating opinions already expressed and then devolves into the usual hijinks, but this should give you some ideas as far as the three major brands. But what about cheap Wellgo or Nashbar or Performance branded SPD clone pedals, you might be asking. As with any other component on your bike, you generally get what you pay for. Yes, there are other pedals out there, and they may be cheaper, and they might work perfectly well. Then again, they might not.

Shoes are another important factor to consider, as they connect to the pedals. All of the pedals you should be considering use the standard two bolt mounting system on the sole of the shoe. Less expensive shoes are going to be heavier and more flexible than more expensive ones. You want a little bit of flex in the shoe, for the little bit of running we do, and it’s not a bad idea to have the ability to screw soccer style cleats into the toe of the shoe, either. Toe cleats provide additional traction when you’re running in loose dirt and mud. I used them in Clermont, and didn’t slip once on the run up. Popular brands include Specialized, Mavic, Shimano, and Sidi, but there’s plenty of decent CX shoes that I haven’t mentioned. Go visit your local shop and check out what they offer and recommend.

How Do I Do The Cyclocross? (part 2 of a series)

On August 24, 2013 by Christian

It probably would have made more sense to run today’s article yesterday, because today’s article is about setting up your first Cyclocross bike, and obviously you need a bike before you can start riding through the grass with it. But life is full of things that don’t always make sense, so here’s the FLCX guide to setting up your first CX Bike.

Let me get this out of the way immediately. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY ON A BIKE. Go ahead and read that sentence again, a few times, if need be. Spending $1000 or more to try out a sport you might not enjoy is silly. So don’t do it.

You can, and many people have in the past, put together a bike that they rescued from a dumpster, and had a great time learning to ride CX on it. The best thing about CX in the beginner categories (4/5) is that you can ride any bike with any tire on it. You can ride a hybrid/fitness bike with flat bars. You can ride a fifteen year old Specialized 26″ wheeled hard-tail mountain bike with a Rock Shok on it. You can even ride your road bike with road slicks, if you’re really feeling masochistic, and you’re supremely confident in your bike handling skills, and the course is dry and free of mud. You can ride a fat bike with 3 inch tires- you’ll be a hero and everyone will cheer for you! You can even buy a used CX bike (although right now is the worst time to buy one, because everyone is trying to buy a used CX bike, and you know how capitalism works.) One thing to remember: a single speed CX bike is the cheapest option of all, and shouldn’t be ignored. They’re fun, and usually just about as fast as a geared bike, at least under the right person. Plus you can race the party race.

The bottom line is, all you need is a bike that fits you that can handle riding on grass, dirt, and sand, and doesn’t weigh a billion pounds. Many older steel framed road bikes, particularly those that were intended for touring, will work. Touring bikes have the advantage of cantilever brake studs being welded on the frame already, giving you more clearance for tires and mud than the caliper brakes on road bikes. Virtually all hybrid/fitness bikes also have cantilever brakes, making them ideal for conversions as well. V-Style brakes will work just as well, if not even better, than cantilever brakes, but don’t offer as much mud clearance. Obviously, disc brakes will work just fine, but they probably will not be found on your average $150 Craigslist special.

To make sure your CX bike fits you properly, there’s a vast amount of advice out on the internets, but as a general rule of thumb, you want a bike with a top tube that’s a little shorter (and a little lower) than the top tube on your road bike, and a stem that’s a little shorter too. You want the brake hoods to be higher, because that’s where your hands are going to be for 95% of the race. Watch this if you won’t take my word for it, it’s @resultsboy’s girlfriend last fall in Providence.

Or just watch it cause it’s NECX and it’s rad. Whatever makes you happy.

TIRES

If you’re on a 29er or a 700c bike, there’s a world of CX tires out there. As with road tires, the more you spend, the higher quality and lighter they are. You’re probably going to start off on clinchers, and that’s fine to start with if you’re not certain that CX is something you’re destined to do for a lifetime- tubular tires are certainly better, but are also more expensive and more complicated to repair if a flat occurs. There are three basic types of tires- Mud tires, with the largest knobs, Intermediate or All-Around tires, and file treads. You should probably start off with the Intermediate or All Around type of tire, as it works the best in a wide variety of conditions.

If you’re on a 26″ wheeled bike, you can certainly ride whatever MTB tires came with the bike, but it will lighten the bike up if you switch to a narrower knobby tire.

BRAKES

Cantilever Brakes have been traditionally used on CX bikes for years because they provide more clearance for mud. They come in a variety of shapes and none of them will stop you like your road bike’s brake do. This shouldn’t alarm you, because you don’t want to come to a shuddering stop at anytime while racing, you just want to slow down enough to navigate around the corners.

V-Brakes are a lot more powerful than Canti’s, but have a lot less mud clearance. Since we don’t have a lot of mud in FLCX, many riders down here swear by them.

Disc Brakes are usually found on Mountain Bikes, and if your bike already has them, you’re stuck with them. They are being forced into CX by the bike manufacturers, so you’ll be seeing more and more of them. They work very well.

HANDLEBARS

If your bike started with flat or riser MTB handlebars, you’re probably best off leaving those in place. If it came with bar ends, you will have to remove them to race. If it came with drop bars, you will want them to be the same width as the bars on your road bike. You’ll want to mount the brake levers a little higher than you have them on your road bike. Hopefully, the bike has shifters integrated into the brakes (brifters), if not, your life is a little more complicated, since you have to take your hand off the bars to shift. It’s 2013, most bikes have had brifters for years now. If you really want to make your flat barred bike into a drop bar bike, take it to a bike shop and ask them what you need. Bring money, too.

PEDALS

Read the very next story in the series!

How do I do the Cyclocross? (part one of a series)

On August 19, 2013 by Christian

You’d be surprised how many people ask me that question. Well, maybe not just me, but people of my ilk, ie those who have been telling any sentient being within a 12 meter radius just how great CX is and how they should try it immediately. Florida CX is actually a good place to learn CX, because our mild fall and early winter weather makes it much easier on you, your equipment, and the terrain we regularly ride on, so you’re not constantly falling over in mud pits and tearing rear deraileurs off your bike because they’re coated in 47 pounds of mud and various grasses, like you would be in New England or Oregon. Of course, there are people who will insist that the terrible conditions are what makes CX what it is in the first place, and while they are at least half right, they are also masochists and very likely partially insane. All that being said, we live in Florida and we make do with what we have.

The image most associated with CX is usually riders carrying the bikes over barriers or running up a steep hill, and many beginners are most concerned with “how do I dismount?” and “how should I get back on?” Let me tell you: Don’t worry about it. Yet. Dismounts and running are at most 30 seconds of each 5-9 minute lap. We’ll cover those later.

The first thing you’re going to want to practice is riding your CX bike in the grass. There’s a lot of different types of grass, and there’s grass on pretty much every single CX course I can think of, so knowing how your bike handles in the various types of turf is going to help you. The first thing you’re going to notice is “Holy Crap, I can go 20mph all day on pavement, and now I’m dying to go 9mph.” You’re probably pedaling in St. Augustine, which is the thick-bladed spongy rooted stuff, that people like for their lawns. St. Augustine grass just seems to suck your tires into it, and you can literally use it’s insanely high level of friction instead of your brakes when you’re diving into a corner. Bahia grass is faster than St. Augustine, it’s thinner and much less dense. The bulk of the grass we encounter in FLCX is Bahia, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to locate a park or a school or a soccer field to practice on some Bahia. As the season goes on, and the rains become less frequent, Bahia thins even more and gets faster and easier to pedal through. Both Bahia and St. Augustine have extensive, durable root systems, which means you will rarely slide out while cornering, unless the grass is exceptionally damp. There is also wild grass, which we encounter in Clermont, Gainesville, and Melbourne. It tends to grow in clumps, and is exceptionally lumpy, particularly in Clermont and Melbourne, so you really have to pay attention and keep your hands on the bars lest a particularly nasty clump grabs your front wheel and sends you to the ground.

All CX courses are mowed prior to the race, so you’re never going to have to navigate through knee high weeds, unless you have an off course adventure. Grass of any type is going to provide more traction than sand, and usually more than packed dirt as well. It’s the rare (for us) occasions that we have a lot of moisture on the grass that it can get slippery, but even then, running a tire with widely spaced knobs is usually enough to keep your bike heading the direction you want it to go. A semi-slick or file tread tire will work in dry grass, but will slide around a lot more in the wet.

To practice riding grass, you should focus first on just getting used to pedaling through it without going anaerobic. Ride around the perimeter of a soccer field for 20 or 30 minutes, for instance. When this gets boring, add some corners to your route. Loop around trees or benches or bring out some cones. Practice the fastest line through two or three corners in a row. Try it from both directions. Trust your tires, but learn where the limits of their adhesion is. You’re going to want to use your brakes as little as you can get away with, especially on a flat course, and you’re going to use a lot less front brake than rear brake than you do on the road. Try using less and less brake. Momentum is everything- the faster you get through a corner, the less the need to accelerate out of it. Since accelerating pretty much always involves you sprinting, or at least pedaling harder, it’s also going to involve pain. Obviously, it’s a great idea to practice accelerating out of corners, over and over again, because that is a skill you will absolutely need come race day.

Once you’ve worked on the basics of just pedaling in grass, and then cornering and then accelerations, you can put it all together and set up a little course for some hot laps. Some advice for that: if you’re sharing a park with other users, respect them, and don’t run them over. Dog walkers and soccer parents are super touchy about their pets/children, and really don’t like you buzzing around them when you’re drooling from pedaling so hard you can’t see straight. Set up your course to interfere with their comings and goings as little as possible. I know the sand in the playground seems like a great sand pit, but not if there’s kids playing on the jungle gym. Use your best judgement, so you can continue to use the park without hassles from the MAN.

Now that I’ve got the warning out of the way, here’s how to set up your course. Find a complex of soccer fields or an un-fenced public school or a larger public park, preferably one with lights, since the time change will affect us eventually. Then ride around the perimeter of the property. Weave in and out of trees, slaloming and creating hairpins and long, lung burning straightaways linking up the curvy sections. A course length anywhere from 6/10th to one mile in length is ideal. Try to have some pavement, some dirt, and well as some grass on your loop, most likely it will mostly be grass and that’s ok. Here’s a course we used last year at Puryear Park in St. Pete to give you some ideas.

Learn Cyclocross: Gainesville

On August 15, 2013 by Super Rookie

It is well known that cyclocross is the sport of the future.

If you are near Gainesville come out to the Rock starting next Wednesday night at 630pm to learn all about it.

Contact Swift Cycle if you have any questions. All cyclists welcome.

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