Pro Tip: Why You Should Promote A Cyclocross Race

On December 19, 2014 by Super Rookie

(David Lavenhagen takes a Todd Leedy handup at Swamp Cross 2012. Photo: Matt Staras)

So, you want to be a cyclocross promoter? Well, Todd Leedy, FLCX’s resident long-haired, frisbee throwing, college professor, has the reasons why you should do it and it does not disappoint. Easily one of the best write-ups we have seen in Florida Cyclocross and it should be shared across the internet. Plus, #1 is very true. There were several rude gestures from yours truly towards Todd come race day this past December in Gainesville.

-Tim

Earlier this year, FLCX Number One Ginger provided a column on how you might put on a CX race: http://flcx.org/how-do-i-promote-the-florida-cyclocross-event/

As a complement to that piece, here are some thoughts on why you might put on a CX race.

1) Design a course – This is a real creative process. Coming up with a course that you feel your fellow CXers will enjoy (i.e. suffer through) on the limited piece of land to which you have access is a challenge and quite a bit of fun. You will have to work with what you are given but there is space to place your own stamp on a course. Someone will always say it was too technical or not technical enough or too much pavement or too easy for mountain bikes. Don’t worry, not every course in Belgium requires the exact same skillset either. But if racers are making rude gestures at the Crosscopter then you’ve probably done it about right.

2) Experience “promoter legs” – A documented physiological condition (unless you are Josh Thornton) resulting from the 2-3 days of serious manual labor you put in right before the event to set up a great course, e.g. shoveling, mowing, raking, staking, taping, etc. etc. Add insufficient sleep as you handle pre-registrations, prizes, and on it goes. And then, if lucky, you commence to racing on the weekend with perhaps 20% of your normal warmup. Oh yes, it feels so so good.

3) Build your team/club – You cannot do it all on your own so you either need volunteers (or you need to pay for assistance, see #6). Done right, putting on a race is a great team building exercise and you will find out skills you didn’t know people possessed and learn how much others are committed to the same goals. People will impress you with their generosity and that should make you happy.

4) Spend time with your family – If you have done most any race in FLCX then you know that they are usually a family affair. Spouses, partners, kids, parents – you need them all out there backing you up. Not only is it more fun, stuff gets done.

5) Become a better planner – Professors tell students “Don’t ever go into debt to get a PhD in the humanities or social sciences.” Well, don’t ever go into debt to put on a CX race either. And you shouldn’t have to if you budget and plan properly. Do this early, as in before you even announce you are holding a race, and certainly before you pull a permit. If the numbers don’t work, don’t say a thing to anyone about wanting to put on a race. Just keep calm and and keep racing. It’s all according to plan.

6) Don’t make any money – OK, you might make some money but you cannot put on a race because of this need/desire. Success is breaking even, anything more is 100% into the bonus. This isn’t your livelihood, although for a few brief days a year you might wish it was, so you do it only because you love the sport and want others to love it as much or more. Still, someone will say the second races are too expensive or the on-site fee is too high or USAC shouldn’t charge for processing online entries. So if you do make some money then you did it the old fashioned way – you earned it.

7) Become “FLCX famous” – Short of winning every weekend or doing sand angels or breaking your teeth on a barrier crash or flying a drone or growing a tremendous red beard or continually ruining the sport, it is hard to get more recognition in our small community than by putting on a good (or, gulp, bad) race. So If you like knowing FLCX people and none of those other options sound attractive or even possible, you might consider an occasional dalliance as an amateur race promoter.

8) Become a better person – As hard as we train, as many hours as we put in on the bike, it is pretty easy to just show up and race. Whether it is your first season or you’ve done a ton of bike races, until you have put on a race yourself, the planning and labor that goes into a smooth event is a mystery. You might moan about why this wasn’t that way or why that wasn’t this way. There’s almost always a reason, and usually the race director will be happy to explain it – at some point when they aren’t also trying to run the event! After putting on your own event, you will most likely become one less person complaining about races in a Facebook group. And that’s a bonus for everyone. But hey, that’s just like, you know, my opinion man.

—-

As always we welcome submissions to FLCX! Email thesuperrookie@gmail.com or gob4522@yahoo.com!

A Guide To Cyclocross Fandom

On August 30, 2014 by Super Rookie

Cyclocross is a unique cycling discipline. It tends to be a more open and friendly environment than road racing, and a better spectator experience than mountain biking. This isn’t to say that road and mountain biking are less superior, they just aren’t on the same level of awesome.

That said, if you are new to cyclocross, or if you have experienced the rush and excitement you may find yourself getting yelled at by a complete stranger. This stranger probably is someone that raced in an event earlier and they are there to support you, but also to make you feel like their kid brother. It can be confusing at first, but here is a handy guide to fandom in cyclocross.

The OFFICIAL Rules Of FLCX Fandom:

1. Cyclocross Is Fun, But It Is Also A Competition

People are racing bikes. It is still a competition. Do not alter the course (read: dumping water on the run-up, moving course tape after the race day starts etc…). If you see someone doing this call them out on it as they are probably unaware since everyone is having a great time and this whole thing may be new!

2. Heckling Is Encouraged. Being Mean Is Not.

Cyclocross at its core is about being fun and having a smile on your face. This means that you do what you can to bring that fun atmosphere to everyone, including the racer that has their heart rate pegged at 194 while hitting an off-camber turn. They may be in the ‘zone’ but it is an appropriate time to tell them that they should, “go wicked hardah” or that they should “work together” with the ride in front of them. Get the riders off their game. Make them stop and do pushups, or maybe stop in the middle of the race and get their autograph (thanks Chris Horner!).

The general rule of thumb for heckling is that it should make the rider laugh. You should never under any circumstances say, “you suck,” or be a complete jerk. If that happens don’t be surprised if someone does their best Bart Wellens to your noggin.

3. Handups Are Not A Crime, Unless It Is Illegal And Against The Rules.

Cyclocross is so much fun that from time to time the racers want to get involved with the party on the other side of the course tape. They request pieces of bacon, coca-cola, or even a piece of Laffy Taffy. The general rule for handups is don’t be an idiot and put the promoter, riders or other fans at risk with your behavior. You know, act like an adult, well at least one that knows how to sneak food into the movie theater.

4. Cyclocross Is One Big Family.

We are all in this together. If you are out walking the course and you see a little course tape on the ground tie it back up, if the race is over see if you can pull down some of the tape and help the folks clean up the party. At the end of the day tell your friends to come race with us and have some more fun.

5. Don’t Be A Lemon. Be A Rosebud.

At no time is it ok to be a complete jerk to the officials, promoters, riders, or fellow spectators. This isn’t road racing where you can get away with throwing your bike to the ground and yelling at your friend standing in the feedzone that missed your bottle feed. This is the place where you work as hard as possible to win your race and do as well as you can, but go have a high-five with your competitor immediately after the race.

How do I do the Cyclocross: Early-Mid August Edition

On August 14, 2014 by Christian

No. 3 of several in a series hyping up the 2014-2015 FLCX Cyclocross series

Ok, we’ve already discussed getting a bike for a reasonable price, and then we talked about some best practices for CX race promoters. Let’s talk about getting into shape, and what exactly kind of shape you need to get into to race CX.

First of all, if you are the type of person who wants/needs/desires structure and planning in your workouts, there are some great coaches in FLCX. Off the top of my head, I can think of, in no particular order, Josh Thornton, Ben Smith, Zach Fout, Vitor Alexandre, Eric Stubbs, Drew Edsal Jeb Stewart, Zoltan Tisza, and Vincent Cook. If I’m forgetting anyone else, it’s purely unintentional and if you contact me I’ll be happy to add you to the list. There are a lot of current and previous state champions in this list. These guys will make you faster than you currently are, as long as you take their advice to heart and eat right. They can teach you how to eat, train, sleep, and ride like a champion bike racer, and help you with technique and even make sure your bike fits you properly. It’s a relatively small investment to gain a vast amount of knowledge, and if you take your cycling seriously, it makes sense to hire one of these guys.

For the rest of us, who are perfectly happy to finish in the latter half of the standings after we take multiple marshmallow and Fat Tire Amber Ale handups, here’s what you really need to do to get ready for CX season.

First of all, you need to build some base fitness. This requires little more than time and the determination to follow a general plan. It helps if you have at least a small amount of current fitness, like the ability to hang on to a group ride for 30 or 40 miles, but this isn’t an absolute requirement.

To build a base for CX, you should probably start today, if you haven’t started already. If you wait another week, it will probably be too late, and you’ll end up with a palmares like that of Tim Hayes circa 2013. (Yes, I KNOW you beat me the one time we raced head to head last year, TIM.) So, to build base fitness, you need a road bike, or road tires for your CX bike, and you need to ride for 2-4 hours at a time at least twice a week.

Currently, I have Thursday and Sundays off, so my weeks look like:

Monday: 1.5-2 hrs (25-30 miles) recovery ride, easy but steady pace.
Tuesday 1-1.5 hrs (15-20 miles) informal efforts ride- moderate pace with accelerations or CX Skills Practice.
Wednesday: Rest day or easy spin
Thursday: 3-4 hours (50-70 miles) steady pace at the edge of discomfort- look for 19-21 mph on your computer as much as possible
Friday: Rest day or easy spin
Saturday : Easy spin or group ride, 1-2 hours, (15-30 miles), or CX Skills Practice
Sunday: 3-4 hours (50-70 miles) steady pace at the edge of discomfort- look for 19-21 mph on your computer as much as possible.

This is just me, customize it to fit your schedule, and obviously with all the rain we’ve been having it won’t always work out. If you have to miss a day, that’s ok. If you’re tired, skip a day, or cut back the time/distance. You’re an adult, presumably, so listen to your body. Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is probably more important than hitting a mileage goal, make sure you’re getting as much as you can. Recovery rides are equally important. Beat yourself up when you feel good. Give yourself a break when you’re exhausted. Be honest with yourself about how you feel. Often, your brain (my brain) will feel like drinking beer and playing video games, and try to fool your body into feeling tired. You (I) should try to tell your (my) body that it can play all the video games it wants after the CX season ends.

I will follow this schedule through the end of August. Once we hit September, I’ll start to dial back the long days, and start to do a little more intensity, maybe even some intervals. Ugggh, intervals. They hurt, but they do so much good. But you need a fitness base before you can take advantage of the physiological benefits of intervals, so you have to put in the saddle time first.

So my weeks in September will look more like:

Monday: 1.5-2 hrs (25-30 miles) recovery ride, easy but steady pace, on pavement.
Tuesday: 1-1.5 hrs (10-15 miles) CX Skills Practice with shorter intense intervals, preferably on a CX bike on grass or dirt.
Wednesday: Rest day or easy spin on pavement.
Thursday: 2-2.5 hours (30-40 miles) fast-ish road ride. A group ride is fine, if you get out in the wind. Sitting in at 18mph does very little for your fitness.
Friday: Rest day or easy spin on pavement.
Saturday: 1-1.5 hours fast group ride, at the front, in the wind.
Sunday: CX Practice Race/ simulation. Find some local guys, and go out and beat on each other for 45 minutes, or two 20 minute sessions, or whatever you all agree on. Warm up properly before hand, and make sure to practice barriers and running steps both before and during the practice race.

CX intervals come in a wide variety. They range from the “sprint out of the saddle out of every corner interval” to the full on 20 minute “Oh my god I want to die because there’s 18 minutes to go interval”. One I’ve always “enjoyed” was finding a 1-2 mile circuit with regularly spaced street lights, and sprinting from one streetlight to the next, then resting til the next, then sprinting again, basically until you want to throw up. Hopefully, this will be after more than 3 sprints. Shoot for a whole lap of this misery, then take a lap off to recover. Then, if you feel like it, do another lap of intervals, or just call it a night. Longer intervals are necessarily less intense, but they hurt more because they last longer. You should rest longer after long intervals than you should after short ones. There’s a whole internet out there with opinions and advice on intervals, so if you want more detail, let me google that for you. Remember, CX is what you make it, and the harder you train now, the more you can slack off once the season starts and you can rely on races to keep you fit.

Some of you are saying, “Christian, surely you can’t be as slow as you have historically been if you are actually doing all of these workouts, and to those of you who are saying this, I can only say that you are very mean-spirited and unkind, and probably correct. But while I feel I corner and handle most of the technical sections as well as most people, I really struggle at the whole pedalling really hard parts of CX, and that’s where I watch people ride away from me.

Also, you should probably keep an eye on what you eat, cutting out a lot of the fat and junk sugar, and adding as many fruits and vegetables as you can stomach, but hey, you’re riding your bike a lot, so this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Remember, as long as you can zip up your skinsuit and/or jersey past your belly, then it still fits you fine.

Follow these most of these steps between now and the first races at the end of September, and I promise that you’ll be at least as mediocre as Tim and Rich Dybdahl and I.

The next volume in this series will contain advice on what a proper CX skills workout should consist of. Look for it this weekend!

How Do I Promote the Florida Cyclocross Event?

On August 5, 2014 by Christian

For the 2014/2015 Florida Cyclocross (FLCX) Season, there is no longer an actual FLCX points series. There is the Florida Bike Racing Association (FBRA) FRS-CX points series, which will award points to racers at each CX race in the state. So anyone who wants to promote a USA Cycling Cyclocross race in the state is now part of the points series. As far as I’m aware, the final race of the season will be State Championships in Tampa around the second weekend in December, at which time I presume all FBRA Season Series prizes will be awarded.

We’d like to provide some simple guidelines for all promoters to use to make their events as successful as they can be, as well as to provide a certain level of quality for each event, to ensure a consistent level of excellence during the race day experience, to continue to move the sport forward, to increase participation, to make sure each event is first and foremost, fun, but also safe, profitable, and not a giant ball of suck for the promoter and his staff. You can use as much of our recommendations as you wish, or you can completely ignore us and do it the way you want to do it, there’s no one way to promote a CX race. We’re not setting out a mandate or demanding that you follow anything we say, specifically. These are simply the steps we learned through trial and error, to be the best, the easiest, the most profitable.

Do’s and Don’ts:

Do

beg, borrow, or steal a laptop. Download Cross Mgr. Practice using it, then find 2 or 3 volunteers to run it during your race. It is the same FREEEEEEEE timing software that Jason Guillen used in past seasons. It makes your entire race day experience go exponentially smoother than relying on a USA Cycling official to do the results by hand. We had USA Cycling officials doing results by hand at Tampa and at the State Championships in 2013, and results at both of these events were a complete mess, in the sense that it took the official 30-45 minutes between each race to tabulate the results by hand, before they could be announced after an event with 15 or 20 racers. I’m not saying this to insult anyone. I don’t think anyone could or would dispute this assessment. Don’t make your race a mess. Use the software, or pay a timing company to run timing at your event. Don’t trust the USA Cycling officials to do it themselves. They aren’t equipped for it, they’re there to make sure your event is run safely and disputes are handled fairly and no one is giving beer to juniors.

(Jason Guillen wants out of the timing business for next season, so he can actually focus on his own racing. You can ask him for advice, but as far as I know he won’t be running timing at many or even any events.)

Do

make the schedule of your race pretty close to the schedule of everyone else’s race, because you’re gonna get a better turnout if you do. We have several years of data that suggests that the best schedule is something pretty close to this:

Wave 1: Masters 35/45/55 – 45 minutes
Wave 2: Pro 1/2/3 Men – 60 minutes
Wave 3: Pro 1/2/3 Women/ Mens 3/4 – 45 Minutes
Wave 4: Men 4/5 – Women 4 – Juniors – 30 minutes
Wave 5: Kids race – 10 minutes (or so)
Wave 6: SS Open – 30 Minutes

Put 15 or so minutes between waves. Each wave technically ends when the last finisher crosses the line.

You can always do whatever schedule your little heart desires as promoter, but you should at least keep the wave structures intact, for FBRA points series purposes. As we get more and more racers in FLCX, we will have to add waves so we don’t have 200 people on the course at the same time, but we’re still several years away from this problem, so we won’t concern ourselves with it at the moment. A six wave schedule like the one above will take about 5 hours from start to finish, meaning if you start your first race at 10:00am, you’re last race is done by 3pm, so you can be heading home before 6pm, which is pretty good for a promoter.

Do

use pre-registration. Either use the USA Cycling system, or BikeReg, or FirstPlaceRacing, but definitely one of the three, and definitely not Active.com, because no one has time for all of the emails Active.com sends you. But use pre-reg, and encourage it’s use by charging a $5 day of registration fee. What should you charge for your race? $25-30 for a first race, and $10 for each additional race each day is pretty reasonable. If your venue is truly spectacular, or you really want to do an event t-shirt, then you can charge a little more, but if it’s more you better be certain that the event will be worth it.

Do

understand the economics involved. Last year, FLCX averaged roughly 60 racers on Saturdays, and 110 racers on Sundays for races in central Florida. 60 x $30 = 1800, 110 x $30 = $3300. $5100 is a lot of money, but almost $1000 of that is going back to USA Cycling, and another $500 to $1000 or so to rent the park and pay the permits. You should probably pay at least $249 to both the Pro men and the Pro women each day (The USA Cycling fees go up if your prizes are over $500). You might need porta potties, that’s $2-300. Prizes/Trophies are another consideration. You’ll need to make some barriers, and acquire some stakes, maybe dump a couple of truckloads of playground sand. Stakes are expensive, try to borrow or at least rent them- Jordan at Velo Champ has a bunch of wooden stakes, Dan Milstead at Little Everglades has even more plastic stakes, and I believe John Hovius at AAA Tri Camp has a bunch of them too. If you have to buy them, well, that’s going to cost a lot. You’ll need a generator and a PA system and a couple of ten x ten ez-up tents for registration and scoring to stand under. You’ll need a PA system for your announcer to talk on. Luckily, if you hire me to announce, I work for entry fees, so that at least won’t cost you much. You need a few tables and some chairs, pens and safety pins and race numbers and prizes for the kids race and water jugs and coffee and breakfast for your volunteers and it just never ends.

Notice, I still haven’t mentioned t shirts, pint glasses, or other promotional tchotchkes. Because they cost even more money, and unless you have a buddy that owns a tchotchkes company, you’re gonna have to pay for them, too. And that $5100 is getting pretty close to being spent.

Bottom line, you’re not going to get rich doing this. If you want to get rich, promote a color run.

Don’t

offer pay-outs to any fields other than P123 and W123, unless you have a bunch of sponsorship dollars burning a hole in your pocket. Otherwise, you won’t really draw too many extra riders, and you will lose money.

Get unique trophies/plaques/medals made. I still have trophies from industrial park criteriums I won back in the 90′s. I don’t have a dime of any of the prize money I won. People are buying memories out there, give them something to remember. Paying Master’s racers is almost as foolish as dropping $1500 on Tshirts for a first year event. Masters will show up either way, as long as they know they aren’t going to break a hip.

Do

Go out and get sponsors. Got a local brewery or brew-pub or bar? Yes, you probably do. Ask them for a few cases for the winners, or a keg for the after party. Food truck/Restaurants/bars near your venue? Don’t be scared to ask them for bar tabs or gift certificates. Then hit up local bike shops. All of them, even one’s you don’t normally shop at. At the one’s you do shop at, ask them if they can hit up any of their suppliers. Garneau, Cannondale, Specialized, SRAM, and Specialized have all contributed at the least course tape in the past, and will most likely do so in the future. Sponsorship takes effort, but it can literally pay for your race, making all the entry fees profit. Think about it. Be creative. Be professional, come up with a package you can email to people describing what you want their money and or product for. The package needs only a cover letter describing the race, the demographics of most cyclists (upscale, eat a lot, like beer), and the numbers you think you’ll attract (approx 100-150 racers, and an equal number of spectators, more if it’s a central location). Mention the comradery of CX, the fun, the disposable income in the parking lot of your event, the spectator friendliness of being able to walk right up to the tape and hand a racer a twizzler or a strip of bacon.

Do

follow these basic guidelines in choosing a location for your event.

1. Pay as little for it as you can get away with. Free is best. Cheap is almost as good. Parks in cities like Orlando, Tampa or Miami are expensive, unless you know someone. It’s good to know someone. Parks in towns like Winter Garden, Alachua, or Ocala are cheaper. Private land can be expensive or cheap. Remember, you’re going to have to send a big chunk of money back to USA Cycling. Spending much more than $500 or $600 on your venue and the associated permits to go with it will make your profits slim.

2. Your course needs to be 8-10 feet wide and roughly a mile and a half in length. There can be a couple of choke points, where the course narrows to one rider’s width, but they better be far from the start, and there better not be too many of them. This doesn’t mean that a section that narrows because one foot of it is solid ground and the other 9 feet are mud isn’t kosher, but you can’t make that your entire course, unless there is a weird weather rain for-three-days-beforehand-thing, but we rarely have those during the FLCX calender. The ideal lap time for the Men 4/5 wave is about eight to nine minutes. They are the slowest wave, and since they only race for 30 minutes, it’s nice to get them 3 to 4 laps. You don’t want your pro men doing 5 minute laps, however, because 12 laps (60 minute race) is a lot, so you have to find a balance. Watch videos of other CX races around the country to give you some ideas.

3. Use any elevation change you can find. Ditches, mole hills, sand dunes, stair cases, handicap ramps, and cliffs. Anything that goes up or down. Off-camber sections are excellent. Sand Volleyball courts are almost a must, if available- I can think of three or four courses last year that had vollyball courts we used off the top of my head.) There is a line between challenging and stupid, and by and large we’ve stayed on the challenging side of the line on our courses. Remember, we have 10 year old kids and 60 year old grandparents out there racing, and while we want to challenge the 33 year olds, we don’t want to kill anybody, or include course features that will damage equipment.

4. Don’t be scared to make people run. They will hate you for it on race day, but they’ll love you for it when they’re telling their friends about the race later. The run-up at Josh’s Dade City course was as perfect as it gets, as was the first run-up off the beach at Key Biscayne a couple of years ago, and the sand steps section at State’s right before the line was pretty perfect too. Force people to dismount at least once per race, and preferably more than that. Two or three times a lap really isn’t out of hand, especially on an otherwise non-technical course. CX isn’t supposed to be easy. The only races in Belgium that don’t force the PRO’s to dismount for barriers are so friggin’ technical that there are running sections anyway.

5. Get the fastest racer you know, and the slowest racer you know, and have them consult and advise you on your course design. Listen to both of them.

Don’t

put a damn pinwheel of death on your course. It’s so lazy, and so 2011.

Do

recruit as many people as you can to help you promote your event. Find a local graphics student to make your flyer and facebook page. Find a couple local go-getters to find local sponsors for you. This includes race day volunteers. You should have a couple people patrolling the course all day repairing course tape and broken stakes, a couple people doing registration, and at least a couple people scoring your event, as well. This is in addition to USAC officials.

Do

make your pits as close as you can to the start/finish area, and also make the pits with at least two entrances. This means your course has to be shaped something like an 8, with the start finish and pits near the intersection of the two circles. The pits have a lot of interest for spectators, but so does start/finish. Keep them within a few minutes walk of each other. Use Jordan at Velo Champ for neutral support, he works for beer and maybe dinner. Good dood.

Do

remember that CX is a spectator sport, too. Make as much of your course visible from start-finish as possible. The Ocala Race, Josh Thornton’s race in Dade City, and Dan’s State’s course, and Dybdhal’s brilliant Mt. Dora course were all fantastic examples of a spectator friendly course. Make sure your spectators are behaving themselves, as much as you can. As race promoter, you’re something of a den-mother to everyone out there, so you can growl at some naughty cub scouts if they get out of line.

Do

follow the Zach Fout promotional method and promote the shit out of your event. Take a flyer to every bike shop in town that will post it. Repost the event info 6 times a day. Rent out the side of a bus or two. I’m not busting balls here, Zach promotes his events as hard as you possibly can, and his high registration numbers are a reflection of that.

Do

Ask other promoters and racers and all of us at flcx.org for help if you need it. We all want to see the sport get bigger. We all want all the races to be awesome. We’re here for your assistance.

These are the basic ideas that we’ve found to be effective. There are certainly a lot more ideas out there, I’m sure people will contribute them on the facebook thread I will add when I publish this, and I can steal the best ones to add to this page. This is a living document, I want it to be of use to every promoter of a race in Florida.

I am not an FBRA or USACycling officer or official, these are not rules, they are guidelines. In case anyone feels that I am demanding you promote a race they way we’re prescribing, let me be the first to assure you that anything I say is completely unofficial. All that said, it is researched and considered. Use it or ignore it as you choose.

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.

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