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.

Neutral Corner: A View From The Pits – Clermont CX Gran Prix

On January 12, 2013 by VeloChamp

Ed: The addition of Velo Champ and their sponsorship of the FLCX Series was one of the most successful additions of the 2012/13 season. They helped out countless racers and even provided quite a few heckles to all of the racers involved. Makes sure to stop by their shop the next time you are in the Tampa area and say hello!

View from the Pits – Clermont CX Gran Prix

If I am to judge how much fun was had at last weekends race, only by the mechanicals that came into the pit, I would say Clermont Cyclocross Gran Prix 2013 was one hell of race..!

Considering the location of the race, I suspected the normal combination of flats, punctures, and other dry/sandy course issues I have seen all season. With some confirmation of this from our fearless race promoter earlier Saturday morning, I expected a trouble-free, fast course. I am still amazed with how quickly this expectation was blown out of the water!

The Velo Champ wheel pit was in a perfect location to view the racing in Clermont. (Photo: Jordan Miller)

Day 1 of the Clermont CX Gran Prix started of mostly trouble-free. The cold weather, massive run-ups and overall rad course design seemed to keep speeds low, and riders spent plenty of time off their bikes. The day was spent addressing mostly minor issues including some wheel swaps, brake cable re-routing and general cable-stretch related shifting work. To my amazement, the number of tire/tube punctures were quite low and not a single rolled tubular tire. I truly expected the more technical features of the course to help roll at least a few tubulars. Oh, does separated shoulder/clavicle/AC separating count as a mechanical..?

The off-camber turns made for fun spectating at the pit. (Photo: Jordan Miller)

Day 2 proved to be be strikingly different from the previous days race. Before lunchtime (beer time) we were alarmed by the how many catastrophic mechanicals/crash-related failures came into the pit. Punctures and pinch flats were far more prevalent. This seemed in line with the course changes that took place for Day 2 that took the riders into the rough, ridge areas surrounding the previous days course. Only two rolled tubulars made their way into the pit. Wheel swaps came into pit throughout the day. Among the flats and failed cassette bodies was a Lightweight Meilenstein rear wheel with broken spokes. This wheel damage came along with one of many broken derailleur hangers. It seems crash-related, rear derailleur issues were one of two trends we noticed on Sunday’s race. The other being a surprising number of similar, front derailleur shifting issues. These came in the form of stretched cable/compressed housing, derailleur impact and even a loose, drive-side crank arm.  We certainly noticed a number riders having issues with dropped chains throughout the weekend. In our opinion, chain-guides/chain-keepers are a worthy upgrade for any cross bike. In addition, improperly adjusted rear derailleurs proved to be the death of more than one bike.

Keeping watch. (Photo: Jordan Miller)

Our constant presence with pit/spare bikes proved useful again last weekend.  A few riders from several categories hopped on our pit bikes to finish their race(s).

All in all, Clermont Cyclocross Gran Prix proved to be one of the most challenging races all year and we were ecstatic to be able to support such great race. We are excited for this year’s State Championships. See you in Dade City!

Neutral Corner: A View From The Pits at Swamp Cross

On December 23, 2012 by VeloChamp

A View from the Pit – Swamp Cross 2012 (Gainesville, FL)

Not at all surprising that the 2012 Swamp Cross course proved to be one of the most challenging thus far in the season. This was also made evident by the volume and varying nature of mechanicals and other issues we witnessed in the pit. Once again, with some of the largest attendance numbers of the season, we are thrilled to find our pit management and neutral race support efforts are proving valuable to the overall success and enjoyment of the race.

We were thrilled to see the Swamp Cross organizers had a well-planned course, with the pit area being properly sized and centrally located. However, to our surprise the pit had three (3) entrance/exit points. This made for a super-accessible pit and plenty of room for the growing number of pit bikes and wheel-sets. The size and accessibility of the pit even provided a certain racer the opportunity of cutting the course during Sunday’s SS race… he will remain nameless to avoid further shaming and ridicule prior to his move out of FL.

The most significant mechanicals we dealt with during the Swamp Cross weekend were related to sand/mud/gainesville grime getting packed into shift levers. Most noticeable were rear SRAM shift levers getting jammed towards the lower gearing positions. With sand packed into the shift levers from crashes, sand-pit gymnastics and berm shredding, the shifters would lose any gear return spring tension. This issue was witnessed all weekend on at least 10-15 bikes. In fact, several race leaders all weekend experienced this wonderfully frustrating problem. Ideally, this issue is addressed in the shop and the lever disassembled and cleaned. None-the-less we managed to take care of these issues in the pit all weekend.

The other note-worthy mechanical from the weekend was constant pinch flats. Most issues were seen with clincher tires/tubes where tire pressure appeared low. Once again, keep that tire pressure up. Especially those running clinchers. There were only a few tubular tire issues, and this included a handful of rolled tubular. Infinity Bikes’ Michael King wins the award for best rolled tubular at Swamp Cross 2012. After rolling his rear tire, he went ahead and removed the tire entirely, carried the tire and rode into the pit on his bare rim. Hey, it beats running the bike into the pit!

We’re still seeing a fare amount of cleat/shoe issues coming into the pit. Loose/missing cleat bolts and broken buckles were dealt with all weekend.

Most memorable mechanical came into the pit on Saturday during the Cat 1/2 race. Keep in mind, our neutral race support brings several common brand/model of spare pedals as part of our comprehensive spare component/parts inventory. This proved valuable when one super cool team member came into the pit with a pedal issue. A lap on a spare bike, along with some karate bike mechanics, and the rider was back in the race.

Finally, here a few recommendations for race participants, teammates, family members, and race promoters:

• Communication; clear, intelligent communication with the pit is paramount. If you need something from the pit, make sure you are clear with what you want/need.
• Spares; if you bring a spares into the pit, and would like our help during the race, be sure to introduce yourself. If  we know who you are, we can better help you in the event of an issue. It also helps us better identify which spares are yours.
• Borrowing tools; if you ask to borrow a tool, we will assume you do not need our help. Also, it is not a problem to borrow a tools as long as they stay IN THE PIT.
• Attitude; don’t be a jerk. During the race, we expect riders to be a bit frustrated coming into the pit, and even curt in their exchanges. However, being a complete jerk will not get you very far.

We’ll see you in Clermont!

Neutral Corner: A View From The Pits In Tallahassee

On November 21, 2012 by VeloChamp

Editor’s Note: We are proud to have Velo Champ on board at several FLCX races this season offering neutral support. He is here to help make your race go swimmingly. Do you have a last minute brake issue? Need a 7mm allen key to adjust your Chub Hub for the singlespeed race? Well, Jordan from Velo Champ is your guy. To read more about what races Jordan plans on attending read the official press release. Jordan will pen a column ever now and again to let us know what he saw from the pits on race day and how to get our bikes ready for race day! 

Greetings from the pits!

Being a few races into this year CX season, most should be getting comfortable with their bikes along with any recent component and tire changes. Following last weekend’s phenomenal Tally Cross race, we found our pit management and neutral race support to be invaluable throughout the race.

We were impressed by a solid group of riders coming prepared with spares, including pit wheels and bikes. What better justification for a SSCX bike than to save for pit bike duty, or hell, race some SS categories on a proper bike.

The highest volume of mechanical issues all weekend was related to pinch flats and tubeless tire leakage/burping. Bring that tire pressure UP! Lot’s of wheel swaps followed by flat fixes. To my surprise, not a single rolled tubular came through the pit. Just a handful of broken spokes and a couple of twisted chains. Another note-worthy mechanical issue was failing cleats and/or cleat bolts. In our experience this is more common than most realize. We’re always glad to come prepared with spares for any pedal/cleat issue that might arise.

The recent trend of v-brakes making their way (back) onto cross bikes surely has its upsides. However, we witnessed overall better mud-shedding and debris clearance in Tallahassee with bikes equipped with high-leverage (ie. not low profile) cantilever brakes. Of note, not a single disc brake equipped CX bike came through the pit with a mechanical.

General pit etiquette was good. Being clear with mechanic(s) as you come into the pit is paramount. Bringing beer to the pit mechanics can never hurt. Be sure you identify your spares as best you can. Don’t put your ‘all black single-speed’ right next to the other ‘all black single-speed’ bikes that are in the pit.

We’ll see you in Tampa!

Josh Thornton Checks In Post Lakeland

On October 16, 2012 by Super Rookie

Josh Thornton (Dunedin Cyclery) checks in with a little interview after the mud-filled madness at Lakeland this past weekend. Let’s us know his thoughts about clearing the mud, tire pressure and other little tips on how to rock a course full of mud.

Training Series: Winter Garden and Clermont

On September 24, 2012 by Super Rookie

Cyclocross in Florida is blowing up and Jason Guillen doesn’t want you to be left behind (well, maybe on race day). Guillen is organizing a new weekly training series in the Winter Garden / Clermont area. The Thursday night events are free and will focus on a variety of cyclocross skills. Each week they will be capped off with a training race.

What better way to try out cyclocross than a little bit of fun on the best courses around?

How To: Heckle with the best of them.

On August 20, 2012 by Christian

Heckling is a CX tradition. Heckling adds the cherry on top of the banana split that is a CX race- (more…)

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