Part of the fun of cyclocross is the many dimensions of skill and preparedness it takes to win, or even do well. I love that part. The other part I love is its communal nature, which I think is probably extra strong here in the backwoods of America (the European lowlands being the nexus of the culture). To that end, enjoy some free tips I’ve picked up along the way. They run the full gamut.
1. Glue some tire on the bottom of your left shoe.
Adam Myerson’s excellent cross camp teaches riders to dismount by unclipping the left foot one crank revolution before unclipping the right foot. Tire tread epoxied on the foot sole behind the cleat gives your foot a nice snug grip - you can even pedal that way. Generally, this will set you up for a more bullet-proof and faster dismount. It’s been working out great particularly when planks are set up on a straightaway, giving me time to execute the most perfect and speedy form that I can. Even if you don’t do this, why not glue some tire on your shoe? You never know when you’ll want to pedal unclipped. The tire tread makes this possible.
2. Check your brake pads. Use the right brake pads.
Special Agent Dale Cooper advises: “Every day, once a day, give yourself a little present.” To that end, I’ve been conducting a much more thorough bike inspection following race days this year, even pulling out calipers to check brake pads if I feel the need (you want at least 2.5mm of material including the backing plate, on a SRAM Force pad). Did you know brake pad material can be a big thing in cyclocross? At BCA Cyclocross this year, I destroyed my organic pads after the first two laps of racing, due to all the mud and water. I’ve since purchased a separate set of sintered pads, which I plan to swap in conditions like these, while cheaper organic pads will be used the rest of the time.
3. Mini tire pressure checker & pump on prerides.
I dont keep a full on notebook of pressures I run at races or anything intense like that, but I find it really useful to always start with the same pressure, and adjust from there. This mini pressure checker - while not as cool as the hashtag-pro Craftsmen gun - is cheap and works great. It can be found pretty easily online. When I pre-ride, I carry it with a mini pump, on the offchance I want to make fast adjustments. I’ve seen a few mini pumps that include a gauge in them, but this is cheap and does the job well.
4. Grab your front brake to pop your downtube up for a bike shoulder.
I learned this nifty little trick from the badonkers-ly skilled Scott Smith from JAM Fund. There’s plenty of techniques (and variants upon on those techniques to shoulder a bike), and obviously it’s preference. Me, I tend to grab my downtube and hoist the bike onto the shoulder. In some conditions, giving the front brake a squeeze works great for getting the downtube closer to my hand. Obviously, this is more of a slow-speed trick, and you can’t do it if you’re a brake-swapper (some racers like to put their rear brake on the left hood to safely scrub speed before a dismount).
5. Pull your crank after wet races.
Is this common knowledge? I picked it up from the amazing Bike Shop CX podcast on the Wide Angle Podium network. If it’s really wet, I do it, and leave it overnight. It’s fun to sweat things like this - I didn’t used to be that guy. I’m glad I’m that guy now. The guy that makes time for these matters.
6. Core work is the best work.
I have a sensitive lower back from a distant motorcycle accident, and used to just generally sometimes feel beat up after a cross race, but that no longer happens now after keeping up with ten-minute core workouts on weekdays. Other than a much more resolute body that can take the bumpy stuff in stride, my sprints feel like a much more connected effort of my upper and lower body. Helen Wyman recently shared her core exercise regimen, and mine are about the same.
7. Defend against the mid season cold.
I see a lot of people getting sick when November starts to roll around. To that end, this year I’ve been drinking Emergen-C with the same tenacity that the average American drinks soda. Like, twice a day. I had a minor head cold for one weekend, but was able to keep it from getting any worse, so I think it’s worth it. Oh, and I buy the CVS version of Emergen-C. Same stuff, lower price.
8. What’s next?
“All is well in my world and I am safe. What’s next?” Even the most chill of all the bike racers can plummet down a mental hole when the going gets rough. I reckon that’s particularly true in cyclocross, where there can be drama waiting around every corner. Keep that mantra in mind for when it all gets upside down. My own coach, Andy Ruiz, has similar words to say: “never, ever, quit!””