Kicking Off CX 2017: Cyclocross Gear
It’s been a common hashtag on social media this time of year. As summer kicks off, thoughts of tanlines and poolside relaxation are replaced by dreams of the cold, muddy fields of winter… for some at least. In our last article, we covered the bases on why it’s important and ways to start training for your cyclocross season now. Aside from the fact that it takes months to build the form required to operate at maximum capacity for 45 to 60 minutes, training in the warm temps of summer make the suffering in winter that much more bearable (not to mention tanlines that will last until 2018).
Summer is also a great time to take stock of your cyclocross gear and prepare for the season ahead. Let’s take a look at some common ways to tinker with and improve your equipment arsenal.
There is no other discipline in cycling where tires are more important. Shoot, even most mountain bikers I know, rarely finagle with their tire selection from day to day! The type of tires you run depend on a few factors. First, where do you live and what conditions do you race in the most in your region? What is your budget? Are you running clincher tires, tubeless tires, or tubular tires? What is your riding style? That is, do you need more grip in the corners? Or do you require a tread that provides the least amount of rolling resistance possible?
My recommendation is that serious cyclocross racers have, at least, one tread pattern for every possible condition. That means one set of all-around treads, one set of mud treads, and one set of file treads. If you’re running clincher or tubeless wheels, then you can save some money and space by investing in a few pairs of tires to swap depending on the race conditions. If you’ve chosen the tubular route, you’d better make space in the garage as you’ll need multiple wheelsets.
Short answer: be prepared for any conditions you’ll face during the season, and if you can only pick one set of tires, go with an intermediate or semi-mud tire, such as the Challenge Grifos or Challenge Baby Limus.
While on the topic of tire choices, another hotly contested and the most common question I get is about tire pressure. Even I can’t answer this question in a definitive way! So again, you have to ask… what type of tires are you running (clincher, tubeless, tubulars)? How much do you weigh? What are the course conditions? What type of soil are you racing in (sandy, loamy, Texas moon dust)? Are there lots of natural impediments like rocks and roots on the course? Or is it butter smooth? What is my riding style? etc. etc.
Again, there is no straight answer to this mystery and the only way to find out what pressure you should run is by testing it for yourself. Use your easy recovery or unstructured rides to go test different pressures. I would also recommend buying a digital gauge (SKS Airchecker) to bring with you on your rides to be precise about your pressure. Generally speaking, you can run lower pressures with tubular tires, as there is less risk of pinch flatting, but what “lower” means is determined on an person by person basis.
Build a Parts Service Course
Anyone that has raced a full cross season (or maybe just one race) knows that cyclocross wreaks havoc on your bike and other equipment. Do one mud race and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The summer months offer the perfect time to unpack and evaluate your equipment to see what needs to be updated, if any spare parts are needed, and make the necessary upgrades well before the season starts (trust me, if you do it now, your shop mechanic will love you for it!).
If you haven’t touched your bike since it came out of the power washer at Nationals, I highly recommend making an appointment to clean, grease, and tune up your bike. New cables, new housing, new bar tape, and a new chain are good places to start. You can also go further to grease and repack bearings, install a new bottom bracket, and grab some extra parts that you might need on a typical race weekend. I always travel with some spare chainrings, a new chain or two cut to length, different cassettes, and some basic tools.
While it is nice to have a full service course at home, space and your significant other permitting, you can be prepared with some small parts and some simple tools to keep you rolling.
Weight Isn’t Everything
The trend in cycling is to go lighter and lighter. Brands are competing in their own version of an office weight loss competition to see who can shave the most grams off their already feather-weight components. While this is important for road racers and those tackling hillier terrains, weight doesn’t mean shit in 'cross. Yes, it is easier to shoulder a lighter bike whilst running up Mt. Krupmit at Jingle Cross, but weight should not come at the cost of durability. Cyclocross is already abusive enough, both physically and mechanically speaking. Ride equipment that you know can withstand the rigors of a double-race weekend. Your wallet can thank me later.
Another gear point of equipment emphasis is your cyclocross shoes. Sure, you can rock your carbon-soled ultra-stiff mountain bike shoes. But don’t even think about trying to put road pedals on your cross bike. You’ll be excommunicated... Forever.
Cyclocross is a multi-faceted discipline that requires one to get dismount and remount the bike multiple times per lap, sometimes running for extended periods of time. Using a shoe with a super stiff sole will be great for the times when you’re on the bike and mashing the pedals. But when you need to dismount or run up a hill, you can run into issues such as heel-slip and general comfortability.
If you are looking for cyclocross specific shoes, look for a model that has some flex in the toe box such as the Pearl Izumi X-Project P.R.O.s or the Shimano XC-7s. You’ll get more comfort while running and maintain the power transfer on the bike. Also, it’s best if you have two pairs of shoes for cross, and make an investment in a shoe dryer, like the DryGuy Force Dry-DX, as well. Again, do one mud race and you’ll know why.
The last and most important preparation you can make is getting a bike fit with your local, professional fitter. You can spend all the money in your bank account on the aforementioned products, but it won’t be any good if you’re not positioned for success (pun intended).
A good bike fit specialist can address your specific bi-mechanical needs and help you find a position that is both comfortable and powerful for you, the emphasis being on comfort over power. While both are necessary, cyclocross is about being able to drive your bike in many different conditions.
Ask other riders whom they have gotten fit by and don’t hesitate to schedule an initial consultation with them. Every bike and every rider is different, but finding a fitter who understands your goals and your physical limitations (e.g. leg length discrepancies, pronation of the feet, injury history) can be the best investment you make all year.
Remember… Being comfortable, happy, and able to train all year long > being “aero bro”, miserable, and fighting ongoing injury.
Find a fitter in your area:
There is a whole host of other topics to be addressed in later posts. If there’s something you’d like to hear about or questions that you have, leave a comment or shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget… #crossiscoming