Let’s be honest: ’Cross is often about the gear.
by Adam McGrath
Gear. That’s what ’cross is about. Go ahead deny it: “It’s all about competition, camaraderie, finding our personal limits, suffering, cowbell.”
Well if you don’t agree with me, you’re in denial. Just look at it: You can’t show up to a ’cross race naked with a pointy wooden stick and win the race. You need a bike, and a bike is gear, and well, there’s a lot more gear that comes with it. I’m not trying to overly promote mass consumption, there is indeed more to being a racer than the gear one owns: certainly mental strength, cat-like reflexes, and coffee consumption hold their own, but rightly holding down one corner is the quality and capacity of how well one can manage his gear, regardless of how much, how new, or how expensive it is.
I decided to write this piece because of two things. Gear management is one of the reasons I can hold down working 60 hrs a week on farm life and still racing (sorta) fast. And farming is about two things: what lives and dies, and pile management. Up to this point in this piece, it seems I’m really angry or frustrated about gear, but it’s quite the contrary. Without it, I would not be doing what I’m doing in life, and with out the complicated logistics of ’cross in my childhood I would be a rubbish homesteader.
Here is why:
Farming is about lots of things if you want to get all into the nitty gritty, but really, in a huge broad generalization, it’s about fixing stuff and working hard. Not that different than being a good bike mechanic! Successful farmers work hard, bloody hard, and you better enjoy that organic food some of y’all are eating. But what successful ones don’t do is work stupid. I’m not a successful farmer yet, I don’t even sell anything, so technically, I’m a homesteader, but that’s another debate and a word that doesn’t not regularly come up on the cycling internets. Nonetheless, I’m learning a lot and don’t always work smartest. Strangely between it being programmed into me from my youth, or sometimes even consciously, I’ve been using lessons from bike racing to try and reach success at home.
So this brings in point #1 and #2 from above. You see I’ll consider myself a “successful” racer for the moment, since it really helps the argument, but as a huge self-critic, I don’t want to come across cocky because every week I’m getting my butt whooped. But play along. I’ve realized a huge reason I’m pulling off what I’m doing each week is because I’m doing one thing: I’m managing my gear and pre-race routine efficiently. I’ve been doing ’cross for a long time now and don’t really get nervous before races. One huge part of the reason is it’s casual. Now you say, “How can it be casual, you’re over caffeinated and in a one-piece suite!” and one big reason is because I have my system dialed. I know my bikes (and they are dialed), what wheels go on which bike, where my skinsuit is, when I’m going to pin my number, when to ride, when to eat, etc. This is accomplished by doing what I call “putting your poop in a group.”
This group poop thing is critical, folks. Really, I’m not that fast but one thing is for sure I don’t waste my time running around trying to get organized. I’ve discovered that having a solid pre-race system that you know and follow really helps keep things pretty chill. This has a lot to do with your stuff, from kit bag, to bikes, to wheels, to food and drink. This all may seem rather obvious, but lots of folks don’t really seem to be doing this and they wonder about their results. That’s a huge part of my weekly ritual for the bike race. I pack my truck in a certain order, after I’ve cleaned my bikes and checked them thoroughly, and then I put in the tool kit, then stand, then the spare of wheels, and then the spare parts. Plus, there is the kit bag, the shoes, the helmet, plus water bottles, food, drink mix. It’s a lot of stuff, but having a way of putting it into groups is key. I literally pack my stuff by creating three piles before it goes into my truck and pack the truck so these piles stay that way. Bikes, equipment, tools. Kit bag, shoes, helmet. Food, water, coffee.
This seems a lot to manage, but getting good at it is honestly a huge thing that makes a successful bike racer. This is that “small things add up” type of stuff I never had enough real life perspective on until now. Gear management required for ’cross is really making sure you know where things are, not forgetting things, and being prepared to fix what you may encounter, but in my reality, these are really big picture life things.
The experimental donkeys, taking a break.
I literally now put poop in a group. Once a week, I collect the donkeys poop here on the farm. It goes to a large pile. This poop pile is then used to make compost. Then, this compost is flipped into another pile into the chicken run. Then this compost is spread out by the chickens and is essentially turned. Then it is collected for aging, not being spread out for upwards of a year. Meanwhile, in that year, the donkeys have generated thousands of pounds of manure just to re-kick that cycle. Now, I’m pretty savage but I’m not flinging this poop by hand, I’m moving it with a wheelbarrow and shovels. These must also be kept together and organized on the farm in another group. And these things break and get flats, so we keep the shop organized to fix them. Plus, now there are these chickens that turn the compost and with that much compost you’ve got to have two (or more) “groups” of chickens. And then when those chickens stop laying, you have to choose when those chickens is going to die. There are infinite examples of how farm life is just like this. Pick one and in some overarching way it is kind of about what lives and dies and what piles you’re working with. Even more odd, the better I get at it, the more it feels like I’m just going to another race. I think this is a sign for good things to come.
Odd as shoveling poo might seem to be to some, I love it. In some ways, being a small skinny man with large legs and a larger than average lung capacity with an affinity for riding circles in parks has prepared me perfectly to deal with my new farm life. Organizing way to many overly complex things, sorting all the parts and tool, and trying to get it all to feel comfortable is a way to work smarter not harder. Gear is part of being human, but doing gear well is a fundamental challenge to any farmer or bike racer. So for now I’m grabbing my shovel and moving that pile, sorting my bikes on Friday, and wondering when chicken will be on the menu next.
The time and support for these columns is provided by Raleigh Bikes, HiFi Wheels, FSA, JL Velo, TRP, Feedback Sports, and Giro. Also thanks to the kind folks at CXM for edits and credits.