Zach McDonald chased Page for the majority of the race, but couldn't close the gap © Focal Flame Photography

Zach McDonald chased Page for the majority of the race, but couldn’t close the gap, despite his great handling abilities. © Focal Flame Photography

by Jacob Fetty

So many things happen in a ’cross race – physically, mentally, metaphorically and existentially. It’s an action packed several minutes.

Racing well in ’cross races depends on more than fitness. In the algebraic race equation it takes combining fitness with technique, multiplied by bike driving divided by transition skills to equal a top performance. Each of these skills is a “must have” in your bike racer skill set. You can’t get by on just one; it takes the whole family of skills to make one big happy bike racer skill-set family.

While we recognize the need for the whole equation, today we are going to single out the bike driving aspect, specifically, ways to improve your capacity. Becoming better at bike driving is much more fun than preparing for your driver’s license test and practicing bike drills is way better than parallel parking repetitions.

Here are three tips to become a better bike driver:

An open relationship: Establish a relationship with your air pressure; an open relationship. Oftentimes, people get a set air pressure value cemented into their heads and don’t budge off of this number. In reality, different courses and varying conditions require that you court different air pressure values and don’t stay faithful to just one. In the same vein, it is common that people will train on clinchers and race on tubulars. While the budgetary-based decision is understandable, the practicality of this decision can impede your ability. You need to practice on what you race on. Now, you don’t need to burn up your “good race tubulars” in training, but you need to take them on a date and feel them out every so often.

Understand your partner: Spend some quality time one-on-one with your bike. Your ’cross bike has needs and yearns to be understood. Your ’cross bike is not a mountain bike nor is it a road bike; it is a ’cross bike and needs to be cherished as such. Spend some time establishing, tweaking and then re-tweaking your position. Your ’cross bike position should be proprietary to your ’cross bike. While you will have an open relationship with tire pressure, you are exclusive with your ’cross bike during the season. You ride this bike and this bike only.

Emotional availability for a fast pace relationship: This tip is almost contradictory of itself. You need to practice doing it right and you need to practice doing it fast. Remember, practice makes permanent, not perfect. We need to practice the right technique, get it down, then add speed to it. The goal is to practice fast, like a rally car racer. Often times in training we pedal hard but when we get to the driving aspect we roll off the throttle and have a “good enough” attitude towards our relationship with ’cross. ’Cross deserves better than this.

By spending some quality time with your ’cross bike and really getting to know it, you can increase the capacity of your skill set and become a better bike driver. Becoming a better bike driver is not a one-night-stand endeavor, rather, it takes time and commitment to the process.