McGrath is less about the bike and all about the chickens this season, though the bikes are still key! © Adam McGrath

McGrath is less about the bike and all about the chickens this season, though the bikes are still key! © Adam McGrath

by Adam McGrath

This cyclocross season has been a great success, and upon reflection I have only one thing to thank. I should say sponsors, great coaching, dedication, proper rest or focus, but no. I have small dinosaur-like creatures to thank: chickens! I was quoted earlier this year as saying, “Chickens are the Dura-ace of farm animals,” and I would like to use the following to present my point and show how you, too, can use chickens as the ultimate cross training tool.

#1: Light weight: Just like DA, chickens are lightweight. A mega-fat chicken weighs 5lbs. Who has a ’cross bike that weighs 5lbs?

#2 Reliability: When you own 25-55 chickens you know one thing for sure, you’re gonna have eggs. Nothing packs more protein per labor hour and feed cost than eggs.

#3 Speed: Chickens are fast, I sometimes eat them whole, then I am fast. Sound science!

#4 Warmth: On the morning of the first frost, I went out to feed the chickens in just my rain jacket. They came scampering happily over after spending a night outside (forgot to close the coop door, doh!). I was not happy and could hardly feel my hands, then, “light bulb!” They were warm because they were covered in feathers. Now, I don’t go to any ’cross race not covered in feathers. You need more than a rain suit; you also need a down coat.

#5 Handling: Some people wonder how I’m a good bike handler (because God knows if it were a race of long straight sections, I’d suck) and again I’ve improved this season because of the escape artist of the farm: buttercup chickens. You see, once a chicken is out and not near a fence, it’s a new kind of game. You can’t simply put them in the corner, chop them from their escape and grab them. To catch them is a whole new dynamic. First is being alert and keeping your head up, you’re always trying to keep one step ahead of the chicken and predict its move. Pretty much exactly like racing: keep your head up to hit all your lines, plus know what corners are coming up while watching your competition and trying to predict their moves too. Next part is balance: chickens move quick and change direction really fast, so although you’re trying to predict their moves, they can throw you for a loop so you must be on your toes and ready to change your tactics at any moment, thus improving your balance. If a chicken all of a sudden moves left when you’re crouching down for the grab, you really have to lean into your corner or they’re going to get away, just like cornering the ’cross bike.

#6 Attacking: Very closely related to handling is learning the art of the attack. One of the things chickens have is a great sprint. They absolutely haul ass, running and flapping their wings (essentially low-ground flying) and making contact with the ground every fifth step or so. It’s actually a pretty amazing act to watch, all in all, but very taxing on them. So, in order to really catch them, it’s often important to wind them up enough so they use this run-away technique. The key is to give it your all and follow this move. Then, as soon as they’ve touched down, you lunge down low and scoop them up. You may have to try this more than once but experience tells me you’ll prevail. So it’s just like bike racing, you see: you have to aggravate the competition to make a move, cover their move and then counter attack. Pounce your opponent like it’s a renegade chick!

#7 Marketing: If you have lots of chickens, you’ll either have lots of eggs or lots of meat or both. If you’re poor and small scale, then you are up against a big wall of cheap eggs and even cheaper meat at Safeway. So, you have to market something different to get your premium. In my case, “Bingo!” Bike-delivered food, which conveniently leads to:

#8 Secret Training: The only way to get that premium is to deliver by bike. New game: do entire egg delivery route in under one hour. Dismount, remount and running are all built into the program with the whole get-it-to-the-door thing and get onto the next delivery.

#9 Motivation: Chickens are alive and your bike is not. The chickens, no matter how hard it is raining, still need to get fed and they in turn help feed you, so there is never a lack of motivation. They are a constant reminder how lucky you are to even be able to ride a bike, so it makes it easier to ride even if it’s bullocks outside. So stop complaining and enjoy your bike ride!

You see, if you want to be a pro bike racer, look no further for your off-season training than your own backyard. You too can be a professional flockster and increase your cycling savvy. I could think of no better deal.


Tales from the farm are supported by Hagen Berman and Raleigh, with some help from The Pros Closet, Fizik, Feedback Sports, TRP, Giro, JL Velo and Wheels Mfg. and my wonderful girlfriend, Rebecca.