As we all anxiously await Issue 2 to hit our mailbox (we’re subscribers too), we’re counting down the days by publishing some of the entries to our Spirit of ‘Cross contest in Issue 1. Our issue 2 has the winning three entries, but there were a lot of other great essays. Here’s one by Brij Lunine, a Santa Cruz tough guy often seen ripping up the masters cyclocross races along with an occasional mountain bike event. Can you relate to the writer? Love it? Disagree? Throw a comment. We’ve got a bunch more coming…(View the growing list of published Spirit of Cyclocross Essay Entries here.)

Why We Race ‘Cross

It’s not some healthy, lung-clearing jog— Mike Ferentino voice-over from Pure Sweet Hell

Why Do We Race? photo by Andrew YeeUp at the same time I have to get up Monday through Friday. Scurrying around, making a good breakfast (always pretty much the same—two eggs and toast), running over the mental checklist from the top to bottom (helmet to shoes), loading way too much stuff into my hooptie for a forty-five minute race—two bikes, tools, pump, even a dreaded trainer on occasion, bye to the family who I’ll miss for a big part of the day. But why? Why do we spend our precious non-working hours running in the dark, nicking ourselves up practicing mounts and remounts, driving all over the Bay Area and beyond only to be able to race at our absolute limit an hour or less?

If I wanted the fitness I could just ride the road or even (gasp) run. If I wanted the fun of bombing around on singletrack I could just go mountain biking. If I wanted the competition there’s always crits, road races and mountain bike racing. What is it about ‘cross that gets us so excited? That inspires such devotion and enthusiasm? I’d like to offer a number of sometimes-interrelated ideas.

First there’s the obvious: it’s great for building or maintaining off-season fitness, improving bike handling, changing pace, and strengthening parts of the body that don’t get used on the road. The “Original Rationale.” Fair enough. That’s part of what got me into it as a roadie way back when. But let’s be honest, those pictures of Adri van der Poel covered in mud, suffering second place year after year after year after year in the late-1980s held a certain allure. Here was a real old school weird subculture of an already funky subculture (to rehash the now oft used shibboleth) that was just so odd and outrageous you had to love it. For me, and dozens of others in the Bay Area and Northwest, there was a certain cool factor. It was an exotic, anachronistic, northern European hardman’s sport. And it was fun. Plus you had to have skillz. For most of us it’s really hard to learn the intricacies of the toe clip set up and flip (did Lawrence Malone really practice it for hours indoors on rollers while watching soap operas?), reversing your brakes so you grab the rear with your left hand as you fly into the barriers, threading your arm around the bike to run with it, and, of course, losing the stutter step remount.

Now these two principal reasons are well known to all. And it’s only mildly surprising that you can pick from dozens of stock trick bikes, race with hundreds of like-minded souls and now read about ‘cross in its very own magazine. But as I think about it some of the parts of the Original Rationale and Subculture Within a Subculture appeal lead to a few other only slightly less obvious reasons why we race. Because it’s so intense and most races are just so damned action-packed, you get a lot of bang for your buck compared to road or mountain bike races. In addition to the excitement factor one can get away with a lot less training and still be fairly competitive. This is a big one for us rapidly approaching middle-aged working-stiff parents. You don’t have to make the same sacrifices you would to be at the same level as you would in road racing. On a social level, because it’s an amalgamation of various cycling factions and freaks it’s a nice scene. In fact, the community aspect is huge. To a much larger extent than road or MTB it’s a pretty welcoming close-knit scene. The best riders are forthcoming with encouragement and advice, people are generally cool to each other (blog comments aside), there are kids and dogs running around and there’s room for every sort.

So beyond training and niches there’s the accessibility and community. But as I think about it there seems to be another reason why I race ‘cross and it’s all of the above plus the meaning it provides in my life, the passion it elicits, the energy I’m willing to put into it and what I get out of it from the folks I race with: camaraderie (the only people who really get it race it too) and respect (again, the people you race with know what it’s all about). When I think of the rhythm of the weeks in ‘cross season, the post-race satisfaction or disappointment, the reason to ride in what’s now the offseason (never thought I’d think of February through August like this), the role ‘cross takes in my life and a lot of my friends’ it easy to sum up the spirit of ‘cross and why we race it: Cyclocross provides us a cool, strange, vaguely masochistic, hip version of pleasure and there ain’t much like it. Hup hup.