Three Big Tips for Racing Cyclocross in the Mud: Whirlybird Race Report

Three Big Tips for Racing Cyclocross in the Mud: Whirlybird Race Report

This weekend at Whirlybird, Kathryn Cumming grabbed a first place in the Women’s Elite Field! It was a power-sucking course, forcing riders to churn at low cadences, as you can see from Kate’s strava file from the race. This week, Kate offers three major tips on how she was able to approach the course differently from the standard dry and grassy race day. (Title photo taken by Lauren Twombly).

by Kathryn Cumming

Whirlybird was awesome! After suffering in the heat in Virginia over Labor Day weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to see rain and cooler temperatures in the forecast for Sunday’s race in PA.

In the past, this race has played out like a grass crit, complete with drafting and tactics. While I completely respect this style of racing, I was excited to experience a race with heavier conditions so early in the season.

By the time my field was going off, almost everything between the tape was wet mud. We would be slogging through every stretch of the course and would even be pedaling the downhills, trying to maintain traction and forward momentum anyway we could.

A long straightaway at the start gave me time to find my pedal and get the holeshot. I was overtaken by two riders after the first corner and followed them downhill. As we flipped a 180 and started trudging up a muddy climb, we all began picking our own lines while climbing as quickly as possible.

After a few corners and climbs, gaps began to open and I drilled a long straightaway heading towards the pits. This gave me enough room to focus on riding the slick sections smoothly and cleanly and then apply big power when I could to gain more time.

It was fun to catch up with the local race scene and to grab my first win of the season!

There were three deciding factors for me in the race:

1. Seated Power: Being able to maintain power while pedaling seated at a low cadence was essential. If you needed to stand to generate power or your saddle height was too high and you could not get enough leverage on your cranks, you would lose traction with your rear wheel and forward momentum would be lost. This type of pedaling is something we train ourselves and with cyclocross coaching clients to prepare for heavy, slick conditions.

2. Proper line choice: Cyclocross courses are usually pretty wide and choosing where to ride between (or pushing against) the course tape saved a lot of time and energy. The center of the course and the apex of each corner was a muddy mess. My entire focus was on looking for green anywhere I could. Frequently this meant pushing against the course tape with my handlebars, elbows, and hips to expand the course and get some extra traction. It also meant taking less conventional lines through the corners to avoid the slop. The goal was to find green wherever I could: grass = traction.

3. Riding vs running obstacles: I decided to run the log and off-camber obstacles. Both of these obstacles were rideable, however, I felt riding would be slower and less consistent. The approach to the log was after a really slick section of mud in the woods. You had to clear several roots en route to the log and your legs would be heavy when you went to hop. Furthermore, the easiest point to hop the log was on the right, but the ideal entrance and exit were on the left. While the dismount may have cost me a second, I am confident I made up more time by approaching the log with speed and exiting along the ideal line which had the most traction. Similarly, the off camber was slick and sketchy. A dismount at the top of the downhill guaranteed you would clear the section smoothly. In my field, this is where second place was decided, with one woman choosing to ride and falling while the other ran cleanly through the section and opened up a gap.

These were three great tools to have for a constant-power muddy race, but they are not universal for all cyclocross races (which is a part of what makes this sport so fun). Looking ahead at the weather, the Nittany Lion UCI weekend is looking like a return to a hot, fast course!

There will be loads of tips, power files, and cyclocross advice for both sides of the race tape to come. If you’re interested in being the first in the know, be sure to sign up for Jalapeno Cycling's weekly newsletter!

Race Report and Power File: Jalapeno Cycling's First 2018-19 Cyclocross Race at Go Cross

Race Report and Power File: Jalapeno Cycling's First 2018-19 Cyclocross Race at Go Cross

The cyclocross season began last weekend in Roanoke, Virginia, at the GoCross Cyclocross race. Saturday saw a nice muddy course while heat and humidity reigned on Sunday. You can see Kathryn Cumming's race data file here, showing that the GoCross was a course defined by loads of consistent pedaling and little recovery. Kate's heart rate spiked at 192 bpm by lap two and held above her usual race average. Be sure to stay tuned for more race reports and power files as the season continues!

by Kathryn Cumming

 photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

As the season opener approaches, there is always a sense of uncertainty. It’s easy to second guess the work you did in the off season. 

I have very rarely started the season off with my best results. It seems to take me a few races to find my sharpness. To counteract this in the past, I have managed to hit training races before the UCI season kicks off, but with a crazy August schedule, this year was all about fun in Roanoke. I knew I worked hard and was stronger and more skilled than this time last year, so the plan was to enjoy racing the course. 

The course was fast and flowy. It was easy to carry speed through everything, meaning attacks would be necessary for gaps to stick. 

 photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

I decided to lower expectations during my start on Saturday, when I missed my pedal and briefly took a break by sitting on my top tube. While it looked a bit ridiculous, this was my biggest victory of the weekend: I was able to recover quickly and pick up a bunch of spots by the time I was up the first climb. I actually found myself in a better position after the first few corners than in many past races. Some of the training was paying off.

 photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

I jumped on some fast wheels and fought to stay near the big, strung out group of leaders. In doing so, I tested and exceeded my limits, sliding out a few times around corners. At this point, despite my hammering, the gaps remained and I entered that dark but oddly energizing place where you see how how much you can keep pushing. This tunnel vision can be invigorating as you test both your physical and mental abilities. 

After almost four solo laps, I crossed the line in 9th.

As I met Andrew and my parents (who are amazing and traveled all the way from Michigan) after the finish, I could do nothing more than smile and lay down. I rode as hard as I could and my heart rate data very much confirms this (you know I like data!). There are obviously ways to improve, but if there weren’t, I wouldn’t continue racing every weekend.

 photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

Sunday was a different story. Temperatures were brutal and my body just didn’t respond the way I wanted. I was trading places with a few women and on about the third lap, I put in a dig to try and solidify the gap. This spike in my heart rate put me into the red and I just couldn’t recover. I was squirting water on myself, but started getting goosebumps and chills. At this point, the lights went out and I was done. I had to pull out of the race.

 photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

A DNF always leaves you questioning yourself, but Andrew and my parents were there to tell me I made the right decision. For me, conditions were getting dangerous and as much as I love racing, it wasn’t worth the risk. Friends at the race and at home offered words of support that have me feeling as positive as ever about the cycling community. Every cyclocross race will have ups and downs and I’m so lucky to have a support structure that allows me to keep the right perspective.

 photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

photo by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

Overall, the speed of the races was fierce and it was difficult to recover from mistakes. This is so awesome for the women’s field! The competition makes everyone better, improves the atmosphere at races, and also means more women are putting time and energy into cyclocross. I am pumped to start my season off with a top ten and some UCI points and am excited to continue challenging myself in this elite field.

Sage Titanium Bicycles Gets Spicy for 2018, Sponsors Jalapeno Cycling's Kathryn Cumming

Sage Titanium Bicycles Gets Spicy for 2018, Sponsors Jalapeno Cycling's Kathryn Cumming

Jalapeno Cycling's Co-Founder and Team Captain, Kathryn Cumming, has been busy preparing for her cyclocross season and getting the new development team ready for the fun that awaits them. One of the worst kept secrets around the shop for the 2018-19 season is that she will be riding the smooth but stiff titanium cyclocross rigs from Sage Titanium. She is looking forward to putting her leg over the Sage and getting her season underway!

by Kathryn Cumming

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If you’ve spent any time at the shop or have gone riding with me, you know I haven’t kept this a secret (I hate surprises), but it’s official: I’m going to be riding Sage Titanium bikes this cross season!

I can’t believe I get to race these dream bikes! The Sage PDXCX is the best cross bike I have ever ridden. The ride is smooth but snappy. The bike eats up bumps and tracks well through rough terrain, while still accelerating quickly. The high bottom bracket allows for constant hammering of the pedals over cyclocross specific terrain and the aggressive geometry plays nicely into attacking out of the saddle. Not to mention, the frames look fierce and are light and durable (remember, I break a lot of stuff).

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I am very cautious when partnering with sponsors. Product support makes life easier and it’s always cool to announce partners, but I will only partner with brands I completely believe in; the products have to be something we can stand behind and recommend at Jalapeno Cycling and our brand values must be aligned. Between the awesome bikes and great people who are committed to cyclocross, it was an easy decision to partner with Sage!

My 2018-19 cyclocross season will include a mix of UCI races, local races, and hopefully a World Cup or two. As a shop owner and coach, the US World Cups are difficult to attend; they occur during a busy time at Jalapeno Cycling and the locations are too far for a day trip. Instead, we will be focusing on East Coast UCI races and jumping in the local scene on off weekends. The grassroots scene around the mid-Atlantic is booming. We plan to take part in this and hopefully bring some of that energy to our local New Jersey series too.

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Once the cold weather leads to quieter weekends around the shop, if the opportunity arises, I will definitely get to the start line of a European World Cup.

My season will kickoff on September 1-2 in Roanoke, VA for the Deschutes Brewery’s GO Cross for the UCI C2 events. The Labor Day holiday makes it the perfect weekend for us to take a trip.

As lame as it sounds, my goal is just to have a great time out on the course! Racing cross is a blast, and I think we all race better when we are enjoying ourselves. Cross is an outlet, and while I love a good result (who doesn’t), I never want racing to become a source of stress or worry in my life. That’s not to say I haven’t been training hard. The year has been full of intervals, long days in the saddle, skills, and fun on the trails. 

I’m getting excited just writing this - let’s get the season going!

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Looking to follow Jalapeno Cycling's adventures in the upcoming season? You can sign up for our newsletter here. If you are drooling over Kate's new race machine, be sure to check out the full titanium collection over at Sage Titanium!

Want to Try Cyclocross (Or Know a Friend Who Should Try It)? Applications for the Development Program Are Open NOW!

Want to Try Cyclocross (Or Know a Friend Who Should Try It)? Applications for the Development Program Are Open NOW!

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What is the Jalapeno Cycling Cyclocross Development Program?

Jalapeno Cycling is a shop committed to growing cyclocross. Last year was the flagship year of our cyclocross development program, where we taught riders the skills and hosted training to set goals and have fun.

If you have never raced a cyclocross race, but want a cycling challenge, this program is PERFECT for you! We are open to accepting riders with a little experience, provided they have not raced more than four races. Why do we set this limitation? First, Kathryn Cumming, New Jersey’s top cyclocross rider, tailor makes the program for beginners to familiarize themselves with the early techniques needed to start having fun. We’re not going to be going over the far more advanced stuff! Second, instead of looking to put our jerseys on the podium, we’re more looking to grow cyclocross in the area!

We have five major goals for the program:

  1. Discover self-motivated people who have either never tried cyclocross, or those who have only raced less than five races.

  2. Prepare the development riders ahead of the season, giving them the tools they will need to both safely navigate cyclocross courses and have the most fun possible.

  3. Have all members of the team compete in six different local races during the season, helping to grow the sport in New Jersey.

  4. Help grow a community of cyclists who cheer on each other’s accomplishments.

  5. Develop a competitive but respectful spirit against other development programs.

What are we looking for?

In return for months of training and coaching, applicants will be required not only to commit to their own season, but those of their fellow devo teammates. Cyclocross is a fun discipline, but it can also be a very tough challenge on the motivation, which is doubled by the days getting darker and colder. We ask that you see your first season fully out, both for yourself and the support of your teammates.

You will be required to have a bike for the season. This can be a dedicated cyclocross bike or a mountain bike. Loaner bikes from your friends for the season are acceptable, provided that it will be 100% guaranteed available to you for all practice and race days.

Practice will be held twice a week before the season begins; a hard indoor training session in the morning during the weekday, and an outdoor skills practice in the morning on Sunday. Both of these sessions, but especially the indoor class, will become increasingly challenging as the season approaches. Riders who miss more than two training sessions may be asked to leave the program at directors' discretion.

If you are interested in the program, be sure to stay apply here!

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Heading Back to the Road: Kathryn Cumming on Bear Mountain

Heading Back to the Road: Kathryn Cumming on Bear Mountain

Last weekend, Kathryn Cumming jumped into her first road race of the season, and grabbed a podium spot at Bear Mountain. The owners at Jalapeno Cycling are committed to only supporting equal payout races, which is why they both participate in the road races organized by the CRCA, who we feel are a leader in the NYC area. You can read Kate's full race report below. Interested in her power numbers from the race, you can view her data from her Strava file here.

by Kathryn Cumming

It took me a while to sign up for my first road race of the 2018 season. I’ve been spending most of my time on my cyclocross bike and trying to hit as much gravel as possible. Big thanks to CRCA though for hosting an incredible race on some of my all time favorite roads; seeing the Bear Mountain Classic on BikeReg was enough to get me on slick tires. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to support a good organization and get in a killer workout. Roadies are strong and after seeing how much of my field had crushed the Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix the previous weekend, I knew it would be a solid day of riding.

I may be a cyclocrosser racer, but I am not a fan of the cold. When the forecast at Harriman State Park called for temperatures in the 40s and rain, I started pulling all of my clothing options out of the closet. While I did not want to freeze, the course has enough climbing that overdressing would definitely mean burning up on the hills. I opted for long sleeves and leg warmers, and fortunately, on a last minute phone call with Andrew, he told me not to wear my heavy gloves. While I was mad at him on the descents, it was the right decision.

It started pouring as we rolled out, and with a long, steep downhill to start the race, my teeth were literally chattering by the time we hit the bottom. With a narrow road and a neutral start to the three mile climb up Tiorati, the pace stayed reasonable. Everyone was riding safe and the group seemed to plan to stay together for the first lap. As water kicked up from tires, I found myself getting colder and my thoughts starting to turn towards the negative.

Throughout the entire first lap, I planned how I was going to quit. Could I somehow get a flat? Would I just simply pull off into the parking lot at the end of lap one? I was cold and honestly kind of bored. Conditions were wet and the field was smart and strong, so I didn’t want to make some stupid attack at an inopportune time, but I don’t particularly enjoy sitting in the group.

Pack mentality kept me rolling past the parking lot to start lap two of three. I really appreciate how cautious everyone was on the way down the hill. As we turned onto Tiorati to start our second run up the long climb, the pace started to quicken at the front. I had one woman marked after seeing the awesome results she has been putting up lately and I figured I would just get close to her wheel and see what happened.

I am pretty soft about this whole being cold thing, and I was still freezing even though we were climbing. It was time to pick up the pace and try to warm up! Plus, I figured now was the time to have some fun. I really enjoy climbing and went to the front to start driving the pace. When I stood, my legs felt like lead and my feet seemed as if they were missing. Women were holding strong to my wheel, so I couldn’t see if we were dropping much of the group. As we started to come over the top, it was refreshing to at least hear some heavy breathing and a quick analysis of the situation showed we were down to a group of five.

As a cross racer who is used to going it alone, it was cool to see how quickly our breakaway group got organized with a paceline. Communication was there, pulls were quick, and we were starting to open up and solidify a gap. The group continued to ride together, taking turns at the front for the remainder of the lap. An added bonus was the friendliness of the group. I’ve been in enough road races where someone in the paceline is barking less than constructive criticism at a racing companion, but this crew just seemed to be having a great time putting down some watts and riding together. If you’ve chatted with me, you probably know I embrace a positive atmosphere, and the breakaway was sharing the same vibes. 

As we descended to start our third and final lap, I started to think tactically. Not surprisingly, when you haven’t done a road race in eleven months, tactics are not something that come to mind quickly. The group was made up of strong climbers and my legs were feeling cold and heavy. I’m not sure if everyone was in the same boat or not, but all accelerations on the final Tiorati climb seemed like half hearted attack attempts. We either couldn’t commit to the big watts needed to create a gap or just didn’t want to. Everyone continued to ride well together and I found myself trying to plan a time near the end to get away. I won the Cat 4 Bear Mountain race in 2015 with a jump on the final climb to open up a gap before the downhill finish. It seemed like a great idea, but I had some feelings of insecurity about whether or not I could pull it off in my current company. I found myself wanting a podium result, and therefore played it safe and stuck it out until the sprint. Cat and mouse started on the final climb and I tried to stay off the front (thanks to the crazy strong triathlete in the field for pulling us all the way up) and started marking a wheel. It has been so long since I was in a sprint finish that I was unsure of where and when to start the sprint. I decided to follow wheels and as we all wound it up on the downhill towards the finish line, I tried to give it a kick but was outmatched and couldn’t contend with first and second. 

Rolling in for third, it felt great to be racing again. Unlike a cross race where I can pretty much say after every race that I gave it my absolute all, road leaves you wondering about where and when you went hard. Should I have attacked? Did I start my sprint soon enough? Then you remember that it was a great time and that you need to get out of your wet clothes, and everything quickly moves forward. 

Thanks to the CRCA and the awesome women racing, I may have caught a little bit of the road bug. I don’t plan on becoming a true roadie any time soon (I will continue racing in my muddy mountain bike shoes), but more CRCA events will be on my summer calendar. I may or may not have come straight back to the shop to check BikeReg and start planning a bit of a racing calendar. See you at the Dave Jordan Central Park Classic!
 

For the Love of Type B-Personality Races: Virginia’s Monster Cross

For the Love of Type B-Personality Races: Virginia’s Monster Cross

February is outdoor cycling’s worst month, at least if you live north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Sure, cyclocross often gets its big World Championship race, followed by a few swan song events, but that’s Europe. In the United States, UCI caliber events are done and dusted in early January. For the first time in five years, Kate and I sat out the National Championships, which meant that we haven’t touched a race course since New York City’s Rainey Park.

Most years, I’m able to wait until my early March Birthday to get back into racing, often with crit events like Grant’s Tomb or the Branch Brook Park Series. But two months away from racing left us a little more champing at the bit for the start of 2018. So we decided to break tradition and find something competitive.

Cue the Monster Cross Race.

Every February, the Richmond area of Virginia holds a 50-mile gravel race, complete with closed crossings, pavement stretches, loose singletrack, and loads of fire roads. Coupled with a predicted 55 degree day, it was a hard race to pass up, especially now that Haymarket put the Monster Cross Race at the start of their new Mid-Atlantic Champions Series. Gravel in February is a new concept for both Kate and I, and so we wrote a race report on our experiences of the race below.

Andrew’s Race Report:

One of my biggest concerns leading up to this event was that unlike Kate, my outdoor rides had been practically non-existent since the cyclocross season ended. Now don’t get me wrong, my indoor training has probably never been so consistent during this time of year, but most of it is building a base for the New York City Triathlon. Loads of on the bike rides have been on my road bike, pin-pointing zones to the exact percentage: exactly the stuff you expect from a Type-A Personality bike racer in the NYC area.

The week before, I hopped on my Cross Bike and hit the trails as hard as I could. The day after, by body, and especially my quads, ached in ways I had long forgot about.

I realized my hyper-forward time trial position, complete with an ISM saddle and aero bars, was significantly different than my cyclocross bike. So in a moment of slight recklessness, I swapped the saddle and put on an absurdly aggressive stem to get me close enough to the position I had been riding in. If that wasn’t enough, I opted to run 40psi in my LAS tubulars, easily twice what I usually ride on cyclocross courses.

In short, I was really putting all my eggs in the basket that the course was well-packet and tame as I saw on the prior year race videos.

The starting grid gave me a little pause, though. At least half the hundreds of riders were on mountain bikes, and many of those on gravel bikes were rocking 38-40c tubeless tires. It was way too late to change my setup at this point, and I mentally prepared myself for a long walk in the worst case. I made a comment about having to drive through a five-hour snowstorm the night before, and a rider behind me, with a thick, Virginian accent, was in disbelief that I drove all the way from Northern New Jersey for this “little thing.”

In East Coast cyclocross races, starting grids are organized with Newtonian precision according to series, crossresults, or UCI points. In gravel racing, it is more like kindergarteners rushing forward to a nondescript start line all at once, vaguely organizing themselves by class color. In a way this has always been bizarre to me, as being at the front of a gravel race is almost as important. Sure, you don’t have to weave through riders in tight sections, but on fast roads and trails, the leaders’ group and drafting comes into play in ways that it never will on a cyclocross course. I started alongside Kate in the fourth row, and after a slightly chaotic start and a crash of younger riders on an early bridge, I realized I was now chasing rather than with the lead group.

I don’t think I could have ended up riding with a better group of racers on the first 25 mile lap. While I was pulling at the front of this chasing group for over 90% of the time, the riders were pretty cool to let me stay upfront in the tighter sections and get rad across the entire width of the course even though they could have nailed those turns on their wider tires a bit faster. I kept getting the best feedback from the back, such as “right hairpin turn coming up,” or “sharp rocks in this creek,” and I happily hammered at the front in the flats, doing what I could to keep everyone in hopeful contention.

Closer to the end of the first lap, I heard a cheering section tell us that we were a full seven minutes back on the leaders. Since I was going beyond my 50-mile limit 25 miles in, I knew there wasn’t a chance I’d bridge up to those front guys.

In the final 1.5 miles or the lap, the course became far more wicked, to the point that any mountain bikers who were able to linger in groups had a bit of an advantage at the end of the race. In this section, my upper body started feeling the effects of that high tire pressure and body position that allowed me to efficiently nail the hard packed dirt and pavement earlier.

I lost about twenty seconds on the group I was with through this section, and tried to make up for it after crossing the lap. I could still see them ahead of me for most of the rolling hills, but I lost sight of them at the worst possible time. In a pavement straightaway, I caught a race sign that stated “right ahead” followed by a cone. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember this turn on the last lap, but considering that I couldn’t see those guys either, led me to believe that I had to make the corner.

All of these thoughts didn’t happen in a split second either. I was standing at that corner like a chump for a short bit before darting to the woods. There were tire tracks… but not many. There were trails… but way too many leaves considering several hundred riders were passing through here. And I realized almost a mile in that it had been a wrong turn. Yea, I swore a little and was frustrated by getting lost on the course. By the time I got back, I still couldn’t see anyone in either direction: another common sight in gravel racing.

Below me, my cycling computer was tallying up the extra distance I had ridden along with the time, which was creeping by much slower than the last lap. I decided I had enough of the digital mockery for now and to get into the spirit of Gravel racing by switching the computer off.

Between the unyielding accordion of the start and not having dedicated, bright race tape to mark every centimeter of the course, gravel racing is a far cry from cyclocross, but in a way, there is something liberating about it that cyclocross, criterium, or triathlon events don’t have.

Gravel racing isn’t a game of perfection or inches.

More pre-race prep goes into attempting to control the uncontrollables, such as mechanicals and flats, than warming up on a trainer or dialing in the corners in a pre-lap. Sometime on the course, you will be on the wrong bike. Gravel bikes won’t be able to jet through a fast, root-laden descent as well as mountain bikes, and mountain bikes will feel like they’re slogging up a climb. Gravel teaches you to make peace with that.

I ended up taking a 28th place finish, far from the top ten I was secretly hoping for. Still, the Monster Cross course was able to give me personal achievements I could celebrate: chasing the leaders well on the first lap, and tearing through the last two miles really well on equipment not suited for it, passing a few more tentative riders in the process.

More importantly, it was the first time in a while where I just unplugged myself from the raw data of winter training and just got a good opportunity to literally get lost in the woods for while.

Kate’s Race Report:

Bike: VonHof Steel ACX with 42t chainring and 11-36 cassette
Tires: Challenge Chicane Tubular @ 35 psi
Nutrition: Infinit GO FAR (2 bottles)

The mass start of gravel races is something I haven't quite figured out, but I've blown up chasing some of the men enough times in the past that I decided to play it conservative and avoid bonking early. Sunday's race mantra was pretty much "don't bonk, fuel now, don't bonk". As a cross racer, I'm not used to fueling during races and I find I have to really make myself grab a bottle.

The start proved chaotic as expected, but after about the first three miles, everyone settled in to their own race pace. I had no idea where I was in the field, but figured I came for a fun ride and a solid workout, so I just needed to get after it. I started moving up on the climbs but struggled early with the loose descents. It's been a while since I bombed a fire road on 33mm file treads. This saw me trading spots every few minutes with some racers on mountain bikes - I would hit the climb hard and they would pass me again on the way down.

It can be ideal to start riding with a group and share the workload, but I  wasn't ready to give up my control of the pace.

Riding my own race was proving to be a good idea as we hit an extended section of pavement around mile 10. My legs felt strong and the file treads were flying. I decided to go hard here to gap a woman I had been riding with, but apparently I went a little too hard and messed up the course directions. After seeing a sign that said "Right Turn" and an orange cone at a trailhead, I turned on to the trail and continued attacking. After a half mile or so, everything seemed oddly quiet. Fortunately the woman behind me gave a shout and we both turned around (apologies to her for leading her off course, she was a good sport about it). I guess the orange cone was blocking the trail. Back to the pavement we went to resume our chase.

At this point I was even more clueless about my standing in the field and kept reminding myself that it's February and you came for a good ride. Going hard for the entire race and trying to improve my descending became the only objective. I started working my way back into the field, finding myself moving through groups, bumping into friends along the way, and enjoying the exchange of friendly words with fellow racers. My predominantly solo effort continued and I was able to appreciate the awesome course the promoter created.

The last five miles required that I use every gear choice and cadence possible to avoid cramping. My power meter became a great reference to keep me from soft pedaling. Some of the cruelest climbs on course were saved for the end of the lap. The support and encouragement from lapped riders as I attempted to get out of the saddle to give an extra push really made a difference.

I crossed the line after about three hours and fifteen minutes of racing, completely depleted and satisfied with my day on the bike. It was enough for fifth place. Andrew was waiting, equally exhausted but also pleased with his ride. We both felt better about our mental state as well when we learned we had taken the same detour. Who can complain about more miles on a beautiful day though?!

One of my favorite aspects of gravel racing compared to road racing is the all-out racing from the start. Generally in a road race, you have to play the tactics game and there's often even a neutral start. I love that gravel racing is on from the whistle, allowing me to truly see the capability of my legs and mind. The roadies are as strong (if not stronger) and wiser (I hate playing chess with them), but I enjoy the simple, physical efforts of gravel racing.

I'm a sucker for these unsanctioned, low barrier events. The racing is challenging and competitive, but in different ways for all participants. There is a shared camaraderie between pros looking to test their legs for prize money and first timers hoping to finish the course on an old bike they found in the garage. Words of encouragement are shared all over the course, assistance is offered by way of pulls, mechanical help, and nutritionals, and conversations are had between athletes who would not normally interact. We are all equally drained from our effort at the end and everyone appears more relaxed in their raw, depleted state. Recovery drinks are traded for fried chicken and beer, stories of triumphs and mishaps on the trail are exchanged, and then we head our separate ways, knowing we have a home in the cycling community.

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Jalapeno Cycling is a Cyclocross/Gravel Faux Pro Racing Team, with a bike shop located in Bloomfield, New Jersey. You can follow them on Instagram or Facebook, as well as sign up for their weekly newsletter about Cyclocross and Gravel events here.

Our Faux Pro Predictions on the 2018 Elite Women's World Championships of Cyclocross

Before the World Cups showed up in the United States in September, Valkenburg in the Netherlands was one of the common earliest World Cups, a race that many UCI athletes looked forward to with fear or ambition as their points would reset to include all of the early races of the season.

This year, Valkenburg will instead host the World Championships of Cyclocross in early February. When making predictions for the race, it would be easy to fall into a trap of using riders’ past performances on the course. The biggest problem with this is that the typically dry Valkenburg course of October is likely going to look nothing like the near guaranteed slop fest of February (rain is predicted for almost every day between now and next weekend).

Secondly, we have it on good authority that Adri Van Der Poel (former World Champion and father of Mathieu), is going to be bombarding the course with unique features that riders haven’t encountered before. Sure, the long Valkenburg staircase is likely still going to be there, but riders hopefully are not going to expect the rest of the course to be the blazing fast, technically tame (for a Euro World Cup) course that they’ve encountered or watched play out before.

I didn’t want to jump on the overhype bandwagon, but unless the mud turns to superglue peanut butter for the weekend, this race is shaping up to be just as good as the World Championships in 2015 when Pauline Ferrand-Prévot drag raced Sanne Cant to the line with three other riders not far off in tow. Still, some of the biggest players have loads of incentive to break away earlier in the race, so there is a solid chance that we’ll see a lone frontrunner with two or three laps to go.

Sunday early morning, my money would have been on Ferrand-Prévot to take her second World Championship win. The course isn’t a far stretch from the features of Tábor, although that Czech Republic course was loads colder than the well above freezing conditions in Valkenburg this upcoming weekend. In any case, PFP has been on an absolute tear in December and January from a bad row call-up.

But that crash at Hoogerheide leaves her fans in doubt of her even making an appearance at the World Championships, let alone having a 100% showing. No, she doesn’t have any fractures, unlike Jolanda Neff, who is having surgery on a collarbone, but that crash must have left Ferrand-Prévot feeling a bit battered. If she bounces back to form though, I think she’ll employ her usual tactics of keeping the group together and hunting down any breakaways, leaving the race to an exciting finish.

The big contender who won’t be a presence in the Elite Race is Evie Richards. The first-ever U23 World Championship winner will be racing in the U23s again for the third year in a row. Considering she has won an elite level World Cup in mid-December and stood on the podium at Hoogerheide, Richards is plenty capable to race at the big show. Still, the choice to jump to the elites is irreversible, and Richards still has many, many years ahead to showcase her talent at the Elite World Championships.

Because of the few aforementioned factors, I think the closest thing to a bet with 1:1 odds or better should be on Sanne Cant.

Cant has once again raced a very long season, and found herself on the top step of the podium in close to half her races. She wrapped up the overall World Cup winner in France, not even needing her Hoogerheide win to take the series. However, she’s far from invincible, as her two 12th place finishes in the later World Cup rounds reveal. A few of her World Cup loses have come on courses with heavy conditions in sand and mud, leaving me to wonder if she’d prefer a day of greasy mud or a fast, dry course to leg-sapping conditions.

And what if Valkenburg turns into a heavy, powering course? Well, forget what I said about the overhype bandwagon. Americans should be loving Katie Compton’s chances if the course looks remotely anything like Nommay. Her best shot is not an exciting finishing sprint, but putting the whole field in the red early. Don’t let her results at Hoogerheide dissuade you from thinking she’s not a contender: she has never had a good relationship with that course. Compton is looking just as good as ever going into the World Championships.

I usually fanboy Eva Lechner in my Championship predictions, and usually eat my cycling cap because of it. That now makes me a little more tentative to really boost her chances, even though she’s ranked in the top five in the UCI standings and has been consistently getting stronger with each World Cup showing this year. Did she look very good at Hoogerheide? Absolutely. But, unlike Compton, she has a friendly history with that course, including a win right before the World Championships three years ago. If Valkenburg ends up soaking in most of the rain and the new course features don’t heavily factor into the race, Lechner has a great shot here. She’s the last rider to win in Valkenburg (which was a bit wetter that year than usual), but again, it’s doubtful that this course is going to play out in the same way that it does in the early autumn.

The rider who I’m guessing will throw a wrench in everyone’s fantasy draft list one way or another is Marianne Vos. Never in her career has she had a full season of cyclocross racing under her belt like Ellen Van Loy or Sanne Cant, but never has she gone to a World Championship event with so few races in her legs. How will that pan out? Well, judging by her fourth place result on Sunday, she has the ability to stay near the front. I think with her history as one of the winningest cyclocross worlds racers in history, she’ll be on everyone’s mind to take a win on home soil, but between her missing the Dutch National Championship and not finding the podium yet this season, a 4th-6th place finish is likely a safer bet. Still with so many top riders injured, sick, or like in the case of Sophie de Boer, just taking a recovery from the sport, Vos could take advantage. If she is lingering near the front in the finishing stretch, she will take advantage of that frightening sprint of hers.

Having said that, Sanne Cant has been especially wary this season of last minute heroics, and when she is near the front of a major race, she has consistently attacked in the last lap and a half, depriving sprinters of their chance to shine in the last 200m.

The two racers this year that played the role of the chaser were Katie Keough and Helen Wyman. There’s a good reason why both of these women are ranked so well in the UCI standings, and both have well deserved a front row call up out of amazing consistent results. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see either or both of them on the podium. They both have the ability to win, but they also have a knack to over-churn themselves inside out when they are at the front of a race. A lot of their consistency comes from chasing down a lone leader rather than being the one to solo break from the field. Having said that, this is cyclocross, and those consistent second or third places could turn into a victory. If they are pursuing someone near the last few laps who is making mental mistakes, either Keough or Wyman will pounce to rainbow stripes. It’s also worth mentioning that Valkenburg will make Wyman the female rider with the most World Championship experience: she’s been continually racing the championship race since 2004, marking this year as number 15.

There are a few riders that I am admittingly overlooking, with the biggest two being Katerina Nash and Maud Kaptheijns. Both riders have won a World Cup this season, with Nash taking the first race at JingleCross and Kaptheijns capturing arguably the best result of her career at Koksijde, although at the time it didn’t come as a big surprise considering how she had been ripping up the Superprestige series. It would be hard to argue against labeling Kaptheijns as the best cyclocross racer in October. But with a long season heading into February, neither Nash nor Kaptheijns have posted World Cup results like they did earlier in the season. Still, both racers are more than capable then making me look like an idiot for downplaying their chances. Nash has a long track record of capping off her season near the front of the race. On the other hand, this will be Kaptheijns’ first ever Elite World Championship. She landed on the podium during the inaugural U23 World Championships, and didn’t compete last year.

Jalapeno Cycling will be watching the races live on Saturday and Sunday! During our Anniversary Party on Sunday afternoon between 1-5PM, we’ll be celebrating with VonHof, Van Dessel, and Ritchey, loads of local cyclocrossers and other cycling friends with drinks and snacks. We’ll be watching full replays of the Elite Races, so if you leave a comment either here or on Facebook, you can feel free to swing by a rub my face in the fact that Lucinda Brand bounced back from being sick and completely shattered my thoughts on the Elite Women’s Championship predictions.

Six Big Mistakes When Building a New Bike

Six Big Mistakes When Building a New Bike

Here at Jalapeno Cycling, we get a lot of requests from people who want us to build their bike from a direct-to-customer internet dealer. While we do sell new bikes from plenty of great brands, we are happy to build up a bike, new or used, that you bought online.

Sometimes, however, we are the second option after a frustrating DIY out of the box. We get this as well. Far too many online bike companies suggesting that their bikes come 85-90% assembled, or even worse, suggest that building a bike up is just a 15-20 minute project. In the best case, people were just frustrated with the project. In the worst case, a component was destroyed during the building process, and the customer needs a solution.

We really hate giving people bad news, so we wanted to walk through six of the most common problems that we see come into the door, and the best way you can avoid them when doing your own build at home. This is far from a comprehensive list or guide to building a bike, and (while we're admittedly biased) we need to throw out the disclaimer that most bikes bought directly or online should be built by an experienced mechanic.

The following is merely the six problems we often see in DIY builds that lead to injury or expensive repairs. If you have questions about things that are not covered in this guide, such as properly installing your front wheel or adjusting your brakes, please consult a professional.

1) Ignoring damage and defects to the bike.

Before picking up a single tool, every amatuer and professional bike builder must inspect the frame and parts for damage, even if the box it was shipped in looks immaculate. In general, you are looking for cracks in the frame or clear damage to the parts. While sometimes chips or wear in the paint on the frame are easily-spotted indications, but you can’t depend on paint to spot a defect. For metal frames like steel, aluminum, and titanium, you should give extra attention to the welds. For carbon fiber, you need to be even more meticulous. Microcracks in carbon fiber can be small enough to be measured in millimeters, but they can cause a catastrophic failure that will end a ride pretty quick. Discovering a defective or damaged-in-transit frame before you build the bike up can be an easy way to avoid a costly internet investment.

In a similar way, you’ll want to inspect parts for dings and nicks. Having said that, for almost every bike we pull out of a box, we do anticipate minor damage to parts that we will have to repair while we’re building up the bike. You can expect that the wheels might be out of true, the rotors are slightly bent, or the derailleur hanger was bent out of alignment.

2) Poorly Installed Pedals

Mis-threaded pedals are easily the most common mistake we see, and unfortunately, it can be a costly goof up. When installing the pedals, use a waterproof grease on the threads, and then install the pedals at least ⅔ the way into the crankarms by hand. If you feel resistance, the kind where you feel like you need a tool to install the pedals, you are likely cross-threading the pedals. This will result in those threads failing, with the spindles falling out of the cranks anywhere from the first ride to a year down the road.

Sometimes these threads can be repaired, but in some cases, this means that you have to buy a crank arm or a full crankset for the bike. Rarely will a company warranty a bike if you cross thread the pedals during installation.

 When installing pedals, you want to hold on to the pedal spindle with your hand, and rotate the cranks backwards. If the pedal will not thread, you may be trying to install the wrong pedal on the wrong side (pedals are right and left specific).

When installing pedals, you want to hold on to the pedal spindle with your hand, and rotate the cranks backwards. If the pedal will not thread, you may be trying to install the wrong pedal on the wrong side (pedals are right and left specific).

3) Backwards Fork

Forks are usually packed backwards in shipping containers to keep the packing boxes as small as possible. With extremely rare exceptions (that are usually found on aero and time trial bikes) rim brakes should face forward, while disc brakes should be on the non-driveside (the opposite side of your gears).

If you’ve built the bike up, and find that the tire is slamming into the bike frame, or that the tire is hitting your shoe when you are turning the bike, you may have installed the fork incorrectly.

 Most bikes and frames come out of a box in this position, but you shouldn't leave the fork like this. It will make steering the bike difficult, if not impossible!

Most bikes and frames come out of a box in this position, but you shouldn't leave the fork like this. It will make steering the bike difficult, if not impossible!

4) Poorly Adjusted Limit Screws

Your derailleurs (the components that shift the gears) are limited in range by a pair of screws called limit screws. In the thousands of bikes I have assembled in my career, I have only seen four bikes come out of the box with perfectly adjusted limit screws, so chances are that the four limit screws (five if you count the b-limit screw) on the bike you bought direct are not in the correct position.

Unfortunately, dialing these in correctly does take plenty of experience. For a bad case situation with the front derailleur, your chain will continue to pop off your chainrings to the outside or inside. Worst case situation with the rear derailleur, and you’re talking about damaging the frame and/or shifting your rear derailleur into your wheel. Be sure to brush up on getting these correctly set up (during the second class of Jalapeno Cycling’s free mechanic’s clinics, we give our students some major pointers in dialing in derailleurs). If you are in doubt, it is better to slightly run the screws tight than loose. Better yet, if you don’t feel comfortable with this project, this might be one step that you should pay a mechanic to walk you through.

 These are the limit screws on your rear derailleur. If they are too loose, they can send the chain into your frame or the derailleur into the wheel.

These are the limit screws on your rear derailleur. If they are too loose, they can send the chain into your frame or the derailleur into the wheel.

5) Loose Saddle, Stem, Handlebars and Seatpost

We see loose saddles all the time on new bikes that come in. There are bolts that tighten the clamps to your saddle rails, keeping it in place. It is common for many amateur builders to do a fine job with getting close to the proper torque with the seatpost clamp, but since most saddles come with the seatpost installed on the box, we’re guessing that many folks think that those rail bolts are properly torqued. This is rarely the case, and forgetting to tighten these to spec can result in really bad accidents (think of your saddle falling backwards or forwards while riding down your local hill).

On the topic of seatposts and saddles, be sure to apply a fine layer of waterproof grease on the inside of your seat tube before inserting the seatpost (only if your bike has a metal seatpost and a frame). While the results are not as dangerous as a loose saddle, installing a seatpost dry into your frame and leaving it in place for a season is almost a guarantee that your seatpost is going to rust in place. Usually, riders don’t notice what they did wrong until they lend the bike to someone else, or try and sell the bike to a person with a different leg length.

While a less common problem that we see, be sure to tighten the stem and handlebars to the proper torque as well. Under no circumstances should the stem, handlebars, saddle, or seatpost be able to pivot or turn under force (you’ll need to keep the front wheel set in place, possibly with your legs, in order to test the bolts on the stem).

 Most budget-minded bikes come with this type of rail clamp, which needs to be tightened. Other models may have one or two allen-key bolts that you will need to properly torque.

Most budget-minded bikes come with this type of rail clamp, which needs to be tightened. Other models may have one or two allen-key bolts that you will need to properly torque.

6) Tangled Cable Housing

When you are looking at the front of the bike, the order of the cables should go as follows (from the furthest outside to the closest to your headtube): 1) Front brake cable housing, 2) Rear brake cable housing, 3) Front derailleur housing, and 4) Rear derailleur housing. As with a few other items on this list, there are exceptions to this rule.

This isn’t just a matter of good looks. When a boxed bike arrives, and the handlebar is installed with twisted cable housing, the bike typically has a much harder time turning, and usually the shifting and braking feels really sloppy.

 The proper, untangled layout of cables. You can see where they cross each other near that front reflector.

The proper, untangled layout of cables. You can see where they cross each other near that front reflector.

The above six steps might take you 15-30 minutes to complete. Now, a complete build by a professional mechanic usually takes about 70-100 minutes.

What’s the difference? Proper shifting, braking, lubricating and other adjusting that we didn't get into in this six step checklist. As we state on our bike build up page, "We must take off and reinstall the cranks, straighten the derailleur hanger, inspect and true the wheels, inspect and adjust the headset, install the stem to the correct torque, grease all of the threads and parts that can bond, adjust the brake calipers, pads, and if applicable, straighten the rotors. We fine tune the brakes and shifting just before our last safety check on all the parts."

If your DIY build has left you frustrated, or the bike just doesn't want to seem like it can be dialed in, you may want to take it to your local shop. Usually their full build will get a bike riding as if it is worth a few hundred dollars more.

 

You're Not Helen Wyman or Wout Van Aert, So Do You Need All of Those Recovery Weeks?

You're Not Helen Wyman or Wout Van Aert, So Do You Need All of Those Recovery Weeks?

With cyclocross nationals in hard to reach Reno, most of the East Coast is hanging up their bikes this week. We’re starting to see the offseason posts floating around social media and there is a lot of talk of two weeks off the bike. While many racers subscribe to this recovery method, it is not right for everyone who jumped into a few cyclocross races this fall. Today, Kathryn Cumming explains the reasoning behind building in recovery during the post-season, and examines who is in most and least need of it.

By Kathryn Cumming

Overreaching and Overtraining at All Levels

To understand why most elite racers take a few weeks off the bike, we are going to touch briefly on overreaching and overtraining. Overreaching is common for most athletes to face with increased training or racing load and our bodies can usually bounce back quickly; however, overtraining can truly impact careers. 

Overreaching is essentially the early stage of overtraining. Overreaching occurs when an athlete fails to adapt to training, performance decreases, and the athlete can no longer fully recover from a workout. A baseline workout you have performed before is a great test for overreaching. If the workout requires more effort to hit the targets, you are probably in need of a few days of rest. This effort can be gauged using heart rate or even rating of perceived exertion. Generally at the end of a big training or racing block, overreaching will occur. As long as rest is planned, it won’t be a problem.

 Listen to your body, not your results. A fatiguing but well-conditioned athlete can still show great performances during the season.

Listen to your body, not your results. A fatiguing but well-conditioned athlete can still show great performances during the season.

If overreaching symptoms are ignored, overtraining syndrome will occur. When overtrained, not only will athletic performance deteriorate, the body will be in a state of chronic fatigue. 
As a female cyclocross racer, Marianne Vos and Pauline Ferrand Prevot are quick examples to reference. Both were on top of the world, winning multiple World Championships in a season and pushing the limits of the sport, then they couldn’t even ride bikes. Both continued pushing from one discipline to the next, from one season to the next, until their bodies and minds brought this constant high intensity to a halt, resulting in about a year off the bike and away from racing for each.

The trajectory of both Vos and Ferrand Prevot is one we could all encounter. The results were coming and the fitness was high, so they carried it a little longer. Who wants to pull the plug on a good thing? Unfortunately, the repercussions of ignoring overreaching can be serious.

Overtraining Checklist

Overtraining can get the better of athletes of all levels. Most likely, one of the reasons it occurs so regularly, is that it is still a grey area in regards to research. Symptoms can vary greatly between individuals and often aren’t objective to diagnose, but the first signs can be a decrease in performance and a change in mood.

After a full season of training and racing, the body is most likely overreaching if not overtrained. Here’s a quick checklist to see if you are in need of some recovery:
•    Constant feeling of fatigue
•    Unexplainable poor performance
•    Prolonged recovery from normal training or racing
•    Altered mood (grumpy or depressed)
•    Elevated resting heart rate
•    Persistent muscle soreness
•    Loss of appetite
•    Weight loss
•    GI disturbances
•    Reduced immune function (getting sick more frequently or unable to shake a cold)

Should an Amateur Recover, and What Should It Look Like?

If you are currently experiencing any of the above, it’s probably a good idea to take a few weeks of recovery, but it’s also important to take an honest look at the last month of your season. Were you training and racing regularly or had your weekly training rides become a quick soft-pedal by Thanksgiving followed by one weekend day of local racing? It’s easy to jump on the recovery bandwagon, but know that taking a break just because the pros are may not be the right answer. If you’re not experiencing symptoms of overreaching and/or overtraining and your recent training and racing volume was nonexistent, you are probably fine to jump right into some fun rides or base miles. If nothing else, it’s ok (and beneficial) to keep an exercise routine going during the holidays.

 Remember to take a mental self-test as well. Are you still aching to watch cyclocross and recap the season with your teammates, or are you avoiding all things cycling because you are sick of it?

Remember to take a mental self-test as well. Are you still aching to watch cyclocross and recap the season with your teammates, or are you avoiding all things cycling because you are sick of it?

After you have evaluated your own need for recovery, take a second to remember BIKES ARE FUN! While you probably desire improved performance, bikes still remain an outlet in your life. Odds are everyone reading this is losing money on bike racing (myself very much included), so we have to be excited to ride if it is going to remain a positive part of our lives. If you find yourself sleeping through training sessions, skipping intervals, or just feeling a little resentment towards your bike, TAKE A BREAK! Whether you physiologically need it or not, mentally you need to return to a point where you want to ride. Two weeks off the bike will have you dreaming about gravel adventures with your friends and teammates and you will even be pumped to hop on the trainer to start racking up base miles.

An important reminder that cyclists tend to forget is that you don’t have to stop moving altogether just because you are taking a break from the bike. If your body is beat up, one week of total recovery can be great, but then it’s important to resume a routine to avoid an entire holiday season of couch time. This is a great opportunity to pursue an activity you haven’t had time for (I’ll be playing tennis this weekend!) or to start an aspect of training that will be beneficial long term (yoga or core training will surely help us one dimensional cyclists).

Looking to put your feet up now, but remind the legs in the New Year to prepare for the Spring ahead? Jalapeno Cycling is doing a winter training series this January on Tuesday and Thursday nights. You can see additional details and register here. Space is extremely limited, and as of this writing, the class is already half-filled. Hope to see you there!
 

Rolling Resistance of Cyclocross Tires: Faux Pro Tests and Results of Mud, Chevron, and File Treads

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Rolling Resistance of Cyclocross Tires: Faux Pro Tests and Results of Mud, Chevron, and File Treads

Introduction:

A little less than three years ago, the founder of crossresults.com, Colin Reuter, tweeted to Cyclocross Magazine something along the lines of: Can you do something sciency on the different rolling resistances of cyclocross treads?

Being a cocky newbie editor at the time, I fired back: “Challenge extended, Challenge accepted” (pun intended). I didn’t have a great idea of how I was going to accomplish this goal, but I knew it was something interesting and worth doing. After later inquiry, Colin wanted to know the differences between file treads and the treads of common "all-arounder" tires at different pressures. I think that most cyclocross racers have a good gut feeling about how certain treads slow them down on a flat stretch of the course, but having quantifiable numbers might impact the decision making process before the season begins and we load up on different types of tires. So even though I am no longer the editor at Cyclocross Magazine, I still wanted to create a test all of these years later.

There are sophisticated websites out there, such as BicycleRollingResistance.com, that solely focus on the rolling resistance of tires. Like much of the cycling world, they extensively test road and mountain equipment and screw everything cyclocross, which means there is a vacuum here for some needed data. However, they have sophisticated equipment and a temperature controlled lab, and I don’t. On the flip side, their testing is limited to simulating the road, while I have slightly more versatility.

For a common test at other websites, they hook up a wheel to a smooth drum, and with an electric motor, they turn the tire on a wheel until it gets the drum up to a rotational speed of 18MPH, and then calculate how many watts it takes to keep it at that rotation for 30 seconds.

Due to lack of that equipment, I was forced to take the opposite approach: ride at a consistent power, and measure the speed differences each tubular tread has. My way has loads more variables and room for error, so unfortunately, I had to do a lot more tests than just three 30 second run-throughs before I got comfortable enough with the results (sure this is faux science, but there’s no need for me to be sloppy about it if I can avoid it). At the very bottom of this article, I go in to boring length about all of the methodology of this test, but there some major disclaimers I want to get off my chest for all readers before I talk about my findings:

1) The conditions I tested were limited, and are not close to representative of all the features you can find on a cyclocross course. While I would love to test the differences of tread in gravel, sand, mud, snow, and rooty paths, I am not confident in anyone’s ability to consistently ride near same power to collect speed data in those conditions. I tested these tires in two separate conditions: on pavement (that you’ll likely only encounter at the start and finish) and on beaten down grass (that you’ll likely find dominating a local, non-UCI race).

2) I wanted to test a file tread, a chevron tread, and a mud tread. While I used each one of these, my tire choices added in variables that really devastate the goals of the scientific method. I used Challenge Chicanes for file tread, Challenge Grifos for chevron tread, and Clement PDX for mud tread. Using the same manufacturer across the board would have been ideal, but the fact that I used two tires with cotton casings and one with pre-coated sidewalls hurts even more, and created an interesting result that you’ll see below that I can only guess the reasons for instead of conclude with more confidence.

3) I didn’t measure acceleration or cornering speed, two of the most vital parts of cyclocross. All of those rolling resistance articles you’ll find out there for time trials and triathlon tires make sense since those races by-in-large feature constant momentum. Similarly, I only collected speed data when my power was consistent, but unless you are racing on the most boring cyclocross course on earth, this data isn’t directly translatable to the punch and go of racing. In fact, if a course is nothing but winding corners, I would much rather have a tire with plenty of grip that can hold a corner the best and maximize a high wattage acceleration right after.

Findings:

Below is the averages of the three tires on pavement, both at 17PSI and 24PSI:

See anything interesting here? We’ll get to the results of the PDX tires later on. But for now, I want to focus on the groupings of the results.

For starters, these results show that pressure, not tread selection, has one of the biggest impacts of efficient rolling resistance. I chose to test at 17PSI (1.17 Bar) and 24PSI (1.65 Bar), mainly because the former is the lowest I will run at a race, and the latter is a pretty common pressure for me when I see roots or a rough transisiton to pavement on the course. That 7PSI might sound paltry, but it makes an enormous impact. The least efficient tread on pavement at 24PSI still outperforms the most efficient tread at 17PSI.

When comparing each tire to itself at the different pressures, we are talking about a full difference of two miles per hour, with the higher pressure offering the higher average speed for the same amount of effort. Compare that to the difference of the Grifos and the Chicanes at the same pressure. At 24PSI, those two tires are less than a tenth of a mile per hour apart from each other, which might be close enough to be considered negligible considering I was measuring speed by GPS.

How would these differences in speed play out in a cyclocross race? Well, let’s pretend that you have an identical rider that could handle a cyclocross course the same way at different pressures (not a big stretch, since this would be an insanely boring paved course with no drafting allowed). A rider on Chicanes at 24PSI would almost certainly lap the identical rider who has Chicanes at 17PSI if we assume a two to two-and-a-half mile course. By comparison, we have two identical riders, one on Chicanes, and the other on Grifos, running the same tire pressure. During this race, the one on the Grifo would likely still be within eyesight of the counterpart on Chicanes at the end of the race.

That’s a huge difference, and one that shows that we might be better off not being so finicky about our tire choice, and a hell of a lot more picky about our tire pressure.

Still, although it is much easier to gather data in a flat, long parking lot, a full cyclocross course on pavement isn’t even applicable to actual cross racing, which is why I made sure to test the treads in at least one more applicable setting: the beaten down grass course. You can skip down to that section below. Otherwise, directly below are my observations about the strange data gathered form the average speed of the Clement PDX tires.

When I first looked at the first set of files, I assumed that I made a mistake in matching the tires to each recording, and I was ready to toss all of that data out as an outlier or a really stupid slip-up until I realized that the tests on the other days were giving me similar averages.

Inexplicably, the Clement PDX mudder is more efficient on pavement than the Grifo or the Chicane. The difference is noticeable at 24PSI and strikingly obvious at 17PSI. My assumption from years of racing was that the tread pattern on a mud tire was far slower on pavement. If I had caught this on the first round of data collecting, I think I would have immediately went out and got a pair of Limus tires (a cotton casing mud tire), because I would have been interested to see if the speed on those tires were similar to those of the PDX tread. Unfortunately, since I waited until after all my testing was done to look at any of the data like a chump, I am limited at some of the conclusions I can confidently make about this result.

So here are some of the possibilities I am considering of why the PDX rolls faster than others at sub-25PSI inflation levels:

1) The contact patch of the mud tread, while clunky on pavement, is still much smaller in overall surface area than a chevron or a file tread WHEN THE INFLATION IS LOW. This option makes sense when you think about treads on a hard surface like ice, where a mud tire has little traction while a file tread can grip ice much better (due to both the larger contact patch and the way file treads can hold onto ice). If this was the correct reason, my guess is that if I blasted both the Chicanes and the PDX tires to 65-75PSI, the file treads would overtake the mudders in terms of efficient rolling resistance. It also stands to reason that it wouldn’t matter if I was using PDXs or Limus tires if this possibility held true.

2) The Clement tread and pre-coated casing is more efficient than cotton casing on a smooth surface. My testing ground was an Elementary school parking lot that had been paved over less than a month ago, so it was about as crack-less as you can get. My assumption is that a cotton casing would deform more efficiently to any surface, including a flat surface, than pre-coated sidewalls, but if this possibility were true, it could once again turn my assumption on its head.

3) This is not one I’m actually considering, but weight of the tire could be another factor in a different test like this. As I’ve written before, weight distribution at the outside (rather than the inside) of a rotational object provides more efficient momentum once an object gets up to speed (it is also slower to accelerate to that speed). My problem with using this as my explanation is that the listed weight of PDX is noticeably less than that of both of the Challenge tires I tested.

Again, if you have any ideas as well, I’d be happy to hear them. I’m fully aware that I’m not in an enclosed laboratory setting with the same sophisticated machines that you see testing rolling resistance on road tires. I would love for you to see my methodology at the bottom and see if there is something I’ve seriously overlooked.

Does that mean everyone should run out, buy a bunch of mud tires, and blast them up at high PSI? Not at all. As I already said, while there is pavement on most cyclocross courses, it is such a small part. So before we jump to any more conclusions, let’s take a look at some of the data from the beaten down grass.

Below is the averages of the three tires on grass, both at 17PSI and 24PSI:

Thankfully I have a nearby park where Kate and I also host a weekly cyclocross practice, so we have already burned in a nice flat section where the grass is seriously beaten down (it would make no sense to ride along fresh grass since the tire that gets tested last would get to deal with the least resistance during every day of testing as you wear down the grass).

The results here are almost identical to what I expected in both cases before I started any testing to begin with. The first thing that should almost immediately jump out here is how much different the PDX is compared to its performance on pavement. While it rolled well when the ground had almost zero give, it is a slogger off-road, even on a really well burned in course.

Especially take a look at it at low pressure. It looks a little bit more drastic than it actually is because the Y-Axis is a little tighter than in the pavement graph before. Still, that PDX is nearly a full mile per hour slower than the two Challenge tires when all are running 17PSI, which amounts to around a half of a lap extra when considering our identical rider scenario for a sixty minute race on your standard length UCI course.

Again, I know I can’t accurately measure the performance of these tires in other conditions, not even by the faux science standards I’m using for this test, so I won’t even try to create a test for the mud. Unfortunately, that means that this test is really geared towards the file treads. Still, it doesn’t take a wannabe Bill Nye to tell you that file treads pick up peanut butter mud while a mud tire like the PDX is designed to shed it off the rubber.

However, this test does reveal how your race might be impacted if you decided to exclusively use a mud tire for the full length of your season.

On the other hand, there is a strikingly similar result from the pavement test. All of the tires moved at a higher speed at the same force when pumped up to 24PSI. The PDX, on average, still performed much better at 24PSI than the Chicane did at 17PSI. The PDX also got pretty close to the Grifo’s speed at the same pressure when a little more power was applied to both tires.

Conclusions:

So my fear is that after reading this, a few people will look at this and think they are justified in buying loads of file treads and pumping them up to 24PSI and above, because according to the data, they will be a whopping 0.3 MPH faster than the next best thing.

If cyclocross was a matter of riding a bike in a straight line on grass, that conclusion might be great. Hell, you might even want to try a Challenge Paris Roubaix Tire and pump that baby up to 120PSI if that was the case.

Unfortunately for data (or at least our current ability to measure data), there is still very much an art to cyclocross. While one tire might give you little rolling resistance in the back straightaway of a course, it also might have little traction in a corner, or a weak ability of transferring power to the grass while accelerating out of a corner.

And it bears repeating, yet again, that this test heavily favors a file tread. Each tread has its own strength: mud for mud (and apparently pavement?); file tread for snow, ice, grass, and sand; and chevron for loose dirt, grit, and gravel. Being lucky enough to race on the UCI scene on the East Coast, Kate and I are able to experience all of these different kinds of conditions, and I think I would still stubbornly prefer to stick with the treads I am used to for each course even though this data suggests that some treads are pretty darn close to others overall.

For those riders out there that stay local, and have a similar course type, I think there is a bigger takeaway from this data. If you don’t have loads to spend on different wheelsets, at least invest in an accurate pressure gauge and start testing corners and speeds for yourself.

If you live in an area where you know you’ll at least have one muddy race, you shouldn’t feel like the rest of your season is in shambles if you have to use a mud tire for everything. In fact, there might be a good segment of a race where you are fighting against the same resistance as the guy or gal next to you running a chevron tread. You should certainly be feeling great if you see your nearest competitor pumping his or her tire without a gauge.

As for my own racing, I realized that I am usually prone to finding where I bottom out on a course during pre-riding, and then adding a touch of air. While I still think this is a pretty good approach, especially for a UCI style race with pro-only sections, there are power-heavy courses I can think of where I could use a little less rolling resistance instead of greater traction.

Below is the methodology I used for creating this test. I was considering starting with it in this article, but it’s probably insanely boring for a vast majority of people. Still, I know there are people who are critical enough of tests who want to know how research was obtained (which is a great trait to have in this day). So the following is for you…

Methodology:

So I’m glad Reuter said sciency rather than science, because you’re insane if you think these tests are just as accurate as road tire tests on websites like Rolling Resistance. Still, I did try and think of loads of variables as best as I could. Due to the nature of these tests, I can’t just throw a Vittoria, Tufo, or Dugast on my wheels and retroactively compare them to my former tests, and you’ll see why here.

First off, my testing was done on the same bike, with the same power meter (an insanely heavy but amazingly consistent InfoCrank), and the same wheelset. Because I had some overwhelming fear that different bearings might put up different resistances (which might have been a case of overthinking since I’ve just installed new Enduro cartridges in most of my wheels for pre-season maintenance), I rode the same wheelset with the tires unglued to the rim.

As you might have guessed, I did the vast majority of the testing on grass first before the pavement (although I showed the results above in reverse). I didn’t want pavement wear on the treads affecting the other tests. Over the course of two weeks, I tested the tires a minimum of three times per pressure and condition, not even bothering to go out on days that the Weather Channel reported wind above 5MPH.

In every test, I had to at least gather data for every tire, knowing that rider weight, clothing, temperature, and ground conditions would vary enough day by day to throw off the data significantly (for instance, if I had decided to only use Grifos one day where the ground was dry and harder, it would give those tires a serious advantage). My largest concern was finding the relative speed of the tires against each other.

The most difficult part of the test was maintaining constant power. I can get pretty consistent (within 2-3 watts on my reading) on a flat stretch of pavement, but beaten park grass took all of my concentration on the power numbers and more tests to get usable data. I had originally intended on also getting data from 300W averages, but I wasn’t able to manage to hit those numbers with any level of consistency on grass. Obviously I didn’t just average the readings of an entire ride, but used Garmin Connect to analyze the speeds in the areas where I hit the longer power plateaus.

While I’m sure there are variables that I overlooked (and would be glad to hear them), I am at least comfortable enough with how the tires performed in relationship to each other to state that pressure is a very large factor, at least when it comes to the grass crits of the cyclocross season, and if you brought two sets of tires with you to a race, you might be better off testing separate pressures on your pre-rides to get your laps dialed in rather than mulling over which tire to use.

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It’s Just a Ride in The Park: Why You Should Try Cyclocross in Words and Photos

It’s Just a Ride in The Park: Why You Should Try Cyclocross in Words and Photos

It has been three days since Jalapeno Cycling released our announcement for two development teams (a men’s and women’s) geared for riders who have never raced cyclocross before, and we’ve already got a great group of people from New Jersey and New York City (and even well beyond) who have filled out the application. I’ve spent the last few days chatting with local folks from running groups, roll-out bike clubs, women’s cycling groups, and a triathlon club to drum up interest. In a lot of cases, I get both excitement as well as a quick follow up of “OH DAMN, I couldn’t do something like that.”

To me this is a strange reaction, but I’ve been racing cyclocross for a good while now. During the offseason, I proudly compete in 10K runs and triathlons. Both cyclocross and these running events are some of the safer forms of competitions. Certainly you might find someone getting medical attention in both places, but due to the low speed of these competitions, injury through falling is just not common place. And yet, cyclocross is seen as an X Games worthy endeavor while some people see a January Resolution Run as a harmless way to sweat out their New Year's hangover.

I have griped enough on how cyclocross promoters, racers, and spectators have a tendency to push and promote the crashing that happens on courses or sections that amateurs are not even allowed to race on. Instead, today I want to focus on what I think runners and triathletes are usually doing right, and how cyclocross can fit into this picture.

Before, during, and after, the focus in triathlons and running events is personal achievement. Whether you get in the top 10%, beat your old time, land on the podium, or just want to finish the race, the focus is on preparation, training, willpower, and accomplishment. (Even a quick search of crash reels in running usually showcase someone falling, getting back up, and finishing the race in first against all odds). As far as disciplines that play out in a similar way, the only thing that even comes close to cyclocross in this regard is perhaps gravel racing.

So if you are looking to give yourself a challenge, why bother with cyclocross when you already are engaged in a safe athletic competition? Here's why...

1) Every cyclocross course and venue is drastically different. Some courses are in an open field without a hint of shade in sight. Others are winding through nothing but trees. Some have steep climbs you have to run up, and others have thick grass you have to try and push through. Every course gives you a different mental challenge. You can’t just expect to show up and systematically count your splits. The more you try and shut your brain off and muscle your way through something, usually the harder you are making the race for yourself.

And because cyclocross is becoming global, the more you seek out adventure, the more you’re rewarded. From the dry earth of Colorado races, to the bogs of the Northwest, to the city parks of the lower Mid-Atlantic, to the epic coastal scenery of New England, the challenges only get better, and I’ve only touched on one country.

2) Cyclocross is a game of do-overs. Preparing months for an event only to come down with the flu the day before a race is heart breaking, or perhaps you had a mechanical that you had to get off your bike and fix, or a shoe lace that broke. These problems are not so drastic in cyclocross. Usually there is two races at the same venue every weekend, so a bad Saturday can be followed by a personal best on Sunday. If you’re lucky enough to live in the NYC area, you can practically find several different cyclocross races every weekend from September to November and still race into December.

This do-over idea can even be applied to a more micro level! The length of every course is different, but you’ll likely be racing between three to six laps when you start racing for the first time. If a corner, or a run up, or some other feature trips you up on one lap, it can be your next challenge for perfection on the following lap. If you want it, cyclocross can be a game of chasing perfection.

3) Breaks up your winter perfectly. Enough said. Cyclocross is the reason I look forward to the waning daylight instead of dread base mile time in the basement.

4) You are always fighting for something. No matter whether you’re avoiding being lapped at the back of the race, or you’re vying for a top ten, there is always something to fight for during the 30-40 minutes you are out there. With the advent of crossresults.com, you can even track the other riders who are very close in ability to you in order to paint a friendly target on a rival’s back for the next event.

5) Cyclocross is a social sport. Racing is only part of the fun. After you are done, it’s time to pull up a chair and see how the more experienced racers take turns and features. Cheering and friendly heckling is all par for the course in one of the most fun disciplines to see play out.

Still wondering if cyclocross is safe enough for you? Rather than focus on some of the hardest pro features that you won’t see unless you are an elite racer, I wanted to show off an honest look at the spirit of cyclocross in pictures. If you enjoy them, consider putting your name in the running for our development team before July 25th
 

Jalapeno Cycling's New Cyclocross Devo Program is Now Accepting Applicants!

Jalapeno Cycling's New Cyclocross Devo Program is Now Accepting Applicants!

2017 Application for Cyclocross

Jalapeno Cycling’s Cyclocross Devo Program

Jalapeno Cycling is expanding our cyclocross team in 2017 to include two development teams: a women’s team and a men’s team. Our goals for the program are as follows:

  1. Discover self-motivated people who have either never tried cyclocross, or those who have only raced less than five races.

  2. Prepare the development riders ahead of the season, giving them the tools they will need to both safely navigate cyclocross courses and have the most fun possible.

  3. Have all members of the team compete in six different local races during the season, helping to grow the sport in New Jersey.

  4. Help grow a community of cyclists who cheer on each other’s accomplishments.

  5. Develop a competitive but respectful spirit against other devo programs.

Jalapeno Cycling is not just a cycling team, it is a fully integrated program organized by a couple passionate about growing cyclocross. Kathryn Cumming is a dedicated coach and the highest ranked cyclocross athlete in the state of New Jersey. Andrew Reimann is a high-level bicycle mechanic and an elite cyclocross racer as well. We are not just offering insight into our vast experience, but some training and bike shop perks for your first cyclocross season as well.

However, be forewarned that you should not take this application into the program lightly. Accepted applicants will be required not only to commit to their own season, but those of their fellow devo teammates. Cyclocross is a fun discipline, but it can also be a very tough challenge on the motivation, which is doubled by the days getting darker and colder. We ask that you see your first season fully out, both for yourself and the support of your teammates.

You will be required to have a bike for the season. This can be a dedicated cyclocross bike or a mountain bike. Loaner bikes from your friends for the season are acceptable, provided that it will be 100% guaranteed available to you for all practice and race days.

Practice will be held twice a week before the season begins; a hard indoor training session in the morning during the weekday, and an outdoor skills practice in the morning on Sunday. Both of these sessions, but especially the indoor class, will become increasingly challenging as the season approaches. Riders who miss more than two training sessions may be asked to leave the program at directors' discretion.

You’ll buy a team jersey and bib shorts. You'll race in that kit for the 2017 season with your teammates, including the six required races. Dues are $25. Team jersey + shorts are $150. Expected race fees are ~$280 (annual license at $70 and six races at $35 each).

*Weekend AM rides may be substituted with a race on select weekends, as per schedule below.

**Team commitment is for the CX discipline, for the remainder of this season. Participants will be welcome, but not required, to race other disciplines as part of Jalapeno Cycling.

Cyclocross DEVO Schedule

Nittany - 9/16
Bridgeton Cross (NJ) - 9/23
Hippo Cross (NJ) - 9/30
HPCX - 10/28
Bubble Cross - 11/11
Supercross - 11/18

At the conclusion of the season commitment, participants are welcome & encouraged to continue racing as part of the Jalapeno Cycling Devo team.

Sound like it is for you? Then be sure to fill out this application by July 25th!

Paying More to Downgrade: The Pricier Components That Don’t Make Sense for Cyclocross Races

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Paying More to Downgrade: The Pricier Components That Don’t Make Sense for Cyclocross Races

Last week, we talked about the types of things you can do in the late spring and early summer to both mentally and physically prepare for the cyclocross season ahead. One of the factors we considered was thinking about upgrades for the bike, and adapting to them now instead of a week before the season begins. In this spirit, we wanted to take a closer look at the value (or specifically the lack there of) with certain “upgrades.”

You may have heard of the cycling equation of a $1 per gram. It’s a hilarious amalgamation of American currency and the metric system, where an upgraded part needs to subtract a gram of weight per dollar spent to consider the purchase a “good investment.” For example, if you wanted to buy a $200 carbon stem to replace your stock $40 stem, it would need to shave off 160 grams (or over a third of a pound) from the original part for the purchase to “be worth it.” (Note: I incorporate the value of the original part into the equation, with $200-$40=160 grams. Others only look at the price of the new part, and would require the part to save 200 grams).

Today we’re not going to talk about the merits of the “$1 per gram” equation, overpriced or great value upgrades. Instead, we’re going to be focused on the more expensive products that will perform WORSE over the course of a cyclocross season compared to their less expensive counterparts.

Yes, you read that correctly. There are literally products out there that run opposite the phrase “you get what you pay for.”

In most of these cases, these are absolutely wonderful products for road cycling or mountain biking that get lost in the translation to cyclocross. In a few other cases, there are products designed for cyclocross that would work ideally in a vacuum, but just fail to meet the practical needs of most (unsponsored) racers.

Here’s our list of some of the biggest culprits, to be avoided for your next cyclocross season:

1) Hollow Plate Chains.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a big fan of cheap chains for cyclocross, and not just because of my wallet. Sure, chains with solid pins and plates feel like they weigh three times as much when you hold it in your hand against a great road chain like the KMC X11SL DLC 11 (which retails at over $180), but all of those little openings in the latter chain are great places for dirt and sand to get lodged in.

Hollow plates.jpg

Hollowpin chains are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid, and often come stock on cyclocross bikes with a 1x drivetrain, but these chains are not nearly as much as a concern to me. Dirt can sneak into those hollow pins, but when it comes to chain wear, grit in a hollow pin will wreck far less havoc than the grit that collects between the pins and the plates.
Sand and dirt that makes its way into a hollow faceplate, on the other hand, comes in direct contact with the teeth of a cassette and chainring.

 A few of these pins have filled with dirt, but they are not as problematic as mud-filled hollow plates.

A few of these pins have filled with dirt, but they are not as problematic as mud-filled hollow plates.

I would guess that hollow plate defenders would call this technology “dirt shedding,” suggesting that the holes in the place are a great way for dirt to escape compared to solid plates. As someone who has spent years on each level of chain, and has serviced more cyclocross drivetrains than I could possibly count, I can attest that hollow plate chains don’t shed anything; they’re a magnet for anything on a cyclocross course and they’re harder to clean, suggesting to me that drivetrain wear and performance will take a hit over the course of a season much faster.

2) Carbon Fiber Handlebars.

I fully understand the appeal of carbon fiber parts on a cyclocross bike. Anything to make your bike lighter and take a bit out of the sting of a jarring course makes sense to me. Of all components, a carbon fiber fork is my favorite in this regard. By far and away, my least favorite would be the carbon fiber handlebar. In fact, I’m pretty sure my personal hell would be me acting as a lone mechanic for a big cyclocross team that exclusively used carbon fiber handlebars.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that carbon in this regard is great for road and mountain bikes if you can afford the big chunk of change, but for cyclocross, I consider it to be a horrible liability.

 Kate's alloy bars might be a disadvantage in weight, but they don't come with as many uncertainties after a minor crash on a cyclocross course.

Kate's alloy bars might be a disadvantage in weight, but they don't come with as many uncertainties after a minor crash on a cyclocross course.

The problem comes with crashing. Every time you do it, you must inspect parts no matter what they are made out of. I know this is a generality, but in most cases, cracked metal and failed welds are far more glaring than micro-cracks in carbon fiber. With mountain bikes, you can see much of the carbon on a handlebar like any other component. Even though road bikes are covered in bar tape, crashing shouldn’t be very common on pavement.

Crashing in cyclocross typically results in less/milder injuries. You’re racing at slower speeds, and when you do fall, there is a very good chance you are landing in dirt, mud, grass, snow, or sand instead of asphalt or rocks. However, crashing in this sport is a little more common, if not somewhat expected. Between finding the limits during pre-riding, and racing a course, I would have to guess that the Jalapeno Cycling Team of Kate and I must crash on average somewhere between 4-7 times per weekend. (Don’t let that number discourage you if you are thinking about racing for the first time; more cautious, lower category, riders can avoid crashing altogether by taking far less risks than we do.)

Alloy handlebars are not bulletproof, but unless they directly hit the ground hard, I generally don’t obsess over one of these 4-7 small crashes during a given weekend. As I said before, if that alloy is about to fail, usually it’s pretty obvious, even if it’s wrapped up. Cracks in carbon, on the other hand, can sneak up on you, and those 4-7 small falls would dictate that I unwrap those bars 4-7 times per weekend and inspect the surface for microcracks.

So why do I call this an expensive downgrade? Because I know human nature. Even the most patient mechanic or rider isn’t going to unwrap and re-wrap bars that often, and it will bite them.

You might think I’m being dramatic, but I’ve seen enough handlebar failures in the Elite and Masters fields. In the case that sticks out most in my mind, a Pro rider who constantly podiumed in American UCI races admitted to me that his handlebars breaking on Sunday during the KMC Cyclo-Cross Festival were almost certainly the result from a crash he bounced back from on that Saturday.

3. “Team Edition” Cyclocross Tires

Racers obsess over tire choice. Twitter is filled with lobs of insults between Elite and Master Cyclocrossers who use cotton casing tubulars (Dugast, FMB, and Challenge) and those who use pre-coated sidewall tires (Tufo and Clement). Emotions can run high during debates over the best tread out there. So it would be easy to mistake a very expensive tire as your best choice because it boasts features like being the most supple, having the best grip, or weighing the lightest.

When it comes to pulling out your wallet for tires, though, the most expensive tires, sometimes labeled “Team Edition” tires, are more likely to offer performance losses during the course of your season.

Okay, so I’ll admit I’m being a little weasely calling these tires an expensive downgrade, because a fresh pair of Team Edition tires will outperform a fresh pair of standard tires. But the advantage doesn’t last for long.

Several years ago, I was invited to sit down with the designers and engineers behind one of the bigger tubular tire brands, who gave me a sneak peek of the high end prototypes that their European teams were racing on. They admitted that they had been reluctant to release this lighter, more supple compound to the wider American market because we often demand plenty of mileage out of our tires (some of us will go through a few seasons on the same tire, others will expect it to last through both cyclocross and gravel conditions).

 Many non-"Team Edition" or "Team Issue" tires, like Kate's Clement PDX shown above, come with a thicker tire compound. While this makes them heavier and less supple, it also gives them a big edge in terms of lasting wear and duribility.

Many non-"Team Edition" or "Team Issue" tires, like Kate's Clement PDX shown above, come with a thicker tire compound. While this makes them heavier and less supple, it also gives them a big edge in terms of lasting wear and duribility.

When I asked one of their sponsored racers (who was ranked in the top five in the world at the time), how long he thought he would use the same set of tires, he guessed that he only used them for several weekends before his mechanics ripped them off, threw them out, and re-glued fresh ones to his wheels.

Less than two weeks. Four days of racing. Let that sink in for a while.

I know that’s an extreme case. With a near unlimited supply of sponsored tires and full time mechanics at their disposal, the highest level Belgian and Dutch athletes have every incentive to swap their tires over at the first sign of tread wear. Except I’m not making a nitpicky case.

Unlike those athletes, amateur racers and privateer elite racers will likely put more mileage out of a single set of tires during those weeks. Warm ups, pre-rides, pre-race day openers, Wednesday Night World practices, cool-downs… the average North American racer is FAR more likely not to swap their race wheels for a set of training tires, and all of that tire time is likely to translate into wear.

The grippier, lighter compound of those higher end tires might sound attractive at the onset, but if your chevrons or file treads are looking more like a beat up 33mm road tubular come October, you won’t exactly be overtaking anyone in a corner. 

(One important note on the “Team Edition” designator is that it is not a universal one across all tire brands. FMB has standard tires and Pro tires; the latter models, as of this writing in the 2017 offseason, can be recognized by their green or pink sidewalls. These Pro tires actually have a more durable casing and are designed with an increased longevity in mind.)

4. Shimano XTR Pedals

This one is often mentioned online on many cyclocross-focused websites, but considering that this one is easily the biggest complaint I still get from newer cyclocross racers, it bears repeating here. XTR pedals are a dream for dry conditions and mountain biking. They are far from ideal for mud.

Judging by the fact that these XTR pedals have won readers’ choice awards from Cyclocross Magazine in the past, I’m guessing that this one might be a little more subjective than the other components on this list. Still, objectively, the distance between the axle and the engagement of the pedal is much smaller than the less expensive Shimano models, allowing far less room for mud to go.

Unlike the last item on our list, looking at what the pros use is a good indication. Unless they are using prototypes of XTR pedals with taller engagement claws, the vast majority of Europeans use the XT pedals instead, which are not nearly as pricy as Shimano’s top shelf pedal. There are also plenty of low weight, better priced SPD pedals that offer cyclocrossers a great retention without sacrificing the ability to clear mud. Some of the favorites we’ve tried this offseason belong to Ritchey and iSSi.

5. Power meters for your race day wheels

(Note: This is one product on the list that Kate and I disagree on. She says that there are enough lessons from race day power numbers to avoid calling this one a “downgrade.” As I explain in the following section, I disagree.)

If you have the time and passion to sift through your training files, or you have a coach who does all of the analytical reading for you, a power meter is literally one of the best training component upgrades you can get. For racing on the road, especially at events like time trails, or during triathlons, power meters are a wonderful guide to measuring your effort.

If the main reason for buying a power meter is to read your watt output from cyclocross races, you are not only better off spending your money elsewhere, but you are putting your performance at a slight disadvantage.

Cyclocross is a sport of far too many variables compared to racing on the road or the track when it comes to cleanly reading power for a purpose. Did you dismount earlier on one lap, did you get caught behind someone with no handling skills in the narrow back section of the course, did you take the lower line that allows you to pedal harder but puts you in a terrible position for the next corner, did you choose a completely different gear when you went through the sand on lap three, did your back wheel lose two psi during the last half of the race?

These questions all effect the readings, and none of them even takes into consideration that you might have a pit bike that you use, which might have a different tire tread, tire pressure, calibrated power meter (in the extremely rare case where you decided to splurge on a power meter for both bikes anyhow).

Don’t mistake my meaning. I think that power files from cyclocross races are extremely interesting, especially when you can actually keep track of how you rode differently on a particular lap, or (more importantly) when you look at the much bigger picture and analyze your lap averages. However, the data from your training days will comparatively be much more readable (and beneficial to decisions you make about adjusting your future training and scheduling an off-week to avoid overtraining).

I know this doesn’t have to be a choice between using a power meter either during training or racing, and that you can have both. In light of this, race day wheelsets with a power-measuring hub might be a bad investment if you are unwilling to ride the “Team Edition” tubular tires glued to them during your mid-week training rides.

Secondly, those power meters also have a weight penalty attached to them, not for added performance, but just for the benefit of measuring power. In my experience with the vast majority of current power meters out there, the more consistently accurate the power meter, the heavier the weight penalty. I personally have a power meter on my road bike, and I feel like the weight is an acceptable penalty for the feedback I get mid-race. For cyclocross, those mid-race power numbers will provide useless information during 99% of the race unless you’re on a flat grass oval, and as I’ve already stated, your post-race viewing of those numbers are not nearly as beneficial as training day numbers.

When I used to race cyclocross with a power meter years ago, I had a crankarm-based Stages. Even then, if I knew the course was going to be muddy, I usually just swapped it out with the crankarm that the bike came with on race day because 1) the original crankarm was carbon and much lighter, and 2) I decided that I didn’t want to risk destroying a $700 power meter if a mechanic was a little overzealous with the power washer.

A factor of this list is admittedly risk vs. reward, and the upside of the data you are getting on race day just isn’t enough to make power meters avoid the downgrade designation.

6. Cooling Brake Rotors and Carbon Rim-Specific Tubular Glue

I bet you’re scratching your head at this pair, but yes, they’re both what I consider more expensive downgrades, and for a similar reason. But before I dive into why these are on my list, please note that this list pertains to cyclocross racing, and not gravel and I’ll explain why.
Both vented rotors (such as Shimano’s IceTech or Jagwire’s Elite CR1) and carbon rim-specific tubular glue are designed to mitigate the effects of heat buildup during long, consistent braking. None of these should seriously come into play for cyclocross, and not because cyclocross takes place in cold weather.

On the road bike (or an all-mountain/downhill/trial bike), putting constant pressure on disc brakes during a long descent is often a fact of life. The heat buildup from this constant braking is magnitudes higher than grabbing a fistful of brakes all at once, even if that latter braking is far more aggressive in the moment. The aluminum plates in “cooling” or vented rotors, don’t exactly keep the brakes cool, but rather draw the heat away from the braking surface and towards the center of the rotor, which prevents any heat problems with your brake pads or hydraulic fluid on those long descents.

Same with carbon rim-specific tubular glue. The goal of this product, which is close to twice the price of your standard rim cement on average, is to resist the heat buildup from a carbon rim paired with a rim braking system. Contrary to rumor, this product is not “kinder” on carbon fiber rims. (Obviously, if your cyclocross bike has disc brakes, there will be no heat buildup at the rim).

While some cyclocross courses have a few longer descents (the pre-2016 Rochester Full Moon Vista course, Dallas Resolution Cup, Charm City CX), even these 6-10 seconds worth of braking won’t come close to creating the same heat that road and mountain bikes will be able to create, and I am mentioning the extreme examples. The vast majority of cyclocross courses only require seconds of braking at a time.

 This sharp feature at Cycle-Smart International looks steep, but only a few seconds of braking are needed, if that. Hardly enough to head up either brake rotors or a rim braking surface.

This sharp feature at Cycle-Smart International looks steep, but only a few seconds of braking are needed, if that. Hardly enough to head up either brake rotors or a rim braking surface.

What are the disadvantages of these products? Well, for vented rotors, the biggest drawback is the weight penalty that comes with the added aluminum inserts. That’s obviously not an extreme loss in grams, but why pay more for a product that is slightly heavier than the non-cooling rotor counterpart. For the carbon glue, the disadvantage is far worse, probably one of the worst on this list.

While carbon rim-specific tubular glue is acceptable at holding a tire on that is often held at 90-140 psi, I have never been impressed with how weak it is resisting the lateral forces of a tubular cyclocross tire at low pressure compared to standard rim cement. What does that mean? Well, your 20-25psi tubular tire has a great deal of unique forces on it, between tight, fast corners, or off-camber descents. In situations where your tire wants to rip off sideways from your rim, the standard rim cement holds a tire far better, in my experience, than carbon rim-specific tubular glue.

Again, this is when applied to cyclocross. If you use your cyclocross bike in the spring for gravel racing, you will likely see plenty of long, winding descents coupled with loose gravel that would encourage checking your speeds.

The Jury is Still Out on a Few

Certainly, there are likely other products that we have overlooked, and we’d be thrilled to hear about them from you in the comments. These are products that hamper your season-long performance but cost more than another common product. So while large jockey wheels with ceramic bearings might not be the best dollar per watt benefit, I think it would be hard to call it a downgrade from the standard derailleur cage and jockey wheels.

There are plenty more components that we didn’t add because we believe they are far more of a subjective downgrade, or we just haven’t tested them out long enough in cyclocross.
I actually really enjoy dropper posts in cyclocross, but detest suspension seatposts and stems, which I feel hamper my handling and create bad habits. Again, I know that these are more of person by person cases.

The real purpose we wanted to share though is to break from the habit of thinking that a higher price automatically equates to a higher performing component. Electronic shifting has already taken road cycling by storm, but, with the exception of Shimano’s XTR Di2, I would never swap out my Force1 for a SRAM, Campagnolo, or Shimano electronic shifting group set; I just love how little my rear clutch derailleur has a mechanical mid-race. (Having said that as a side note, I’m guessing this claim will be outdated by cyclocross season. SRAM must have a clutch eTap system in the works for Fall 2017, just in time for no one to train on it before the season begins. You heard it here first.)

We’ve already received a half dozen emails about the new Fox AX fork for cyclocross, and while we have some pretty poignant opinions about it, we just haven’t given it a solid test to see if it would give serious value to a cyclocross season, or its added weight might just put it on this list next.

Looking to keep up to date with the latest blogs and news from Jalapeno Cycling? Be sure tosubscribe to our newsletter to get our cycling tips delivered right to your mailbox. Also, if you are looking to start a cycling routine, and are close to the Bloomfield, New Jersey area, consider signing up for one of our cycling classes with more info to be found here.

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Training for Cyclocross in Late May?

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Training for Cyclocross in Late May?

May must be my favorite month of the year for chill riding. Spring flirts with summer, usually providing the best days for long base-mile riding in the New York City area as long as you can avoid the pollen. By this point every year, Kate and I already have got the spring race jitters out after throwing ourselves in a few crits, mountain bike races, and track days, and our competitive nature gives way to a desire just to go wandering across New Jersey on our bikes.

After all, Cyclocross Nationals have been over for four months, and our first official cyclocross race (which is usually the Qiansen Trophy Races in China) is almost four months down the road. So in off-season training focus, this is kind of the eye of the hurricane, where everything seems calm although we know there’s work to be done ahead.

For racers who enjoy dabbling into every discipline equally, May and June offer so many races every weekend that thinking about cyclocross would be considered just a distraction. However, for those of us who center our competitive year around autumn’s mud, late May can be a time where we feel like our purpose is adrift. This can be a great thing. Most of us need some decompression time from constant goal pushing. Also, training deep with cyclocross-specific high-intensity intervals at this time of year will mean that you might have a great September, but you may burn out by mid-October.

Conversely, when we spend too long away from being able to measure ourselves, we can start to feel like the cyclocross season is approaching way too quickly, catching us off-guard.

So if we shouldn’t be pushing ourselves with a bunch of VO2 Max intervals, but we also shouldn’t be out exclusively on coffee shop rides, what should we be doing in late-May? Here’s a few suggestions that we usually consider:

1) “Measure your ’cross excitement and plan accordingly.”

Now is the perfect time to gauge your motivation level for the season ahead. Sites like cxmagazine.com are using this time to analyze the cyclocross calendar both in the United States and abroad. Are you peering at future races with excitement, or are you feeling grumpy that people are even talking about cyclocross this early?

If you’re not busy racing in another discipline, May is the perfect month for introspection. If the stoke level is high, now is the time to start thinking about creating a training schedule, or maybe even thinking about organizing a Summer practice session with your friends.

If you are normally excited, but now feel a little down about cyclocross, now is the perfect time to think about why. Did last season get you down? Try and pry as to why this might be. If constantly taking cyclocross too seriously all season beat you up, maybe you should highlight next year with a costume Halloween race, or (gasp) try a few singlespeed races with an inexpensive converted bike.

Or perhaps, are you bummed because your previous high expectations fell flat? Consider why. Every coach worth their salt will tell you to “train to your weaknesses and race to your strengths,” but the key here is being honest with yourself about what your weaknesses are. Is your sloppy cornering bogging you down? Do you lose 10-20 places in the first lap? Do you struggle pushing a strong gear through thick grass? Does your lower back or shoulders limit you during the last half of the race?

A lot of the time, especially during the season, these are questions we try to avoid (or at least relegate to our subconscious). Nothing hurts the motivation like admitting how much you suck at a particular skill. But in late May, being this honest with yourself can be quite a liberating feeling, particularly if you can spend the next three months figuring out a way to mediate this weakness. In fact, this is usually the motivational spark that helps us look forward to our next season.

2. “Experiment with parts and positions.”

Several years ago, I got a professional fit and a new saddle in late August, only a week before my first race. The position was amazing, the advice was spot on, and the saddle the fitter recommended to me was ideal (at least when my hands were on the hoods). The only problem came with the first month of racing, where my handling felt like it slid backwards by several years.

A good bike fit is less like a magic wand and more like a nutritious diet. A great fit won’t instantly make you a great cyclocross rider, but it will help your performance and reduce your injuries in the long run. It’s something you have to adapt to. I have a nasty tendency to always race on the rivet of a saddle, and while the new saddle and fit encouraged me to a better position, I had spent the last four years racing and riding in the former position. Both in terms of muscle memory and handling, I felt like I had to relearn way too much too fast.

May or early June (or even up to July) would have been infinitely better times to test out better positions and contact points because your body has time to adjust during the heavy duty training leading up to the season.

But experimentation isn’t just limited to fit. Now is also a great time to play around with other components. Right now, Kate and I are playing around with different pedals after using the same brand for four years. We were lucky enough to borrow a few demo sets of a model we’re interested in, and we want to see what we would have to deal with in terms of clearance, spring tension, and adjustability. (On a side note, May and June in the Mid-Atlantic and New England are perfect months for testing parts in the mud).

If you’re surrounded by a friendly ’cross community, now might be a time to see if a buddy will lend you their tubeless wheels for a weekend, or there is a shop nearby that has a great demo saddle program, for a few examples.

August and early-September are great for perfecting your personal limits around corners, but May and June are better for feeling how new technology feels beneath you. Are disc brakes worth the investment in a new bike? Does a 1x drivetrain live up to the hype? Does the new AX suspension fork change the game of cyclocross? While there are plenty of great review sites to give you some direction, these questions are more personal than some bike manufacturers would have you believe, both from the view of your skill level and your wallet.

One word of warning relating to the last topic: While a new upgrade might be a fun treat, don’t treat it like it will be the savior of your next season. A set of team edition tires won’t suddenly make you ride like Wout Van Aert. Even if you flatted your clincher tubes in every race last year and are upgrading to tubular or tubeless wheels, you should still heavily invest in training your weaknesses, which in this case might be line selection, body posture, or general bike handling that is causing all of these mechanicals.

In my experience, those who treat part upgrades as the sole motivational tools for their upcoming season often get disappointed and super demotivated early in the season once they discover that they are stuck in a similar rut as the previous year.*

This time of experimenting doesn’t even have to do with taking out your wallet for professional fits or components. Maybe now is the time to simply go out one weekend with a pump (and, if you have clincher tires, a few spare tubes) and test out drastically different tire pressures. Now is a much better time to see what different pressures mean for your riding to give you a little bit of free speed for the season ahead.

* (I really hate how inappropriate it would be to make a cyclocross joke about “committing to the rut you’re stuck in” here.)

3) “Creating a routine.”

Now is usually the time where Kate and I start transforming our loose structured base miles to a more carved out routine, even if the overall intensity level remains light.

Around mid-June, we start getting really heavy into strength training for the cyclocross season, which means hitting the free weights and getting on the trainers for some single leg drills. Breaking into these interval sessions from nothing can not only be a shock to the body, but also the schedule.

Setting aside a few times per week now, even if it is only to ride in the lower zones, is a good way to test your schedule for potential flaws before the harder workouts start, as well as figure out which days are best for the family/friend/workplace schedule.

Some of the best exercises during these times don’t necessarily have to be on the bike. After all, cyclists tend to ignore a few well-balanced exercises during the season, especially stretching and core workouts. Now might be the best time to force these into your schedule, which won’t just help you build a routine, but will also help you create a more powerful pedal stroke and prevent possible injuries. (Be sure to check out our article on glute exercises for cyclists, as well as proper deadlift and ab rollout exercises for some off-the bike ideas.)

Then again, if this is your first season, or you’re simply just dying to get back on the cyclocross bike, you won’t find much of an argument from us! Sometimes, just getting a leg over your CX rig and going through the motions of dismounting, remounting, and cornering, is the best medicine for the late spring blues. You may even consider coming to one of our cyclocross practices, which will begin this Sunday, May 28th at 7:00 am at Liberty State Park, in full view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Looking to keep up to date with the latest blogs and news from Jalapeno Cycling? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get our cycling tips delivered right to your mailbox. Also, if you are looking to start a cycling routine, and are close to the Bloomfield, New Jersey area, consider signing up for one of our cycling classes with more info to be found here.

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When You're Only Chasing Watts, It's Easy to Forget About the Rest

When You're Only Chasing Watts, It's Easy to Forget About the Rest

Usually around this time of year, I like to enter a mountain bike race and a criterium, partly to celebrate my birthday, partly to see exactly how much the offseason treated me.

This year started a little differently, but taught me a sharp lesson that I needed to remember. I decided to enter this year’s MTBNJ single track race with my cyclocross bike. Before you scoff, I should mention that I had good cause to think this was a sane idea. Firstly, several years ago, Kate completely handled the course on her ‘cross bike. Secondly, plenty of riders were reporting that I’d be able to manage the course with no problem.

 Jalapeno Cycling getting in the drops on one of the lighter sections of the course (photo by Tony Utitus)

Jalapeno Cycling getting in the drops on one of the lighter sections of the course (photo by Tony Utitus)

This weekend, the course was rerouted into Allamuchy’s low-line: an area filled with rock gardens aplenty. After a soft pre-ride, I realized that while I wouldn’t destroy my bike, this race for me was going to be a game of track-standing finesse. The race itself went as much as expected, and I was pretty liberal in swinging off to the side of the course to let anyone lapping me pass right on by.

With the exception of three very stupid line choices during the course of the hour, I actually felt like I rode the course well considering I was on 32mm tires, and while I never had a perfect lap that strung everything together, I was able to ride every part that the track offered. But I knew I could have ridden it much faster, even with the same bike.

It wasn’t the tire pressure, and it wasn’t my lungs; my limiting factor was 100% my upper body.

Riding rough single track on a fully rigid, thin-tire bike meant I had to be out of the saddle over 90% of the race, and that my arms, shoulders, core, and back had to be extremely active. Not even a lap into the course, and I felt my lower back straining against me as I tried throwing my front wheel over rocks the size of barriers. My legs felt really good, but I knew they were taking on a load of my upper body weight that could have instead been stabilized by a strong core.

In other words, my training from Cyclocross Nationals to single track had been a little too one-dimensional, focusing exclusively on how many watts my legs and lungs could crank out, and not enough on the rest of the body.

Now I know that most of you are never going to find yourself in a single track race on a cyclocross bike, but in reality, these were just exaggerated symptoms for weaknesses found in all kinds of riding. How often on a long ride are we over-adjusting our positions to compensate for a weak lower back? How often are we putting loads of pressure on our hands and arms during a ride because our weak core muscles are forcing other muscles to take on more of the load?

While two weeks ago, Kate Cumming detailed out attacking aches and pains with training exercises focused on the glutes, I asked her if she had a few key exercises she also did to build strength for a big ride. She had a small list, but emphasized two workouts that could help all cyclists become more efficient:

1) Deadlift: This exercise should be approached with caution. While it is one of the most beneficial for cyclists, if completed incorrectly, it can strain the lower back. Deadlifts can be completed with a barbell, dumbbells or kettlebells; however, as the weight you lift increases, a barbell will be most beneficial. At heavy weights, dumbbells will be too cumbersome and/or not available in heavy enough weights for you to complete the exercise.

Begin with feet about hip width apart and barbell centered over feet. Flex the knees and sit the hips back, hinging forward at the waist to grab the bar with an alternating grip. Ensure your back stays flat and you are not arching or rounding. Exhale and push through your heels to begin lifting the bar. As the bar passes your knees, drive your hips forward towards the bar and engage your upper back (shoulder blade area) to come to an upright standing position. Inhale and return the bar to the ground in a controlled manner by reversing your movement.

If completing this exercise with dumbbells, begin standing holding the dumbbells in front of your quads. Inhale and slide the dumbbells down the front of your legs to approximately the middle of your shin by flexing the knees and sitting the hips back. Ensure that the back stays flat. Then exhale and push through your heels and drive your hips forward to return to an upright position.

2) Ab Rollout: Similarly to a deadlift, ease your way into the ab rollout. The ab rollout can also be completed with a variety of different equipment, from an ab wheel to sliders to a weighted Olympic barbell.

Begin kneeling with the barbell in front of you and your hands on the bar approximately shoulder width apart. Slowly roll the barbell forward, extending your body into a straight position. Only extend as far as you can without your hips sagging or lower back arching (think plank position). At your most extended point, pull from your abs to drive the barbell back towards your body.

To progress this exercise, complete from your feet rather than kneeling.

Looking to keep up to date with the latest blogs and news from Jalapeno Cycling? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get our cycling tips delivered right to your mailbox. Also, if you are looking to prevent those aches and pains of constant sitting, be sure to sign up for our Strength Training, Off-The-Bike Classes, with more info to be found here.

Come Test Your "Tour of Flanders" Legs at Jalapeno Cycling on April 2nd, Win Great Prizes

Come Test Your "Tour of Flanders" Legs at Jalapeno Cycling on April 2nd, Win Great Prizes

The Tour of Flanders is one of the major classic races, and this year marks its 101st run. In our last newsletter, we said Jalapeno Cycling would be streaming many of the Spring Classics live in our shop, but for the Tour of Flanders, we are taking it a big step further.

Starting at 7:00 AM on April 2nd, and lasting through the race coverage, Jalapeno Cycling will be having a contest for everyone to simulate riding one of the iconic course sections.

The Rules for the Faux Pro Competitors:

1) Claim your free spot to compete on mindbodyonline.com. (We are maxing out with 16 total riders for this event, so we are expecting the spots to fill up FAST.

2) Either reserve one of Kate or Andrew's Von Hof bikes by emailing us, or bring your own mountain, road, or cyclocross bike.

3) Show up at least 20 minutes before your slot and ride your heart out.

The Rules for Spectators:

1) Cheer on the Men's and Women's Pros on our TVs.

2) Cheer on the Faux Pros in the back attempting to race on the same grade hills as the pros.

3) Don't throw beer or cobblestones at the riders.

What to Know:

1) Entering the Tour of Flanders challenge is free, but you will need to sign up to do it in order to claim your trainer spot.

2) The competition is over distance. Everyone will be riding the same length of the course. This means that your ride could be anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes depending on your ability.

3) While we are not yet disclosing what section of the course we are using until the week before, you can expect that there will be at least one serious grade. April 2nd is not the day to bring a bike with zero climbing gears.

4) Don't schedule a time that interferes with the Pro Tour's finishes if you want to see the live finish. Currently, the wise UCI predictors say that the Pro Women's Race will finish around 8:50 AM EST and the Pro Men's Race will finish around 10:30 AM EST in the fastest case scenario.

Prizes:

-Both the male and female rider with the best time will get one of Jalapeno Cycling's custom #RideSpicy Pactimo kits (a $160 value per winner!)

-The rider who comes closest to the average finishing time (note: not the median rider, but the average time) will score one of our custom Faux Pro caps made by Rothera Cycling.

Preventing Aches and Pains with Strength Training

Preventing Aches and Pains with Strength Training

When coaches talk about strength training for athletic activities such as cycling, often people think of building muscle mass. If done properly, strength training has the ability to create a stronger pedal stroke and running stride and prevent pain from endurance sports without building mass. In today's coaching blog, Kate Cumming examines a few workouts that get people's seasons started off right, but are also designed to combat the stresses of sitting all day at work and on a saddle.

by Kate Cumming

Too often, riders talk to us about aches and pains related to riding and racing. Whether it’s nagging knee pain, a lower back that gives out when the going gets tough, or a stiff neck that tightens up with each bump, symptoms of muscle imbalances really flare up by the last few races of the season.

I have been involved in several conversations lately where athletes indicated they felt one-dimensional and weak at the end of their race season. These feelings are not surprising as the repetitive nature of endurance sports will lead to muscle imbalances over time. While a bike fit or equipment change may help to reduce these problems, returning exclusively to the repetitive movement that created these imbalances will lead to the same aches and limitations over time.

As your early season training resumes, strength training should become an integral part of your weekly plan. With more sport-specific focus on endurance training, you will be able to incorporate strength training without feeling like you cannot hit the top end power or pace numbers you would be fighting for during race season.

Although there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to strength training, the ideal starting point for most athletes is glute activation. Active glutes have the ability to generate significant power through the pedal stroke or running stride and can also help prevent injuries. If you find that your lower back takes the brunt of steep climbs, your hip flexors cramp or ache, your IT bands (or in very loose terms, the band that runs on the sides of your leg from your hip through your knee) are tight or your knees gravitate towards your top tube while riding, your glutes are probably not doing their share of the work. Countless other scenarios can involve your glutes, but these are some common scenarios we are seeing with our athletes.

Thanks in part to significant amounts of time spent sitting, our glutes often remain dormant when we need them most. Begin building your strength foundation today with glute activation exercises. Once your limitations are resolved, the focus can shift to more time spent focusing on sheer strength and then explosive power as your training progresses.

To get the glutes firing, focus on these three exercises:

1. Glute bridge: Begin on your back with knees bent and feet about shoulder width apart. Exhale and push through your heels to lift your hips towards the ceiling. Engage your glutes at the top and inhale and return to the starting point. The single leg version of this exercise is a great progression and will also help address imbalances between your left and right sides.

2. Side lying leg lifts: Lie on your side with hips and legs stacked. Keeping your legs straight, exhale and lift your top leg about 6-8 inches with arching or rounding your back. Inhale and lower the leg with controlled speed.

3. Single leg squat: Standing on one leg, inhale and sit your hips down and back into a squat. Exhale and push through your heel to return to standing. This exercise is best done with visual feedback to ensure your knee does not move forward over your toes or fall inside or outside of the ankle. When starting single leg squats, it can be effective to use a bench or chair as an aid; squat down to the bench and then return to standing.

Looking to keep up to date with the latest blogs and news from Jalapeno Cycling? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get our cycling tips delivered right to your mailbox. Also, if you are looking to prevent those aches and pains of constant sitting, be sure to sign up for our Strength Training, Off-The-Bike Classes, with more info to be found here.

Test Your Functional Threshold Power to Help Your Training, Not Hurt It

Test Your Functional Threshold Power to Help Your Training, Not Hurt It

Starting next week, Jalapeno Cycling will be spending several days devoting our classes to testing Functional Threshold Power (FTP) for athletes. Because the vast majority of training plans use FTP as a baseline measurement for drills and targeting zones, you may have already heard of the test, but before signing up for a class, you may want to see if performing the test makes sense for you.

To begin, we should mention that the formal test isn’t a walk in the park. Its goal is to give an accurate indicator of how much power a rider can exert over the course of an hour. Because attempting to hit the gas for a full 60 minutes is an impractical assessment for the majority of riders (it’s far too easy to overcook or underperform early in that kind of long effort), the test instead involves warming up and executing a full 20 minute effort that coaches base the FTP around.

Even though it isn’t a time-consuming effort, the test is stressful on the body, and isn’t for all riders and situations. Here is a list of common times when you should NOT take an FTP test:

1. “Right before a big event.” This is an understandable mistake: riders may second-guess their power numbers just before the big day, especially when it comes to the solo efforts of time trials and triathlons, and want to know what targets they need to hit after several long cycles of training blocks. However, a hint of uncertainty and tapering towards the event is far better than putting additional fatigue on your legs.

2. “If you are about to engage in dedicated training for the first time.” Unfortunately, some programs often have beginning riders perform an FTP test right off the bat. The test is difficult without spending much prior time in the saddle, and the data it provides riders won’t be useful for long. When new riders begin dedicated training for the first time, the gains not only come fast, but are incredibly volatile for each rider. There are far better and accurate methods of tracking progress and determining zones than this immediate trial by fire.

3. “If you recently took the test.” We are amazed at how often we see pre-made programs that want you to perform an FTP test every other week. There are several major problems with this: while a 20-minute block is a great way to find a baseline for the rest of your training, it’s not the end-all be-all interval that you only need to gauge your performance by. There is no reason you should be taking this test more than three times per year (and even that is borderline overdoing it). It is a test that will monopolize several days of your other training, which is not a good thing if you could use some One-Legged-Drills, Base Riding, or VO2 Max Intervals instead. Secondly, by constantly measuring yourself with this test, you’ll inevitably catch a test on a bad day, and demotivation will strike hard when you believe you are regressing after months of hard work.

Those were the bad times to take an FTP test. On the other side of the spectrum, there are some ideal times that your future training could benefit from the test:

1. “Early into your building period before your season begins.” This is a great time to allocate some training time towards one FTP test, especially because this is usually the time when you or your coach is planning out your training schedule, and it helps give more direction. It is also a period of time where you are not interfering with any big events. Be forewarned, though, that there is one drawback to performing an FTP test here. Usually this time frame comes a little after an extended off-the-bike recovery week or two from the season before, and you shouldn’t be too surprised to find that your numbers will likely be about 10-20 watts lower than the power you were putting up after tapering for the big event at the end of the prior season. Remember that this drop is natural and necessary; don’t let it demotivate you.

2. “A few weeks after you get a power meter for the first time.” In reality, this shouldn’t conflict with any of the three times not to take an FTP test above (you REALLY shouldn’t buy a power meter right before a big event; I promise that it won’t improve your short-term performance.) After you purchase a power meter and get familiar with it and the numbers for a break in period, you might as well put it to good use. A FTP test gives you an even better meaning to the numbers you are seeing and can help you chart out a training path in ways that “perceived effort” cannot.

3. “During your season if you feel that your power numbers have already drastically changed or you believe you are training in the completely wrong zones.” This is very difficult to correctly gauge without an experienced coach. It could mean that you’re overtraining, or possibly feeling under the weather. Still if you are deep within a hard interval block and you feel like you could carry a normal conversation, you may want to consider taking an FTP test. Again, there are plenty of other factors that can trigger an unexpected drop or rise in power: a miscalibrated power meter, low batteries, or an error in an earlier FTP test. However, if you feel like you went through the full troubleshooting gamut, and you feel like you’re working well out of your zones, it might be time to see where you now measure up. This is especially true if you are basing your current zones on an FTP test you took a year or more ago.

If you find that this is a good time to take an FTP test, consider booking an appointment at Jalapeno Cycling. While you can set up individual sessions where you can take the test all by yourself, Kate is also hosting small-batch sessions as a more economical option. You can email her at kathryn@jalapenocycling.com or click here to create a profile and reserve your spot next week.

Jalapeno Cycling is a bike shop, sales, repair and fitness center located in Bloomfield, New Jersey.

Faux Pro (moters') Response to "Cyclocross is Still My Favorite Bourbon"

Faux Pro (moters') Response to "Cyclocross is Still My Favorite Bourbon"

Cyclocross Worlds is upon us this weekend, and we at Jalapeño Cycling can't believe that we'll have to start using the #crossiscoming hashtags already. (In the area and want to watch the World Championships live? Be sure to swing on by our store starting at 7am on Saturday and 8am on Sunday for some coffee and pastries and fauxpro commentary.)

A few weeks ago, Kate Cumming and I wrote a piece called Cyclocross is Still My Favorite Bourbon, mainly in response to reports of the stagnating participation numbers for the sport of cyclocross, and possible solutions. We were overwhelmed and gracious about the number of readers and replies. One of our favorites came way this morning from a couple of self-described "fauxpromoters," who responded to our thoughts with a full article. They promoted their first race this year, and their cyclocross vibe gets our serious thumbs up of approval (we'll overlook the pinwheel for the first year). They offered a few more thoughts that some of the salty faux pros here at Jalapeño Cycling overlooked, as well as made a few points that ran counter to ours. We appreciate the ideas and keeping us honest. Be sure to check them out with their links at the bottom of their response.

By Gordon Jones and Colston Jones (title photo courtesy of Marci Fulton)

DISCLAIMER: The authors are not experts (on cyclocross or anything else). In fact, neither of us had ridden in or even attended a 'cross race before last year, but we put together a team of fauxpromoters and hosted the Rustbucket Races in our hometown of Norfolk, Virginia on December 17 of last year. 89 people came out to ride; we are grateful to all of them and can’t wait to do it again next year.

Here is our reply to “Cyclocross is Still My Favorite Bourbon” by Andrew Reimann.

1) Cast a Wide Net

Gordon: We sold 35 one-day USAC licenses for the Rustbucket Races. Since this was our first time promoting a race, we didn't know what that meant, but our lead official informed us that it was a big number, especially for a first-time event.

Our race had a broad reach in part because we are outsiders to the sport ourselves, so many of our contacts in the local bike community are commuters and people who ride for fun. Getting a few riders who typically wouldn't race or weren't familiar with cyclocross to sign up for the race really helped spread the word locally. Getting involved in your local bike community and going on new or different group rides can really pay dividends. 

Colston: At the same time, it’s important not to be a stranger to the existing cyclocross community. We volunteered to help with set-up at the local races, and were rewarded with great support from a strong local club, Rogue Velo Racing (four-time Virginia state champions, by the way). As a practical matter, it would be difficult to start a race without some established support, because the cost of stakes for the course could be prohibitive otherwise.

To your point on attracting people who are new to CX, it was important to me to offer true beginner categories, so our Novice races were only open to Cat 5 men and Cat 4 women. (In theory, if you have raced more than one season, you have "experienced out" of your initial USAC category with a mandatory upgrade.) Setting up the Novice categories this way may have put off a few experienced racers, as we didn't offer a Men's 4/5 race. In the future, we may offer that in addition to the Novice category, but the beginner-exclusive races will likely be a fixture. 

2) Promote Cyclocross as Inclusive

Colston: After race day, one of the folks who rode in the Rustbucket reviewed the race on Facebook. He wrote that our race showed that cyclocross is an "extremely inclusive" bicycle discipline. He nailed one of the great things about 'cross: inclusivity.

Andrew touched on inclusivity when he argued that 'cross should be promoted as an affordable sport. No one should feel like they can't try a CX race because they don't want to shell out for high-end gear, and that's a great thing to emphasize.

Inclusivity goes beyond cost, though - 'cross is for different types of bikes: not only CX bikes, but mountain bikes, vintage road bikes, singlespeed bikes, even fixed gear bikes. 'Cross is for people of all ages and all levels of fitness and bike-racing (and promoting) experience. We were really welcomed warmly into the awesome community of cyclocross, even though we didn’t know a run-up from a hand-up. 

Another piece that experienced CX racers who want to promote the sport might be overlooking is that the pro racing kit may scare people off. By having different categories on the course at different times, it seems like most races can accommodate both people who want to ride in (regular) shorts and a t-shirt and people who want to ride in a skinsuit. People who own a bike but not spandex make up a big group of potential cyclocross participants. It wouldn't hurt to aim some promotion at them.

3) Find a Way to Stand Out

Gordon: We found a unique site for the Rustbucket Races: a site owned by the Norfolk Public Works department that has been used for unloading trucks, impounding cars, and storing parade floats and hurricane debris. We'd like to take credit for hand-picking the site, but we didn't know it existed until our contacts with the city brought it to our attention. 

Because we wanted to keep the race in Norfolk, options were limited after the city parks, our first choices, were ruled out due to access and use concerns. It worked out in our favor, however. I think it's safe to say that not many ‘cross races are held in industrial areas in the middle of cities. Tying our name to the site gave us some immediate visibility (thanks, Sean Freeman!). 

Second, we were not part of a series. This gave us more control over the categories we could offer, like the World Heavyweight Championship of Cycling, and allowed us to have some fun with kit contests and the like. It made the race seem less intimidating, at least to me, a first-time bike racer.

Also, by not being part of a series, we stumbled onto a date that was open for lots of possible riders. December 17 was an open date for our local series, the Virginia Cyclocross Series (VACX), but also the MABRA and North Carolina Cyclo-Cross series. If you're an aspiring promoter, don't think you have to be part of series right off the bat to be successful.

Please visit our website, rustbucketraces.com, or find us on Facebook and Instagram @rustbucketraces. Thanks for your support!

Cyclocross is Still My Favorite Bourbon

Cyclocross is Still My Favorite Bourbon

Over 15 years ago, my now father-in-law discovered his favorite bourbon from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Kentucky (bear with me, this IS an article about cyclocross). At the time, it was practically a no-name brand. He was able to buy it cheap, and almost everyone he could find above the legal drinking age, he talked to about it. He displayed it in his favorite cabinets, and poured a glass of the 23-year-old bottle for whisky-loving guests during the holidays.

About seven years later, some host on the Food Network raved about Pappy Van Winkles, and the Pappy scene exploded across the country. Every hipster bar in the country stocked it, and even empty bottles of the best aged vintage were selling for thousands of dollars on Amazon. Today, my father-in-law may still pull a Pappy from the cabinet on special occasions, but he never raves about it much anymore. The lure and excitement of being in “the know” has faded.

For me, this is a relatable metaphor for cyclocross. For those who are not up to speed: three days ago, Cyclocross Magazine asked Colin Reuter of Cross Results on twitter about the participation of unique cyclocross racers over the last few years. He crunched the numbers, and discovered that with his data set, cyclocross participation has plateaued over the last few years, with 2016 numbers looking a little leaner than 2015 across the nation.

I’m not going to delve too much into the data breakdown. Jls.cx already did an impressive job deciphering some of the state data to find the major trends: cyclocross out west and in the southwest is rapidly deteriorating, and participation is only on the slight rise most everywhere else. (For a quick side note, I think other, smaller factors could be considered. For instance, as I already stated online, I wonder if there are new promoters out there who don’t see the value in sending their race data to cross results. In any case, on the whole, I do think we are not seeing the growth in the sport like we were in 2012.)

 Crowds are still big, and Women's participation continues to grow in areas like New England

Crowds are still big, and Women's participation continues to grow in areas like New England

Two years ago, I interviewed Derek Bouchard Hall, president of USA Cycling, who told me that his goal was to stay hands-off of cyclocross because it was growing at such an astounding rate and that he didn’t want USAC to interfere with that. This approach didn’t exactly pan out. So what’s going on here?

Perhaps we need to step back to the larger picture, to a time beyond Cross Result’s data. I’m probably going to piss off loads of the New England guys who were racing in the 80’s and 90’s (who were the savvy cyclists in the know), but America’s love affair with cyclocross in the modern era intensified when a Texas doper tried the sport out and then showed off some cyclocross skills on route to his second Tour de France “win.” The second explosion arrived out of the Grand Prix, whose organizers were able to bring the UCI World Championships to Kentucky.

Life for the American cyclocross scene was easy. The New York Times was calling our sport the cooler superbowl, races were popping up all across the country, and even the adrenaline-junkie promoting Red Bull company was pumping up the sport through athletes and events.

We went from that regionally exclusive, hidden jem of the cycling world to the scene that everyone wanted to be a part of. Our brand was being displayed in hipster bars all across America, and business was booming.

Now the excitement is no longer in the air. The Kentucky hangover is lingering. Participation isn’t hiking, and you have professional teams like Raleigh-Clement who are angry at the lack of increased American coverage and are threatening to just spend their seasons in Europe on Twitter. Things aren’t in apocalypse mode. We’re not like the situation of Mountain Biking that has seen serious decline in numbers.

 Having tough courses are one thing, marketing crash reels are another.

Having tough courses are one thing, marketing crash reels are another.

I’m not going to fault Derek Bouchard-Hall’s lack of foresight; I too thought we’d be drinking from a firehose in terms of recruitment for a few more years until we plateaued. But I eventually knew we’d be here. After all, this is a cycling discipline in America, and this country’s widespread respect for cycling athletes died out sometime between 1890 and 1925.

Cyclocross is now the County-Fair Orchid instead of the Chia Pet: we’ll have to actually work at making it grow. I have a few ideas, and I’d like this to be a dialogue, since I don’t have the full picture (after all, I’m not even a race promoter).

1) Market cyclocross as a cheap sport to your friends.

This isn’t something that we have to leave to the industry to do. They won’t. Articles, like the one this week in Bike Rumor, about wisely having 15 different types of tubular treads for every condition, makes it seem like the only way to have fun in cyclocross is with either a deep pocket book or great sponsors. I can’t blame Helen Wyman for writing that article; she’s a sponsored rider, and it’s her job to hype up every Challenge tire imaginable. But this need for the perfect equipment isn’t true in the Elite field, let alone the Cat 4/5 field.

Kate and I spent our first year on cheap mountain bikes, and the next few years on a pair of 7$ Kenda clincher tires (Mo Bruno Roy raced in World Cups on clinchers!). I had a blast in the sport on them, and Kate won a few races and took plenty more podiums. Yes, in the last few years we moved to tubulars, but we share wheelsets, and ride on either file treads or mudders. Is it ideal on course? Not always. Is it ideal on our current bank account? You betcha. Cyclocross Magazine used to do these great cheap bike projects, and they still review pretty inexpensive bikes. Cyclocross can be an insanely affordable sport, (especially if you can lend your old pit bike to your non-cycling friend).

2) Market cyclocross as a safe sport.

I think the KMC Cyclo-Cross festival does a lot right. Providence was amazing, but there is room to grow at other venues. However, like Richard Sachs, I am dead set against that crash reel they posted as a promotion video after their event. In the same way, I get upset any time a promoter goes social crazy with how intimidating their course is. I literally had a promoter tell me via Facebook that he didn’t have enough collar bones broken at his event. That's not a way to design a course for all levels.

So what happened after the KMC promo video? Surprise, surprise, dozens of people I’ve been trying to persuade to get in to the sport tag me in that stupid reel and ask me if the sport is this dangerous. No. I have to explain that these are pro-only sections designed for the top level athletes.

Look, I get it. The marketing works to an extent. You get the adrenaline junkies from all across the country to fly to your race to experience that “wall of death.” That type of marketing reminds me of the Red Hook Crit. The biggest difference is that the Red Hook Crit events are in urban areas with heavy spectator crowds, and that series can scoop up plenty of cash from advertisers that see this crowd attendance. I doubt that cyclocross events in America will gain the same traction unless we start using downtown construction zones as are venues. For now, I think we should still build this up as a participation-based sport, and we won’t get many new cyclists to an event if they think they are going to break their arm their first time racing.

I'm not asking to tame EVERYTHING down. But the marketing can have a little less "wall of death" #hype. And courses that Cat. 4 fields shouldn't be designed to be a perfect replica of Namur.

There is the reason why Triathlons are constantly booming. They are thought of to be a (relatively) safe, personal challenge. The funny thing is that most cyclocross courses provide the same type of environment with a much cooler crowd! Getting new riders to a clinic is a great idea (Kate and I have been putting on free skills and drills sessions all season and pre-season), but also showing your non-cycling friends the tamer events is a great start.

3) Influence that sweet-spot age group.

When Mo Bruno Roy first explained to me the target of the Amy D. Foundation, I understood why the scope was narrow, but I loved the age objective. “It’s not the Juniors we have to worry about, many of them who want to race cyclocross have parents,” she told me, “It’s the right-out-of-college woman who doesn’t have any cash for equipment that we are looking to help out.”

A lot of people on Facebook and in person at the Nats venue have been telling me of their great Junior scene in their area. That’s good. But I also think it’s good if you’re just a future Stephen Hyde bumming around in a 7-11 parking lot on your BMX bike doing tricks at 15. I love that cyclocross is an event you can bring the family to and have an event for everyone, but there is still a nicer target that not everyone is hitting.

One of the biggest exceptions to this is DCCX, and if those races have any indication, I think Washington D.C. will be the next major hub of cyclocross. Go to one of those races of the Super8 series. On the sidelines, you’ll see crowds of people, not cyclists, and many in that sweet spot post-college age.

The Amy D. Foundation’s original target athlete age is perfect, for both men and women. Don’t misread my sentiment, I’m not suggesting to ignore the rad 35-55 aged man or woman in your life. But those post-college students who are finding their feet are also looking to grow their roots, and it would be sweet for those roots to grow in cyclocross.

4) Go to growing festivals and limit diverging series:

While Oregon, Colorado, and California’s decline in cyclocross participation also surprised me, the Texas bell curve held my interest this week. After all, it felt like the Texas participants abandoned their UCI series, and all of their local races looked like they have thinned.

I reached out for thoughts, and received plenty. The great part about Texas is that the number of race series is growing. The bad part is that it seems like the series are working against each other. The Dallas crew rarely goes to Austin, and vice versa. The scene sounds like it has diverged into a series of cliques, and each race doesn’t have the same lively group of hecklers and supporters, making the culture quieter and the promotion more difficult.

Look, I’m all for local races you could ride to; that’s pretty sweet, but I don’t like how there is a North New Jersey, South New York, Western Connecticut, and Eastern Pennsylvania race all on the same day in late September and all an hour from one another.

If you are going to take someone new to a cyclocross event, try and target an established series with a crowd that you know they might enjoy. On the East Coast, we are treated to the Vittoria (formerly Verge), the MAC, the Super 8. When these series do compete, they usually do so because the races involved are five to six hours travel apart from one another, and one is usually the bigger UCI race.

Unfortunately, this can compete with my recommendation number two. Again, I said there are a few things that KMC does right. Their move to creating a festival is an incredible move for cyclocross, and one that Gloucester has made without calling it such. An event with great food vendors, a beverage tent, multiple days, big athletes is a combination to success. I know this isn’t something that just happens one year, but cyclocrossers that can share their love to the next generation have a perfect setting in the number of festivals now coming up on the East Coast.

I’m sure new promoters are going to hate my reasoning, but in reality, there are plenty of weekends where a new race makes more sense. My team was really impressed with the quickly-put-together Rainey Park Cyclocross. It offered a late December race where they could get permits within New York City that might have been much harder to get in warmer weather when everyone is using the park. Plenty of folks showed up, and it wasn’t conflicting with any other races like all of those new late-September races do.

I think the takeaway message here is that cyclocross in America has been, and still is, a grassroots sport. We can’t depend on the bike industry to do the vast majority of our sport’s promoting, because they will convince us that we each need to bring three bikes and five deep dish carbon wheelsets, and make the event feel more like a chore rather than the fun time it can be (yes, I do see the irony in that I have been a member of said industry for a decade). I think the big move to keep expanding the sport is by tapping into those people who are not everyday cyclists, looking to give themselves a challenge and a healthy habit. I feel like it is a mission that some media platforms (like Cyclocross Magazine) have been attempting over the years, and even better still, groups like the PHL Devo Team have lately been employing for road racing and now mountain biking.

Again, these points are not some silver bullets that will return us to the spiking growth of 2011-12. There’s always the possibility that Beyoncé will tweet about cyclocross and we’ll see ourselves overcrowded with growth. But until then, it is a simple matter of working at it, and remembering that cyclocross is still the favorite bourbon.

Jalapeno Cycling is a bike shop, sales, repair and fitness center located in Bloomfield, New Jersey.