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Jalapeno Cycling

Measuring Your Legs at the Start of the Cyclocross Season: Race Report from Whirlybird

Measuring Your Legs at the Start of the Cyclocross Season: Race Report from Whirlybird

Whirlybird Cross was our 2019 development cyclocross team’s first race! Most of our teammates were going to be out racing, and we were really excited for them to experience cyclocross. Today, Kathryn Cumming shares her thoughts from the kickoff races of her season, and finding a way of measuring your success in the early goings.

by Kathryn Cumming

The energy was high as Andrew and I hopped in the car on Sunday morning, but I knew I needed to pace myself throughout the day if I wanted to have a good race. 

I feel fortunate to have so many good friends and teammates present at local races, but I can get distracted and end up feeling rushed or a little drained before I even hit the start line. To avoid this, I outlined a race day schedule to make sure I ate, pre-rode, and warmed up when I needed, and I spent most of my time cheering from our team tent rather than running around the course.

Kate Whirly.jpg

After our teammates finished racing, I snuck away to my car to prepare. In order to gain energy for races, I need to have some time to myself, and I enjoy quiet time when I am riding the trainer. My legs and mind felt good and I was looking forward to the race.

The course was going to be fun. It was shortened from previous years and removed a section of woods. I found the updated version to be more engaging. The shorter course meant you spent more time riding near the spectators and announcer, providing more of an event atmosphere rather than feeling like you were riding alone in a grass field all afternoon. 

I also appreciated the grass corners. Everyone could ride the corners without concern of crashing, but time was gained or lost depending on how the corners were approached. Racers were rewarded for choosing good lines, but beginners felt totally safe and comfortable on course. 

Local races have a much more relaxed atmosphere around the start line than UCI races. As we lined up, friends were chatting and telling jokes.

Kate Whily two.jpg

After the whistle, I found my pedal pretty quickly and saw an opening to jump between Stacey Barbossa and Vicki Barclay. This put me on the wheel of Lauren Festa heading into the first corner. The turn brought us on to a wide open grass straightaway and I jumped past Lauren on the right. I was on the front with the goal of being first into the upcoming off camber, barriers, and 180 degree corners. I wanted to choose my lines and ride my own race rather than entering into a tactical battle. My power numbers have been steadily improving and I wanted to put the fitness to use! 

Early on I kept telling myself “smooth, smooth, smooth, ATTACK!” I wanted to corner well and then push the pace as soon as I hit a straightaway. My gap grew to about seven seconds on lap one and I set out to increase this on lap two. I followed the same approach of pushing the straightaways and climbs with the objective of being out of sight of my chaser, Stacey Barbossa, at certain points on course. Racers often look at courses in short sections, and if you can already be through one of these sections before the next racer enters, the gap seems larger than it is. 

My lead continued to increase and I started using heart rate numbers as a motivator. My goal was to stay above 180 bpm. The overall intensity of GO Cross in Roanoke had a positive brainwashing effect on me. After hitting 195 bpm both days, riding along at 180-182 bpm felt really sustainable. 

This season I have started racing with my heart rate displayed on my bike computer. In the past, I would usually tuck my computer in my jersey pocket and check the data after the race, however, I am finding a heart rate reference is helpful in pacing. In Roanoke, when it was hot and the field was incredibly fast, I used heart rate to ensure I did not blow up. At Whirlybird my heart rate numbers served two purposes: early on I knew I could keep pushing because my heart rate was at a manageable number, and then once I had a good gap, I used heart rate to ensure I did not let off the intensity.

During the last few laps I focused on cornering well and having fun. I ended up rolling across the line in first with a little over a minute to second place. With good weather and lots of friends around, it was an awesome day to be racing! 

Being able to grab the win at Whirlybird provided a nice confidence boost after Roanoke. I knew the Roanoke UCI races would not be my best results for many reasons, but I was left wanting more. Whirlybird confirmed my training is paying off and has me excited for the rest of the season! 

Kate Finish Whirly.jpg

Three races into the season, I am most excited about the improvement in my starts. I have made significant gains in my top end power, but my start line mentality has made the biggest jump. I used to stand at the start line thinking about what could go wrong. Last season before I went to the World Cup in Bern, Switzerland, Andrew spent some time coaching me to take control of my starts. I had a bad habit of waiting and reacting to swarming fields and chaotic starts, and he helped train me to be aggressive and forecast gaps that could be taken. He encouraged me to get excited about starts rather than being scared. I had a few friends who helped me further train these skills all summer, and now I am looking for openings and trying to set a new five second power record every time I am on course. I know not every start will be perfect, but it is nice to head into a race with this more aggressive mindset. 

This weekend I am heading to Colorado for my annual hiking trip with my mom! Once I am back, more local racing is on the schedule for September, then we will head into a big UCI racing block in October.

Revised Resolutions: Try Cyclocross This Fall! Our 2018-19 Development Season in Pictures

Revised Resolutions: Try Cyclocross This Fall! Our 2018-19 Development Season in Pictures

The 2019 World Cyclocross Championships are wrapping up its final day today, so we at Jalapeno Cycling are looking back at our 2018-19 season with our development team. We wanted to congratulate all of our athletes on a great year!

We’ve had a great year of personal and team successes, and more importantly, loads of fun. It was a muddy season, and for everyone who has muscled through the year, here’s to a mix of dry and wet races next season!

Never tried cyclocross before, and live in the NJ/NYC area? Consider marking in Jalapeno Cycling’s Cyclocross Development Team as the New Year’s Resolution you don’t have to start until the late summer! Every year, Jalapeno Cycling takes riders with little to no experience, and guides them through a season by preparing everyone with fitness training and cyclocross-specific techniques.


Facing the Best: Swiss World Cup Race Report

Facing the Best: Swiss World Cup Race Report

Last week, Jalapeno Cycling’s owner, Kathryn Cumming, was invited to compete in the World Cup in Bern, which is a special treat as only a limited amount of racers from each country are allowed to participate. The culture, environment, and level of competition are far different than a local race, or even a standard American UCI race. Today, Kate writes about what it was like to head to Europe to race against the best in the world.

words by Kathryn Cumming, title photo by Elisa Haumesser.

Andrew and I were excited to travel to Switzerland. The opportunity to race a World Cup doesn’t come around often, but the location of this event also played a big role in our decision to attend. We try to take advantage of exploring everywhere we go, and a quick Google search of the Old World city of Bern had us convinced that this was going to be an awesome trip!

I must admit that I was intimidated looking at the start list. I had only watched several of the top contenders on TV, and I still remember spectating in awe as Marianne Vos won the World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. Vos is a legend and being on course with her was going to be special but brutal.

There are plenty of races at home where I still get my butt kicked, but the best in the world were converging on Bern, Switzerland, and it was going to be worthwhile to check it out. Fields that deep have a way of pushing me to my limit. The energy that accompanies these deep athletic efforts carries well beyond the event itself, and I find myself striving to be better. The intensity and drive is contagious.

My experience racing World Cups is limited, but the feel of racing a European World Cup is very different than racing an American World Cup. Unless you are at the front of the field (which I am not in a World Cup), American World Cups feel more like a local race. You know who you are battling and it’s mostly known factors. Often the races play out as expected. On the other hand, in European World Cups, there is an unknown to many of the competitors, and it forces you to be on your toes for the entire race.

It was helpful to see some familiar faces during the pre-ride, and Katie Compton’s husband, Mark Legg, was kind enough to offer support and advice for the American women throughout the weekend.

Our first success of race day came when Andrew and I scored a great parking spot. Parking in the UCI lots in Europe can be an ordeal, as the spaces are tight and limited and everything is being guarded by European mechanics and team managers. Most areas are covered in a haze of cigarette smoke. Each team setup even has ashtrays for the support staff; it seems a little counterproductive for an athletic-focused event.

Much like the World Cup in France and those in America, the environment around the race was upbeat, with smiling faces and cheering families. The course was like one big playground, with drainage ditches, bunny hopping, and ramps. Europe has been dry all fall, and the gravel and grass seemed more like dust in many areas. It was going to be FAST!

After Andrew and I watched the Junior Men’s start, the rest of my day became consumed with self talk. The start was so fast I stood in awe. This race was going to be as fast as they come and I needed to remind myself that I deserved to be there.

During my warm-up on the trainer, I played through some of my racing successes in my head, a necessary positive reinforcement that I could handle the speed.

After receiving my call-up, I went full Euro-mode and proceeded to cram my front wheel between the riders in front of me on the starting grid. While we remain in orderly lines in the US, in Europe you fight for every millimeter before the light even turns green. Our eight-row starting grid was probably condensed to four rows. My handlebars were between the hips of the riders in front of me, elbows out, ready to go.

About thirty seconds or so before the start, they cut the music and started playing a heart beat loudly over the speakers. Nothing like growing the tension. You could visibly see the shoulders of riders tighten up. I kept breathing trying to relax. The start was long and there would be plenty of time to move up.

The light turned green and I found my pedal right away. It finally felt like all of my top-end power work paid off as I snuck through every opening I could find. I had to take advantage of gaps or else they would close instantly. We turned on to the gravel with speed, and rocks were flying everywhere. I kept sprinting to move up every time I saw an opening. Next we hopped a curb onto a grass straightaway filled with rock gardens. It was a pure drag race to maintain power through the bumps and avoid the booby traps waiting to claim a tire or wheel.

We hopped the drainage ditch and I heard a handful of clangs, several carbon wheels didn’t survive. We then hit the dusty off-camber climbs. They were steep and slippery and I had dismounted and was running with traffic before I even hit the first of the three climbs. In an effort to gain spots, I was running downhill as fast as possible, desperately grabbing the wooden stake at the bottom with my left hand to slow myself in time.

Racers were battling for every corner like it was the last on course. A half lap in my mouth already had the metallic taste of blood. This was going to be crazy.

The pace did not slow, and at one point I remember thinking “How is everyone riding that section so fast,” then I had to remember that I was racing in a European World Cup. There was nowhere to hide your weaknesses.

For the first time ever in a race, I desperately drafted through the start/finish chute. I frantically chased down the wheels in front of me when I hit the pavement, thinking this was my only chance at survival. As soon as I caught the wheels, I had to tell myself “BREATHE, BREATHE.”

I felt great on the power sections and through the corners, but chasing on after the bunny hopping and loose, rutted corners eventually took its toll. I started moving backwards in the field. The tank was pretty empty and all of the downhill running and sprinting were making my quads feel like they could seize up at any minute.

For the first time in probably five years, I rolled through the finish feeling proud that I made the lead lap. The race truly made every crit and road race I have done in the last several years feel slow, and with Marianne Vos leading the charge, I was excited to have kept the time gap from her to me somewhat reasonable.

I knew I would not be going to Europe to score some incredible result. This opportunity was all about racing against the best in the world. Although, I must admit, with a bit more training of my weaknesses, I would love another crack at that field.

It was helpful to have complete confidence in my bike. While the course may have looked like a road race, there were lots of rough, bumpy sections, several loose and dusty off cambers, ruts, and steep climbs. Furthermore, we were hitting course obstacles at faster speeds than I thought possible. The risk factor was high. My Sage PDXCX held its line through everything and then responded to each acceleration. It played mountain bike, road bike, and cross bike without missing a beat. While I was exhausted after the race, my body did not feel thrashed from the bike, just from the intensity.

Thinking about the race still gets me excited. Being surrounded by the top level of competition and having to fight for every spot was so much fun!

Cyclocross racing is short and I would not have it any other way. While it can be enjoyable to see how long and far your body can go, my preference is to be fully consumed by the event. Every pedal stroke, every line, every heartbeat, and every breath seem to matter during a cyclocross race, and I find myself wanting more of this each week.

I am blown away by the support I received from our community, both in Bern and from afar. Bikes bring people together in a special way, and the text messages, emails, and words of encouragement really hit home.

Best Cyclocross Venue in the United States: 2018 Charm City Cyclocross Race Report

Best Cyclocross Venue in the United States: 2018 Charm City Cyclocross Race Report

Charm City Cyclocross is one of Jalapeno Cycling’s perennial favorite races on the cyclocross calendar. Not only is the course tough, but it continues to get more interesting with each year. Charm City holds plenty of memories, too. It was the final 3/4 race Kate competed in before moving up to the UCI fields, and two years later, it was the first time she landed on an UCI podium in the United States. Today, she reflects on what makes the race special, looking back at her performance from last weekend.

by Kathryn Cumming

Charm City Cyclocross is a race weekend like no other. I cherish every aspect of the weekend, from the punishing but fun racing, to the competitive fields, to the social and uplifting atmosphere.


This year my parents made the trip, only adding to the enjoyment. They’ve been selflessly supporting my passions since I was a kid, and they make the experience better in every possible way, assisting with coffee runs, dog walking, pit support, and cheering.

The Charm City event continues to impress me every year. They have grown into one of the biggest race weekends in the country while still maintaining a grassroots feel. Course features have become more demanding but are still safe and doable for the entry level fields, and the promoters continue to give prime tent space to club row rather than focusing solely on the pro teams. As a faux pro team, we fully support this move!


Many racers, myself included, were scrambling to make sure the mud tires were ready when we arrived to discover a waterlogged course this year. Pre-riding was interesting because I wanted to inspect the sloppy course sections, but the limited number of hoses and power washers meant it was difficult to get my bikes cleaned up. I resorted to one full pre-ride, several partial laps on the dry sections of the course, and a significant amount of time spectating to determine the best line choices. I hate being rushed on race day, and knowing my bikes were washed well before my race puts me in a better mental state.


With a star studded front row featuring the most recent World Cup winner, Kaitlin Keough Saturday was full gas from the start. I actually made good use of my call-up, and thanks to some practice sessions with Andrew, I was able to slot into the top ten or fifteen right away. From there I used the running sections and long climbs to move solidly into the top ten.

I must admit I was surprised when someone ran the stairs with me and then accelerated past me on the climb, leaving me in eighth place. I take pride in making passes on the run-ups. Then I realized it was Georgia Gould (two time mountain bike Olympian) and it all made more sense. I’m targeting for her next time, though.


Ninth place was charging hard behind me. She had me on the limit as we hit the final mud pit of the second to last lap and I slid out and found myself laying on the ground. I was able to recover before she could bridge and went all in on the final climb to solidify the gap with a half lap to go. Erring on the safe side, I dismounted and ran the mud right before the finishing chute to ensure I didn’t crash myself out of eighth.

This was not my best race as far as formal result, but based on the competition and the way I felt on course, this race felt like one of my best ever.


Sunday was a different story. I have struggled in the heat and humidity this year, and day two of Charm City was no different. My start was not great, but I was able to make up some places on the long grass climb that was part of the prologue. From there, I settled in until the scaffolding stairs when I made a big move to pass four women. I knew this section was a strength, but after I jumped the group, my legs blew up.


This is the same reaction I had in Roanoke when I pulled out of the race on day two. In the heat, my body just couldn’t recover from a big effort like it normally can. My legs were powerless like they were in Roanoke, but unlike Roanoke, I was not experiencing symptoms of heat-related illness. Knowing I was not risking my health or safety, I stuck it out to roll in for sixteenth, bleeding places until the very end.

As awesome as it is to have a great race like I did on Saturday, it’s uplifting to feel the support from the cyclocross community when the race doesn’t go as planned. The hugs, high fives, and watermelon slices meant more on day two. The cyclocross community shows respect for everyone who races, and it’s one of the many components that keeps me coming back every week.


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


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).


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.


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!


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!


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!


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.


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.

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.


Whirlwind World Cup Tour and Photos from JingleCross

This week included plenty of firsts for the Jalapeno Cycling Team. Although I have reported on Interbike and CrossVegas for a few years, neither Kate nor I have ever touched the course with a bike. Likewise for JingleCross. Ever since we've been taking cyclocross seriously, these were two of the three Meccas that had been left off our UCI calendars due to logistics and funds (the third was the UCI race at Bend, which looks like it won't be resurging back to life any time soon).

For Kate, these firsts came with a bonus that they were the very first World Cups in the United States that she was qualified to participate in.

There are something about World Cups that Kate genuinely loves, and it's not simply the elevated level of competition. Unlike most C2 events, World Cups are usually filled with chaos. It's more than just a bump in the course or a mere bobble up the steps. Sometime during one of these, every athlete present gets a serious punch to the face, something that flips their game plan upside down and forces every rider to try to save their ruined course or craft a new strategy at 180 beats per minute.

That is an environment where I flounder and Kate thrives.

As you will hear every cyclocross writer tell you, the courses at CrossVegas and JingleCross couldn't be any different. Kate didn't pit a single time in the desert, and racing meant keeping a constant force on your pedals, even while descending. Iowa, on the other hand, was laden with muddy climbs and rutty descents, and she was forced to pit several times to ensure that she didn't collect too much mud on her bike at any given time.

Her first impression of both were of the highest marks. She loved the smaller but knowing community at CrossVegas, where everyone in the bike industry shouted at her with "Kate" rather than the formal Kathryn that shows up on the start lists. JingleCross blew her away. The noise on Mt. Krumpit was more rancorous than at France or Belgium last year. Both were the highest caliber events that Americans can not only be proud to label as World Cups, but Europeans should be delighted by as cyclocross expands beyond the reaches of Belgium and the Netherlands.

In the end, we celebrated before and after races in the style of Jalapeno Cycling, making sure to always remember that we're just out here racing bikes and not saving lives. The best celebration was not the wine of Vegas or the bourbon in Iowa, but being able to stop in Chicago between the two World Cups, and seeing our quite literally newborn nephew, Charlie, who came into this world only hours before the racing began at CrossVegas.

I was also glad Kate was able to meet Morleigh and Nathan of Snowy Mountain Photography, who are a rad Midwest cyclocross couple who I've known since my time at Cyclocross Magazine. When Nathan discovered that I was going to be working the pits, he reached out and asked if he and Morleigh could spotlight the team on Saturday for his photography. So instead of rambling on about JingleCross, I'll let their photos tell the story better than I could.

(P.S. I prefer talking about tire pressure in person rather than online, and always feel free to chat at me on race day, but if you were wondering what kind of bars Kate was running, there's a picture of me riding to the pits that will help explain the course at JingleCross; which couldn't have been any more opposite than CrossVegas).