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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.

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Buying a Bike: A Custom-Built Bike Might Be More Affordable in the Long Run

Buying a Bike: A Custom-Built Bike Might Be More Affordable in the Long Run

At Jalapeno Cycling, we get many people inquiring about performance-oriented bicycles and wanting to explore their choices. Not long into the conversation, I bring up the option of a custom build, and usually people give me a look like I’m intentionally trying to blast past their budget, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Almost all of the companies we work with offer frame sets, and three of them, Van Dessel, Sage Titanium, and Von Hof Cycles, allow customers to customize most of the components in their builds. While these builds have a slightly higher upfront price tag on them (usually adding $50 to $250 to the overall price of a full build), we have found that our customers usually break even or more often do better when you add in the unseen costs of buying a fully stocked bike.

Let’s back up a bit. I’m not out to put down every aspect of bikes fully stocked with parts from original part manufacturers (you may already know or have seen the term OEM used before) or in-house brands. I think at this point almost everyone realizes that the purchasing power of the biggest companies is leaps and bounds better than an individual: the Shimano Ultegra shifters that come stock on a bike don’t just seem less expensive than that single set of replacement shifters someone might buy after a crash, they actually are less expensive. OEM-stocked bikes allow plenty of customers component options that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

This system is nearly perfect when the parts work as intended for almost everyone. It works fine, but not great, when the parts work for only some riders, but are not expensive to change out for an equivocal part. The real problem arrives when bikes come with expensive stock parts that don’t work for the rider.

What do I mean when the parts don’t work for the rider? When our resident pro coach, Kathryn Cumming, fits riders, she hears common surprises. People can’t believe how much of a difference a set of 165mm cranks feel compared to 170mm cranks, how much a stem with a slightly different angle relieves the pressure off their shoulders, or how much a different saddle works better with their sit bones. These are not just nit-picks to make a ride marginally better: these are often changes that offer a completely improved riding experience. Replacing these parts in order to create the perfect ride often means having to spend beyond the original budget, which is never a fun surprise.

It’s understandable why this problem exists in the first place. So much of marketing in the road performance bicycle industry is dedicated to the price and total weight of the bike (note: not frame weight). This makes sense for the consumer. It is incredibly easy for anyone to measure the “value” of bikes side by side using these readily understood factors.

The unfortunate byproduct of OEM-stocked bikes is that companies have a huge incentive to put the exact same equipment on many of their builds. I’m flipping through companies as I write this, looking at how ubiquitous 100mm stems with a 7 degree rise are, same for 420mm drop handlebars, 172.5mm crank arms, and 20mm offset seatposts. I remember five or six years ago when it was practically impossible to walk into a road-focused shop without seeing a Fizik Arione saddle on plenty of the flagship models.

You end up with situations like Kate had with one of her first ’cross bikes. She was able to buy a Ridley X-Fire at a massively discounted price, and thankfully, she understood the potential problems and budgeted accordingly, but she ended up needing to change the handlebars, stem, seatpost, wheels, tires, cassette, and saddle. Had this been an unexpected cost, her budget may not have allowed her to make these changes.

All too often we see riders come to us after buying a bike based around frame size alone and complaining about discomfort. Because their biggest draw to purchasing the bike in the first place was due to it being a 15lbs. bike that just managed to fit into their budget, they are forced to make a decision: buy equivocal parts at a big expense, or throw on heavier equipment, or bear a bad fit (the second of the three choices is the typical decision).

The big argument against me is a common phrase in the bike industry, these companies are putting together builds that work for 80% of all riders. In my experience, a far more correct version of this phrase is that these OEM builds are bearable for 80% of riders and unbearable for the other 20%. Our bodies are so dynamically different than one another that the chances that a pre-built bike works like the perfect ride it was designed to be is slim.

So to put it another way, when I am investing in a high-performance bike that goes for $3000-$5000+, the last thing that I want to say is that I can tolerate the cranks and the saddle is bearable. At that price, I want to ride a bike that was designed for me.

Imperfect, high end, stock builds are not a problem that will be going away soon. Integrated stems and handlebars are growing in popularity with stock applications on road, triathlon, gravel, and cyclocross bikes. While features like these help bring down the weight, they also drastically decrease the already small chance that the build works for your position.

The best solution, of course, is to preempt that bike purchase with a fit. A reputable fitter will offer solutions that might even extend beyond what the bike shop offers, discovering a brand that happens to hit all of your ideal marks and position for that better OEM price. In the worst case, the fitter can preemptively point out concerns with a stocked bike, and give you a better understanding of how your budget can get you the best bike for your body.

A Taste of Belgium in New Jersey: Bridgeton Cross Race Report

A Taste of Belgium in New Jersey: Bridgeton Cross Race Report

Bridgeton Cross, formerly Beacon Cross, is an iconic New Jersey cyclocross race held at the southern tip to the state. Between a wicked run up, heart-pummeling beach runs, and get-lost-in-the-woods tracks, it is a race not to miss. The Jalapeno Cycling team ventured down last weekend. Both Kate and Andrew have offered their race reports below. All photos by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

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Kathryn Cumming’s Race Report:

I got the hole shot!!!

After Nittany Lion, I was really focused on improving my starts. I spent a significant amount of time in the off-season working on all aspects of my top end power, from strength to speed, from five second power to one minute power. I improved and have enjoyed using this power around the course. I’m accelerating faster and gapping riders on short straightaways.

My starts, however, have needed more than just power. UCI cyclocross starts are chaotic and aggressive. There is a battle for position and with precious points on the line, everyone is eager to get the upper hand. If you leave an opening because you’re being “safe,” someone will take it. That is smart racing, and while I sometimes back down and settle in, I’m excited to get in the mix a bit more at the starts.

Last Sunday the New Jersey Cyclocross Cup kicked off with Bridgeton Cross. Bridgeton has one of the best courses around for racers. The promoters manage to connect some crazy run ups and a beach to wooded double track. The course rides heavy and while it is technical, there’s still plenty of room to pass.

This race offered the perfect opportunity to work on my start. A long, paved prologue followed by a wet corner offered a start that mimicked a UCI race. With some great competition toeing the line (we are fortunate to have a stacked lineup at local races), I wanted to attack from the whistle and be at the front around the first corner. From there, the rest of the race would be about enjoying the fun course.

Mission accomplished! I got off the line first and held my advantage into the dirt. Once we were in the woods, I was passed and lap one was a back and forth battle. After we started the second lap, I opened up a gap and was sitting in first, but Laura Van Gilder was on fire. She looked like she was cruising on dry pavement when she passed me towards the end of lap two (I think, races blend together a bit for me) and the gap just continued to open.

I worked my way around the course, enjoying the turns, running, and trying to embrace how heavy my legs felt. It was enough to roll in for second.

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It was a perfect day to improve your handling skills. Grit was causing brake pads to fail all over the course, which meant you had to plan your lines, make good decisions, and stay relaxed. It was important to pedal through the slick sections and avoid oversteering. I was caught fish tailing more than once, but was pleased that all of my time on the trails has me feeling composed in these situations.

For me, local races are treated like practice. I focus on one key aspect of the race and other than that just enjoy the ride. Cyclocross racing takes significant energy and it is tough to push yourself to the limit every weekend. The details really do make a difference, but there is only so much time you can put in to prepping bikes, food, and clothing. Local races offer a chance to go out to dinner the night before and throw a bike on the hitch rack in the morning with the same relaxed nature as if you’re heading out for a training ride.

On Sunday, this approach offered the added “benefit” of my lacking mud tires on a slip and slide kind of day. Between deteriorating brake pads and a lack of traction, I definitely learned a thing or two about line choice and maintaining forward momentum.

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If you raced on Sunday afternoon, you got a taste of what racing in Europe feels like. My experience there is incredibly limited, but the courses are heavy, you’re running a lot, and you pretty much feel like your legs have been weighted with cinder blocks. We are lucky to have such a great course right here in NJ!

Andrew Reimann’s Race Report:

Last year at Bridgeton Cross was a bit bittersweet for me. My fitness and technical prowess weren’t anywhere close to where they are now, but I gave everything to keep away from being lapped by Philly’s UCI male cyclocross hero, Dan Chabanov. I barely made my goal, crossing the finish line just before Dan turned on to the finishing pavement for his final sprint. Because I was so close to being lapped, the USAC officials opted to pull me from riding my final lap anyway. I was plenty bummed not to get my full hour-plus race in.

This summer, I trained my threshold far more than my high-end power. Fresh sprinting has always come natural to me, but maintaining power and recovering from loads of lactic acid surges are not my strong suit.

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Kate helped me put together a training program leading up to the cyclocross season to train my weaknesses. I also opted to take the Alec Donahue/Scott Smith approach, and train all summer on 32mm road tires off-road.

I’m not suddenly at the front of every Elite race, and I’m not foolish enough to think that gains come that quickly, but I could feel that the training more than paid off this year at Bridgeton. I was able to fight my way up the pack at the start. It wasn’t anywhere close to Kate’s holeshot, but I slotted into sixth after the prologue.

Then came the corners. They were an absolute joy. I felt almost spoiled getting to grip around those muddy Bridgeton corners with a meaty tread rather than the slicks I was used to. Both the tight course and getting pummeled with rain meant that the pack split up fully in the second lap, and everyone was doing their own time trial in the woods with other riders barely in sight.

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I was really having fun in the woods. I completely ignored that stupid voice that comes on in the middle of a cyclocross race, telling you that you’re falling behind, or that it would be easier just to pull off and create some excuse for the bad showing.

Still, I figured that people were pulling out behind me, and it was inevitable for the leaders to come around and almost lap me like last year. I just made peace with it, and tried to perfect every corner. There was a downhill hairpin into a flat back section where I was dabbing a foot and taking off much faster than I would have been trying to ride it. There were a few sections I experimented with, seeing if I could intentionally fishtail my back tire around tight corners.

Instead of worrying about getting lapped, I was just trying to have the best ride I could, finding an overwhelming sense of calmness in the chaos of the mud and cheering.

By the time I finally finished seven laps, I raised my hand to the promoters, and thanked them for letting me finish the last lap instead of pulling me. I got a few raised eyebrows, and the promoter started laughing and joking around.

I didn’t realize until soon after that I had finished more than comfortably ahead of getting lapped. Pulling me wasn’t even in question. I had split a proper Mid-Atlantic Elite field in half for the first time in my life.

As one of the co-owners of Jalapeno Cycling, I should reiterate that we are the exclusive New Jersey dealer of Sage Titanium bikes, so obviously I have a bias (added to this is that Kate is the exclusive UCI rider on Sage Titanium Bikes). However, I would be remiss in not mentioning that I was able to take out the shop’s Sage PDXCX demo bike for this race. Its back-end tracked those tight corners insanely well, and descending singletrack is a dream on that machine. We do have several demo sizes in stock that we are happy to bring along with us, so be sure to reach out to me by email if you are looking to see how West Coast titanium rides out here!

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Chasing Back On: 2018 Nittany Lion Cyclocross Race Report

Chasing Back On: 2018 Nittany Lion Cyclocross Race Report

This year at Nittany Lion Cyclocross, Jalapeno Cycling Co-Founder and Main Faux Pro Rider, Kathryn Cumming, grabbed to top-ten finishes in an international field. At both days, the start of her race did not go as planned, so this week, Kate’s race report looks at coming back from the unexpected.

words by Kathryn Cumming, photos by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling

Both days of Nittany Lion cross played out similarly for me. The short version of the weekend is that getting caught up in the chaos at the start left me chasing the lead group to get a good place at the finish.

On Saturday, while we were hammering the prologue, I heard a loud clang and hoped it was no big deal. Turns out that the fork of the rider behind me went into my rear wheel, leaving me with several broken spokes. I tried to stop a few times in hopes of suddenly becoming a race mechanic, but with no ability to fix the wheel and keep the spokes out of my brake rotor, I pedaled with loud noises to the pits. My friend Willem was waiting with my second bike and away I went, about one minute or so behind the back of the field. With nothing to lose I went all in, picking off as much of the field as I could. I made one final pass with half a lap to go to ride in for eighth. I proceeded to fall over soon after.

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I enjoyed chasing so much on Saturday that I decided to let everyone pass me at the start of Sunday’s race. We hit a mud bottleneck pretty quickly in the lap and I did not battle aggressively enough for position prior to this point. Well out of the top ten, I set my sights on the lead group and started digging every chance I could get. I gradually made up spots and was sitting in 9th with 1.5 laps to go. I could hear words of encouragement all over the course and went all in on the stairs to make up ground on a group of three. I eventually caught this group during a series of tight turns that came near the end of the lap. With nowhere to pass, I recovered here and jumped the group through the start/finish chute as we heard the bell. I knew I had to go crazy in the straightaway that followed to make the pass stick. Fortunately this effort put 5th place in my field of vision.

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Knowing the stairs are a strength of mine and wanting to get ahead before the tight woods section, I took the longest, most powerful strides I could to get up the stairs, telling myself that cramping would be better than not trying. This allowed me to slide into 5th. I held my position in front through the woods, then put in an attack to give myself room before the final corners. The effort was rewarded, and I held on to 5th, once again hitting the ground as soon as I rolled off course.

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The cyclocross community continues to amaze me every weekend. Hearing my name around the course was a huge motivator and truly kept me going while my mouth hung open, desperately trying to grab any oxygen I could. Friends showed a contagious enthusiasm for everyone’s race efforts. And when all the competition wrapped up, post race hugs, high fives, and watermelon slices were shared amongst the field.

Nittany Lion Cross was the perfect reminder of why we race. I truly loved taking on the course and seeing how hard I could go. At one point I was so exhausted my head dropped and I almost hit a course stake on a straightaway. Fortunately, words of support from a photographer brought me back to life at the right time. This feeling of being completely depleted is something I cherish.

I would be lying if I didn’t mention that I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out how to be more aggressive at the start of races. While I do enjoy the chase, losing 15-20 spots in the first 300 yards can pretty much remove any chance at a podium. However, I can still walk away from the weekend with complete clarity regarding the way I spend my time and energy. Regardless of the result, I will continue to dress up in bright colored lycra to ride circles in grass fields with friends.

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“We definitely did NOT win, but there were snacks!” These words of wisdom came from my five year old nephew, Noel, after his first soccer game on Saturday, and pretty much reflected my race weekend. Noel told me all about how hard he worked on the soccer field, how he kept trying even though he was losing, and how he and his friends had snacks after the game. As I processed that conversation, I realized how similar our weekends were. As a 32 year old, I am lucky enough to share the same enthusiasm for my weekends as a 5 year old.

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.

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
 

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.

Free Classes After the Grand Opening Party

Free Classes After the Grand Opening Party

Last week, Kate and I broke the news that we will be opening a bike shop in Bloomfield New Jersey. Both of us will be working there around the clock, with Kate focusing on bringing her decade of training experience leading small-batch exercise classes, and me using my equally long experience as a mechanic servicing and upgrading bikes.

But there is so much more to the shop than just those two facets, and to be honest, a blog can’t express everything that Jalapeno Cycling can provide its clients.

That’s one reason why we are really excited for the Grand Opening on February 4th, 2017, to show you what your new neighborhood cycling hangout is about rather than just tell you. This is also the reason why we are also offering a major incentive for people to try us out.

We mentioned that we would be offering up to six free classes for anyone who came to our Grand Opening Party, and today, I wanted to detail what that would look like.

Kate is crafting together a week-by-week schedule, built by a top-level cyclist for a very broad range of developing cyclists, from beginner to elite. The on-the-bike classes use power meter-based training to hone in every client’s ride, and classes range from high intensity workouts to base building sessions.

But cycling workouts are not all a developing cyclist needs. Kate will also be offering off-the-bike strength and core classes, as well as stretching and recovery classes, throughout the weeks.

During the time between February 6 and March 20, anyone who comes to our Grand Opening Party will be able to slot in a two week period of their choice where you can take up to four on-the-bike classes and two off-the-bike classes, completely free of charge.

February can be a tough month for cyclists. However, we are designing these classes to have the comradery and motivation that you can’t find alone on the trainer, with intelligent cyclist-centered workouts that you don’t find in a spin bike studio. We’re hoping to make your February a little more cheerful, starting with great Opening Party vibes on February 4th!

You can RSVP you’re coming on our Facebook event page, or reach out to us directly at andrew@jalapenocycling.com and kathryn@jalapenocycling.com. (Or you could just be the savvy, under-the-radar kind of person that shows up at the last minute and surprises everyone. We’d still be stoked either way.) Hope to see you then!