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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.

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

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

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

By Kathryn Cumming

Overreaching and Overtraining at All Levels

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overtraining Checklist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Findings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methodology:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Application for Cyclocross

Jalapeno Cycling’s Cyclocross Devo Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyclocross DEVO Schedule

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

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

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

Training for Cyclocross in Late May?

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Training for Cyclocross in Late May?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. “Experiment with parts and positions.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) “Creating a routine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rules for the Faux Pro Competitors:

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

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

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

The Rules for Spectators:

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

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

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

What to Know:

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

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

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

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

Prizes:

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

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

Preventing Aches and Pains with Strength Training

Preventing Aches and Pains with Strength Training

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

by Kate Cumming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyclocross is Still My Favorite Bourbon

Cyclocross is Still My Favorite Bourbon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Market cyclocross as a safe sport.

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

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

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

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

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

3) Influence that sweet-spot age group.

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

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

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

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

4) Go to growing festivals and limit diverging series:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please be one of these 12 types of bike customer

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Please be one of these 12 types of bike customer

Yesterday, Bike Radar published an article offering advice on how to avoid being one of 12 customers that bike shops dread. Judging by the sheer volume of replies in the comment section, it appears as if the average bike shop customer was taken aback by some of the suggestions, and to be honest, we were too. We've listed their 12 "bad" customer types, and why we'd love to work with them.

1. The know it all (keep on knowing it all, and let us in on your secrets)

Sure, it might be kind of weird to quiz us Jeopardy style, but we have less than zero problems with a customer who wants to tell us about technology they are familiar with. Bike shop employees live and breathe bikes full time, but they are not always able to read every new article on emerging technology or have an encyclopedic understanding of all the Schwinn and Raleigh standards from the 20th century. There's a difference between knowing more than a customer and knowing everything more than a customer. The former is likely, the latter is doubtful. Customers should expect to share their passion of a subject with an interested listener.

2. Bringing in a filthy bike (pffft, you should see OUR bikes after a race)

Perhaps it's harder to inspect a bike for micro-cracks or properly adjust cables and threads when a bike is dirty. On the other hand, I've had to repair a bike knee-deep in a muddy cyclocross pit within three minutes. Having some road debris on the back of a seat tube isn't something I'll be up in arms about.

Customers should expect the offer of a bike clean for a price, but should also be treated like a rad rider they are for going on an adventure in the first place

3. The JRA Rider (Sometimes bad stuff does happen to good people)

So obviously fabricating a story will likely get called out by most wrenches, but that doesn't equate to having a "Just Riding Along" story. I'm still amazed at the time my chainstays snapped on my old carbon road bike when I was doing sprint intervals in the park. Just because someone was Just Riding Along doesn't mean it didn't happen.

A customer should expect someone to give an assessment of moving forward, not eye rolling for using a J.R.A. story.

4. 5. 6. 9. Wanting stuff for free, Showroom shopper, Internet parts customer, the haggler (Play with those market forces, baby!)

Why did I group these four customers together? Because in many ways, they are one and the same. Look, the onus is fully on the bike shop, not the customer, for this one. If you have great salespeople and not great mechanics, people will more likely pay full price for a part and haggle down to near free labor. As a customer, I happily pay a premium for good work.

As for internet sales, I really can't get angry at a customer for something I do all the time. Online retailers often have parts that wholesalers are out of stock in, so it's far more than just a matter of saving $4-6 bucks. Sure a shop needs to prioritize making money, but in today's market, there really isn't room for the words "good luck finding someone to install that internet part," because chances are, they will without luck.

7. Poor mechanic (Be excited for trying)

OK, so bicycles are FAR more complicated than online retailers let on. Building a bike is never just a matter of installing handlebars and throwing on the front wheel like plenty of companies suggest. Still, it is within every bike shop employee's power to give a customer a non-condescending explanation of what a good job looks like, and what the full labor entails. A good mechanic will leave a customer thinking "Woah, there's no way someone could afford to build a bike for a customer for ONLY $20!"

8. Leaves it to the last minute (People gotta work)

Look, life gets in the way. Kate once got a dress hemmed the day before a wedding she was a bridesmaid in. The tailor bailed her out rather than shaming her, and now you better believe she's a loyal customer.

10. Truth deniers (We all are)

Again, repeating my point from customer number one: Bike shops are not the gatekeepers of all divine bike knowledge. I have always wished I could be the cycling equivalent of Merlin from "The Sword and the Stone" with a mad wizard laboratory that contained every facet of bike knowledge past, present, and future. That's unrealistic. Practically every customer has the ability to bring something from the table that a shop employee can hear out.

11. I'll just leave it here for repairs... (And thanks for choosing us)

Wait, I know I'm originally from the Motor City, but do all of you call your auto mechanic ahead of time to schedule an oil change? Because I sure don't. A bike shop may not have time to work on a bike in the near future, but it does have time to give any bike a free estimate within a matter of hours and a time frame when the work can be completed.

12. The one that never picks up their bike (wait, you didn't know it was done?)

I'll admit it. This is the number on this list that I agree most with Bike Radar on, if only because I have a soft spot for lonely bikes that want to be ridden. On the other hand, the problem of lingering bikes is usually another example of the onus being on the bike shop. I have literally worked for shops that thought it was okay to not call a customer when the work was done because the work was finished in the same time as the estimate. Of course a shop will have a pileup of finished bikes in that case! Like any relationship, things happen to flow smoother when the lines of communication are open.

Again, the problem here is not the customers. It's the shop not adapting to their customers' needs. Sure, a retail shop is about making money to pay their employees, but that can easily be done without crossing arms and rolling eyes. Setting up an equation where the staff wants to problem solve, the culture is great, and the love of cycling is obvious will result in a place where those 12 customers will be some of your best.

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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!

2016 HPCX Masters Women's Race in Photos, Sponsored by Jalapeno Cycling

2016 HPCX Masters Women's Race in Photos, Sponsored by Jalapeno Cycling

We were pretty excited to be able to sponsor the first equal payout in Masters Women's cyclocross history this weekend. What got us more excited, though, was watching those athletes tear up the field on day one.

Erin Mascelli (Yukato Yoga p/b Sole Artisan Ales) and Robin Dunn (Cognition Coaching) combated for the holeshot, and both were able to get a very brief in the first few corners until the field rejoined at the staircase.

Joanne Abbruzzesi (Bike Line) was able to connect with the front group, and stuck on Mascelli's wheel for the first few laps as Dunn comfortably stayed in third.

MAC Series leader Jennifer Kraut (MidAtlantic Colavita Women's Team) led the chasing group, who included Lisa Most (Guy's Racing Club), Tara Parsons (CRCA/ Rapha Cycling Club), Lisa Vible (MidAtlantic Colavita Women's Team), and Tammy Ebersole (Evolution Racing). Kraut broke free of the rest on the riders, and started cutting into the time of the leaders as the race continued.

Abbruzzesi suffered a rough crash mid-way through the race on the off-camber before the barriers, allowing the duo of Dunn and Mascelli to lead off ahead.  Kraut was able to fight her way into third place, and within a few laps to go, she was in sight of the leaders.

By the end of the last lap, Mascelli was able to create a few second gap on Dunn to take the win, as Dunn came in for second and Kraut third.

We were able to capture plenty of great shots of the action in the race. You can scroll through them with the right and left arrows. Feel free to share or use any of these photos of these women who came out and really put in a killer effort!

HPCX Has First Cyclocross Equal Pay for Masters, Sponsored by Jalapeno Cycling

HPCX Has First Cyclocross Equal Pay for Masters, Sponsored by Jalapeno Cycling

Today we wanted to talk about making strides forward. Not for the Jalapeno Cycling Team, mind you. Hopefully by now you understand that we are a lost cause. No, what I’m referring to is the steps forward in the larger picture of cyclocross.

Every year, Kate and I complain against yet another gaffe committed by the Superprestige or some other admired cyclocross series that hasn’t figured out a way to join the 21st century. Usually, this means Kate rolling her eyes at the only broadcast of the Elite Women’s race: a 5 minute recap that precedes the 30 minute introduction to the men’s race. This is often followed by me going on Facebook as the social media warrior, ranting and raving for three pages.

This year, we are taking a more proactive approach.

In our opinion, the fields of the future are the Masters Women’s races. This year, we saw a healthy growth of women in the 40/50+ fields, partly due to the MAC Series commitment to organize several fields around these demographics. It is great to see a place for so many high-performing Masters Women who have been in need of something other than the 3/4 entry women’s race and the UCI Elite Race.

Judging by the growth of women’s participation in cyclocross in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, Kate and I feel like it is only a matter of years before the Masters Women’s fields begin to rival the Masters Men’s fields in number.

Instead of waiting for that to happen, Kate and I are using a part of our team budget to proactively take a step forward. To our knowledge, for the first time in cyclocross, a Masters Women’s field will have the same prize payout and depth as the Masters Men.

Jalapeno Cycling will be sponsoring HPCX’s Masters Women’s 40+ Field BOTH on Saturday and Sunday. The races will now payout $330 each day, at five deep up from three.

For us, targeting HPCX was the obvious choice. It is the second longest running UCI race in the nation, just behind Cycle-Smart International. More importantly, it is the home state UCI race of the Jalapeno Cycling Team, and is a race that we feel is close to our heart.

While we hope this might encourage a few more women in New England and the Mid-Atlantic to come to HPCX, we already know we’re in for a treat no matter what. We’ve been watching the podium battles between Master superstars like Erin Mascelli, Robin Dunn, Jenny Defalco, Jennifer Kraut, Donna Tozer, Jennifer Maxwell, and Traci Rodosta, not to mention so many more great athletes out on the course.

You can register here at Bikereg, with the races taking place in a few weeks on October 29-30th.

The Charm of Baltimore Cyclocross in Photos

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The Charm of Baltimore Cyclocross in Photos

We just wanted to show off a quick photo gallery of day one of Charm City Cyclocross Day One just before we head to the races for the big C1 race on Sunday. If you look very closely, you can see some great details, including great course features and friendly faces!

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Racing in the Heat at Fairhill Cyclocross of the MAC Series

Racing in the Heat at Fairhill Cyclocross of the MAC Series

Fairhill International is more widely known as a Mid Atlantic center for all things equestrian. If we've learned anything from when the Cyclocross World Championship was hosted in Kentucky, cyclocross and horse culture can thrive amicably.

The course was in a new location: possibly a perfect spot for an autumn day, although in near triple digit heat, spectators hid in the shade. Among the comments we heard, some included that cyclocross shouldn't start until the Fall equinox.

In my opinion, the race was done well, and like most cases of braving the elements, so much depended on preparation. Athletes who were lucky to have a support crew were able to get showers of water blasted at them from beyond the course tape, and those that didn't, needed to carry a bottle on the bike or rode with a pack of ice.

I don't mean this to be preachy. In some ways, I love the challenges that the weather can throw at riders to change a race, and cyclocross is one of the extremely few disciplines that grows richer by having so many different environmental conditions toying with the results. Think of snowfall at NBX, or the hot-to-rapidly cooling nights at CrossVegas, or a downpour at KMC. For my money, late-August is fair play for pre-season races, let alone early-September races.

Kate threw down in the Women's Elite field. She went toe-to-toe with the winningest women in cycling, Laura van Gilder, and a killer lady from the south, Katherine Sweatt. Between an early crash from Kate and a few chain drops from Laura, there was loads of drama and lead changes, with Kate taking second in the group and Laura pulling it off in the end.

We have a few shots from the Women's Race at Fairhill on Saturday. If you see yourself or a friend, don't hesitate uploading the photo and sharing!