What is? Why? Cyclocross.

6-week challenge – weekly weigh-ins

Over the last year and a couple of months, I’ve dove back into a fitness-oriented lifestyle. I wish I had the freedom to do even more, but for now, this is where I am at. I bicycle 40-50 miles a week, run 3-10 miles a week and try to pick a monthly event or challenge to participate in. The road to get where I am at currently takes a lot of trial and error, and at 50-years-old… some new tricks for this old dog.

So far I have completed three Warrior Dashes, my first Spartan Race Sprint, and multiple organized local bike rides. Its the bike riding I have gravitated to. Its like I am back in third grade, beating my friends up the hill on our old handmade BMX bikes. When it comes to riding bikes in the modern era, there is one large obstacle – money. While I would love to have a full suspension mountain downhill bike, a trail bike, a single-speed mountain bike, endurance bike, racing road bike, gravel bike, and a fixie to pop around the neighborhood with… the truth of the matter is that the average middle-aged guy with kids at home is going to struggle to get one of those. In my personal case, I have motorcycles I am currently selling to financially fuel this infused passion.

Ol Girl made it to the beach

A quick history lesson: way back in 1987 I was into bicycling on the road to go place to place. I worked multiple jobs and scraped my money together to buy a brand new Panasonic DX3000. This was the first major purchase of mine that I haven’t crashed or had stolen – yes I still have the old reliable steel-framed road racer. I rode that thing everywhere when I lived in Philadelphia. After moving to Colorado, a whole new world of bicycling was borne to me. Huge open vistas and miles of tarmac ribbon to explore a beautiful landscape. Prior to leaving Colorado and heading to Albuquerque, I had managed to calculate that I had pedaled over 80,000 miles on the old Panasonic. Albuquerque? Yeah, that place sucks. Besides the economy and violence, it was also strewn with thorns that would end every ride no more than twenty miles in. I hung up the bike out of frustration. Besides hanging up the road pedaling, I also quit road racing motorcycles. Combined with the injury-induced quitting of club soccer, I was getting fat. I have always been “thick”, but thick was getting mushy. “Careful what you wish for” came true when I took a dream job in California that turned into a nightmare four years later. A mushy, moody, 260 plus pounds was starting a new job and new life in SoCal. Time to change it all. My wife and I took on the Transformation Camp Challenge and I haven’t looked back.

Office buddies

That leads to shopping. You see, I still have the old Panasonic and I still ride her. At the new office in SoCal however, there is a group of guys that ride. They primarily ride off-road. I had an old Cannondale Hard-tail F300 and thought “why not?”. I began riding the Cannondale with the guys at some intermediate trails in the SoCal parks. Between the dieting and CrossFit workouts, I was getting pretty good and keeping pace with the group. Soon I was outpacing them on the climbs, but still struggling on the descents. I got the bug. Now the choice was all mine – but what to choose?

1400 foot of climb to Lake Matthews

How do I go all in on a dual suspension mountain bike when I love the feel of my old road bike that I’ve logged over 80,000 miles on? Up pops Cyclocross. The “What is?” part of the article is my quick version of Cyclocross which is subject to alteration as my research on the subject continually pulls up different opinions. You’ll see terms like Cyclocross, XC, Gravel Bike and similar. To me, these are bikes that have the drop style handlebars, no suspension, wider off-road tires (typically 28c to 40c), and hopefully disc brakes. Professionals in the field will begin to debate over the difference between a Cyclocross bike and a gravel bike because of nuances in the frame geometry. In my world, I am still looking to ride as many different models as I can to get the feel for it all. For example, the Cannondale Synapse has a frame structure that boasts some type of minimal suspension through flex, while being able to host gravel sized tires. They promote the bike as a Gravel Bike and Road Bike. So when I look at people riding Gravel Bikes on YouTube, they are typically on fire roads, smoother dirt paths, and grassy knolls. If you are looking to bomb rocky downhill sections, you should be looking at premium Mountain Bikes. Not me. Yet.

Day or Night road set up

Being budget minded, I did a lot of shopping online and research for brands that sell directly to the consumer. My problem here is that while I may have saved money, I wasn’t getting the opportunity to try the product. Being new to the sport of bicycling now is like sending your grandmother into Best Buy to buy a laptop. There are too much information and choice making it near impossible to feel good about your choice. You have to study up and know what you are looking for, and if you don’t have tactile experience… it is very difficult to commit your retail dollar. That put me into used bike mode. I began to search Pinkbike (http://pinkbike.com) Even still, I am seeing ads for bikes that surpass $4,000.00 and not certain as to the value that bike would bring me. Then it shone through the smartphone screen like a beacon.

Beautiful Grassy Knolls

The “Why” of the article was the Pinkbike Ad staring me in the face. A 2013 Ridley XFire was listed for sale. It was $1200.00 and at the time, that seemed unbelievably cheap since I was looking at things that cost three times as much. Not only that, but the owner listed this bike as having two sets of wheels and separate gearing in the package. This meant that buying this bike would be like buying two bikes… a kick-ass road bike, and a gravel bike. I reached out to the owner and set a time and place to meet. I had both kids with me when I went to see it. I had taken them Mountain Biking with a group called “Girls Gone Riding” for their first organized trail ride — success! Now we were looking at a new bike for Daddy. What a day!

My virgin voyage – The Fullerton Loop

When Keith pulled up in his Nissan and pulled the Ridley out of the back of his truck, I knew there was to be no negotiation or B.S. — this thing was coming home. It was gorgeous. This would be my first carbon framed bike. This would be my first drop-lever shifted bike. This would certainly be my first “Cross” bike. I rode the bike down the street and back, tapped a few keys on the phone to transfer funds via PayPal and off we went. A new bike for me at a fraction of the buy-in cost compared to new, a spare set of wheels and gearing and… a pile of bicycle helmets for the kids and kids in the neighborhood. Keith heard me say I was bringing the kids, so he brought a grip of helmets to pass down for the kiddos. What a day, especially since both my kids had just won new helmets on the Girls Gone Riding ride.

Phenomenal Fire road climber

Riding the Cyclocross bike took a little finesse first time out. Having road bike geometry, on dirt, with Mountain Bike gearing is an odd feeling at first. You have to play with body positioning to compromise rear wheel slip against wheelies on the climbs, but you need to scoot back behind the seat on descents. The grassy knoll pictures and videos would be tame compared to what I was about to put this bike through. It’s a shame I don’t yet have the skill level to match it.

As I write this post, I am healing from a pretty hard OTB (Over the Bars). I was amazed at how fast the ground came to meet my face, and I am so very thankful that my face found the only soft spot in a downhill rock garden. My limbs are full of bruises and my right pinkie finger got rolled backward in the shape of a golf ball. The quick fix was the 10-mile ride out of the trail system – back to the truck. During this tentative ride, the tip of my finger popped and pointed back toward the correct position. This gave me deep concern because I began to wonder if my glove was holding the finger together. I didn’t take the glove off until the x-ray technician was ready to shoot some pictures. She assumed as I did that the finger was broken. Turns out it was dislocated. There was really no pain until the doctor popped it in place and then — YIPEE! Fifty dollars later without as much as one Ibuprofen, four hours later, I was on my way home.

Ouch!!

What am I learning? I am learning I love riding my Cyclocross bike – on road and off. I am learning that I have a tendency to overestimate my abilities. I am learning that as much as I love the climbs and grassy knolls… I need to find a Dual Suspension bike to do some of the terrain I want to do with my work buddies. I have learned that in a world full of $5,000.00 bicycles, I can have a blast on a $1200.00 used bike. I’ve got over 500 miles on this thing so far and it’s magical.

I love this Ridley. It’s everything the write-ups in 2013 said it was and more.

So here’s something else to consider. If you’re getting up there in age, like me, and you want to get into biking thinking you’ll get more fit – awesome. But how will you know what you want? Let’s be honest, I totally guessed at the cyclocross thing and won. Would you like to cyclocross? How do you know? Have you tried it? This brings me to another phenomenon in biking… Demo Days.

A day with the kiddos in Chino Hills

Go to as many Demo Days as you can find and ride as many different bikes in as many different environments as you can. As I said earlier, I know I need to upgrade my downhill equipment to something with suspension. But really… do I need 160mm of front end travel? Maybe the best bike for me is a Cross Country with the mid-level suspension at say 120mm of travel? I am already used to zero suspension and I like to climb.

Everyone is different and the equipment choices are vast. Think it through. Don’t rush it. Give yourself the benefit of the demo rides and follow your heart. Who knows… maybe you’ll start leading conversations like “What is cyclocross and why do I like it? Let me tell you a little story…”.


For those that like the details – I am including a Specs section on the 2013 Ridley XFire with the Ultegra running gear. To see the entire 2013 Catalog – click here