Here is a brief introduction to the word of cyclocross.
1. Cyclocross is awesome.
2. As I consistently demonstrated this year, you don't have to be good at cyclocross to have a lot of fun racing cyclocross.
3. You have to love a sport where it is cool for really good male athletes to compete naked on pink bikes and almost everyone drinks beer after they race.
Here is a good link that explains the basics of cyclocross:
(Whoever wrote that courses are 90% rideable does not race in Oregon)
In summary, cyclocross is like a criterium, except through mud, dirt, gravel, grass and asphalt.
Cyclocross, for me, involves four crucial components.
First, you ride your bike. The name of my cross bike is Captain America. It is a red, white and blue 2002 Redline Conquest Pro with stars and stripes bar tape. Cross bikes are different from regular road bikes in several ways. First, the frame, front fork and wheels of a cross bike are stronger to take the beating of the racing terrain. Cross bikes will also have a higher bottom bracket clearances and wider clearances and cantilever brakes to accommodate larger, knobby tires. The geometry of a cross bike also allows the rider to sit more upright in order to shift her center of gravity back and have more control of the bike.
This is me riding my bike at the Hillsboro USGP race. The Course went through several nasty puddles, a wood chip pit and at least a mile of mud soup. It was pretty cool, except for the part where my heart rate was never below 160.
For all of you stubborn triathletes out there, cross is a great way to work on your bike handling. I never understood the concept of just looking forward and letting the bike to the work until cyclocross.
Second, you get off your bike and either carry or shoulder it over barriers, up hills, around obstacles and through unridable mud.
This is what running over barriers looks like (sorry about the links instead of pictures, I'm too cheap to buy all of them and am also completely uninterested in owning 100s of images of myself in neon lycra)
This is what running up long hills looks like:
This is what an unridable mud puddle looks like:
Next, you get back on your bike while maintaining forward momentum. I do not have any pictures of this, but rest assured that this is a skill that one should practice repeatedly to prevent catastrophic injury.
The last component is one that you won't find in any book or on any website on cyclocross. This component is simply called "staying on the bike" or "not crashing." I need some work on this one. I've learned however, that wiping out is a really good way to get your picture taken repeatedly.
Which brings me to another point: wiping out. As long as I've been cycling I've had this paralyzing fear of doing anything that may result in a high speed ejection from the bike. Cross has (sort of) cured me of this fear. If you're going to fall, cross is the place to learn to do it. I'm never really going that fast and the places you're likely to crash are muddy or grassy. There is an exception to this general rule, otherwise known as the Barton Gravel pits. If you ever hear about the woman who took a 15 MPH flying header into the gravel pile at the end of the horrible descent on the Barton course this year, that was me. Lesson learned: when in doubt, brake early and often.
What I like most about cross here in Portland (other than the obvious appeal of a 45 minute workout after a tri season of 5 hour sweatfests), is the culture. Cross riders are the friendliest, most supportive group of competitors I've been around. And the men do crazy things like drink beer while racing and ride in their underwear in a monsoon. And there was a hot tub on the USGP course in November.
This last picture is my friend and training partner Jen and I after the last race of the season. Jen decided to join me at the beginners clinics in September and immediately started beating the pants off of everyone, including me. She's that person you would hate for being so damn good if she weren't so damn fun. Right after this picture was taken we hosed our bikes off, then ourselves.