Biking

Cyclocross adds obstacles, mud, beer, waffles, fun to Idaho’s cycling calendar

Thrills and spills from an Idaho cyclocross race

Check out some action from Saturday's race in the Idaho Waffle Cross cyclocross series.
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Check out some action from Saturday's race in the Idaho Waffle Cross cyclocross series.

Allan Schroeder ran the steeplechase and cross country at Boise State, so he’s accustomed to competing across mud and obstacles.

Maybe that’s why the video he watched of cyclocross sucked him into the sport last year.

“To run collegiately, you’ve got to have a little bit of crazy in you, and I guess I do,” Schroeder said. “That aspect of just riding as hard as you can for an hour and have it be over all sorts of crazy terrain, it looked like fun and it has been a lot of fun.”

Schroeder won the top division in the Idaho Waffle Cross series race Saturday at Eagle Bike Park.

But part of the charm of cyclocross — featuring modified road bikes on dirt-and-grass courses — is that it’s not just for experienced athletes. The winner of Saturday’s men’s beginner race was competing on a bike for the first time.

Morgan Cornwall of Boise, who finished fifth in her category, is a mother of six (including triplets) who got into bicycle racing in 2014. Cornwall also races on the road, as part of Boise VeloWomen.

The team jokes that it’s a “road team with a cyclocross problem” — but cyclocross is becoming more of an emphasis.

“Because it’s so much fun,” Cornwall said. “... Everybody is encouraging each other. Even when somebody passes you on the course, you’re cheering for them as much as you’re ticked off and trying to catch them again.

“Everyone comes out and watches the races before and after theirs and everyone has their families out here. It’s a great community, fun, social event, too — beyond the racing.”

Waffle Cross, which has five events this fall and is promoted through Team Eastside Cycles, is one of two cyclocross series in the Treasure Valley. SICX (Southern Idaho Cyclocross) has six more races.

At Waffle Cross, the Boise VeloWomen serve free waffles to raise money for charity and there’s a beer tent before, after and even during the race for refreshment. It’s not unusual for a spectator to hand a racer a cup of beer for a quick drink on the way past the parking lot.

The racers do laps on a course that is 1.5 to 2.1 miles long, allowing spectators to see much of the action from a central location. That’s one of the many aspects of cyclocross that separates it from road and mountain bike racing. Waffle Cross races last 45 minutes or an hour, depending on the category.

Among the appeals: a festive, friendly atmosphere; a less-daring course than a mountain bike race; an intimate setup that allows even the slowest riders to be around others at all times; and a defined time of the race that prevents anyone from being left with miles to go when others are already done.

Two hours a week on a bike and two hours a week in the gym is enough training to complete a race, cyclocross instructor and racer Ron Miller said.

“Our whole goal is to have fun, raise a few dollars and introduce people to a sport that is not intimidating to enter,” said Brian Price, the co-director of Waffle Cross. “Come out, do it on your cross bike, do it on your mountain bike, do it on whatever bike you have — just come out and have fun and do it.”

Cyclocross is a fall sport because of its roots, which trace back to northwest Europe more than a century ago. Road cyclists wanted a way to keep riding in the fall, when the weather often is nasty, and came up with a cross-country sport that includes riding through mud, leaping over obstacles with bike in hand and dealing with whatever else nature or race organizers put in the way.

Cyclocross bikes look like road bikes but are tweaked to allow for larger tires with better traction and different brakes. Newcomers sometimes compete on mountain bikes.

“BMX and cyclocross are the fastest-growing cycling disciplines in the U.S. for the last five to 10 years,” said Cory Bolen, the other co-director of Waffle Cross, which is in its sixth year.

More than 125 cyclists entered Saturday’s event. More than 230 have competed in at least one of the first four races this season, including 42 in the growing women’s division.

This year, Waffle Cross offered free entry to cyclocross newcomers. For the October race weekend, the promotion drew 20 newcomers to the sport, Bolen said.

Races elsewhere often include mud, a traditional element of cyclocross. That’s less frequent in our dry climate. Waffle Cross courses are built on dirt and grass, with short climbs and descents, twisty turns and man-made obstacles — some can be ridden, while others require a dismount, hurdle and re-mount. Some of the turns are off-camber, where the ground is lower on the outside of the turn than the inside.

“The worse the weather, the more excited people are and the more challenging the courses are,” Bolen said. “We’re kind of like the postmen of cycling — we’ll race in any condition as long as it’s not a severe weather alert. Mud is preferred. A lot of people travel to Oregon on off weekends. ... We have a bunch of grown adults who travel to race around in circles and play in the mud. It’s kind of like being a big kid.”

Cornwall first tried cyclocross after repeatedly hearing that it’s “the most fun you can have on a bike.”

“I bought a cross bike and raced my first race and I hated every second of it,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I just bought a bike for a sport that I hate.’ And then I gave it a try the next day and I absolutely loved it, and I’ve loved it ever since. ...

“It was just getting re-calibrated to what suffering is. You just go for 45 minutes and if you’re dying, it’s OK, because everyone else is, too. And then it’s over and you have a good time.”

About half of Boise VeloWomen’s 23 members race cyclocross. One of the team’s goals is to reduce the “intimidation factor” that might prevent women from trying cycling, Cornwall said.

“We want women to come out and race,” she said. “We don’t want them to feel like they have to train to a certain level before they join a race team. We want them to come join us, come ride with us — we would love to teach people how to ride and encourage them along the way. We take people of all skill levels and help them develop their skills and develop their fitness and have a great time doing it.”

Miller, of Boise, also tries to bring more people to cyclocross. He runs weekly free clinics during the season. He draws as many as 35-40 people early in the season, he said.

“The No. 1 thing is learning how to turn,” he said.

Miller enjoys what he calls the “dog chasing the ball concept” of cyclocross. The course’s brief climbs and frequent turns take much of the pacing strategy of other disciplines out of the equation.

“You’re chasing the ball and nothing else matters,” he said. “You’re focused on it and the rest of your life goes away. You can ride as hard as you can or as hard as you want, and that’s the real reward in it.

“It’s not about placing, because you look around here and nobody cares. Today, I did not have a great race myself, but no one judges me.”

Want to try cyclocross?

  • There are two series in the Treasure Valley: Idaho Waffle Cross (idahowafflecross.com) and SICX (cxidaho.com). SICX has races Saturday-Sunday Nov. 12-13 at Mallard Park in Caldwell. Waffle Cross has the Kringle Kross on Dec. 3 at Eagle Bike Park.
  • Boise VeloWomen will hold its annual re-commitment meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Bob’s Bicycles in Boise. That’s also a chance for newcomers to learn more about joining the team.
  • Ron Miller of Boise holds free, weekly cyclocross clinics beginning in late summer every year. The clinics have concluded for this season. Get notifications about next season through the Boise cyclocross Skills page on Facebook.
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