There is something eerie about riding cyclocross*. Not eerie as in, “I really don’t feel like I’m totally in control here,” though those thoughts do go through the brain sometimes. No suspension, no springs, skinny tires, and drop bars leave this old cross-country MTB’er -literally- hanging on for dear life.
NO, it’s the kind of eerie you get if Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were to actually meet in a back alley somewhere, concoct a plan for human torture, and then seal the deal with a couple of beers and a few good laughs.
For nearly two decades (ugh), I’ve always kept the flat bars and fat tires in the woods and spun up and down the roadways with the skinny rubber and noodle-bars. Heck, I even sold the road bike and focused solely on making time to go get in the woods. I’m surrounded by crappy roads and drivers, but also some epic, nationally recognized singletrack networks. No problem; survive the former, enjoy the latter.
Until this year. The cross-country rig finally came down with a terminal case of cancer of the welds, nearly killing me in the midst of its death throes. Suddenly, getting back on the road was becoming more of a priority; at least getting clipped by a soccer mom texting her life coach out on the main thoroughfare had a slight chance of getting me to an emergency room. In the woods where I make a habit of riding (usually alone), clipping a tree and flipping over into the rock garden would only guarantee the squirrels something to chuckle about until they called their buddies, the vultures. (Yes, squirrels can chuckle. I always hear them after my high-speed crashes.)
Meantime, somebody out there’s been building bikes that look and act almost like a road machine, but by beefing up the brakes and the wheels and squeezing on knobby tires, it becomes a trail rig, too.
Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde… Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll.
Like any good predator, the weaker you are, the more it will single you out for death. The temptation to lock your elbows and rest weary arms is met with instantaneous skittering and sliding ‘neath the old chinny-chin-chin.
Your sweaty, cramping hands? Nope, can’t relax them. They’ve been hanging on for dear life to those goofy roadie brake hoods, and they better durn well keep up the good work, because there’s just about every inch of the trail that’s waiting to snatch those silly things right out from betwixt your throbbing claws and send you headlong into an oak tree or a nest of vipers or the arms of a boisterous young lady (and NO-body likes a boisterous young lady….).
And that’s just picking the good lines. Bless your stupid, pounding heart for trying to keep up with your riding “buddies” on their dedicated dirt machines: “Yeah, full suspension, man… thirty-two feet of travel…I don’t even stand up for bumps anymore.”
Or the college kid he brought out here: “Dude, I just ran nineteen miles and chugged four beers for breakfast. I forgot my bike shorts, but I’m wearing dad’s underwear. Dang, I’m not even buzzed right now.”
I was more than happy just staying pinned to the tail of the group, only hiking-the-bike twice in the fourteen miles of trail, and generally not getting myself killed. Just had to be happy with riding my own ride.
So I did, and I was.
Since I was almost hallucinating anyway (no granny ring!), I could see Mr. H. elbowing Dr. J. in the ribs and pointing at me and winking.
*p.s.: I know, I know. I was merely riding my cyclocross bike, not really riding cyclocross. Keep your tutu on and have another beer. I’ll have to get back to you later, after I’ve jumped over fences and run up and down steps in the muddy grass in the middle of winter.