By The CX Geek
Our sport may be doomed. At least according to the April issue Road Bike Action editorial.
The popularity of cyclocross in the U.S. has been steadily climbing for several years now, a fact that has not escaped the mainstream cycling media. In fact, the Road Bike Action article states that, "After 30 years on the fringe, cyclocross has finally become an accepted and viable facet of cycling."
Awesome! Accepted AND viable, at the same time even. It's great to hear that a sport that's had U.S. National Championship status since 1963 and UCI World Championship status since 1950, a full 40 years before XC mountain bike worlds existed, is finally "accepted and viable".
But it's too late. Road Bike Action says, "Despite the explosion in popularity of cyclocross in America, it faces the very real danger of collapsing due to its own success."
Collapsing? Wow. That is a drag. Well over half a century of cyclocross racing, attracting and often producing some of the world's greatest riders in other disciplines, and now we're on the endangered species list, somewhere between the Cuban Spotted Toad and the Dark-backed Wood Quail. What happened to 'accepted and viable'?
Road Bike Action cites several reasons for the pending demise of our sport. I'll paraphrase the ones that annoy me most:
1. Cold weather. And running.
I think folks know cyclocross to be a winter sport, and I'll go out on a limb here and state that nobody looking to race a bike in December is going to be shocked to find conditions brisk when they get to the start line Sunday morning, and yet they're still showing up every weekend.
As for the running part, again I'm going to hazard a guess that most people interested in cyclocross have some vague idea that there may be a need to hop off the bike, trot around a bit, and hop back on.
These aren't obstacles to the success of cyclocross, rather they're the very obstacles for which the sport exists.
2. You need a special bike.
Actually, you really need TWO special bikes. Or not. Many cross racers have shuffled around on mountain bikes and done fine, but more importantly have you ever known a bike racer that doesn't jump at the chance to add another bike to their quiver? Me neither.
The story also likens a cross bike to a spork, implying that it's not particularly good at anything beyond cyclocross. Okay, Road Bike Action, here's a challenge: grab either your TT bike, or your 6-inch travel mountain bike and let's go for a three-hour road/trail ride in my neck of the woods. I'll ride my spork. Afterwards we'll have a fireside chat about bikes and versatility.
3. The season is short.
Contrary to RBA's claim, racing my district (admittedly a cyclocross hotbed) started Sept 5, and the last race of the season was Feb 13, with over 50 local races on the calendar. That's racing through six months, often twice a weekend. Sure, I suppose this might not be enough racing for some athletes, and I guess they'll go find something else to do, but it seems like there's enough racing to keep most of us busy and perhaps keep the sport afloat for a few more years.
4. CX racer and spectator attendance is down for the first time in years.
Didn't our global economy have its biggest downturn since the Great Depression last year. Unemployment is up. Bike racing is not cheap. And CX race attendance is down. Coincidence?
5. People dressed in ridiculous costumes.
That does happen. We'll disregard, for a moment, that bike racing in any form involves a pretty silly costume as standard racing attire, and focus on a few images:
This gentleman in the green thong, worn Borat-style, is a fan observing a rather popular road bike race that takes place in France, sometime around July.
And this is from an unspecified mountain bike race mentioned in the latest issue of BIKE Magazine.
Costumes appear in most forms of bike racing, a large number of organized rides (RAGBRAI comes to mind) and countless other non-cycling events, like the New York Marathon. To me it looks like fanatical enthusiasm, hardly the harbinger of a sport's demise.
I could go on poking holes in their reasoning, but the fact is, RBA is right. Cyclocross is at risk, perhaps not of collapsing outright, but of losing its current place as 'the latest, greatest thing' for one simple reason: cyclocross is hard.
I won't say that cyclocross is harder than any other cycling discipline, all bike racing is incredibly hard, or you're not doing it right. But cyclocross is challenging in its own way, just like track racing, dual slalom or crit racing is hard in a different way, and not everyone's going to take to it.
So while we're seeing triathletes, Cat3 roadies and XC mountain bikers try their legs at the runups and barriers, some will fall in love with 'cross, and many will return from whence they came. And that's fine.
Cyclocross doesn't need to be huge to survive, and to be fair, RBA's article does bring to light a number of positive elements of the sport in addition the perceived challenges it faces, before issuing the warning that, "…cyclocross could find itself going the way of Rollerblades, Razor scooters and fixies."
Much more likely, cyclocross will go the way of other once-massive subsets of cycling, XC and DH racing, and return to be just another niche element of the competitive cycling landscape, left to the diehards.
So yes, cyclocross will survive. It has to…I just glued up some new Grifo's.
Do you have a question for The CX Geek? Email him at [email protected]
Article photos courtesy of KWC
Additional photos courtesy of Specialized & BIKE