Cyclocross is Here!

With summer winding down the road racing season is over which means it’s time for cyclocross! Cyclocross racing, or “cross” for short, is one of the best disciplines for spectators. Thanks to generous land owners and hard-working volunteers Fort Collins has a steady stream of races over the next two months.

Cross is essentially a hybrid between road and mountain biking. The bikes look like beefed-up road bikes with knobby tires. The courses are mostly unpaved but still relatively smooth, wending through grassy fields and over various obstacles. Riders complete multiple laps around a 1-2 mile loop with races lasting 20-90 minutes.

Colorado women duking it out in the 2014 edition of Cross of the North
Colorado women duking it out in the 2014 edition of Cross of the North

The short courses make the races easy to watch, but it’s the obstacles that keep things exciting. Event organizers include stairs, steep hills, tight turns on side-slopes, sand pits, and wooden barriers to challenge the competitors. These sections force each racer to choose between hopping off their bike and running or attempting to ride and risking an embarrassing crash. That leads to a steady supply of excitement and comedy for the spectators, like this impressive display of bike handling:


Or this less impressive attempt at a running barrier hop (fortunately Joey was unhurt):

Spectators usually congregate around these obstacles, offering hearty encouragement and good-natured heckling. Some even hand up cups of beer or dollar bills to see which riders will risk a mistake for the token reward. Cowbells compliment the cheers, creating a distinctly “cyclocross” atmosphere.

Fort Collins cross racing is already underway. Local rider and all-round cycling supporter Ronny Bush is hosting Crazy Joe Cross races which continue through next Tuesday (Sept 19). These grassroots races are friendly community events with separate races for different experience levels including first-time racers looking to try out the sport.

The Ciclismo Youth Foundation will be organizing another round of beginner-friendly races at New Belgium every Tuesday in October (3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th, 31th). The Ciclismo races benefit the foundation which promotes youth racing in Fort Collins, and they include free categories for children of all ages, including a “Strider Bike” category for toddlers. With the last race of the series falling on Halloween you can expect a party atmosphere and plenty of costumes!

Those Tuesday night races serve as a test run for Fort Collins’ biggest race of the year. On November 11th & 12th First City Cycling Team will host Cross of the North, also at New Belgium. The weekend races always take the competition and revelry to a higher level. Athletes from up and down the front range will converge on New Belgium to battle it out for cash prizes, USA Cycling series points, and of course bragging rights. In addition to top notch races for both beginner and advanced riders there will be food trucks and beer (it’s at a brewery, after all). Come enjoy the party atmosphere and cheer our FoCo men and women!

Shiny Tape for your Shiny Bike

Here at Bike Fort Collins we take a very broad, long term view of bike safety and how to improve it: we’re more concerned with land use and city planning than bike helmets and safety vests. That work will ultimately provide a safer, more pleasant community for everyone. In the meantime, we’re well aware of the immediate safety concerns that cyclists encounter, so here’s a handy trick to make your bike a little more visible on the road at night.

Bicycles are always sold with reflectors, but many riders remove them. Racers especially waste no time tossing out the stock plastic reflectors. It saves weight and improves wheel balance, but mostly the cheap reflectors just look out of place. Most of us don’t intend to ride our race bikes after dark anyway, but as summer fades into fall and the days get shorter, sometimes our evening rides push past sunset.

Luckily there’s a cheap, lightweight replacement: retro-reflective tape.

Retro-reflectors bounce light back towards its source. We see them all around us… stop signs, license plates, safety vests and even the silver stripes on running shoes.  They glow when our headlights hit them because they reflect that light right back to us. And because they’re available as tape, adding them to a road bike is cheap and easy:

Department and automotive stores usually carry both red and white. These rolls cost me $2 each:

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If you’re concerned with aesthetics it’s worth planning where you’ll put the tape to complement the existing paint and decals. Wipe down the frame with a clean rag (and rubbing alcohol if you’ve got it) and carefully apply the tape. You can even fold tape back on itself to form little flags around your spokes. The spoke flags really stand out at night, but above 25 mph they tend to whistle, so I don’t use them on my road bike.

All of my bikes have at least some reflective tape. Here’s my town bike with red tape on the rear triangle and white tape on the fork. By day it’s unobtrusive, but in the dark it reflects the camera’s flash, making those stripes light up. Of course it will also reflect a car’s headlights back at to driver, complementing my bike lights and providing a backup if I’m caught out after sunset without them.

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And here’s what a driver will see if you’re caught out after dark with no lights at all:

 

In an ideal world it would be easy to ride at night without sharing space with cars. But in the meantime, this tape is a cheap way to make yourself a little more visible.