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!