One week ago today was the Wisconsin State Cyclocross Championships. December 7th proved to be a very brutal day for racing, with average race time temps between 10 and 14 degrees and wind chills in the negative stupid. Despite the insanely cold temps, however, the course was quite race-able. The ground was hard and extremely grippy, making for aggressive racing conditions. The following day was very different. Sunday was much warmer, but heavy snow was falling and we had several inches on the ground by mid day. I couldn’t help but to ponder how different racing would have been had the State Championships been held on Sunday instead of Saturday. My feelings were that some would have excelled in the snow and others would have suffered, all depending on each individual’s comfort level and, more importantly, experience in those conditions. If you race cyclocross then you are all too familiar with the infinite range of conditions we must be prepared to race in. Every course in the world can change drastically when wet, dry, cold, snowy, muddy, and everything in between. Seasoned cyclocrossers must be prepared for any and all conditions, and experiencing those conditions is the only way to build the skills needed.
Being mid-December, many cyclists are stepping away for a well earned rest. Road season is many months away, and the thought of getting on the trainer just seems masochistic. There are many new products on the market that make training indoors light years better than in the past (keep your eyes out for a review of the Wahoo Kickr in the near future), but there is no real substitute for the fresh air and tranquility of riding outdoors.
This morning I was staring at my trainer, all decked out with new software and a stereo system that doubles as a wind tunnel when turned all the way up. All things considered, it is a pretty nice indoor training studio I have built. Hanging on the wall behind it, however, is my brand new Foundry Harrow cyclocross bike. I just sealed the deal on it yesterday, and like a hyperactive puppy dog, it was begging me to take it outside. I had brief visions of the snowstorm last weekend and wondered how I may have fared in those conditions. Next thing I knew, I was in the truck in my BELGIANWERKX kit and shoe covers headed for the park where I like to do my cyclocross training.
In short, riding a cyclocross bike in snow is a blast, but the snow needs to be just right. If the snow is too deep, or if it is really heavy and wet, or if the ground is sheer ice under the snow, it could be treacherous. The snow we have now…it’s perfect! The ground is frozen and grippy under the snow, and the snow is pretty light and fluffy. Riding through it is like riding through a cyclocross sand pit made of light, fluffy sand. This is not to say that it is easy. Like sand, you must be acutely aware of your handling and work to intuitively feel the slips and wiggles that can take you down. Turning requires a very light touch on the handlebars and is a clinic in learning to ride with finesse.
The only gear I would recommend outside of normal cold weather clothing is shoe covers. Your feet will be covered in snow and get wet pretty quickly otherwise. It is also advisable to stay off of any sidewalks or heavy foot traffic areas as they can be icy and salty. Find a park you are familiar with, use the trees and your imagination to create a cyclocross circuit, and challenge yourself to improve your handling through every turn. With this simple routine, you will return home with a clean bike, a tired body, and some great bike handling skills that may come in very handy some day. Get out and ride! The conditions couldn’t be more fantastic!
Arlen Spicer is a Cat 3 Team Belgianwerkx member. He’s been road riding since college. This is his first year cyclocross racing. He’s already a pretty good Cat 3.