[Kicking off the Not like a wussy series is Marc Vettori of C3-Sollay.com. Marc has been racing Cross for over 10 years and drinking Miller High Life even longer, often on the same day. Read more from Marc at fatmarc.blogspot.com.]
How to not run cross barriers like a wussy
by Marc Vettori, C3-Sollay.com
Recently I was contacted by GamJams.net to write a column about running through barriers. As I am not normally a contributor to gamjams I was honored and pretty excited to contribute something to this fine site. My name is Fatmarc, and I am a cyclocrosser. Many would scoff at that statement. I have had many friends roadies and mountain bikers alike question the logic of racing at a time of the year when the weather is nasty, cold, and really not all that suited for bike racing at all. My answer to that is: exactly- that’s why it rules.
Cyclocross is arguably the most laden in tradition and experience requiring of any of discipline of racing. I have always looked at it as an art form. Pure fitness and ability to suffer are a premium, but the devil here is truly in the details, and learning the technique, the culture, the tire pressure can lead to winning your group in a cross race, or giving up 3 spots on the last lap of a race. Perhaps the best part of cross is that no matter where you are in the race, you are racing. There is certainly someone a few seconds in front of you, and certainly a couple of folks right behind you tearing their hearts out to chase you down.
In writing this column, I am the first to admit, that I am no Jedi. That level is owned by folks in our region named Yozell, Winfield, Ferguson, Cline, Auer, and Shogren. I do however pay great attention and work hard to learn as much as I can, with any luck someday I might be a level two padwan. The information I am about to share is all gathered from the many good folks I have had teaching me over my past 10 years of cross racing. It doesn’t mean that I employee it all the time, or that I am particularly good at it, just that I’ve seen folks do it right.
With that table set allow me to get to task at hand: how to run barriers and not look like a wussy.
First to learn is the dismount. There are two basic dismounts: the step though and the wrap around. Years ago the step through was the way to go. Courses then had many high speed barriers, and flowing from bike to run was key. With recent UCI /USCF rules limiting the number of barriers on the course, promoters have been forced to really use the venue to create interesting courses, and in many cases downright evil barrier placement. Although barriers are fun to watch, if you only get one or two sets, placing them in a middle of a field is not nearly as much fun or evil as placing them on a corner or hill, forcing carnage, and causing technically challenged riders fits. For this reason the wrap around dismount is much more prevalent now and frankly easier to learn. I won’t try to walk you through the steps here, there are many good people leading clinics and practices across the region who will be much more effective at that than I can do here. (See Marc Gwadz, Rob Campbell, Sven Nystrom, Kris Auer, Kelly Cline and Tom McDaniel to name a few.)
Okay now you are off your bike and running towards the barriers.
What do you do? first thing is to realize you are going to have to pick up your bike. The best option is to have two points of contact and keep control of your bike. It’s always ugly to watch someone try to run barriers with one hand on the bike. Remember two hands on the bike. If “suit casing the bike” one hand on the bars, one on the top tube. Grabbing the seat is always a bad idea. The other viable option is to shoulder the bike. Always remember to control the front end, when running with the bike. Running with an out of control bike on your shoulder will result in sloppy technique and likely have you throwing your bike to the ground at some point, if not spiking yourself.
Wes Schemph shows off his suit casing form over the barriers at AVC's Breast Cancer Awareness Cross in Hagerstown last weekend. (photo courtesy of Les Doerfler / Downward Dog Photography)
Running the barriers. This will take a little practice, with exception of my short friends, 5”3’ or less, the barriers, UCI legal height of 16 inches, should not be high hurdles. Many will go through the barriers as if running hurdles and jump into the air over them, again unless you are 5”3’ or less focus on running through the barriers not hopping over them. Crossers run barriers, the Easter bunny hops through them.
Running the barriers takes practice, and lots of it. I should advise that you may hit your shins on the barriers learning this. It hurts a little, but you get cool scars. Remember the closer to the barriers you dismount, the less time you have to run. The best folks I have seen do this regionally are Ryan Leech, Ethan Townsend, Rick Mihills and Kelly Cline. Kelly Cline is butter through the barriers.
Okay now you are on the other side of the barriers, gently set your bike back on the ground. I’ll repeat, gently set your bike on the ground, too often this is when oxygen debt takes over and much like the quarterback spiking the ball, you’ll see people throw their bikes back down. Once I threw my bike down so hard that the knocked the chain off. It was not pretty.
So we are through the barriers, the bike is on the ground and we need to get back on here. Proper technique would dictate that you step back on to the bike, sliding your inner thigh across the saddle and smoothly remounting and engaging the pedals. The best at this will fluidly remount without dabbing their trail foot or bobbling.
Sadly, I have developed the incorrect habit of launching myself back on to the bike. I will often find myself jumping in the air landing on my inner thigh, and clipping back in. This technique is used by many, and frankly while not technically correct, works pretty well, aside from being technically wrong.
At its worst two bad things can happen. At Charm City 2 years I essentially jumped over my bike on the last lap, last set of barriers. It was really ugly, but not the worst. The worst is when you jump into the air and as you are basically only hanging on the bars at this point and have little control over the body, as gravity delivers a Jimmy Snuka style shot to your crotch.. Nothing is worse than fighting along at oxygen debt, feeling as though you are bleeding out of your eyes, and then pounding yourself in the crotch. If anyone has experienced this, it’s just ugly, not the kind of pain I would wish on my worst enemies. My recommendation would be to learn proper technique, as re-learning proper technique can be a real challenge. From a re-mount standpoint, I am not successful at it yet.
In closing, I would say that perhaps the best part of cross is the community, and the folks in the game willing to share their knowledge with other riders. With a few cross seasons under my belt, I am always looking to learn more, improve technique and become a more complete cross rider. If you are interested in becoming a better cross rider I would strongly recommend that you hook up with one of the many cross practices in the region. I’d also recommend hagging around or working pit during a race. You’d be amazed what you can learn from a set up, tire pressure, strategy standpoint in the pits. Best to you, thanks for reading. If there’s any questions you may have, feel free to drop me a line in the comments.
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