Beppo said something really interesting to me riding back from 'cross practice today: "Cross is nice and different because it's about the only thing you can do on a bike where you're riding along and you crash and then you sit there laughing."
That's true. There's something nice and child-like about cross. We take to it in innocence, like a 5 year-old wants to race everywhere. You don't need to have a reason for it, you just do it. It's fun to do it. So you act like a kid and that's just what you do.
I'm thinking about this today because maybe we cyclists are about to dick up cross like we've dicked up mountain biking and dicked up road riding and maybe track and just riding to work.
At times, we take ourselves wayyyy too seriously.
Grant Peterson says bikes will save the world. Really? I thought that's what Jesus was for, saving the world. Or maybe Mahomet or the teachings of Guru Nanak or whomever. Peterson, whom I really respect as a building and bike advocate, is far from alone in taking himself and his riding discipline too seriously.
As roadies, we are such a bunch of purists, such a bunch of true believers, that we act like jerks and try and sometimes try to exclude people for not coming into the faith with their priestly knowledge fully developed. Some of the snobbery makes sense - a guy with a creaking bike, hairy legs, and wobbly handling in the first 5 minutes of a ride probably can't be trusted to be cool in a 35 MPH paceline after he has already hammered it for two hours. But most people need to be shown the light, not the door.
Mountain biking has gone through something like that too. The big money NORBA expansion and TV revenue, along with the Mountain Dewey hipsterization of that discipline for a while turned mountain biking into Teh Biggest Thing Evah, roadracing on the dirt, until the money evaporated and the series died out and it turned somewhat back into a grass roots thing. The single speed movement, near as I can tell, is partially a revolt against $7500 mountain bikes and anal retentive race rules and hipster trendiness. Most of the best single speeders I know ride a frame that retails for $400 or $700. A new drivetrain - rings and chain - will set you back well under a hundred if you're on the economy plan. No $465 cassettes there. Who needs one of them anyhow?
We do the same thing with commuting. A colleague of mine at work got talked into a somewhat expensive, flat bar road bike with disc brakes, because that's what the salesman convinced him he needed to have for commuting, and that's what one of the cycling magazines tried to convince him of. I advised him to put his old 10 speed on the road, we could have him rolling for $100 for new tires, brake pads and a chain, then if he liked riding that he could think about a new bike. He has some regrets now, but he went for the salesman's bling.
The reason I'm mentioning this is because it looks like local cross is having a breakout season, and we may be approaching a turning point where this great discipline turns into cycling snobbery central. The classes are filling up at Charm City, and Ed Sander just opened for registration yesterday. No doubt that will fill up relatively quickly too. Is cross going to turn into another hyper intense sport like low cat roadracing, where you have to register within 5 minutes of the event opening on BikeReg?
So are we taking it too seriously? Are we going to destroy a good scene?
I think we are, if we don't try to preserve the good things about 'cross.
One of the good things that makes cross nice is a laid back attitude. Yeah, you train and race hard. You cheer hard too and maybe you even drink hard after the race. But you shouldn't take yourself too seriously. There's no method of killing the fun quicker than taking yourself real seriously, especially when you're an amateur racer who has no business taking themselves seriously to begin with.
Another good thing about cross is that it's pretty easy to get into races. You maybe pre-register for some races, but you should be able to show up on the day and find a class to race in. Promoters, if we find that two or three of our fields are filling up before the race, we need to consider opening up another field to take overflow. You shouldn't have to sit there at 9:30 on a Tuesday night, clicking "refresh" and hoping to get registered 60 days before an event. That's a key feature of Cat 4/5 roadracing, and it blows.
But maybe the most important part of keeping cross fun will be to dedicate ourselves as racers to having fun. How do we do this? Easy. Select a couple races this year that are going to be misery-free zones.
You heard me. I know we all have "A" race goals - a win at a rival club's event, a great finish on a course that particularly suits us, a great showing on the weekend the parents are going to be in town. But most of the other races are B or C races. You should race those hard - but pick a couple of them that will be your designated fun zones. Commit yourself to spending the day and cheering for others, working the pits for teammates, drinking a Chimay or two, taking some pictures, chatting with people from other teams, hanging out with friends, screwing off, being grateful for whatever result you got, win, lose or DNF, and generally maximizing your fun quotient.
Want to know what the most fun race was for me last year? Ed Sander. It was wicked muddy, and the mud section in the lilly ponds wasn't much fun at all. But the rest of the course? Awesome. I hammered it on the flats, moved up nicely through the field... then crashed repeatedly on the back side. Sure, I'd fly past people... then crash. I even crashed twice in front of Joe Jefferson, which earned me some cracks he must have been saving up for a year, since I'd last crashed in front of him. Fortunately, I was able to laugh about the whole thing - thank goodness, because after the seventh or eighth crash, it was pretty laughable and I had lost 20 or 30 hard-earned places that I wasn't going to be able to claw back. I could laugh because I had no expectations for the race. I rode really well, and crashed only because I was working it really hard, and getting blasted in the mud. Despite the misery of crashing, it's the one race I remember from last year as a great, great time. I raced with total abandon, crashed, and laughed, then hung out with friends. When I look back on last year, that is the race that made it all worthwhile. Other super fun races like DCCX were in the same category for me, just a great time.
Having fun at the races doesn't mean you have to slack off. Absolutely not - it wouldn't be cross if we didn't beat our brains out. What it does mean, is that if you are getting caught up in the competitiveness and the grind, you need to remind yourself to have some fun, and to make some fun with other racers. Get yourself an attitude adjustment, and learn to race with a smile on your face. Take joy in the racing and the cameraderie, win, finish, or DFL. Forget about the Monday-Friday hell you face, and appreciate the Saturday Hell for the good-time-in-disguise that it really is.
No, focusing on having fun probably won't save cross from dick-ification, that is a process we may not be able to stave off even if we try. But maybe if we get in the habit of having as much fun as possible, we can spread the fun to the new people coming into the sport, and hang on to this cool scene for a couple more years until the urge to turn it into just one more over-serious anal retentive cycling discipline has passed.
We're going to have to try to remember to have fun with this, until we learn to start acting like a bunch of children again.