Cycling is about exploration and cyclo-cross is two-wheeled exploration in its purest form.
It’s about hopping from the road to singletrack, from river paths to bridleways. It’s pure unadulterated fun; the type of cycling that leaves you grinning from ear to ear.
The change in the season sees many road riders swap slick tyres for knobbly tyres. For some it’s a chance to extend the racing season through winter, for others it offers a change of scenery through the cold, dark months ahead, when motivation otherwise wanes.
My urban ‘cross ride – the first of the year – takes me out from central London to Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park. Having inflated my tyres to 50 psi in the morning, little speed is lost on the ride out, while, with a long, sharp hiss of air, I deflate the tyres to 35 psi once off-road to make the most of the traction offered by knobbly tread.
Tarmac is swapped for fast gravel tracks, tight, twisting singletrack and boggy woodland. Instead of dodging traffic I’m sliding through the large pools of mud which have formed as a result of the recent wet weather, skidding over wet roots and pointing the handlebars down short but steep descents which, while perhaps not hugely demanding on a mountain bike, provide a good test of technical ability on a ‘crosser.
My choice of steed is the Trek Cronus CX Pro which has recently arrived at RoadCyclingUK for review. Early impressions are of a sure-footed machine which takes this short test in its stride, while the fat downtube and BB90 bottom bracket provide a solid platform to put the power down.
The real test will come in the weeks ahead, culminating in an appearance at the final round of the Rapha Super Cross series at Alexandra Palace – my first ‘cross race.
And with that in mind, I find a quiet section of gravel track to practice dismounting the bike; a manoeuvre which is such an essential part of cyclo-cross racing in order to clear the planks, stairs and other unrideable sections which litter ‘cross race tracks.
But it doesn’t last long. Riding ‘cross is just too much fun and I’m soon back in the saddle, swooping through the trees and wiping mud from my race before, reluctantly, it’s time to head home.