About the Sport of Cyclocross
Cyclocross is about having fun on your bike, even though you are pushing your limits of handling and aerobic conditioning.
Bring your fitness, equipment, and skill to be matched up against any combination of terrain, weather & ground conditions, course design, and your fellow competitors. Combine all that with a big splash of camaraderie, and you've got all you need for an unforgettable day.
This pursuit of bicycle bedlam can be compared to riding the Pirates of the Caribbean - a healthy dose of controlled chaos.
The talking skull and crossbones speaks as you enter the ride:
Psst! Avast there! It be too late to alter course, mateys. And there be plundering pirates lurkin' in ev'ry cove, waitin' to board. Sit closer together and keep your ruddy hands in board. That be the best way to repel boarders. And mark well me words, mateys: Dead men tell no tales! Ye come seekin' adventure with salty old pirates, eh? Sure you've come to the proper place. But keep a weather eye open mates, and hold on tight. With both hands, if you please. Thar be squalls ahead, and Davy Jones waiting for them what don't obey.
Your brain will note it is, in fact, a very contained loop, probably in a city park or some nondescript open space near town, entered for a relatively low cost and for just a short interlude from civilized life.
When it's all said and done, however, your heart will tell you you've been on the ride of a lifetime, and to go ride another one!
Unlike the theme park, this ride will leave you stronger physically and mentally, not to mention motivated to keep riding your bike long after everyone else has packed it in.
It is important to go into every race with a goal. Perhaps your goal is to complete the prescribed number of laps in first place, or top 3, or top 5, or top 10. Maybe your goal is to not get lapped by the person in 1st place (a very worthy objective). Another goal is to finish without crashing or having a mechanical - a good clean run. Maybe you just want to beat your friend, or your spouse! Maybe you want to try singlespeed and see if your legs will hold up. Maybe you want to upgrade and not get totally disgraced. Maybe you want to get the holeshot (get off the startline and beat everyone to the first corner). Maybe you want to hit the barriers smoother, or bunny hop them! Maybe you want to pass people on the running sections. Maybe you want to ride the sand sections. Maybe you want to race in the snow!
These are all small (or big) improvements that make the availability of lots of races throughout the fall important for your progress. You need many good opportunities to take steps at becoming a better 'cross racer. It takes years of experience to get good all around!
Regarding the fun & addictive element, long-time lady racer Tina Brubaker had this to say about cyclocross:
I’ve always loved it. It’s wholly different from mountain bike racing because it’s so interactive - you can see almost the whole loop, you can cheer for your friends. It’s also short - it’s not like you’re committed to an 8-hour day to go race your bike. It’s fun to rip around in the mud flying sideways on corners and screaming at your friends.
I love the ability to watch everybody suffering so deeply and the fact that we all know exactly how everybody is feeling because we’ve all either just done it or are about to do it. I used to bring girlfriends with me to cross races to watch and invariably they would leave saying, “I have to do this! This is so fun!” It’s such a contagious energy - you can’t help but get pumped when you’re there.
Wikipedia provides a very complete description of the sport in a factual style (complete with historical musings and standard course measurements).
Luke Seemann of the Chicago Tribune wrote a nice, thorough set of articles on Sept. 24, 2009 describing the sport with helpful photography and other tips, even for proper spectating! I like “Be the Mickey to their Rocky.”
Whether you are a beginner, pro, or somewhere in between, this great write-up by Barry Wicks demonstrates we all do it for the same reason - to have fun! You also might find this sounds a lot like your first race of the cyclocross season (except maybe the part about grabbing a pit bike and the drunken spectators).
Other cool race news sites include Cyclocross Magazine, the cyclocross section on VeloNews, the section on Cycling News. Videos are abundant during 'cross season on Cycling Dirt and especially Jeremy Powers' project, Behind the Barriers TV!
You can often find good race coverage of the European scene (World Cups commentated in Flemish, etc.) on YouTube - I recommend cyclocrossable's channel. There is also a Cascade Cross channel with footage from many of our races!