Alan Woodison explores how the recent cycling fever has been built on by Walkers Cycling Club as riders make the seasonal transition from road to cyclocross.
The crowds who turned out in Kilmarnock this week to witness the Tour of Britain close up highlights the phenomenal interest that cycling continues to attract.
Add to that the increasing number of stay-at-home TV viewers switched on by Britain’s successes at the Tour de France and in the Olympics.
But just as these new-found cycling fans are starting to get their heads round the complications of the various points systems, along comes another bike sport to confuse people further.
Cyclocross, a mix of riding and running over a tight obstacle-strewn course, isn’t new but it has grown beyond all expectations, particularly in Scotland, in the last 10 years.
CX for short, the sport was lucky to have 50 showing up for a day’s racing just a decade ago. Now every CX meeting is packed out with up to 500 entrants taking part in half a dozen events for all ages and abilities.
Cyclocross has its origins in France and Belgium where the race circuit thrills and spills are a key part of televised sports offerings.
But the sport has transferred spectacularly well to the UK, mostly because summer “roadies” use ‘cross racing to extend their riding season and maintain fitness over autumn and winter.
Walkers Cycling Club has chosen to specialise in cyclocross, inviting members and riders from other clubs to train together and so share skills and experience.
Kilmaurs-based Walkers Cycling Club also organise Scotland’s only seaside CX event – the highly popular (and very challenging) contest at Irvine Beach Park just before Christmas.
The club have two trainers who have been putting a growing group of riders through their paces ahead of the 2016-17 season which starts on Saturday.
Scottish Athletics coaching manager Jim Goldie has joined Neil Walker, bike shop owner and rider with Team Northsports/Kinesis, to nurture the talents of a keen bunch of local CX enthusiasts.
Jim, of Kilmarnock, explains what cyclocross is all about.
“Most races are held on courses about a mile long, mixing tar, sand, dirt and mud. Some hazards are also put in the way – like tricky run-ups, slippery steps and man-made hurdles – all designed to force racers to shoulder their bikes or carry them by the top tube.
“The pace, weather and technical aspects of the course soon highlight the strengths and weaknesses of racers and make good viewing for spectators.
“A strong emphasis is placed on skilful bike handling and participants must be up for some brutal, unrelenting effort at the finish.
“Cyclocross meetings are also known for their fun and inclusive atmosphere, many riders bringing their families along for a day out. Even the kids are catered for now with racing for youth groups before the senior and elite events.”
The development of CX racing has led to demands for equipment more suited to the rigours of the sport. It’s an extension to the world of cycling that bike shop boss Neil Walker has been happy to take on board.
Neil, from Kilmaurs, said: “Light, fast and nimble, cyclocross race bikes may look like road bikes with nobbly tyres fitted, but they are specialist machines designed to cover a mixture of light off-road and tarmac with maximum speed.
“High bottom brackets give greater ground clearance and ensure quick handling, while narrow treaded tyres provide improved traction in deep mud and grass.
“Cyclocross race bike manufacturers are increasingly using some of the technology from MTBs which is helping keep costs down and improve reliability.
“Disc brakes improve stopping power and eliminate rim wear. A single chainring reduces mud clogging and chain dropping.
“Another CX must-have are tubeless tyres. These give increased traction, grip and speed due to lower tyre pressures.”
Cyclocross is a great discipline for fitness and health, and it’s also one that fits in well around a busy work and life schedule, according to Scottish Cyclocross, the organising body for the sport north of the order.
Their advice to cyclists with a notion of CX: “If you can squeeze in even just 45 minutes of training five times a week, you’ll see the benefit when you go cross racing, and also be ahead of the fitness curve when the spring comes round and it’s time for the road racing season to start.”
CX calendar 2016-17
Battle of Balloch Castle – Sat, Sept 10;
Bute CX – Sat, Sept 17;
ERC Juniors Inch Park,
Edinburgh – Sat, Sept 24;
Raleigh SCX 1, Callendar Park, Falkirk – Sun, Oct 9;
Raleigh SCX 2, Knockburn Loch, Banchory – Sun, Oct 23;
HalloX, Pollok Park, Glasgow – Sat, Oct 29;
Pedal the Park, Muirshiel, Lochwinnoch – Sun, Oct 30;
Raleigh SCX 3, Strathclyde Park, Motherwell – Sun, Nov 6;
Raleigh SCX 4, Fife College, Dunfermline – Sun, Nov 13;
Raleigh SCX5, Beach Park, Irvine – Sun, Nov 20;
Plean CX, Stirling – Sun, Nov 27;
Raleigh SCX6 and Scottish CX Championships,
Lochore Meadows, Lochgelly – Sun, Dec 4;
Raleigh SCX7, Cross at the Castle, Mull – Sat, Dec 10;
Santa CX World Championships, Mull – Sun, Dec 11;
January and February 2017 – Super Quaich series at Rouken Glen, Glasgow; Doonbank, Ayr; Foxlake, Dunbar; and Bo’ness.