‘Cross diary

October 8, 2011 at 8:25 am | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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…or, how I stopped worrying and learned to love falling off

Early autumn. After years of trying, I am sick of road biking. I’m not very fast; you always have to go out for hours and hours, which is boring; I hate cycling in the wind and rain; my arms and arse hurt from the crappy road surfaces; I love climbing hills, but get freezing cold on the descents and cry all the way home, narrowly avoiding getting sideswiped by people driving Picassos.

Me: Moan, groan etc. Biking isn’t for me. I don’t think I’m designed for it.

Partner: I think you should do cyclocross.

Me: What’s that?

A bit of YouTubing later and I was sold. ‘Cross involves running (something I already like); there’s lots of variety; there’s a shedload of new skills to learn; it’s really hard work for a specified period, then you can get off and get in the bath. And your family can come and cheer you on. Weirdly, I loved the idea of going out in terrible weather, riding really hard, getting completely covered in mud and falling off a lot.

So, I needed a bike. I already had two: a lovely but ancient (handbuilt) touring bike, which mostly went on the turbo nowadays; and a road bike built up from bits Partner had lying about, which didn’t really fit me. So I could justify the spend, as if I turned out to hate doing ‘cross, I could still use the bike on the road. We Googled around for a bit (well, Partner Googled around, and occasionally called me over to look at something on eBay). Partner wanted to buy a frame and bits and build it up himself. Yes please. We ordered wheels, and took the boys to Paul Milnes to buy frame and forks.

Paul Milnes had one ‘cross frame left in my size. It was half-built up into a bike to take to a show. There would be more coming in next week. He must have noticed how despondent I looked, as he relented and volunteered to un-build it so I could take it home that day. I was ecstatic. We had an enthusiastic-for-Yorkshiremen conversation about ‘cross, which was crashed by another customer who banged on about how friendly it all was and insisted that I should just get out there and start racing immediately, never mind all this practising and getting my courage up. I tried on MTB shoes, and ran up and down Paul’s tiny shop in them, dodging frames and wheels and tools and components. I was so excited I didn’t notice that we ended up in McDonald’s while the un-building was taking place.

That night, Partner built the bike up for me. He cursed when he realised my beautiful pale pink Frogglegs were missing their fitting kits, and cannibalised one of his bikes for brakes so that I would still be able to ride the next day. Further proof that he is the perfect man.

And so, to the park. The boys pedalled round and round the children’s road circuit under Partner’s watchful gaze while I rode across the grass, through the mud, up into the woods. I forded rivulets and tackled cobbles and slithered through sand and got out of the saddle, honking over wet leaves and stones and roots and gravel. I practised shouldering the bike and running up steep banks with it. I had the time of my life. The bike was so light and responsive; I could put in an effort and see the effect. And it loved any surface; I felt completely safe on it.

Midweek, I rode up and down the towpath, on the pretext of trying to get more used to the bike. I shot up little inclines next to locks, and wibbled under low bridges, grinning maniacally at people walking dogs and singing ‘Thank you!’ as they got out of my way with a bemused smile. Where had this been all my life?

image from http://parklover.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/calder-holmes-park-hebden-bridge/

Partner emailed me step-by-step instructions on how to wash and lube my bike. I printed them out and followed them to the letter.

The next Sunday, we went to the park again. I was nervous; I’d told myself I had to learn to mount and dismount, but I couldn’t work up the courage even to swing my leg over the back. Partner told me I was putting too much pressure on myself. I took his advice, let myself off the hook and just rode around in the woods again. It was terrific.

A couple of days later. A local bike shop has a ‘cross team and they train on Tuesday nights. They were very friendly on the phone. I figured, now or never. Partner was astonished, but taught me to load my bike up onto the roof carrier and off I went. I tore around on the grass in the dark for an hour and a half with a bunch of no-nonsense Yorkshire blokes (and a ten year old boy, who was awesome). We sprinted and cornered and ran and shouldered and leapt over barriers and rode around pegs with lights on. It was like circuit training on a bike. I learned to dismount, falling off several times and giggling like a loon. I couldn’t get back on again. I was slower than everybody, but not *that* much slower, and I absolutely loved it. I drove home shaking with excitement at the challenge of it all. The next day, I could hardly walk; my quads and calves ached and I had some spectacular new bruises.

I decided that if I could learn to remount, I would ride in a race that was coming up in a couple of weeks. I earmarked Thursday for going to the park to practise. It rained so hard it was like standing under a hose, but I put my waterproof on and went anyway. (This is the girl who hates riding her bike in the rain.) I bumped up and down the football pitch through a howling gale and the pissing rain, practising dismounting. I fell off quite hard a couple of times, but nothing was broken, so I carried on. I got better at dismounting, but I still couldn’t get back on again. It seemed too much of a leap of faith. I went home, exhausted, after about half an hour, and Googled ‘cyclocross remount’. A forum has given me some new ideas. Sunday is coming: back to the park then… I am scared, but I can’t stop.

(Pictures and encouragement from @spandelles, unless otherwise stated)


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  1. This sounds like SO MUCH FUN! I wish my partner would build up a CX bike for me.

    • Thanks for reading! Yes, I’m very fortunate to have a pet mechanic. I asked him the other day, ‘What do you think about to try and get to sleep?’ And he said ‘I rearrange different combinations of bike components in my head.’

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