This past fall the team competed in a handful of cyclocross races around New England for both ECCC triumphs and team camaraderie. The cyclocross season introduced dozens of MIT riders to the joys of riding on dirt, the concept of a hand-up, and really showcased the weather extremes of fall in New England.
First up, Lee recounts his introduction to cyclocross:
“My first season of cyclocross with the MIT cycling team was, first and foremost, totally unexpected. Before this past fall, I had only a vague idea of what cyclocross even was, and hardly any interest in trying it out. All I knew about cyclocross was that it involved racing bikes off the road, and having only ever owned and ridden a road bike, that little bit of information was enough to keep me away. I couldn’t understand why anyone would go out of their way to ride on the unpaved roads and trails that I tried to avoid at all costs with my road bike. To me, riding anything but smooth asphalt meant a guarantee of a bumpy, uncomfortable ride and the constant threat of a mechanical.
But once fall came around, I began to think differently. Shorter days and cooler temperatures made long rides out on the road seem less practical and enjoyable than they did over the summer. So, in late September, I showed up with my road bike to the cx clinic. With help from Adam Myerson, a cyclocross pro, I learned how to dismount and remount my bike on the move, and got a lot more comfortable riding on dirt and grass (at least as comfortable as I could get riding my skinny road tires). A couple of weeks later, I jumped into my first race.
Ghosts of Gloucester was not only my first off-road race, but also my first real off-road ride. It did not go well for me. I crashed so many times during the race that I ended up having to cross the finish line on foot, carrying a non-functioning bike. Fortunately I improved just enough after the first race to not completely embarrass myself at two ECCC races, Orchard Cross and Northampton CX. Orchard featured a pleasant, winding course through an apple orchard in New Hampshire, and was the first race (road or cyclocross) where I genuinely felt like I was having fun from beginning to end. NoHo—where the course twisted through a grassy field, entered a wooded area, and remerged again out onto the field—was a lot more challenging for me. A layer of frost had formed on the grass over night and was just beginning to melt as the sun rose over the course for my race that morning. Consequently, I had to deal with quite a bit of slipping and sliding around while trying to maneuver in a field of over 130 racers. My efforts were well worth it though, as I got to relax afterwards while watching the day’s remaining races and hanging out with my teammates that weekend.
Racing cyclocross this fall taught me something that I never would have learned racing road, and it is that bike racing can be so much more fun when you take it a little bit less seriously. This point was underlined for me in the extreme at Ice Weasels, which was my fourth and final race of the season. The single speed race at Ice Weasels is something that should be experienced rather than described, but it involves riding around the grounds of an abandoned state hospital outside Boston without being allowed to shift gears. For most of us, it also involved dressing in some crazy outfit or costume, and deciding just how many handups we could take during the race. I could not imagine a more fitting end to my first cx season than the combination of outright silliness and unbridled joy that I experienced at Ice Weasels.
A huge thanks to all the teammates who came out this fall and made cyclocross so much fun, and to our cx captain Joanna for making it all happen! It’s back to the grind of the road season for me now, but you can bet I’ll be back racing on the dirt next fall.”
Next, Kate reflects on her season of dirt:
Seeing as I had never raced bikes before, I got asked many times this season a) why I started doing stuff with MIT Cycling and b) how in the world I ended up doing cyclocross. Well, Joanna is cool, and I went on a women’s dirt ride she led at the Fells. I struggled on some of the rocky parts on my clunky sort of a cyclocross bike that I had from Spokes. “When you think you’re going to fall, just give it one hard pedal stroke and keep going!” she coached, or something along those lines. I was a little too on the verge of falling on rocks at the time to remember exactly what she said, but I liked it. Later, watching her demonstrate the funny cyclocross mount and dismount and describe the weird sport, I was intrigued. When she said that the technical components would be easier in a cyclocross race than what we had just ridden, I figured I should just give it a shot!
I went to Adam Myerson’s CX skills clinic, and that helped me feel way more prepared and excited – and like I actually knew the basic components of the sport. I definitely tripped on a barrier or two, and I enjoyed the look of confusion on nearby track kids’ faces as we ran along the side of the hill with bikes on our shoulders. I’m super glad I decided to go for it and sign up for a race after that. Orchard Cross was a cold, rainy, and muddy affair, but I loved navigating through the apple trees and wiggling around on the pump track – also chasing Devin around to try to give him a wheel after his epic flat in his race. The race was tiring and a bit scary and also super fun! It’s been a blast getting to meet the cast of characters that make up the MIT Cycling team. I traveled there with Berk, who had lots of cycling insights to share, and it was fun dragging some adventurous friends along (Devin to the first race, Alejandro to the second).
After that first race, I practiced some CX skills with Joanna, Carolyn, Alejandro, and Sarah in a park. While I only got to two races this season, the second one (NoHo) was also super fun. It was great driving up with Emma and Alejandro, and it was exciting to see so many enthusiastic CX people at the race. I definitely lost some ground by being afraid to bike through the banked hairpin around a tree, opting for running straight through that and the run-up instead. I still maybe regret declining the cookie offered to me by heckling teammates on the run-up during the race, but at least I ate a cookie right before my race to “fuel up.” So far, I seem to be more confident running with my bike than actually biking in cross races, so that’s maybe something to work on for next year 🙂 Thanks to everyone for the fun, tips, and encouragement in my first CX season! What a weird and awesome sport!
Thanks for an awesome season to all our riders! Now the fun is over and it’s back to the trainer until spring arrives!