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CX < > XC !
October 28, 2012

I've been getting into the Cyclocross riding lately and recently realized how much it's like XC skiing. --Both give me a similar smooth-flow grin.

For instance, CX is livelier and more nimble, lighter, than mt-biking -- at least with MY heavy old rigid mt-bike.

I love how I just float along the trails and around the corners and then can so easily and spritely accelerate back up to speed due to the lightness of the bike.

Also, handling is a big part of both CX and XC. More so than the raw speed.

So, let's see how this might lay out:

DH Mtbiking is like lift-served skiing.

Mtbiking is like BC telemark skiing.

...And CX Cyclocross is like XC Nordic skiing!


To do handling right in CX you just use right technique: look to the exit, start wide) then let the bike go, let the front float. Relax. But you can also kick it in and jam -- power the rear around the corner, letting it slide. But no worry about it going too far -- kind of like letting your skis drift around a corner.

At first I thought of CX as mostly a skill-mastery challenge, satisfying mostly in a racing situation. A bit too painful for everyday enjoyment. Kinda harsh and bumpy so you learn to tolerate, float, and do a bit of mind-over-matter for a short while.

But now I'm getting into it. I suppose it might be because I've tided up my yard trail. You don't want much chatter in a trail. In fact, it might also be because the autumn leaves just came down so hard the past few weeks. (Argh! Lost our leaves weeks earlier this year! Don't usually have so much wind and rain in mid-Oct. Sigh.)

I suppose it relates to the commonality of all sport: where you do something technical to the point where the difficult aspect disappears and you can look ahead, beyond particular moves, as well as enjoy each move along the way. You're ahead of the flowing ball rather than focusing on the effort per se or each move. The flipside is how badness is also similar across sports: being caught behind the challenges, trying to play catch-up -- off balance and out of synch.

So CX has what XC has in particular in the sense of the light touch, loose connection, sliding cornering, looking ahead (out of the corner you're still in), and the lightness, the *lack* of structure despite it being equipment-oriented. The out-of-control yet in-control. The feeling of it giving back more than you're putting in that I get when getting good ski glide up a steep hill.

A big part of it is also the WHEELS. Namely, the SEWUP -- tubular -- tires. CX biking with sew-up's is like skiing with Blue Wax every day!

I suppose I should qualify all this a bit: I'm guessing that CX might not be so much like XC as done on wide-open freeway like grooming. CX *handling joy* and *flow joy due to terrain* is what's similar to XC when done on flowy, technical trails. A further qualification might be in order: there aren't that many groomed XC ski trails that qualify as challenging in terms of handling and their flow tends to be more 'big picture.' But, thankfully, most ski areas have at least SOME trail that qualifies. Then, too, when conditions are really fast even more trail qualifies. Generally, though, this kind of thrill fits best with the Singletrack Skiing that I've been getting into in recent years, easily found on most any twisty hiking or mtbiking trail once we get enough snow. So, you could say that wide-trail groomed skiing is the road biking of ski-dom.

Back to the bike: I suppose some clinchers are sweet enough to come close. But the overall concept is different: you can run sewups so soft -- 20 psi front/ 25 rear -- that they smear the corners and really smooth out the chatter. It's coz you can't pinch-flat. You do want to avoid rocks and roots, though, coz you can dent your rim. But I suppose the popular rims these days are pretty tough.

My set of thrifty clinchers by contrast feel like tank-bashers. Gotta run 'em 35-40psi to avoid pinch-flats. Nowhere near as supple. It's a different sport, really.

Again, it's like comparing full-length waxable skis on blue wax to, say, midlength no-waxers. Sure, the nowaxers are OK, but Blue Wax is close to a miracle.

But I note that I see only ONE skier on the CX scene, Mike Seaman. He knows the score! He was just remarking to me at a race the other day that CX and XC are similar in that both reward finesse, skill and some gear savvy, letting smart old farts stay ahead of strong dumb young'uns!

Will other skiers catch on? And will any CXers pick up XC come deep snow? Knowing today's micro-specialized scene the answer is NO, but one can hope. I always think more variety is more better.

As always, those who do both have the advantage! Bikers who ski hit spring stronger and fresher. Skiers who bike hit the snow stronger!

Sure, any biker who's let out of the roller-cage in spring is happy, but they'd be fresher -- and fitter -- if they'd been skiing.

And, sure, a skier who rollerskis in the fall hits the snow pretty fast, but if they'd be CX'ing they'd be even fitter coz there's nothing like a bit o' race intensity in the autumn to get the motor ready for early ski race lung-bustin'. Also, CX puts you on the trails at tricky speed all fall, getting your reflexes buffed. And trails are always funnest, anyway. Typical fall ski training on trails is poling running (or CAT Skiing, for the real tricky): it's all good but not as thrilling as the lightweight flow of CX. Mtbiking is good, too, but it's so much 'coarser' than CX.

Then there's autumn conditions: often nasty. Rollerskiing often isn't even possible. Trail running is gross and muddy. It's wet, leafy and maybe even slushy. CAT Skiing works great now (the only true all-terrain XC trail trainer) but where's the thrill? Mtbiking, again, can be too coarse (depending on your trail). CX keeps going, even coming on stronger. Bad weather and CX is *almost* like skiing and blue wax. That's stretching it, but CX really does somehow get help us squeeze some fun out of November's nastiness.

As always, the best thing is to use what ya got. CX has its limits. If your trails are lumpy, rooty, rocky, steep and/or sandy, then mtbiking is probably your answer. You can get into serious under-biking country with CX: some like this, others not so much. CX seems best for twisty trails on mellow terrain: the kind of trail that's not much fun on a mtbike, or even for running. Basically, if you have mostly boring terrain nearby you likely have some great CX waiting for you!

...And don't forget your barriers! Dismount! Hup-hup! More cowbell!

[PS: This year is the first year that the CX World's are in the US! Louisville, KY. Feb 2/3. ...But we'll hopefully be thinking of other things by then.]

(((UPDATE 2015: I built a new CX course in downtown Lansing that is such a thrill to ride. Then in the winter I used it, and added more features to it, as a XC ski course! And it was even more fun to ski! Best anywhere! I tried promoting it. I got a few other gungho skiers to give it a real try and they loved it. But no 'real' Nordic dudes or CX dudes gave it a try. Sigh. I also built a flow-type trail in Okemos and promote it, but only a few have tried it. None of the gungho types.)))

The bike follows the eyes... With a light grip on the bars and the corners flow fast.

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