Cyclist Doug Striley's introduction to cyclocross impressed him for what it is as much as for what it isn't.
After a summer's worth of road racing, the concept of intentionally riding through obstacles he spent months avoiding seemed as oddly acceptable as putting his bike on his shoulder to run up and down a staircase under a fall rain faster than his friends.
Since its inception, the Southern Oregon Outlaw Cyclocross Series has raised more than $200,000 for the Josephine County Search and Rescue team's equipment and training.
"It's quite an accomplishment," says Jana Jensen, the series organizer. "We're pretty proud of that."
The race is in memory of Jensen's son, Nicholas Jensen, who drowned in the Illinois River in 2000.
Jana Jensen noticed the SAR there suffered from a lack of resources, so she began the cyclocross races in her son's memory to help others in need of SAR resources, she says.
Suddenly grimaces gave way to smiles, and competition melded with camaraderie — all swirled together in a big mud bath and in front of an audience of good-natured hecklers.
"It takes all the serious stuff out of road racing and sets it all aside," says Striley, 43, of Jacksonville. "All the uptightness goes away.
"It's tough, but it's fun because it's different." he says. "A lot of times, there's mud involved, so you get to mess around in the mud."
This is cyclocross, an extreme form of mountain biking where the cycle is on your shoulder as well as under your butt in a race that pushes the limits on just how much pain and fatigue — and how many face-plants — can be packed into an altogether unconventional Saturday morning spin.
"It's an all-out suffer-fest," cyclocross racer Jana Jensen says. "Everybody's got their passion."
Those intrigued by the self-induced suffering on two wheels can test-drive cyclocross during a 10 a.m. Saturday clinic at Jensen's Cycle Analysis shop in Jacksonville. It's a prepper for the Southern Oregon Outlaw Cyclocross Series of five Saturday races running Oct. 26 through Nov. 23 at courses in Medford, Grants Pass and Yreka, Calif.
"The clinic will give them an idea of exactly what they'll encounter out there," she says. "But if they don't do the clinic, they'll figure it out. It's not hard. It's as hard as you want to make it."
Clinic attendees will be able to determine where in the cyclocross pecking order they fit. The "A" group features the hardcore riders, while the "B" group includes novices and the "C" group corrals beginners.
Don't expect to parachute into cyclocross at its highest level.
"The A guys are so bad they're puking at the end," Jensen says. "You don't have to do that."
Cyclocross aficionados trace their cult sport's roots to Europe during the 1930s, an outgrowth of World War I communication systems in which bike couriers pedaled undeterred through forests in rain, sleet, snow and even under gunfire.
Postwar European road cyclists embraced those conditions, sans lead, as a way to stay in shape in bike racing's off-season, which typically runs from the end of October through February.
"What they did as a job in World War I, we do for fun," Jensen says.
The course is a 1.5-mile loop that travels over grass, pavement and even through a sand pit. It contains varying climbs and descents that often sport fences or other barriers so riders must stop, shoulder their bike, climb over and run uphill.
"We try to force people to get off their bikes and do the obstacles," Jensen says.
Participants complete as many loops through the course as they can over a set period of time. The hard-core riders go 55 minutes, while the novices and beginners scale it back to 45 minutes.
Spectators line the course, often congregating where crashes are most common.
"It's probably one of the best spectator sports in cycling that there is," Jensen says.
The gallery participates in the race, as well.
"Heckling is a requirement, but it's good-natured," she says.
Jensen expects anywhere from 80 to 100 riders to participate in each of the five races, all of which have their own unique twists.
For instance, in a Halloween homage, participants in the Oct. 26 race in Yreka will have the added obstacle of zombies to dodge.
"They'll jump out at people on the course, even chase them," Jensen says. "It'll make it a little more exciting."
Those at the Nov. 2 race in Merlin will get a tour of the Josephine County Search and Rescue Station, which is the beneficiary of the race circuit's profits.
And those attending or viewing the Nov. 9 race at Tom Pearce Park near Grants Pass will be treated to waffles that riders will make on the spot.
Novices can get started with only some minor alterations to their existing mountain bike by removing the bar ends and the water-bottle holder to make room for shouldering a bike.
Striley says spending his fall Saturdays competing on the relatively short course and odd features of cyclocross appeal to him.
"You're riding in front of your friends and family," Striley says. "It's not like a mountain bike race where you're out for two hours and come back.
"It's so different than what we do the rest of the year," he says.