Mud, sweat and gears
GRANTS PASS — Cliff McCann likely won’t ever be the fastest pedaler in this year’s Outlaw Cyclocross series, or any future year for that matter.
He will never garner the most laps on the grueling 1.5-mile courses set up for riders to pedal their bikes through obstacles, and then carry them over others. McCann also might have the lowest expectations of any cyclocross participant since the series began in 1995.
“My goal is not to get lapped,” laughs McCann, of Grants Pass. “By the second or third lap, I’m looking around thinking, ‘Where are they? When are they gonna catch me?’”
But there McCann is, every time the cyclocross racers pedal their way through fall mud, rain and sometimes snow. And even the fastest riders won’t ever finish with a bigger smile on their faces, no matter how hard McCann is panting.
“It’s addicting fun,” McCann says. “I never miss a race. It’s always fun.”
After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the Outlaw Cyclocross Series is back in Southern Oregon for gonzo cyclists of all abilities to spend a perfectly dreary fall weekend pounding their lungs and thighs on cycle courses meant to separate riders from their breakfasts if they try hard enough.
Promoted by Cycle Analysis of Jacksonville, the series has run is first two races and finishes with races set for the next three Saturdays, beginning Nov. 6.
Saturday’s race is at Lake Selmac near Selma, and the following two are Nov. 13 and 20 at Tom Pearce Park in Grants Pass.
Races begin at 10 a.m. each day and racers are grouped in beginner, intermediate and advanced. Races cost $20 to enter, and the profits go to Josephine County Search and Rescue.
They also feature “Tyklocross“ races for kids 10 and younger, usually at noon following the main three races.
For more information, visit cycleanalysis.net or call 541-899-9190.
While the races are all in fun and for a worthy cause, cyclists still have to traverse ridiculous courses meant to test their mettle and stamina.
Typical courses stretch out over 1.5 miles, through wet grass, mud, puddles and sand before rounding tight turns around trees, up and down staircases and even over log obstacles that require racers to put their bikes on their shoulders and jump.
It’s like a steeplechase on two tires, except they circle the course as fast as possible and as many times as possible over a 45-minute span.
“It’s probably the most anaerobic thing you’ll ever do,” says Vern Niehaus, the race promoter and course creator.
Racers pass Niehaus at the end of each lap, with a LED sign over his head showing all the world just how many excruciating minutes remain in their race.
Niehaus admits participants generally are cursing him in their minds. They just can’t spare the air to do so vocally.
“My favorite compliment was when someone once vomited on the course,” Niehaus says.
Cyclocross aficionados trace their 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.
Typical bikes are hybrids of road bikes and mountain bikes. They have few gears because stretches of the course rarely allow for many shifts. Most use down-facing road handlebars, but a few like Matt Weis of Ashland ride with more conventional mountain bike handlebars.
While the rides are grueling and the competition akin to junior-high kids trying to out-do each other, the atmosphere is pure joy — right down to the heckling of suds-swilling so-called friends who already finished their rides.
“It’s a different type of fun,” says Matt Weis, a devoted mountain biker who moved to Ashland just to be closer to the Ashland Watershed bike trails.
“You start pushing yourself,” Weis says. “And for some reason, that becomes fun.”
Reach Oregon Outdoors writer Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.