Last week, Coach Chris Mayhew fielded some questions pertaining to cyclocross racers real and imagined in Part 1 of Asking for a Friend. He covered topics such as staying fresh and motivated heading into the season and working toward getting the results you want this cyclocross season.
Today, Mayhew is back answering our questions again in Part 2 of the series. This edition is a mix-and-match of everything from what to expect from your first cyclocross race to the age-old question of “Should I buy tubulars?” to tips on cornering and hopping over stuff.
You can read our questions and Mayhew’s answers below.
If you have questions of your own, you can reach out to Mayhew in the comments or on Twitter at @csmayhew and on Instagram at @seemayhem. If you are in the Pittsburgh area on Sunday, September 8, you can also attend a clinic hosted by Mayhew and ask him in person.
Question: I want to do my first ‘cross race this year. What things do I need to be thinking about for that day?
Chris Mayhew: First of all, Hell Yeah to you. Get some.
The biggest tip is to find like-minded people. Find your local ’cross clinic and attend. Find someone to carpool with to the race. There are a million things you don’t know right now. A lot of them can be avoided just hanging out with someone who has done this before.
Afterward, you’re going to have a million questions and some framework to put them in and it’s good to have someone you can talk to about all that.
I’d also say just do the thing. That’s how you learn. There are a lot of simple mistakes you can avoid but you’re going to have to make a lot of mistakes yourself. Don’t be afraid of that.
As a very practical tip, bring every piece of clothing you own. It may not matter in the heat but it will be a good habit to get into.
Years and years ago my boss told me to keep an eye out for this hot shot kid coming to a race I was announcing. I kept an eye out on him and watched him get a very anonymous mid-pack placing. I was unimpressed. The kid was named Jeremy Powers and he had been in the porta-john when the whistle blew. People make mistakes and it’s probably going to be ok.
Question: I am new to cyclocross this year and am hoping to do about 5 or 6 races. What should I focus on to make sure my first year is a success?
CM: Stay humble. You’re going to have some really good races and some really bad ones. But you’re still the same person, so don’t let either result push you too far. And you’ll be drinking from a firehose at every race, so don’t expect to do it all right at every race. Recognize you’re a beginner and keep expectations low for yourself and be happy when things go right. The minute you start expecting results or putting pressure on yourself to get them is when things get un-fun.
Really immerse yourself in the sport. Find the local practices, clinics and races. Hit them all and soak up what you can.
Don’t let your equipment ruin things for you. You can’t control your equipment when the gun whistle blows but before then it’s 100% under your control.
It sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo but really your mindset is just about all you can control. Everything else that happens (or doesn’t!) is mainly about how you respond to it. Once you get some races under your belt what you need to work on beyond that will become clear.
Question: I have a gravel bike and want to try some cyclocross this season. How can I make it ’cross-ready?
CM: Tires! That’s the biggest change you can make to any bike. I’d get a ’cross-specific tire and throw it on whatever rim you currently have on the bike. Once you race that a few races you’re going to decide you really like the discipline and want to get a dedicated bike or that you don’t like the sport and there’s not much sense in spending a bunch of money.
Question: I’m making my season schedule right now. Should I race every weekend? Should I race double weekends if I can? Should I take a week off? Should I spend the time and money to drive to that UCI event weekend?
CM: Man, it all depends! You can race every weekend. But you don’t have to. One of the first things I really try to make clear to my clients is to avoid “shoulds.” This is for fun and a hobby, do what you want to do and is fun. So if you want to race your face off every weekend do that. Do know that it’s costly (time, money, mentally, physiologically) and have a proactive plan in place for that. That means a week off here and there.
I think you probably should see the big show once. Cyclocross is really unparalleled in both access to athletes and that they race the same course you do (albeit much faster!). So yes, find out what the good local-ish UCI race is and make a big weekend out of it. It’s a great way to experience the sport.
Question: I’m a Cat 3 riding a bike with tubeless wheels. Everyone keeps telling me I need tubulars. Will they really make that big a difference for me? Why or why not?
CM: I’ve been getting this question for like 10 years now! Tubulars are really really nice. They ride well, they’re fun and really enhance your experience. Everything involved in tubulars before that point takes away from your experience, in my opinion.
Tubeless is better than it was, but it still very much depends on the wheels and tires you use and those change every year. You’re probably going to be more or less ok on tubeless.
You should ride tubulars once, just to see what the hype is really about. But after you do it once whether you do it again is up to you.
Question: I still can’t figure out how to get fast in corners and it feels like it’s holding me back. Do you have some tips and maybe some resources to check out?
CM: I feel you on that. Cornering is my weakness too. I don’t have a great single answer for you. It’s definitely something best learned in person with other people.
Mark Legg is a great follow on social media. I’ve learned a lot from things he posts. Along those lines, anything you can do in the offseason (motorbikes, go-karts, another form of bike riding racing) would be great. A lot of cornering is experience and trial and error. So anything that gets you out of riding in a straight line and pushing your limits a bit is good.
Start riding with other people who can corner faster than you. You’ll learn by osmosis to some extent. And you can watch the lines they take and start cribbing those. So find your local fast folks and start riding with them.
The main thing is practice practice practice. Most people just ride fast and don’t really put a lot of thought into it. Few people break down the skill they need to work on it and drill it slowly for 30 minutes. Get a really small course (like 1 minute) and do repeats of it. Get to grinding.
Question: Our Halloween race has a coffin to hop over (for real), and I really want to not have to dismount this year. How can I get better at getting over small obstacles like logs, rocks and I guess, coffins?
CM: Chunk it! You know the ultimate goal. Figure out where you are right now and make sure you’re totally on point, be that a branch or even just getting your front wheel off the ground. When you perfect that, move to something slightly bigger. Then work on that until you have it down, then move up a bit.
In small chunks work up to the actual goal (or as close as you can simulate) but not moving up until you have the previous step down pat. There are a lot of free logs in the woods, go find them and get to work.
Question: I’m a Cat 4 who got 1 podium last year and typically finished 5th to 7th. I’ve gotten some more confidence this summer and am thinking about upgrading to Cat 3 for the challenge and to race for 45 minutes. Do you think that’s a good idea that will help me get better or should I wait?
CM: You’re right on the line for an upgrade, I think. Don’t feel like you have to upgrade. It’s not like you won five races last year. On the other hand, I really applaud and encourage moving up. Most people don’t want to do that. I think ultimately it will make you better, definitely.
That said, a lot of good learning experiences aren’t fun at the time. You may spend a season getting your head kicked in, depending on your fitness and the level of the field you’ll be racing (1/2/3? 3/4?). That might not be fun. And if bike racing isn’t fun you’re not going to stay around long.
You’ll have to upgrade eventually. And that extra 15 minutes can be a real kick in the head. I’m not discouraging you from upgrading but make sure it’s going to be the most fun path for you.