MATTER: Quirks & Quarks

Photo: Evelyn Sifton

There are equipment choices that don’t really matter much.

Waxed chain versus oiled. Pick your poison.

Carbon saddle rails versus metal. Whatever.

One could waste a lot of energy obsessing over such details while glossing those that actually matter. In the wild and wonderful world of cyclocross, there are plenty of details that matter. For example: tire selection. Tire pressure. Gearing. Chain retention. Well-sealed and durable bearings. Toe spikes. Dismount and remount technique. Starting technique. Bike shouldering technique. Cornering technique. Rut riding technique.

Photo: Scott McMann

You get the drift: technique and execution of technique, while harder to acquire than carbon-railed saddles and crock pots, matter more than either. These little equipment details are icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

Finding ways to build mastery of technique and race-craft through the process of intentional practice (link to my piece from 2012 on techne, the ‘OK plateau’ and intentional practice) is perhaps easier said than done. Beyond constraints associated with family, work, our physical space, etc., our material, well, matters, because practice must simulate the full spectrum of racing conditions, from hot and dusty to cold and frozen. 

This means we must be able to motivate ourselves to go outside and train, practice, ride, when nobody is there to tell us we’re hard-core, to cheer us on, to feed our egos. On the sunny warm days this is easy, the ‘best case scenario.’ Everyone is set up for that. 

But what about when it’s 6 degrees Celsius and raining on a Wednesday night after work? There’s no club ride, nobody texting you: ‘C’mon, let’s do this!’

Just you and your material. 

These are the moments that matter. In these moments, especially when our outcome goals are far out, weeks away, rendering absent the energy of ‘last minute cramming’, what do we lean on?

The process. 

Process goals

When it comes to piecing together all the elements – and they are myriad – that constitute the the process of developing a skillful practice of cyclocross, one has to ask oneself: ‘Am I set up for success?’

Photo: Scott McMann

What does it mean to ‘set oneself up for success’ when we’re talking about our material? In my mind, this means identifying the impediments we face, particularly those that are persistent, that keep us from executing process elements as we wish to. Because bike racing marries body and machine, it will always require both aspects be prepared with a careful eye to the specific demands of the sport. On both fronts, there are resources to be managed: time, money, energy, motivation.

When evaluating opportunities to progress, either physically or technologically, we always have to consider costs and benefits. For example, I could do two stair workouts weekly during August, this is certainly doable. Should I? Cost would be $0, time would be minimal.  Energy output would be high, motivation expenditure would be high. Sort of a toss-up. Unless I change my mindset, shifting motivation from a cost to a benefit. Meaning: if I convince myself that I’ll gain more from stair workouts than they’ll cost me, I’ll see them as a positive addition to my training program, and I build confidence each workout, increasing motivation toward cyclocross season. If I take this approach I set myself up for success. It would be different if I was to do stairs because I was being ‘forced to’ in some way, through obligation or prescription.

On the material/technology side, setting oneself up for success in the context of process goals is, in no small part, about maintaining a myriad of material that motivate riding in all conditions. How we perceive our equipment matters. Red bikes are fast bikes. 

A large portion of the matter boils down to impediments to riding/training in foul weather, because it’s foul weather that creates the most demanding cyclocross conditions, where our weaknesses are always exposed (2018 US CX Nationals are a perfect example). Such impediments, or ‘stumbling-blocks,’ if you prefer, manifest across different scales. Certain items occupy go/no-go status. Meaning, certain equipment gaps lead can amount to an inability to ride, at worst (such as file tread tires in mud; they simply won’t allow you to propel the bike forward), or at best, underpin rationalization of skipping development/practice opportunities; i.e., they are excuses in the waiting.

Cyclocross is not a fair-weather sport. It’s a foul-weather sport commonly practiced by people who complain when the conditions too closely resembles summer while they ride around in circles at 98% intensity for an hour.

Embracing the foul weather and foul conditions of cyclocross means setting oneself up for success with the equipment that leaves no room for excuses, and perhaps goes as far as to motivate spending time in the grit and grime. It requires accumulating the go-equipment, which might mean focusing resources on items that are about go/no-go instead of those that have absolutely no bearing on go/no-go. Invest in a carbon-railed saddle that will be lighter than your existing one, or put that same money into winter shoes that will allow you to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ when the weather is foul; this is what setting yourself up for success looks like. And this is what MATTER posts are about, and why I write about the products I do. 

A few posts I’ve done over the years fall into this vein (see links below), and the next will focus on Lake’s MX145 winter boots, which I used through the foulest phase of the 2018 cyclocross season.

Related Posts

Matter: Yokozuna Motoko Disc Brakes

Matter: Horst Cross Spikes

Matter: SealSkinz Waterproof Socks

Matter: Kogel’s Ceramic Bottom Brackets

Matter: Kickr Snap Reviewed

The Scoop: Embrocation

Talking about pressure: getting the most out of your bike’s tires

The inevitable question: ‘How’s your winter going?’

How to Race Cyclocross Better

Incremental Change: The Key to Sustainable Improvement in Cycling and Beyond

Good job(?)

Of Flesh: David Foster Wallace, Roger Federer Moments, and Cycling

Techne and the OK Plateau: Intentional Cycling