A Beginner’s Take on the Bandido Cross
Originally posted on 303cycling.com.
You know when you want something, but the timing isn’t right, and then all of a sudden, what you wanted kind of falls in your lap?
Well, I’ve wanted a cyclocross bike for a few years now, and the cards finally fell into place. I picked my new Blue Norcross SP on Friday of last week – the day after Thanksgiving. I took it to Cafe Velo to get put together, barely making it before they closed. “Fixie” Dave Nice, their mechanic, had told me he’d have some time Saturday to build it. He was apparently motivated to get me the bike as he wanted me to test it out at a local low-key race called Bandido Cross in Parker.
My thinking, if it was built up, why not? Oy. I hadn’t even really ridden the bike, and I was going to “race” it?? I picked up the built bike on Saturday afternoon, took it for a quick spin around the parking lot to make sure the saddle height was reasonable, and then before I went to bed, I registered for the race in the “I’m not really racing” category. This race wasn’t very serious and was meant to be an enjoyable introduction to novices, so I was game.
Dave rode over to my place in the morning, loaded up the bikes and we headed up to Parker for the race. Oh boy. I knew that this wasn’t a serious race, but it was also pushing my comfort zone as I hadn’t ridden on anything even slightly technical in while, and definitely not since I broke my elbow at the end of June. And being that I hadn’t even been on this bike, or any cyclocross bike for that matter, I didn’t really know what to expect.
What ensued was an extremely enjoyable day if we take out the part where I was shivering before the start. It was cold when the sun was behind the clouds, but what do you expect at the end of November in Colorado? It could have been icy, snowy, and ridiculously cold. It was only kind of cold.
I ran into a friend and her husband (I hadn’t seen them in a couple years!), and Dave and I pre-rode the course with them. It was nice to have some people to follow while I was thinking “OK, I’m here so I guess I’m doing this!” While I am new to ‘cross, I’m not completely new to off-road riding, as I raced for WMBA of COS in 2012. Thank goodness a lot of those skills translate and I remembered a few (look where you want to go on corners; butt back on descents.) I had a bit of time before watching the first race start so I decided to practice dismounts. I still need skills, but it was way easier than on a tri bike!
The races started with a unique format. Not only was it a Le Mans start, but a group-wide Rock-Paper-Scissors contest determined who got to go first and how starting groups went. I won’t explain it, it was a bit complicated. Suffice it to say there were a few start groups and some confused riders, but everyone got out ok.
After watching the first race (which confirmed that the “really racing” group was also just out there for fun,) it was my turn. Cheri Felix recently wrote about race goals. My goal was to ride my new bike to get used to it and try to get a feel for what this racing is all about. And hopefully really enjoy it. Mission accomplished.
The pre-ride calmed my nerves a bit about the technical nature of the course. There were a couple short but steep climbs and descents, some curves, a little sand, but nothing ridiculous except a hill that was basically a mud wall. I had a strategy, as I was pretty sure me riding up it wasn’t going to happen.
What resulted was two laps or about 4 miles of really enjoyable off-road riding. I love the new bike – it’ll definitely handle way more than what I asked it to do Sunday – and I pushed my comfort zone simply by being there. The other participants really embodied the spirit of the race. They were encouraging. They didn’t take themselves seriously. Some wore costumes. There was a mix of interesting hand-ups, my favorite being a shot of whisky on my 2nd lap. (I didn’t get a donut hand-up, but I did take a swig of beer on lap one..) The event wasn’t timed, so there was no pressure to try to “go fast” though I did try to make my second lap a little faster than the first. And my elbow didn’t really bother me, either!
Since I wasn’t riding fast, I was observing things on the course. Out there with me was a father riding with a little girl I will assume is his daughter. She was maybe 4 or 5. He was there to encourage, and you could tell her limits were being pushed, but he didn’t make her do anything she really didn’t want to do. He was there by her side to help her through any tough spots. In this event, my first ever cyclocross experience where I was on a bike, I felt that the whole field was there for me, just like this dad was for his daughter.
And in the meantime, check out a bikes-eye view of that mud wall: