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Advice for an absolute beginner...

Skinny tyres, drop handlebars and mud. Lots of mud.

Moderator: Eshnar

Advice for an absolute beginner...

13 Sep 2012 12:47

...who also does not have millions of manat to blow on this...

I just did my first cross session and absolutely loved it. However, despite my bike being (a very much entry level) cross bike, and the conditions being very dry on an 'easy' race course, my bike (and myself) struggled a bit.

I'd be interested to know

1) what training users would recommend to improve cx fitness? I currently do around 30km 4x a week at 32km/hr in city traffic, and aside from lights and Iranian taxis drivers it's more or less a constant speed/rpm. I found myself blowing in seconds on cx!

2) what incremental (i.e. one step at a time, cheap) modifications I'd need to look at to improve my bike for cross?

I'm currently riding a heavy (11kg) all aluminum cross geometry bike (Norco CCX3) with 50/34 and 12/27 gears (which were a struggle) and 27 wide tyres.

Everybody laughed at my bike (not all of us can go and buy a $5k frame and then DuraAce it to the max) - but what small things should I look at now and over time to improve my riding and my experience.

This is my one and only bike, and I use it for everything from daily ride, to my first triathlon, so I don't want to compromise it's all-rounderness too much.

Thanks for any help from a CX noob.

Koba
User avatar Koba80
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15 Sep 2012 22:29

Koba80 wrote:
1) what training users would recommend to improve cx fitness? I currently do around 30km 4x a week at 32km/hr in city traffic, and aside from lights and Iranian taxis drivers it's more or less a constant speed/rpm. I found myself blowing in seconds on cx!


Welcome to 'cross. Training is a hot topic and I happen to have some controversial views. First the basics:
-Your race is 30-40 minutes. The absolute longest ride, EVER, you need is 2 hours. You can get all the training you need in 60 minutes.

-The goal is to increase power. I like squats in the gym for this. Nice and slow. No super-fast anything with weights and don't go to failure. It needs to hurt with technique getting worse at the end, but not to failure. Don't forget doing your lower back and abdomen.

Now for the more controversial stuff: my crackpot scheme is to get a small course 3 minutes around with a long hill in it and a homemade UCI-spec barrier ride it race intensity for 7 minutes. Rest for 7-10 minutes. Race again for 7 minutes. Right now, two will be over done as the end of the second session will be slow. If you keep training, next year you can add a minute.

The key to training on the bike is really fast laps, race intensity simulation over very short distances. On race day, you'll do what you've been practicing a longer. More is not better. Faster in a bigger gear than last month is better.

If you don't feel faster week over two weeks, then you've done too much. The key to all of this is working out enough that by the next workout your body has recovered very well. Rest is critical. It's easy to train too hard.

Find some people to practice with if you can.

Koba80 wrote:2) what incremental (i.e. one step at a time, cheap) modifications I'd need to look at to improve my bike for cross?


Competitive cycling is extremely fashion (e.g. latest and most expensive gear) sensitive. Funny how all that gear below a few Cat 1 riders isn't getting those guys into Nationals. Flip those jokers the silent bird. All that gear doesn't help that much. That said, a light set of wheels is the only thing I'd bother with. If you are racing, you'll probably break stuff anyway. Keep it cheap.

If you stick with it, then upgrade the whole bike at a later date by buying used at much lower prices and then keep this one as the daily driver.

The sport has grown because of guys like me selling a "bring what you got" for over a decade at this point. Bring what you got, be challenged, and have fun.
User avatar DirtyWorks
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17 Sep 2012 01:02

Cross races are short and very intense. I've had some of my highest average and sustained HRs during cross races. There is usually not much time to recover because there's yet another d@mn hill (which seem to get bigger each lap). Constant effort training is not going to help as much as intervals. Practice going up short steep hills, coming back down, then repeat. Some cross racers also actually do some running for training.

The other thing with cross racing is that technique is very important. I came from a mountain biking background, so my technical skills were pretty good to begin with. That just comes from experience, so ride a bike in the dirt a lot. But cross has some technique you need to learn, notably how to dismount and remount, and how to carry a bike. I watched some videos, and in my area there are some great cross clinics that allowed me to practice and learn from others.

As far as upgrading your bike, two things come to mind. The first is brakes. My first set of brakes on my cross bike weren't that good, so I bought another set, and they are an improvement. My next cross bike will definitely have disc brakes now that they are legal. The second improvement is tires. Exact recommendations depend on the conditions you'll be riding in (dry or wet or mud or snow or sand or grass). Ask around, or see what other riders at your races are using, and copy them.
User avatar trailrunner
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CX training

17 Sep 2012 15:36

As far as training goes, assuming you have a decent base, just do lots of 30 second on and 30 second off intervals, with some longer 2-3 full gas intervals thrown in. No need to get too scientific, at your level. Just go out a couple of times a week and go hard. You now have a feel for the requirements of a cyclocross race, so try to replicate that in training. On, off, on, off, power surges, hammering out of corners, etc. Just have fun with it, and try to get in 2 hard hour long workouts a week, with some recovery rides in between.

The real problem you have is with your bike. I don't know if your frame has the clearance, but you definitely don't want to run anything skinnier than a 32c tire and you need knobbies. Anything less than that and you will be off the back regardless of your fitness. Depending on the nature of your courses, you definitely run the risk of flatting with a 27 mm tire. If you can afford it, I strongly recommend a set of Shimano Ultegra tubeless wheels, or something similar, and some good tubeless cross tires such as Hutchinson Piranha or Bulldogs. That should lighten your bike up a bit, and give you the traction you need. Great value for the money.

Enjoy!!
ibisrider
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17 Sep 2012 16:57

ibisrider wrote: but you definitely don't want to run anything skinnier than a 32c tire and you need knobbies. Anything less than that and you will be off the back regardless of your fitness. Depending on the nature of your courses, you definitely run the risk of flatting with a 27 mm tire.


Disagree with most of this. It depends on where he is. The ground is mostly dry and hard where I am and a 27c mostly works. The good thing is tires wear out, so he can go a bit wider on the back where it helps the most.

Knobbies on bicycles is a pet peeve of mine. Humans don't develop enough power to need a knobby in most conditions. The diamond crosshatch pattern is a classic for me. It rolls fast, gets good and consistent traction in many cases.

Most of this goes out the window if there's a good chance of a rain-soaked course or three.

I agree, the wheels are the way to go. I like sewups though. Sewups are pretty cheap off of fleabay because riders graduate to the big-money wheels in their relentless pursuit of gram shaving and fashion.
User avatar DirtyWorks
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18 Sep 2012 00:18

DirtyWorks wrote:Disagree with most of this. It depends on where he is. The ground is mostly dry and hard where I am and a 27c mostly works. The good thing is tires wear out, so he can go a bit wider on the back where it helps the most.

Knobbies on bicycles is a pet peeve of mine. Humans don't develop enough power to need a knobby in most conditions. The diamond crosshatch pattern is a classic for me. It rolls fast, gets good and consistent traction in many cases.

Most of this goes out the window if there's a good chance of a rain-soaked course or three.


This is why in my post I said that it all depends on the terrain you race on. Where I ride, there are a lot of grassy courses. Even dry I wouldn't ride them with 27s. I also ride with small knobbies on the back to keep traction when going up hills. It's possible to increase traction by shifting my weight back and rotating my bars, but the knobbies definitely help. I have the diamond cross hatch in the front to reduce rolling resistance. My thought is that I don't need as much traction in the front, but others may disagree with this.
User avatar trailrunner
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19 Sep 2012 17:09

trailrunner wrote:This is why in my post I said that it all depends on the terrain you race on. Where I ride, there are a lot of grassy courses. Even dry I wouldn't ride them with 27s. I also ride with small knobbies on the back to keep traction when going up hills. It's possible to increase traction by shifting my weight back and rotating my bars, but the knobbies definitely help. I have the diamond cross hatch in the front to reduce rolling resistance. My thought is that I don't need as much traction in the front, but others may disagree with this.


Fair enough. With decades of below-average performance I am living proof it's all about delivering power. I had all the gear at one point a decade ago and it makes almost no difference. I'm probably too sensitive to the 'more gear' posts.
User avatar DirtyWorks
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21 May 2013 09:14

just ride a lot
User avatar iZnoGouD
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Run stairs

11 Jun 2013 19:21

While most of a cross race is on the bike, you need the running as well. Run stairs (which always turns me into a pool of jelly in seconds). Also do the technical practice of mounting/un-mounting on the run.
TheDude
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28 Oct 2013 15:10

Just did my first cross race this weekend. It was a cat 4/5 race on swoopy, but technical 1.5 mile layout. It was a total last and I am hooked.

It was literally the first time I had ridden my bike. I bought a used Ridley Crossfire that had some frame damage for next to nothing. I knew a guy that does really good carbon fiber repair for a reasonable price. I also had a pair if cheap import carbon wheels lying around, and those will be my race wheels.

I have V brakes instead of cantilever and I am happy with them so far.

I had so many other parts lying around that I was able to rebuild the bike with what I had so I basically got used Ridley for about 800 bucks including the tires.

Going to train with a pair of Mavic Aksiums.

As for the race, I got my bike together at the last minute. I was all over the place on the first lap mainly because I only had one practice lap and I really have poor technical skills. Once I got the hang of it my road racing fitness really paid off and I was catching dudes on every lap. My only regret was not hammering as hard as I could in spots. I was more into watching and learning and I didn't want to crash someone because of my foolish riding.

My buddies who are 3s and 2s watched me and said that I was riding way too conservatively and could tell I wasn't full gas but I was having a blast.


Yesterday I practiced mounting and dismounting a bit, and I feel confident I will be able to make that transition more fluidly this weekend.

This is a total blast, it's going to make the fall and winter fly by. I can see now why my road racing friends are always looking forward to CX season.
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