Before Cyclocross Was Tamed

Joel Metz is a cyclesport historian and former Bay Area cyclocrosser. I stumbled upon his now-archived webpages documenting some of the early days of cyclocross in Europe, mostly through photographs scanned from vintage magazines. What’s most striking is how untamed those race courses were. Most of the lines seem to be inappropriate for walking, let alone riding. The bracket seems to have been cleared with indifference if at all. Consider that the machines of the 19020s and 30s were practically all single speed (often fixed gear) with caliper brakes (you ever try brakes from that era? does not inspire confidence), and tires certainly no wider than 35mm and perhaps less. It would be another 40 or 50 yrs before American balloon tire bikes would morph into something resembling the modern mountain bike. Run-ups were immense, descents might mean clambering down boulders, and riders might need to throw the bike onto the ledge of a ravine before scaling out of it themselves.

This weekend, the UCI Elite Cyclocross World Championships take place in Koksijde, Belgium. Racers may be wary of Koksijde’s deep sand, but like all modern cyclocross courses at the elite level, there is nothing that compares to the difficulty of yesteryear’s courses. After nearly a hundred years, the athletic competition is fiercer than ever, but courses have no teeth. Arguably, the sport’s success and tradition are the primary culprits, as accessibility and consistency make for more profitable events. Ironically Northern California may be one of the last bastions of these ridiculously wild and demanding cross courses. There near the birthplace of the mountain bike, race organizers catered their race profiles to tap into the fat tire demographic, and the resulting events were often called “jungle cross”. Yet even as cyclocross in America has become more popular, it has in part done so by enticing a broader demographic with less treacherous riding. Coupled with USA Cycling’s desire to produce elite athletes capable of competing in Europe, now organizers have emulated the modern European courses as much as the local topography allows. Even in California, jungle cross has become as rare as a wolf sighting in NYC’s Central Park.

As an incurable gearhead, I wonder how the cyclocross bikes of today would look had cyclocross courses remained as they are pictured here, without the UCI mandating tire width to the millimeter, and I am curious as to how the racing would suit me. Maybe today’s mountainbike racing holds the true spirit of those early cyclocrossers. I’m actually really curious about trying some mtb racing for the first time in 15 years; I think I’d like the taste of something a little less refined.

1932_critintl.jpg 1932 Criterium International

1923_champfr.jpg Le Championnat de France Cross Cyclo-p├ędestre, 04 Mar 1923

Fan Art: Hugga’s Coming!

Well that’s a first for us. Fan poster art and it was created by Danh Hoang for our Mobile Social SXSW. He’s plastering these around town. Guess we’re committed now. Flattered and blushing too.

Yup. We are coming to Austin.

66mm Water bottle Cages = Disappointment

Elite Patao 66mm & 74mm

In the earlier part of the previous decade, Italian water bottle & cage manufacturer Elite SRL introduced the Bajiji water bottle standard. Rather than the 74mm diameter bottle standard used since time immemorial, the Bajiji bottles were 66mm like a Coke can; the matching bottle Patao cage design was a stylish departure from their highly successful Ciussi cage. Rather than bent and welded rod aluminium or tubular steel, the Patao was made from a sheet of magnesium alloy.

Ostensibly, the slender, new bottles were more ergonomic and had better aerodynamics. They also carried less water, but a large number of Euro pro teams used them since Elite probably just gives them to the teams anyways. Long story short, the 66mm standard did not endure, and Elite eventually introduced a 74mm version of the Patao cage. It is still available today. Most of my bikes have Patao cages because the 74mm version has long mounting slots that alloy a 35mm range of positioning. The other great thing about these cages is that they are the most secure cage I’ve ever used; I’ve never lost a bottle from a Patao.

So in the future, the 66mm Bajiji bottle standard and Patao cage will just be an obscure footnote in the memories of shop staff…or maybe it will command top dollar on the eBay of tomorrow. Either way, I’m pretty disappointed. No, not about the 66mm thing. I’m disappointed in magnesium bicycle components. It turns out that magnesium alloys will not ignite unless you do something like expose them to burning gasoline for several minutes. Even grinding the Patao cage into filings and shavings to increase the surface area will not allow the alloy to ignite from a cold start. There goes my idea for a Pinarello Dogma-fueled bonfire to the gods. Why must all my dreams be ruined?

Elite Patao 64mm with Rockstar Cola

Vintage Green Bicycle blog

1224408077.jpg

I first found it on this blog called Vintage Green Bike

Swiss model Julie Ordon looks quite fetching, but me thinks those tires are flat. I also found it strange that I didn’t see one Bianchi photo on that blog.

Lunch Ride Cheater

Egger’s Ego, I’d call this bike the Eggo

Bubbling this photo up from the +Bike Hugger page where the conversation continues. It’s also being discussed on Facebook and other blogs that have picked the photo up. This is Robert Egger’s Lunch Ride bike. He’s like the Johnny Ives of Specialized, their Creative Director. Lunch rides for cyclists are where the regular, working Joe’s thrown down. It’s a weekly championship where pride and ego are on the line.

Lunch Ride World Champion

Lunch Ride World Champ

Spesh’s Lunch Ride, like Novara and others, are legendary – this is a ride where only one can win. It’s like a group Thunderdome, on wheels, on the road.

Robert Egger

Egger’s got something to prove

Photo: by Richard Masoner

So the story goes that Robert felt he needed an edge on the ride. Maybe he was off the pace a bit, so he took a high-end Time Trail bike – the Shiv – and converted it to a road bike with a drop bar. You’d normally see this bike with less of a juicy fruit paint job and aero bars in the Tour.

It’s ridiculous. I said on Twitter Retweet

Please keep 3 ft away from me, when the wind comes up, thanks and you better pull the whole time too.

That bike isn’t meant to ride next to anyone – it’s too squirrely in the wind.

It’s also brilliant.

Old guys, like me, who can’t win on fitness alone anymore (or even place) use all sorts of head games and dirty tricks. Like grizzly old stock car drivers who feign a mechanical to catch their breath or pit for the slightest reason. So Egger’s thinking, “guys won’t want to get next to me, yes!”

Intimidating your foes with a menacing bike is the wisdom of an old-guy at work v. the horsepower in the legs of the new guy. See more photos on G+.

Me, I’d take a Venge over this – there’s only so much painful position a Masters racer can take. Dr. Andy Pruitt is probably working on a saddle just for this bike, one that tucks your junk.

Lunch Rides

I haven’t ridden with Spesh on their Lunch Ride, but have Novara. Though, the hardest I rode last year was when I was chasing D’aluisio, got dropped, and caught back on with blood coming out of my eyes and snot flying everywhere. That was one of the hardest rides ever actually – the dude powerslides a bike like a moto. I’m sure Egger built this bike to destroy D’aluisio on his Tarmac.

I wrote about the Novara ride a few years ago and said then, “bring your good wheels” after their CTO showed up with his A-bike and race wheels.

So where’s your lunch ride? Who’s your nemesis?

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