I was fortunate(?) to work as team mechanic for the Minnesota-based Gopher Wheelmen cyclocross racing team at this year’s Cyclocross National Championship races. County Cycles is the main sponsor for the Wheelmen and this was my second year to “work” this event. Much like in Minnesota, January in Madison can see some cruel riding weather and this year was no different. We had races four days straight and there were huge differences in conditions over those days. From dried mud with frozen patches, to four inch deep mud bogs (in the pits, it was even deeper), we were constantly trying to figure out what was going to happen with the bikes, and what we would have to do to keep them running smoothly.
With the mostly frozen ground the first couple days, there wasn’t a lot to do in the pits (riders ride into the pit area to exchange bicycles “on the fly” if there is something wrong with the one they are riding). Tyre pressure was definitely the most crucial adjustment. Depending on the rider, their weight, tyres/wheels, and how much ice was on the course, we would change pressure by 2 or 3 psi between practice runs and the actual race, sometimes running as low as 20 psi. I would advise caution when trying to run a 32mm tyre at 20 psi for most people. The point is a little goes a long ways in feel and control.
The mud came through on Friday and Saturday. We received some rain and temperatures that stayed above freezing over 48 hours. Now we were dealing with making sure the bikes were clean and trying to keep them shifting and braking. Friday wasn’t so bad as the mud was very liquidy and didn’t clump and pack up on the bikes. But being so fluid, it made its way into every bit of the bike. There were patches of ice still on the course, so riders would slide out without any notice. Several bikes had mud jammed so far into the brake levers that it clogged the cables and made it almost impossible to brake. This type of mud also wears parts (brake pads) extremely fast. We had two riders burn completely through pads over the course of their races (one so bad she had to have someone stop her after she crossed the finish line!).
Saturday’s mud was completely different than Friday’s. The temperature started to fall and thicken all the mud on the course. This resulted in peanut buttery goo that stuck to anything it touched. Add to that the near freezing temperature and if the mud didn’t get cleaned off, it froze solid. I saw more than 1 racer carrying their bike because the wheels wouldn’t turn. We were fortunate enough to jockey bicycles around so all our riders had spare bikes. With 6 riders in one race, it was huge to have parents in the pit with me helping to clean the bikes. I tried to make sure to lube chains and cables after every cleaning to fend off the freezing temps. It worked as none of our riders had to carry their bikes due to mechanical issues.
Cyclocross is a crazy fun sport. Great for spectators, riders seem to have an insane amount of fun, and keeping racers on their bikes is an awesome challenge. One of the last pieces of advice I gave our racers was to overhaul their bikes. With the amount of abuse those bikes saw over 4 days, even only being ridden about 10-20 miles, I told them to take everything apart, clean it, lube it appropriately, and maybe replace the worn out bits. Crazy fun, but hard on parts. There are a lot of cyclocross races in Minnesota in the fall. Be sure to check out one of these crazy races.