Takin' It From the Streets 

Cyclo-crossers ride street bikes in the dirt

Sure, you could call it psycho-cross, because the cats that engage in this sport have to be a little bit nuts. But cyclo-cross riders are also pretty tough. This is, of course, the ancient bike riding sport that's essentially adventure dirt biking on a road bike.

If you don't know much about this old-time pastime, pay attention, because it's not going away. In fact, the sport's on the up--it's quite popular in Europe and other parts of the States--and though the local season just officially ended last week, now is the time to start getting ready for next year.

In cyclo-cross, races are generally held on one- to two-mile courses that include paved and unpaved sections, wet areas and dry areas and scads of natural obstacles such as mud, streams, trees and other manmade blockages strewn in the way (this is literally pretty much anything).

Racers hop on narrow-tire street bikes and ride round and round the course, but also wind up running and dragging their bikes. Seasoned racers use pit crews for exchanging bikes or attending to any mechanical problems.

The sport, often used by professional mountain bikers and cyclists for training and conditioning in the off season, gained a lot of attention in the late 1970s, sort of in conjunction with road racing in general. It kind of petered out before it hit mainstream culture, but it's existed as a fringe sport ever since.

"The sport's been around forever, but the first races took place, maybe 15 years ago," says Mike Cooley, co-owner of George's Cycles in Boise. "It was very slow to start out, but all it takes is a couple of people who are so into it to get it energized."

That couple of guys in the Boise area are local cyclists Brad Streeter and Michael Kennedy. Streeter, an avid competitor, did his first cyclo-cross race in 1996--it was one put on by George's Cycles. "I like to ride on the road and mountain bike also," says Streeter. "They kind of stopped doing it, and I liked it."

Streeter decided to put on his own races; his first cyclo-cross event was five years ago at Hidden Springs. That event became a yearly tradition and moved to Eagle Island three years ago. While Streeter was doing his gig in Boise, other race organizers were doing the same thing in other parts of southern Idaho. He rounded up all the interested parties to form a cohesive community group.

"I convinced some of the other promoters to put on a Southern Idaho Cyclo-cross Series (SICS)," he says. "There are a few races at Sandy Point, there's a guy doing it in Sun Valley and Tamarack Resort has done a few races."

With the development of the SICS, cyclo-cross is quickly becoming a more popular late fall activity for all kinds of bike fans. "It is really more of a road bike riders event, although the mountain biker seems like they would be the natural fit," says Cooley. "This year, most of the riders were sort of crossover riders--they do both."

So, if mountain biking is so popular and so accessible in Boise, why would anyone want to play cyclo-cross? According to idahocyclocross.com, the Web site Streeter helps organize, there are basically three reasons to cyclo-cross: the history and tradition--the sport is old; it is a great workout for training; and it is fun. But it is only "fun" if you like getting dirty and you don't mind getting a little hurt.

This year, there was a pretty good turnout at the Eagle Island and Sandy Point races--40 to 50 riders, which is pretty huge for a "fringe" sport that's really hard on the body. To put that number in perspective, consider that Portland, Ore., which has a particularly rampant cyclo-cross scene, gets about 800 riders at each event.

"Over there [Portland], they don't have skiing, they just have a bigger population base and maybe some better venues and it just caught on," says Cooley of the growing trend. "And it may happen here, too. I know it happened in Salt Lake City."

So, next year is the time to tell. In the meantime, grab your bike and don't be left out. "Next year, I think we're going to extend [the season] through the first part of December," says Streeter. "It is my favorite cycling event, no doubt about it! I'm already looking forward to next year!"

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