Outdoors: Seattleites Cyclocross

Seattleites embrace the roughest sport on two wheels
Cyclocross originated in Europe but has found an enthusiastic constituency in Seattle

Cross Breeding
Seattleites embrace the roughest sport on two wheels

Small wonder that cyclocross, a bicycle racing sport that most closely resembles BMX for grownups, is big in the bike-crazy Pacific Northwest, where riders don’t mind getting dirty in the quest for ever more challenging outdoor experiences. Also known as CX or just ’cross, the sport was conceived in Europe a century ago as a way for competitive road cyclists to train in the winter (by racing their bikes from village to village over varied and rough terrain that would require some walking and portaging). It’s a natural fit for Northwest cyclists already adept at riding in rain, maneuvering in mud and swerving around stones in the road. Throw in some healthy competition (Seattleites can participate in as many as a dozen local races during the September–December cyclocross season) and lots of good cheer (events often feature luxe beer gardens at the center of the viewing action), and you’ve got an action sport brimming with camaraderie and watchability.

/Jeremy McKinley, 38, who manages advertising and promotions for Gregg’s Cycle Inc., used to race road and mountain bikes in his spare time, but five years ago he discovered cyclocross—and hasn’t looked back. He rides in about 10 races each season, but spends many more hours training. The sport is often confused with mountain biking, but it’s quite different. “It’s kind of like steeplechase on a bike,” McKinley says. “You have to get off the bike a lot to cross different types of barriers and steep hills.” Most racers, whether weekend warriors or touring pros, use bikes made specifically to handle the rigors of cyclocross. The ’cross cycles look essentially like lightweight road bikes with knobby tires, but they also typically feature a higher bottom bracket, better braking power, more mud clearance and other features designed to stand up to the elements that prevail in places where the pavement ends.

Seattle’s cyclocross riders are spoiled in that they can participate in two different race series. Seattle Cyclocross (seattlecyclocross.com) has been running races around the greater Puget Sound area since 2007, with upstart MFG Cyclocross (mfgcyclocross.com) joining the fray last year with its own race calendar. “If you think about it, that’s kinda nuts,” says MFG’s Zac Daab. “Take a fringe sport—cycling—go into a subculture of that subculture—cyclocross—and our city offers two awesome series for folks.” The two series even work together to avoid conflicting events.

Todd Davis, a 42-year-old software engineer and a fixture on the local cyclocross scene for the past 15 years, says the best way to find out if cyclocross is right for you is by first checking out some local races as a spectator. Davis says one of the coolest things about ’cross is that it’s spectator friendly. “Races are run on a closed course,” he says, “and each lap takes only seven to eight minutes. You can often watch all the action from one spot.” McKinley agrees. “Everyone’s out there ringing cowbells and cheering on their friends,” he says. Even better: The high-intensity races last less than an hour—well within the attention span of cheering spouses and kids—and the short courses make it easy for viewers to get an eyeful of the action as the racers circle repeatedly around what amounts to an obstacle course.