One thing I’ve learned from a few years of racing cyclocross is that cyclocross eats bikes.
Of course it does. What lightweight machine could possibly survive unscathed through fields of mud, gravely puddles of unknown depth, through rootsy woodland and occasionally being dropped at high speed onto the unforgiving ground?
Good job that I enjoy doing bike maintenance. My chains have speedlinks so I can remove them easily, and deep-clean them in solvent. I like the platonic ideal of perfectly spherical ball bearings gliding across hardened steel races. I love the crisp mechanical efficiency of a clean and perfectly adjusted rear derailleur. C’est brutal, mais ca marche.
But I’m King Canute trying to hold back the entropy of ‘cross. Each race, the damage mounts. Before the mudfest at Strathclyde Country Park, my bike was pristine. Afterwards, the rear wheel bearings were a bit grumbly. They’ve been stripped down, cleaned and rebuilt. The rear gears weren’t changing crisply. I found the rear hanger was slightly bent (from my end-of-lap crash on concrete) and the outer casing slightly gritty. A new straight hanger and everything is happy again (though I need to build a hanger straightening tool). The bottom bracket, new at the end of last season, has a slight drag which puts it top of the “things to inspect after next race” list.
In my first few races, I was surprised at the number of mechanical DNFs. Now I think if you’re starting the race with a slightly dodgy mechanics, you’re just stacking the odds against you. Races are tough enough even on a pristine bike, but they’re no place for bikes with any hint of a mechanical issue.
I can see why local bike shops are so involved in cyclocross. I’m lucky to have the space/time/inclination to do all the work myself. But otherwise, I’d have the bike in a shop every second race to fix all these issues.
Next race on Nov 22nd is at Lochore Meadows. Last year, it was a mudbath. I was on lap two when I felt a thunk. I stopped pedalling straight away and looked down. My rear derailleur was bashing against my front derailleur, and my chain was twisted round by 90 degrees. Race over. Hopefully the same won’t happen this year. Cross my fingers.