The discipline of cyclocross has experienced an explosion in America the last few years. The Central PA Cyclocross Series has brought the two wheeled tractor pulling-like Belgian sport to Montour County. The series consists of three races in the months of November, December, and January. The organizer uses a super secret and complex algorithm to determine the series winner (its admitting complex as some folks can race the beginner class one race, and the open class in another). The complexity of the calculation doesn’t concern me, as I am never anywhere close to the podium! This year, only the Boneshaker race was part of the River Town Race Series (last year all three races were part of the RTRS in additon to a bonus for competing in all three).
This is the first race in the series and takes place at Hess Field. I would describe this course as a condensed Ultracross type of course in regards to terrain mix. It contained tame single track and fast gravel sections. The highlight of the course is likely the large creek crossing. The course is mostly rideable on a ‘cross bike, except for 1 or 2 run ups. In comparison to the other two races in the series, the Boneshaker contained little open field section.
This race takes place on a combination of Riverside Adventure Company land, public road, and an open field owned by a local company. This is more of a prototypical ‘cross course with a large field section with twisty turns. There is also a long straight paved road section tieing the field section to the RAC section, which is more dirt track, off camber turns, and rock gardens; you can say this section has more spice. The highlights of this course include a very thin strip of dirt jutting out into the river before turning back in towards the mainland for a muddy and steep run up (the strip was known as “heart break ridge”).
Fire and Ice
With a night time race in January, the weather can have a huge effect on the course and the race. This year, it was very balmy. The heat melted (most) of the snow, creating a mud fest. I don’t know how a cross bike would have worked if the heat wave didn’t hit, melting the now but this is a moot point. Since the river rose covering heart break ridge, a ledge was cut from the river bank to complete this section of the course. With the melting snow, this ledge turned into peanut butter and was almost unridable. I would say the highlight of this course was not necessarily a feature, but rather the darkness. Most of the course boundry was lit, and there were a few large bonfires on course here and there. I can’t forget to mention the flaming ramps that were optional on course. Most racers used headlamps, bar mounted lights, or a combination. I think next year there should be a competition for “best lit bike”!
I have read many cycling magazines saying cyclocross is a great way to get into bike racing. Wrecks are way less painful since its a softer landing than asphalt, and the terrain isn’t nearly as techincal as a mountain bike race. Additionally, ‘cross is known for a much more relaxed atmophere as opposed to other disciplines. I think the Central PA Cyclocross Series is even more relaxed than most ‘cross races. As far as equipment, I would estimate about 40-50% of participants use ‘cross bikes. Many use old rigid fork MTBs, and some even use full ‘sussers. I have even seen a few pure road bikes with thin nobbies or even fat bikes. Basically, you can bring anything with two wheels and give her a go.
Free pizza and a keg of beer was provided for post race celebration. The deck to the RAC was open for spectators. It offers a decent viewpoint over looking the river side of the course. I would recommend stopping before you get to the venue if you need to use a restroom as the RAC has been under construction for the last two years. Although there are toilets inside, they aren’t exactly pristine, comfortable, nor functional. But hey, its a local ‘cross race, not the Tour de France. The organizer provided a tee-shirt early in the series, then an iron on patch to represent each individual race. I also wanted to point out the entry fees are very reasonable, some may even say cheap. Of course, being a ‘cross race, hoses were provided post race to clean up your bike.
I would very highly recommend this series. It was a lot of fun to do all the races in the series since racers become familiar and you can gauge each individual performance against guys you were riding with in previous races. Its great we can all pretend we are Belgian for a few hours each year!