For the Love of ‘Cross: Skill Baby, Skill

Los Angeles, California | UCI CXLA

Weekend warriors feel it. Pros get it. ‘Cross is the delicious itch that gets under your skin and must be scratched — a brief flash of joy ahead of a fast approaching winter. In this series, we explore the essence of what makes us love the discipline of Cyclocross so much.

You’ll find them in local parks on weeknights as dusk creeps in, practicing their moves on the soft grass. One, two, three, step, and one, two, three step. In this dance — the dance of ‘cross — rehearsal is important. Repeated step-back dismounts followed by drills of the more advanced step-through dismount. There’s the smooth “do-si-do your partner” as they swing bikes onto shoulders and charge up a hill. The weekend is coming and they’re resolute in their practice. Unclip, step-off, hop, launch the legs and swing ’em high to land without damaging their delicate undercarriages. There are beginners, new to the moves, plus the old hands, working on refining the tempo of the dance. And then there are the lords of it.

Of course, Cody Kaiser would never describe himself as a lord of anything, but there’s no denying there was a moment in time, U23 U.S. Cyclocross Nationals in 2014 to be precise, when fans saw him be a lord of a particular skill — riding up stairs. The video of him rounding a hairpin bend and bunny hopping up the stairs in a rhythmic pump track motion broke brains and melted the Internet for a hot minute. But don’t kid yourself — to do that, Cody practiced the move over and over and over, just like those riders practicing in parks on weeknights. To master the dance, you have to know the steps.

“It’s all about rhythm and speed,” he says, describing how to not end up on your ass. “[On that day] Everything just lined up. It was super rhythmic, and the pace of the race was right. […] You definitely have to be in a rhythm, and if you lose your focus for a split second, you’re [running] into the next step.”

“[In ‘cross] You don’t have that ability to be out in the middle of nowhere and just have your thoughts to yourself. It’s sort of like a heavy metal show, all in a bike race.”
— Cody Kaiser

Cyclocross is fast, short, and fun. And the more you ride and race, the stronger the muscle memory for skills required to succeed at it, becomes. The dance and its choreography become second nature as you learn how to plumb the mysterious depths of a sand pit without floundering, or negotiate sloppy mud fests. Carrying momentum into the mount and dismount becomes effortless, and slowly, those “Joey’s OK” moments that once threatened your every race, fade. And then, one day maybe, just maybe, you do something so rad at a race that there’s an expectation that you’ll do it every time. Like Cody Kaiser and those stairs. There’s no pressure but…

“People expect me to ride all the steps and hop all the barriers, and if there’s gonna be a dismount, then they’re expecting me to stay on my bike.”

The weekend is coming. See you on the dance floor.

Story originally appeared on in November 2016 [Archived]