For the Love of ‘Cross: There Will Be Mud

‘Cross Crusade #1 | Portland, Oregon

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.

Photos: Ben Guernsey

“Ride it!”

The bellowing taunt from the heckling hordes fills your ears as you approach the off-camber right-hander. This slope has a high probability of screw up — and that’s exactly why the horde has gathered here. No pressure. You point your bike down and hoist your leg outrigger style to ensure you stay upright. The mud — a kind of sloppy, oatmeal’ish mess — has other ideas and you lose it, ass-tobogganing with your bike down the hill. The horde cheers enthusiastically at your misfortune. Laughing at the utter ridiculousness of the moment, you remount and slog on. This is Portland’s ‘Cross Crusade season opener and conditions are at once both awful and absolutely freakin’ perfect.

“I always joke, ‘Yeah, we race for 45 minutes and then spend four hours cleaning all our shit afterwards.’”
— Cindy Lewellen, Team Poler

A cyclocross race is the mullet hairdo of the cycling world — business at the front, party in the back — and it’s joyously on display at Alpenrose. At the pointy end of the field, Crusaders charge hard and duke it out, while at the back, riders are pushing their limits and having a blast. The whole thing is a gamble, and anyone could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s obvious to all, however, that everyone is having the best time on a bike, like ever.

“We all race in the single speed category,” says Team Poler’s Ryan Barrett, talking about the Portland scene, “and there really aren’t any rules up here for the single speed class. So you’ll find a mix of people who are dedicated racers and people that are off the back taking beer handoffs, people that are jumping, and you just see a lot of smiling and good vibes.”

“It’s the most social I am all year.”
— Cindy Lewellen, Team Poler

Purists will sometimes curl a lip and say: “Yes, but it’s not Belgium” (although the conditions often do a pretty good impression), but no one racing here would claim that it is anyway. Cyclocross in the Pacific North West is its own thing, just as it is on the East Coast, just as it is in Australia, in the U.K. or…wherever. ‘Cross? ‘Cross is wherever you make it.

Story originally appeared on in October 2016 [Archived]