I am in a semi circle straddling my bike and surrounded by a bunch of smiley faces.
The atmosphere is full of anticipation and nervous tension. For me it feels like I have been let loose for the day, and I am secretly a bit giddy with this opportunity to run amok on my bike. I look around and can judge by the faces that I am not alone, confirmed further by the rider next to me who confides, ‘this is the best way to spend Mother’s Day!’ She reveals that her two sons are spending the day with her in-laws.
Our leader is Kate, and she is wearing an all-black tightly fitted outfit complete with long socks. It is the uniform of her inner urban bikie gang, but this sort of gang is far from usual. Called the ‘Dirty Deeds’ crew, they are the heart and soul behind the burgeoning Cyclo-cross movement in Victoria. And today this über cool gang is teaching a Beginner’s class on ‘cross skills for women.
What is Cyclo-cross? Kate tells us that it is like an off-road bicycle racing circuit involving a bit of sand, a bit of grass, a lot of mud, and some small bits of paved surfaces.
The course designers add in ‘obstacles’ such as steps, barriers or slippery muddy slopes which cannot be ridden on a bike. The participant needs to jump off, get over the obstacle, and then remount their steed.
The atmosphere at the events is very supportive, and in the last few years have generated huge inner urban crowd followings despite the depths of winter in which the ‘cross season prevails. All participants are wildly supported no matter the level of ability.
While the winners are clapped politely, the biggest cheers are reserved for the best crashes. For some strange reason I am comforted by this explanation.
We are told the number one ‘skill’ to master is the combined art of dismounting, getting over the obstacle, and remounting in an efficient manner as possible. Kate is gracious in her demonstrations and assures us all the grass is soft enough for all of us to try the new techniques without fear.
I noticed straight away the difference in backgrounds across the riders attending. I knew some of the faces in the group from their racing backgrounds – track and road, but there were also mountain bikers, commuters and tourers. Many of whom had never raced before.
As we began our first attempt at dismounting, I soon learnt that our cycling backgrounds were irrelevant. If you have a hint of bike skills, and most women do given that 90% of us rode as kids, it was relatively simple to pick up the skill of a Cyclo-cross race dismount. It was very liberating across the whole group to see everyone learning something completely new, and to pick it up so quickly.
The session continued and we tried to pull all the new skills together in an attempt to establish a flowing dismount, cart-bike-over-the-barrier, and remount in a fluid movement. Two women who had quickly picked up the dismount-jump-remount combination confessed they had backgrounds in horse riding. Those foolish ones on mountain bikes (me included) immediately noticed just how heavy a mountain bike is to pick up and cart over an barrier, but we comforted ourselves that the extra pre season weight training from hiking these beasts would pay off in the long term. Here’s hoping anyway.
We added some more skills including cornering on grass and race starts before participating in a mock race. This was definitely a highlight for me, trying to put all the newly acquired skills into a pressure and real-time format. It was crazy. I scared myself, rode hard, breathed harder, dropped concentration in parts and tried to recover in others. I finished the race with my head spinning but loving every second of it, alongside thirty other women feeling the same way. Awesome.
Image courtesy of Cycling Victoria