There are many skills essential to cyclocross that you won't learn in any other cycling discipline. Remounting your bike, for example, is about as peculiar to cyclocross as the hand sling is to track cycling. This is all the more reason that (cyclocross) practice makes perfect: no matter how strong you are on a bike, if you're slow over barriers, meager in muddy turns, and uncomfortable shouldering your bike you'll likely lose to less "fit" 'cross racers with better skills.
To make cyclocross practice more effective and more fun many racers across Iowa have joined in group practices, at a local park or a dedicated 'cross course, for drills and practice races or "hot laps." All it takes is space, a few cones, and some friends.
"We start off the season with a beginner's clinic and then have 10 practices which takes us to the end of October and daylight savings. We set up a different course each week. The course is minimally flagged and includes 1-2 sets of portable barriers.
"Practice starts with a few warm-up laps. Then we all line-up and give an update on the upcoming CX Races and a spot for post-practice refreshments. After that we mass start like a race which quickly breaks up into groups. You can race/ride as many laps as you want. Some folks will break out and work on barriers, mounts/dismounts, etc.
"Back in the day, we would get 20-30 folks to come out. Now, early-season practices bring 100-150 tapering down to 50-75 toward the season's end. Many who show up don't race, but are there for fitness and skills building and the camaraderie of other cyclists."
Practices in Mason City are in beautiful East Park, the home of Cannonball Cross. SPIN DEVO's Brooke Bailey explained, "We have an 'adult Spin Racing' Wednesday night practice and a SPIN DEVO Thursday night practice. Beginners are welcome at both.
"We especially encourage beginners to participate in DEVO practice because we do a lot of skills and drills work -- cornering, off camber, lifting front wheel, mounts and dismounts, hill riding, and running -- then end with a couple of laps.
"Our Wednesday night practice is hot laps on a rough course set up with flags and trees and a few barriers. Our DEVO kids are invited to this as well."
Practices at Tondro Pray in Cedar Falls started last year, mostly with hot laps around the dedicated cyclocross course. Dave Roll, from Cedar Valley Vélo Ride Guide, explains that "this year we'll try and structure more training. We are planning classes for dismounts
In Cedar Rapids, CRCX throws down a course at Daniels Park each Wednesday evening. Riders of all levels are welcome, and more often than not they'll find others at a similar pace. Hot laps can be competitive but the atmosphere is always friendly and fun. And as if that isn't cool enough, Goldfinch Cyclery will be there to sweeten the deal. "We'll have our fleet of youth CX bikes on site and available for any youngster 8-12 years old," says Logan Orcutt.
In the Iowa City area, CRANDIC Racing Club is practicing Wednesday evenings at Coralville Creekside Cross. We'll have a course marked each week for hot laps, but we'll also set up cones for drills and we look forward to helping beginners.
"I attended a cyclocross clinic at Creekside last season and it really helped me refine my skills, and allowed me to practice things I often neglect, like group starts," said CRANDIC's Steve Tygrett. "There was a great turn out and I think it inspired people to either try their first race, or increase the amount of races they were doing."
There is always a chance that we'll mix things up a little -- hit Woodpecker Trail next door or some other local park, or even head up to CR to join friends at Daniels Park. For the latest plans or weather warnings, look for word on CRANDIC's FB group or sign up for our newsletter.