As cyclists, we quickly learn to suffer and to revel in it, bathe in the insanity of wanting your legs to burn and to fall asleep at the end of the day completely done. We have little catch phrases like, “It feels like burning!!!” that may or may not be yelled at the crest of any hill. Even if that means that you are now more out of breath and the burning just got intensified.
Cycling is about suffering.
Every person on a bike must learn to embrace that burn, embrace the fatigue to some extent. I don’t care that you aren’t a serious cyclist, if you ride a bike, you’re pretty damn serious to me. You need to learn to suffer. Oh you just ride for exercise, well you aren’t going to lose any weight until you feel that pain. “Serious racer dude” you aren’t going to get any faster until you quick eating shit and make it hurt. The suffering is ingrained in cycling. It’s why certain rides make my hands sweat and I wonder about my nutrition choices, in the same way that the Flying Monkey used to give me nightmares.
And for those that cared and asked, that is why there is a Making Cycling Difficult section of the Alliance blog. At some point, you may get bored as a cyclist. Sometimes it’s called burn out, sometimes you just need a change. And there are other times when you have plateaued and it doesn’t hurt any more. That burn that you felt the first 153 times up that hill has finally lessened. You don’t drop the gears any more to hump the top or you don’t scrub the speed right before you hit the lip of the jump and send it.
I love cross bikes. I’ve made sure there was one in my revolving quiver since 2009. It has always been a singlespeed. And it has always had cantis. With the newest and the best coming out this year with discs on everything, I was forced to sit back and think about this fad. Do disc brakes offer a performance advantage? Absolutely, I don’t think you can find someone that will argue the contrary, except that I am going to, right now.
Let’s consider hard tails. I grow up on them and I love them. Will they make you ride a trail faster? Nope, they will probably slow you down as the error control provided by a full suspension bike will just bounce over the obstacles and allow you to pedal while seated through the rough stuff keeping your tire on the ground. The bike is faster, there is no argument about it. But are you faster? I would say no.
Riding a hard tail forces a rider to slow down and learn to pick a line. Once committed to that line, it’s just you and the obstacle. The rider must find the way around, over or through the trail. If you put in the time requisite to learn to ride a hard tail, you will become a better rider. Learn to use your body as suspension and let the bike float underneath you and you will find yourself hugging the rear wheels of people on longer travel bikes through rock gardens. Then you will pass them and they just won’t get it. Hard tails will make you faster.
Cross bikes, when ridden off road, intensify that learning curve. In much the same way that losing suspension teaches you to feel the trail, losing a couple of inches of air inside your tires will do about the same thing. Add drop bars and shitty brakes and you’ve got a bike that will teach you how to ride.
Disc brakes offer superior braking and lever feel allowing you to better control your bike via the brakes. They will make you faster by slowing you down. And the same is true if you ride a bike with cantis. It will force you to control your bike. You will have to think about that line a little more as you approach it. You will have to use body English and good old holding on to get through that rock garden if you come in too hot. You will learn that riding in the drops is similar to riding with your seat dropped. And you will learn why drop bar brake levers are so long. It’s because size does matter.
So leave the disc brakes for the pros that have to shave every second off their time to beat the next guy. They are at the top of their game and spend a lot of time practicing the thing that you kind of just do on the weekends. If you aspire to be that person, leave the discs off until you learn to ride your bike. Then discs will make you faster when you slap them on and become a bad ass pro. And then you can look back and say, that Mooseknuckler dude was cool, he got me to where I am.
The last advantage to not upgrading your cross bike to discs is the “Wow Factor.” The “Wow Factor” is what happens when you watch someone clean a section of trail that you just walked and then you realize that they are on a rigid bike, with drop bars and cantis. That guy just became your hero. Put the discs on and the “Wow Factor” is diminished and they’re now just a pretty cool guy that rode that section that you usually do but wasn’t feeling it. I aspire to be the first.
As an example of the “Wow Factor,”
And seeing that I am on my soap box, cross racing is and has always been about making things difficult.
There are many stories about the origins of cyclo-cross. One is that European road racers in the early 1900s would race each other to the next town over from them and that they were allowed to cut through farmer’s fields, over fences or take any other shortcuts in order to make it to the next town first. This was sometimes called steeple chase as the only visible landmark in the next town was often the steeple. This was a way for them to stay in shape during the winter months and put a twist on road racing. In addition, riding off road in more difficult conditions than smooth pavement increased the intensity at which the cyclists were riding and improved their on-the-road bike handling abilities. Forced running sections, or portage, were incorporated to help deliver warm blood to the feet and toes, as well as exercise other groups of muscles. Daniel Gousseau of France is credited as having inspired the first cyclo-cross races and organized the first French National Championship in 1902.Géo Lefèvre, the originator of the idea for the Tour de France, also played a key role in the early days of the sport.
I for one think that it should stay that way. Keep it difficult. Make it hurt. Go over the bars a few times when you hit that corner too fast. And then stand up and smile knowing that cycling is about suffering because you know how to hurt.
P. L. and R.