I got in trouble over the past week for declaring “Cross Is Dead.” I was accused of being lame and negative. And maybe that’s the way it came across. But to be clear, I don’t think ‘cross is dead. In fact, I think the exact opposite. Cyclocross gets me out of bed in the morning and keeps me up late at night (it’s 1:15 a.m. as I write this). I live and breathe the sport. I really do. Cross is alive. And thriving. And, ironically, it is that belief (seasoned with a pinch of sarcasm) that got me in hot water.
About this time every year, the same chorus seems to start from a small corner of the cyclocross world: “It’s too corporate, too many roadies, disc brakes are ruining the sport, races are too expensive, grass crits, carbon wheels, dumbed down courses, Cat 5 high zoot tubulars, Di2 and aero helmets, training plans, power meters, blah … blah … blah …”
You used to hear people say that cyclocross in the U.S. was like punk rock. I would argue that U.S. cyclocross today is about as punk rock as Green Day is punk rock. Yeah, back in ’87 when they were playing 924 Gilman Street, Green Day may have been punk rock, but holy hell, Good Riddance?!? What happened to my punk rock?!? In the late nineties they started playing Green Day at high school graduations, for effs sake. And now the band has a Broadway show and Tony nominations. THIS IS NOT PUNK AT ALL. I want my Kerplunk!
Man. And we used to say they sold out with Dookie … who knew.
But here’s the kicker: Green Day is a damn good band. And damn good at what they do. Are they making the same music they did at seventeen years old in the late eighties? No. And why should they? Billie Joe Armstrong is 42, has a family. He’s not going to write more songs about leaving his parents home and living in a warehouse. If anything, he’s going to write about his kids doing that.
In the same manner, cyclocross in the states has grown up. It’s become popular. It’s not punk rock anymore. You can no longer have gnarly single-track and three foot drop offs into a raging creek at a race because when that happened, there were only 10 other people (maybe) in your category. Not 120. We need infrastructure and amenities and manageable courses to make sure everybody has a good time at races. That doesn’t mean it has to be easy or dumbed down, but it can no longer be stupid for stupid’s sake. It’s not punk rock.
And the cycling industry isn’t deaf. They hear what’s going on and are going to cater to (or in some instances steer you towards) the real or perceived needs of the sport. So innovation, needed or not, is going to happen. Spending money on bikes and wheels and coaches and power meters … it’s going to happen. But if you don’t want to do any of that: THAT IS OKAY!!! Go to a race, fly your freak flag, have a good time, have a beer with your buddies. Please! I love it. All of it.
You want to have a season goal of finishing top five in your series and upgrading by December? Hell yeah, go for it. You want to see if you can eat more cupcakes than your teammate by the end of the men’s elite race? I will be there cheering you on. It’s a big tent. And everyone is invited. That, my friends, is the beauty of cyclocross. And come to think of it, that is also the beauty of punk rock. We are still small, relatively speaking, and we all have one thing in common no matter our backgrounds: we love the sport. As in punk rock, If you love the music and the message, your background shouldn’t matter. As long as you respect the music, the community thrives. Respect the music, respect the sport. It’s no different. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it in your own way. Say, maybe cyclocross has a little punk rock left in it after all.
So please don’t tell me ‘cross is over, or it’s been ruined. That’s nonsense. It’s better than ever and you should enjoy every minute of it you can. As the sport grows, the real danger isn’t that more triathletes will start showing up or everybody will be wearing $700 skinsuits, but that the venues we love will start to disappear. You want to get mad at something? Get mad at that. And then go change it. Promote a race, go to a city council meeting, be a cycling advocate, promote the sport. All of these things grow the popularity and stave off the hostility that is out there. The hostility that wants bikes off the streets and out of our parks. Cross isn’t dead. But it’s up to you to prevent it from dying, Smokey.
In the end, I thought it was funny to respond to what I perceived as silliness within the sport with the hashtag #crossisdead. And when that seemed to backfire, I went in another direction and made this super-cute bumpersticker. And if you’ve learned nothing else from my rambling, at least know that you can buy the sticker, along with a couple others at the crosshairscycling.com shop. I need a miracle, people.