Monday September 24, 2012 | 10:45 AM

Fans of cycle racing are accustomed to seeing riders getting up off the saddle for an added push of power when climbing. Fans are far less familiar with seeing riders get off the seat, dismount the bike and lift that Bianchi or Trek or Giant onto their shoulder to make a run – literally – up an incline.

(Paul Weiss photo)


That's exactly what spectators at the Oct. 13 Casco Bay Cyclocross event on Portland's Eastern Prom will witness. And if they're veterans of the sport they'll know to bring their cow bells and cheer on the last finisher in a race as loudly as they do the winners.

"It's a new race and it's a beautiful venue," said the event director, Pat Hackleman of Casco Bay Sports. He works closely with the lead sponsor, in Woolwich. Last year 160 riders competed in the event and the goal is 200 this time for the 4-year-old race.

"You're going to see less mountain bikers and more road bikers or road racers that are sort of looking for something different in the fall," Hackleman said.

Cyclocross events typically take place in the fall, and New England has become a hotbed of the discipline. Maine also will host the Downeast Cyclocross event at Pineland Farms on Oct. 20-21. Races consist of several laps of a short course that may feature pavement, wooded trails, grass, mud, obstructions, steep inclines and barriers. Competitors complete as many laps of the course as they can in the allotted time frame.

On the Portland course, Hackleman estimates riders dismounting 10 to 12 times for each circuit.

"They call it the steeplechase of bicycling because you have to have a very intense, high heart rate and a high output but still be focused in on coming into a wood barrier at 20 miles an hour," said Paul Weiss of Cumberland, who has been competing for more than 30 years and offers training camps for those who want to get into it. "You have to keep that mental focus. You can't be sloppy in this sport."

(Jeff Scher photo)

But you should expect to give your bike a beating. That means it has to be solid, but also light enough to be managed in the bike-carry sections of the course.

"Equipment is much more important in cyclocross than in road racing," said Weiss, the director of the Southern Maine Regional Resource Center.

According to Weiss, more and more riders are investing in cyclocross bikes, which have a beefier front fork and brakes, but many still adapt their road bikes for the cyclocross course. Some of the key pieces of equipment to note are tires and pedals/shoes.

Cyclocross courses are full of transitions – from mud to pavement, from grass to dirt – so slicks are out of the question. A knobby clincher tire is needed for the variety of conditions riders encounter.

And while road riders will inflate their tires to the max psi, the rule for cyclocross is the lower the tire pressure the faster you'll go. Too much air will cause the bike to bounce over bumps and curbs and lose speed. There's no set psi to shoot for, though 50 is suggested as a starting point, so riders generally experiment to determine what pressure level works best for them.

When it comes to pedals and shoes, mountain biking gear is the way to go. Anyone who has clipped in with road shoes knows that they have zero traction and running up a hill in them with a bike on your shoulder isn't going to work.

Many cyclocross competitors get their fitness from the road racing season but have to retrain their bodies for the much shorter spurts of effort needed on the cyclocross course.

Weiss will compete into February (when the World Masters Championships take place in Louisville, Ky.) and expects to get in about 35 events. He calls cyclocross "an incredibly painful sport" but also lauds it for the "huge positive attitude" that permeates events.

"It's very laid back and it's the best spectator sport," Weiss said, because fans can usually see almost the entire course.

"It's fun whether you're in first or last place. In road racing if you get dropped from the pack you just feel shattered. In cyclocross you have fun on the course even if you're riding in last place."

About the Author

Karen Beaudoin lives in Portland and is the web editor for

Her Pedal On blog offers info, events and advice for people who love their bikes more than, well ... almost anything.

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