'Crossing paths

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

By early afternoon on Nov. 23, riders were spread throughout Lane Road Park in Upper Arlington, sprinting through a cold autumn wind on gleaming custom bikes.

They traversed the dirt of a baseball diamond, then wound up and down a steep hill. They scaled a few wooden obstacles in a grassy field before racing along a paved bike path.

Most bikers choose either roads or trails. Those who ride in Cap City Cyclocross, a grassroots circuit of the hybrid biking sport, are equal-opportunity enthusiasts.

All terrain, any time.

"Cyclocross is still a niche sport, even within cycling," said Mason Morgan, co-organizer of Cap City, which started in September and ended last month with the Ohio State Championships. "It's about as punk-rock as you can get in spandex."

The sport originated in Europe, where athletes would stay in shape during winter months via vigorous biking. One legend insists it arose from a competition between two men racing from one town to another. They could take the long way over roads - or cut rugged shortcuts through fields and over fences.

Today, courses combine paved sections along multiuse parkways, off-road segments through grass and dirt and technical elements such as small barriers, mud pits and sand traps. Bikes are often carried through difficult parts, so a crucial skill is the ability to hop on and off bikes without losing speed.

Local bikers are turning to cyclocross, known informally as 'cross, for a unique test of skill on two wheels.

"There are certain elements in every course, but in Cap City, we try to play to different strengths of different riders," Morgan said. "It never favors just one style."

Some riders power through hills but can't weave well through turns. Others burst through flats but tire on grueling ups and downs. Street speedsters, mountain men and riders somewhere in between competed in Cap City's seven Central Ohio events.

Sam Morrison, a Pennsylvania rider who won the top junior division race Nov. 23, said his background in mountain biking helps him with tight turns and steep hills. 'Cross, though, provides an entirely unique experience.

"It's a lot more intense, a lot more physical," he said. "You have to be assertive out there so you don't get pushed off. And it's painful - which is kind of fun."

To maneuver varied terrain, riders use bikes that look like road models with dropped handlebars and clip-in pedals, but they're sturdier and highly specialized. A hand-tailored pro frame can cost upward of $7,000.

During the past several years, though, major manufacturers have started selling stock cyclocross frames, one sign that the sport is gaining ground. Regionally, circuits thrive in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Indianapolis and Louisville.

Those involved called Cap City a success in its first year. The numbers of spectators and riders increased, as did the community atmosphere that drives the sport. Even local vendors chipped in - including the local Trek stores and Jeni's Ice Cream, proud sponsor of Team Awesome.

Next year, Morgan said, the plan is to increase the number of races within the I-270 belt to attract bigger crowds, field more competitive races and develop an even stronger local scene.

Cap City Cyclocross

Web: capcitycross.com