Cyclo Cross in Australia the new Wave of Muddy Enthusiasm


Last week we spoke to Jeremy Haynes about his Boss Cross cyclo cross series in Kansas City. Jeremy gave us his spin on how he saw the first cyclo cross race at Balmoral's Murrarie crit circuit in Brisbane. Here's the alternative view from Brad Norman, race organiser and his thoughts about the nascent cyclo cross scene in Queensland. With cyclo cross bikes being sold as commuter machines, plus many more riders taking to the bush on mountain bike tracks. Cyclo cross bikes are quickly becoming popular not only at race meetings. Both Jeremy and Brad point out that it's a fun sport for everyone, not just serious racers. It's the beginning of a new wave of enthusiasm for cycling in Australia and it looks set to be a massive one to ride.

Cyclo Cross in Australia, can you describe the first few years.

Yeah down south, when Dirty Deeds started, it was organised by Brunswick and Brendon Bailey. The guys that were riding fixies at the time saw it as another outlet to fixies. Fixies were becoming mainstream and too popular,  they were looking for the next thing. So a lot of the guys there jumped into cyclo cross. The whole thing about fixies and alley cats was a bit ad hoc, having cyclo cross and getting organised with a club meant that they had something a bit more permanent they could get involved in.

It seems to have resonated with the fixie guys here in Brisbane.

They are now, I had to push them pretty hard to get out to Ipswich, but I think they are all there now and it suits what they like doing which is getting out having fun, having some beers, making some noise.

Following on from Brunswick, how did the racing scene develop down south?

They started to do some races and get more organised as people started coming along to the races. They've got four races now and they're planning another race for later this year after the state championships. In 2012 a club in Melbourne runs other races for the national series, Cross Melburn. Port Adelaide cycling club picked up pretty quick, that's Gemma Kernich, from Adelaide, they've been going two years. In Sydney with Manly-Warringah with Rob Parbery who's been a big advocate for cross racing. In Brisbane it was Andrew Demack from Bicycle Queensland, who did the first race that I went to, which was at Davies Park in West End.

So your race last week wasn't the first one held in Brisbane?

No, it was at Davies Park, under lights around the footy ground, there was a pretty good turnout and it was part of Bike Week.

How long ago was that?

About four years ago, from that Scott Kirton organised a full race and the races he organised built the foundation for cyclo cross in Queensland. He's been running as long as Dirty Deeds. Ipswich has been one race per year, they rely on volunteers through the Ipswich club. Critical to this is they are a road racing oriented club and it's difficult to get people outside of that to come to Ipswich and race cyclo cross. That's when I wanted to get involved, I went there and caught the cyclo-cross "virus". Now there are quite a few people who've come out of the woodwork and supported the concept. Hopefully we can consolidate what we've got and build a group that put on races.

The total number of races in Queensland over the last three years is five. The Davies Park event, three races at Ipswich and the race last week at Murrarie. Has there been any other cyclo cross racing in Queensland?

Previous to that, Marty Ross from Planet Cycles organised cyclo cross racing in Davies Park West End, during 1996 to 1997. Seems like Davies Park is the spiritual home ground for CX in Brisbane. There was also something at Hidden Vale, mountain biking guys wanting to do some cyclo cross. Are you working together with Scott Kirton?

We're so small at the moment, it's silly that we don't work together. Everything that I used at my race was borrowed, I borrowed the stakes from Scott, the PA from Balmoral cycling club. Balmoral organised a commissaire and let us use their clubhouse. Everyone I asked for help pitched in and got it done.

That was a great course you mapped out, how did you feel about Jeremy giving you top marks for your first course design?

I was very happy that someone who has been designing courses for 15 years had good things to say about my design. Thinking back, with the numbers we have at the moment I'd rather reduce the length of the course. How long was the course then?

About 2.2 k's. A cyclo cross course should be between 2.5 to 3.5 kilometres. I recently raced in Melbourne and the course was 1.4 kilometres and there were eighty riders on the course. There was always someone next to you, as a rider there were always those battles for placings. We might need to shorten our courses for the first few years, so the riders are always closer together and the spectators aren't spread along the course.

Jeremy gave you a pretty good report on your course design. Had you studied course design, and sought out information about cyclo cross courses?

Setting up my first cross race has been fairly easy, because there's so much information on cyclo cross websites, and You Tube. Plus I've seen things and gone that's cool. I haven't ridden a lot of courses but I remember parts of courses that I've ridden into and gone -  what do I do here? It keeps you thinking. Those are the things I've tried to replicate on the course.

You've gone out to Murrarie and marked out the terrain using a similar methodology to what Jeremy suggested then?

I rode where I thought the course should go and did this about three or four times. Each time I rode the course it changed. I guess as Jeremy was saying, you go where the bike wants to go. As I was riding along I'd go oh the course - I thought it would go there but it's actually more fun to cut straight in here - or around that tree over there. By riding, the terrain was slowly allowing the course to reveal itself?

I never thought of that in the first instance, but once Jeremy had put it in those words I guess that's what I'd actually done.

I wanted to put the bunny hop barriers in, I hadn't seen anyone do it in Australia. A couple of guys that binned it on them, they did a good job at breaking up the field. The guys that had the courage and skill to jump them had an advantage. You had the spiral of death, it was called a few other names. Is that a standard addition to course design?

Spiral of Death, Spiral of Doom and a few other things people made up. Melbourne did it and Adelaide. It's mainly used when you've got a small area and you're trying to get more distance into the course. So you can fit a lot of track into a tight area. I used it where spectators were congregating, a lot more riding would be happening where they could see it, especially the first lap.

How many races have you completed yourself?

I think about four including one in Melbourne. I'm definitely not a competitive threat.

It's the perfect sport for you then. Were you already into cycling before cyclo cross?

I had an old steel frame a while ago, racing a few triathlons, it took a lot of hours training for triathlon so I just fell more and more into cycling. When I first saw cyclo cross it must have been a European race where there were these guys riding along covered in mud. I went that looks like fun, so I started to look more and more into cyclo cross. Everything that's come up locally I've tried to get involved. I want to race in the mud, it makes me laugh that there is a sport where mud is the best bit.

The concept really appealed to you, yet here there's not so much mud unless you want to race in the humidity of the summer and the heat.

The cyclo cross season in Europe and down south in Australia is winter and that's the driest time in Queensland so there's not much mud. Maybe in Queensland the sport will evolve to be more of a summer racing scene. Here we are potentially sweating it out in the humidity going for it in the summer.

The guys in Melbourne have run a prologue at night on a very short course. That style of racing might suit Brisbane, under lights and at night time it's cooler. Running the short course at night is a lot more spectator friendly.

That's the challenge, we'll probably end up with state to state variations, particularly in Queensland. Plus access to suitable locations for courses will be a factor, how do you see that playing out?

Before I got my race up and running at Murarrie, I'd had about four attempts. I started a year ago to try and find a location, a club and whatever I needed to get a race going. Getting a permanent location is the main challenge. Using the cycling crit tracks where cycling is already established was the easiest option. Additionally I'd like to get more cyclo cross skill courses up and running next year. I'd like to get more ladies and kids involved. It's that kind of race where the whole family can ride. Mum and dad can come along with the kids, it's not intimidating. We had forty riders there last week and ten of them were kids.

A big thanks to Brad and Jeremy for making these two posts possible.

Brad's blog about Cyclo Cross is Mudsters of the Universe

All photographs by Robert Cobcroft