Very few people in the US including myself have a clue what cross actually is. Mountain bikers have been known to explain away a bad performance in a muddy technical race with " it was a cyclo-cross course, that's why I didn't do well." There are two things inherently wrong with this statement. Number one, you should never make excuses for a bad race. And number two, while yes, cross does rely on strong running skills, traditional European cross courses include more wide-open fast sections with plenty of passing room than singletrack.
Determined to set the record straight and on a quest to find the real soul of cyclo-cross I sat down with Pineapple Bob. Before I even had a chance to ask him how he'd like to conduct the interview he had me sit down in his living room and watch the 1991 Cyclo-cross Worlds and began imparting his year's of experience and passion to me.
PB: A lot of mountain bike riders who look down upon euro-style courses miss the point. They say it is easier on a mountain bike. Yeah of course its easier, but you don't get better at cross riding a mountain bike. You tell them that and they are like, "but I want to win."
I would hate to lose the triple barriers, the long run-ups, and wide-fast sections that make Euro-style cross courses so exciting. You go to any Surf City race and you always hear guys moaning "oh how come there is this long run-up." They just don't get it.
On Technique and Bike setup
PB:There is no one right way to set up a cross bike. Whatever fits and works best is what you need. In Simon Burney's book Cyclo-cross they show how to do the dismounts and stuff, but the best way is to watch a video and see how they do it. That will really be the best teacher technique-wise. When I first read about cross and about technique then started doing it before obstacles I went "oh yeah wow its so smooth, that's why they are doing it that way." It becomes clearer when you can see it. Go to the races and do the clinic they offer at the start of the series. The clinic is a really good thing to have. Go to the clinic, get your hands on any of the good tapes and that should do it.
PB: It was always one of Bridgestone's dreams to put out a cross frame,but it never happened. I ride a modified RB-1. After a lot of conferences with Ed Litton, we did some changes on the RB-1 road frame. He did it, set it up and I loved it. When people ask me about frames I just give them my recipe and send them to Ed, because Ed knows what its all about and he does it right. I still want Ed to build me a fork. I bought an XO-1 fork crown which is wider than a road crown so it will have more clearance on the sides and top and its pretty sexy. That's going to go on my RB-X4 which will be my fourth modified RB-1 frame.
I don't use a straight RB-1 road frame anymore, even for road riding. I just use my modified cross bike. It's my only bike now because a cross bike works great for everything. The only difference between a cross bike and a road bike is you have more clearance and a slightly higher bottom bracket, that's it. I use 170mm cranks which is my road length so if I want to do a road race where I need road chainrings I just take off my crankset and put my road cranks on. I just pop the cross crank off and put on a road crankset with a 40/52.
The only thing you don't get is the dual pivot brakes, so people peek at it. They see cantilever brakes on a road bike or they think its a road bike and they think "oh what's this guy doing here?" So you get that LOOK. But you know when you go to a mountain bike race with the drop bars you get the same LOOK again and the "what's this guy doing here?" So you are kind of stuck between two worlds and don't really fit in, but you really do. Just nobody thinks you do. Cross bikes also make great criterium bikes because they are fairly stiff and they corner great and don't beat you up so much. So there really is no need for a road bike or a mountain bike at all.
PB: Cross is always fun. The Surf City series is like a big reunion and its sad after the last race. We see each other at the Nationals and its like a big reunion once again. Its even better if its raining. Everyone's all like "yeah something good is going to happen." I don't get that kind of camaraderie in any other cycling event. We all hang out, look out for each other and help each other out-either by trying to get a room, helping each other with the bikes or helping out at the races. To me cross is really tight. Its not something you can get easily in other sports.
If you do it long enough your technique gets better and you can really appreciate the sport. Its hard, its no fun being lapped four times by Don Myrah on a short course. Its demoralizing but you know if you watch his technique it motivates you to go and get a little better and it helps take you to the next level. Its got to be one of the weirdest sports around in cycling. Cross also has a lot of old-world charm and style that other aspects of cycling just don't have.