Monday, July 12, 2010

Barriers 101- A 12 step program

Cross is a bike race. Period. If you aren't fast and can't drive a bike you could be a Baryshnikov over the planks and you aren't going to win a cross race. Technique matters but it isn't going to trump power and speed. But cross is the great equalizer. I am a terrible mtn biker and a terrible road rider but on a cross course I am ok. I can be competitive against riders way stronger and more fit than I am. A big part of cross is that people do have trouble with alot of the technical aspects of cross. The transitions and technique can end up taking lots of riders out of the game.

So here goes here's how you do barriers. For full disclosure I know lots of coaches but I am NOT a coach. I know lots of people who do cross clinics but I could not do a cross clinic to save my life. But I try to be a sponge. When smart people talk I listen, when my mentors do things a certain way I try and emulate them. In 12 steps or less here is what I have picked up about barriers over the years.

1. First rule of cross barriers. Don't die. Ok that seems pessimistic but is it really? You are traveling at a high rate of speed heading towards a wood plank that has been secured to the ground typically with rebar. If you hit it with your face or head it will hurt you. Frankly if you hit it with any part of your body it will hurt you. And what you were once riding (ie your race bike) will now be weaponized as you try and get off it and carry it (fling it!) over the barriers. Weaponize a bike? Yeah trust me. If you get all discombobulated and hit the barrier with your front wheel while trying to hurdle you are either going to get a lever or handlebar in your face at a high rate of speed or endo over the barrier and get all cut up by your chainrings or both. Sven Nys got a nasty cut over his right eye a year ago doing just that. So don't make it seem like its just a novice move.

Ok great so we all agree we shouldn't die doing barriers. But what does that mean? It means go SLOW. Do everything at slow speed at first. Take a few steps before the barrier instead of trying to do it with only one. Its a progression and the key is to do it smoothly without losing too much speed

2. Practice barriers without the barriers. What? Seriously. You need to get used to all the tiny details before you deal with the barrier. Just because you have gotten on and off your bike a million times doesn't mean you can do a proper cross dismount. Ok so if you don't have a barrier what are we practicing? I'll go over that in steps 3-12. But first let's go find a nice field. Maybe a soccer field or any grass will do. Lets make it as flat as possible okay? What we want to get used to is the whole dynamic move that is getting off the bike at a high rate of speed and handling the bike and the transition all while looking as CXey as possible.

3. Setting up. The set up on the dismount is probably the most important part. In a race shit can happen but you want to have a line sorted out. I remember at Noho we spent about 20 minutes working out the line for the sand pit. You want your line to be as straight as possible. For your safety and speed and others. Ok so let's say we are 20-30 feet out from the imaginary barrier. You are coming in at speed hands on the brake hoods. Fingers wrapped. Maybe you scrub a bit of speed if you are at warp drive.

4. Kick out the Jams. Ok time to get off. Unclip the right foot. (*some would say clip out the left first but we'll get back to that as this is barriers 101) Now with the right foot free of its shackles swing it around in a scissor kick. You don't have to get all rockettes here. It just needs to clear the saddle. Actually its a good point to make all these movements as minimalist as possible to save energy and to keep you smooth.

5. Hip Check. As your right leg swings around lean (don't push it over!) your bike against your right hip or vice versa. Your hip will now support your bike and stabilize it as often you will be rolling over rough terrain or a rider may bounce into you etc.

6. Jam the hand. Now take your right hand off the right brake lever. Put it on the top tube right in front of the saddle. What you are doing now is pushing down with your right hand into the tt to again stabilize the bike but also give you a dynamic lever to fling the bike up and to get off your bike. It is in the position that you want to be coasting towards the barrier. I think lots of people think you just come flying up to the dismount and do steps 3-10 at the last minute. No in fact you want to get into this position and coast about 10-15 feet of the barrier then get ready to get off.

7. Friends don't let friends step through. I am smelling a t-shirt for this cross season. But don't do it. All the older training materials recommend stepping through but its too dangerous. If you fuck up you have no chance of saving yourself. You will have a really bad crash. I've stepped through and never had any problems. Time atac pedals seem to release a bit better than the other brands. But I have had a couple of friends really jack themselves up when they couldnt unclip and hit the barriers hard. Ok we all agree right? DON'T step through! Just swing that leg down and let it rest right behind your left foot which is on the pedal.

8. Eject! At this point you should be say 10 feet from the barrier even further away if you aren't comfortable. But let's say you are pretty comfy at this point. Ok so your head is up you are looking straight ahead. Back to my caveat at step 4 there is an advanced method that says before you do your scissor kick to unclip the left foot and rest it on the pedal body. It is a very cool move but one that just adds too much complexity to the dismount for my addled brain to handle especially when I am at vo2 max and can't even think straight. But I digress. So for our purposes our left foot is clipped in here. Just unclip it and do a little hop off. What ever works for you here is fine either left foot touches down or right or even both at the same time.

9. Bike Toss. Ok so here is where the magic happens. You are say a step or two from the barrier. You are off the bike and ready to strike. It seems like you should pick up the bike right? No. You are flinging it. Seriously. You want the bike going first and its momentum will carry you over. So with your left hand on the brake lever and your right on the tt do a quick ally oop and fling that bike up and over the barrier at about shoulder height. You want the bike (saddle specifically) on the outside of your elbow. Why? If you lift the bike with the saddle between you and your armpit you will be limited by your own body how high you can raise the bike. With the new UCI rules this shouldn't be a problem as all barriers will now only be as high as a speed bump but still keep that bike to the outside.

10. Hurdle. The bike is flying through the air in a perfect David Millar bike toss (kidding) and now you are ready to get over the barrier. Your left leg touched terra firma back at step #7 remember that? Ok so left leg did a tiny little balletic touch down. As the bike is going over and carrying you with it your right leg like an olympic hurdler is driving over the barrier! Get that knee high up and over!

11. Run Forest Run! Again you aren't picking the bike up and stepping over as much as you are flying or running over the plank like a hurdler. So following the right leg is the left leg in a flash of speed and panache!

12. Touch down FTW! Ok now place (don't drop!) the bike on the ground (or hold it shoulder high if its a double) take a step and remount!

That in 12 steps is how you dismount and get over a barrier! Good luck and just as an fyi bruised and scarred shins are sexy I swear!


  1. Your team made Velonews. They have a picture of two HUP riders signing up for Battenkill in an article about being prepared.