Ever think about combining high-speed bike racing with rough-and-tough mountain biking? This week’s Grobby (that’s Greatist lingo for hobby) combines the two in one exhilarating bike racing sport. Meet cyclocross.

Mud, Sweat, and Gears — The Need-To-Know

Cyclocross was developed in Europe nearly a century ago as a way for road racers to train during the off-season (think Lance Armstrong circa 1900). Today, “’Cross,” as it’s affectionately known, remains a popular sport  in several European countries (think NASCAR status), and the enthusiasm has finally begun to cross the Atlantic over the last ten years.

With short, looped courses loaded with ramps, bumps, sand pits, sharp turns, and mud— lots and lots of mud— this Grobby is truly not for the faint of heart. Riders routinely jump off the bike to maneuver over foot-tall walls and “shoulder” their rides to navigate over wooden slats and other obstacles. The constant, varied movement requires a great degree of coordination and agility, even while fatigued. Combine that with the rain, sleet, and snow of cyclocross's fall-to-winter season in the most popular communities for racing— New England and the Rockies— and this sport just got kicked up a few notches.

So what about the gear? For optimal performance, most racers use bikes that combine the speed of traditional road bikes with the durability of their mountain cousins. That means knobby tires for better traction and lightweight frames for easy lifting through the especially treacherous stretches. The timed races typically last 45 minutes to an hour and loop around courses that can vary greatly in length, meaning riders can complete anywhere from 3 to 10 laps per race.

Ride Baby, Ride —Your Action Plan

Contrary to the mud-slinging, crash-ridden appearance of these races, cyclocross is actually pretty beginner-friendly relative to other cycling events (though familiarity with a mountain bike is recommended). Some obstacles can be difficult for first timers to maneuver, but unlike more precise events like road biking, spot-on technique isn't a prerequisite. The sport's intense cardiovascular requirements are also a challenge for 'Cross newbies who might have trouble keeping pace for the full race. For those hoping to gain some experience— and endurance— before lining up for a race, cyclocross camps are becoming increasingly popular across the U.S.

Before trying to hop on any ol’ bike and join the action, there are some important precautions. Crashes are common and, while they aren’t normally as severe as higher-speed road crashes, they can still result in injuries ranging from bruises to broken bones. Plus, while severe road rash is (thankfully) avoided due to the mostly grass and mud-covered terrain, because of the courses' tight loops, pileups aren't uncommon.

So what keeps these riders enthralled in a down-right messy sport? Here’s what cyclocross champion Linnea Koons has to say about her favorite Grobby:

Cylocross Champion Linnea Koons

How did you become interested in cyclocross?

LK: I’m a professional mountain biker and dabble a bit in road racing. I got into cycling in college— I was an instructor for a mountain biking PE class, but didn’t start racing until after I graduated. Towards the end of my first season of mountain bike racing I wasn’t ready to be done racing, and everyone in the local mountain biking scene kept going on and on about this thing called 'Cross, so after watching a race to figure out what it was all about I was able to borrow a bike and jump right in. Needless to say I was hooked.

I started racing in the fall of ’06. I’m based in Boston and we’re really lucky to have at least two races a weekend within a couple of hours of us all season. As I’ve gotten more serious about 'Cross I’ve started traveling to larger races across the country.

What is your favorite part of the sport?

LK: I love the community, support and cheering from other racers. Because of its format, 'Cross has a very social atmosphere (aided by a beer tent) and I have a good number of friends that I only get to see during 'cross season.

 What is the hardest aspect of it?

LK: The hardest part for me is racing when it’s cold out. If I get cold on the start line, I’m never going to warm up, and my feet usually turn to stumps of ice. But it can still be a fun race!

What is your training for the cyclocross season like?

LK: I mountain bike race March through July, then take a couple weeks completely off the bike before starting up training for ‘Cross. In the early part of the year and during mountain bike season, I put in 15-20 hour training weeks. During ‘Cross season I cut down on hours drastically, taking a few 1 ½ hour rides a few times per week (4-8hrs/week total), and usually race twice a weekend. Usually, I do sort, hard intervals to train during ‘cross season. I try and do yoga at least twice a week for strength and flexibility and to work the kinks out.

How important are diet and nutrition to your training?

LK: Very important. I grew up on a small farm in New Zealand and moved to Maine when I was 16 where my parents continued farming, making organic cheese and yoghurt and raising sheep for meat. I think it’s really important to support local, sustainable agriculture and to know what goes into your food. I really enjoy cooking and make most meals from scratch with in-season produce.

The Core 5:

I find daily happiness… Riding my bike, cooking, and enjoying life with family and friends.

My weekly workout involves… An hour of spinning and some yoga on Mondays; short, hard intervals Tuesday and Wednesday; yoga Thursday; spinning on Friday; racing on Saturday and Sunday. It’s important to rest— especially when racing so much!

Today I ate… Granola and yogurt with berries for breakfast; turkey, lettuce, and pesto sandwich for lunch and a salad with grilled zucchini, onions, chicken sausage, tomato, basil, feta, and a fried egg for dinner. This is pretty typical for me.

My biggest health and fitness weakness is… When I take a break from cycling (in between seasons) my eating habits usually slip too and I snack more.

My favorite health and fitness tip is… Mix it up— both in cooking and your workouts, don’t get stuck doing the same thing or you’ll get burnt out.

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