Count on Cyclo-cross for Down-to-Earth Family Fun in the Best Company

  
  


by Mary Topping
 
An autumn day at a cyclo-cross race is just how life ought to roll every day.
 
Kids range free together on bike or foot in open spaces while parents catch up with friends. Brats and bacon sizzle on grills. Grown men grin from ear to ear as they teeter and sweep downhill on tiny pedal-less bikes, straining quad muscles to keep their legs off the ground. And yes, racing for all ages happens too throughout the morning and afternoon.
 
Youngsters compete in junior age groups for 20 to 30 minutes. Adults race for 40 to 60 minutes, also in age groups or by experience level or bike type. Little ones participate too. A squadron of these pre-j’s cruises along a short section of the course usually around lunch time, handlebar streamers glinting in the sun.
 
For the most part adults and kids racing cyclo-cross bikes trace laps on the same closed loop of about three kilometers. They traverse dirt and mud, grass, pavement and sand. Sometimes they’ll jump off their bikes and carry or push them to get over obstacles like low barriers or steep hills.
 
When Kristal Boni from Colorado tackled her first ‘cross race, nine-month-old son Nick was on hand to watch. Now 12, Nick as well as eight-year-old daughter Cate and husband Carl compete in separate fields.
 
Because they race at different times during the day, the Bonis help each other by swapping advice about tricky parts of the course. Later, back at home, “We get to relive the day in the evening,” Kristal Boni says. They might compare lap times. Cate might mention a new friend’s name. Nick might dish about the skills he’s improved since the prior week.
 
There’s always a lot to talk about because so much happens during a day built around cyclo-cross goodness.
 
Community enclave
 
On a typical weekend race day the Boni family arrives early in the morning at a school or park with other volunteers to string the plastic tape that marks course boundaries. Nick will help set up an open-sided tent course-side for his family or cycling team.
 
“It’s like a little city,” Nick Boni notes. “Everybody’s friendly. No one’s mean to anyone.”
 
“It’s all about the scene,” Carl Boni says in response. “The bike’s just the vehicle.”
 
A village takes shape as more families and teams reach the venue and install base camps. They pop up tents, lay out blankets and chairs, unpack bags with snacks and coloring books and walk the dogs. Bikes begin to pile up on metal saw-horses. People call “Hi” to each other and visit to catchup or borrow bike tools. Food trucks choose spots in a parking lot and the smell of coffee and breakfast burritos drifts over the village. A race announcer warms up the growing crowd with danceable music.
 
As the first races get underway, parents don’t fret if the kids disperse to find their friends; a safety net of familiar faces surrounds them.
 
“We look forward to ‘cross season all year, not just for spending time with our family but family in the larger sense,” says Carl Boni. “When the season starts it’s like a family reunion. You see all of these great friends with whom you spend three to four months of the year. It’s really cool.”
 
This scene repeats in cities and towns from the east coast to California. Practically anyone can find a happy place at a ‘cross race at any time during the sport’s season from September through December.
 
Permission to play
 
The Summers family in Connecticut, also a family of four, shows how cyclo-cross permits each family member to do his or her thing while spending time together.
 
From a competition perspective, a rider can choose to be in it to win it, maximize fun with friends and family or anywhere in-between. Laura Summers finds contentment with a good workout and the satisfaction of doing her best; ‘cross provides a relaxed counterbalance to her intense road racing season. Her husband is pretty serious about working hard for good results.
 
Their 10-year-old son has benefited from the addition of more junior races to the local ‘cross scene over the last few years and their younger boy currently pedals without competing.
 
Summers says newbies will easily find their place as experienced parents and riders are almost always within arm’s reach.
 
“Through the CT Cycling Advancement Program a nice support network has developed. There’s always someone helping, like if a bike breaks at the last minute. Parents who aren’t racers and don’t know what to do don’t have to worry; parents who are racers will help them out. And people are really reasonable about selling and giving away kids bikes.”
 
The nature of cyclo-cross makes it easy for adults and kids to participate.
 
“It’s pretty supportive in cyclo-cross,” Summers observes.” Everybody’s out there doing the best they can at their own pace. And so once the race splits up, everybody is cheering for you.”
 
Kids cheer for parents, sometimes running alongside the course calling, “Go Daddy, Go!” Summers prefers the way parents cheer for kids in ‘cross compared to some other sports. “You don’t hear as many parents screaming at their kids, ‘Do this, do that,’” she says. “It’s more about trying your hardest and having fun.”
 
Spectators shake cowbells non-stop and cheer pretty much with equal opportunity—though it’s true riders wearing tutus or boas or who take dollar bill hand-ups may earn extra attention.   
 
The supportive environment of cyclo-cross is perfect for an adult who’s never raced a bike. Kristal Boni points out beginners can start on mountain bikes and need not worry about getting in anyone’s way.
 
Cross courses run in compact spaces. Thanks to the multiple lap format, slower competitors rarely pedal in isolation because spectators and even faster riders toss out encouraging words again and again. So a rider can make it through pretty much anything the terrain or Mother Nature sends her way.
 
And because every course presents different challenges, riders can seize unlimited opportunities to improve with each outing. Adults and kids both feed on this achievement fun factor.
 
Even a cut ankle and later tumble from her bike won’t prevent Cate Boni from making the most of a day during her first true race season. “It feels a bit harder than pre-j’s but it’s still fun for me,” she says. “It’s just really nice to get out and go fast and do technical stuff on your bike.” 
 
Summers knows her son has a blast while tackling the sport’s challenges. “Once he’s done, he’s smiling, he’s really loving it,” she says. “The best thing is when the kids are exhausted, and you think they will want to go home and nap, and you turn around and they are riding around the park with their friends.”
 
For adults, the notion of embarrassment just can’t take hold when everyone’s doing their best to stay upright while slipping around in the mud on bikes. If a 40-something guy sports neon pink knee-highs with black mustaches, you can pretty much wear whatever makes you happy—although bike shorts will help you feel better the next day.
 
Cyclo-cross really is a license to play. One weekend a woman who raced in a beginner group on a mountain bike encountered a speed bump on the way back to her car. She sped toward it and launched her bike into the air from the bump. When she reached her car she said, “It’s so much fun to feel like a kid again.”

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This Article Updated September 26, 2017 @ 06:40 PM For more information contact: