Other Ways to Enjoy a Bike
Updated: Feb 13
It is October, that time of year when us crazy triathletes go into off season mode. We can start to plan out next season and maybe try some new things to keep up our fitness in these cooler (for some) months. One of my own favorite things to do is participate in some of the other professional (UCI sanctioned) forms of cycling. Here in North America professional cycling is dominated by the big four Olympic disciplines of cycling: road, track, mountain, and BMX. However, there are more. While many have heard about Cyclocross, fewer know about Trials, Cycle(Rad) ball, and Artistic cycling.
The best way to describe Cyclocross is by saying it is like racing a road bike on a golf course. Cyclocross began right after modern road bike racing began in the early 1900’s, though Cyclocross was not fully recognized by the UCI until 1950 with the first World Championship. It began with road racers that still wanted to compete and train in offseason, but because winters in Europe made it near impossible to ride on slicks, they put fatter/knobbier tire on their road bikes. With that, a sport was born.
Cyclocross has some similarities to road racing, but also some huge differences. The most glaring difference is that it is done off road on dirt, grass, and sand. One of the other main differences is that there are obstacles. Most true Cyclocross courses are going to have stairs the rider has to dismount to run up, barriers to hop over, and sand pits (in my case to fall over in). It is true, a rider must dismount and remount during a race, which is a great way to practice leaving T1 and entering T2. A Cyclocross race is similar to Road in that a course is typically 1-3km long and last for 30 minutes to 1 hour, much like criterium racing.
While they look the same from afar, a Cyclocross bike differs significantly from a Road bike. A Cyclocross bike is going to have a higher bottom bracket and shorter wheelbase to make it easier to get around tight corners and over obstacles, more clearance in the fork and rear triangle to accommodate wider tires while at the same time clearing mud, and sometimes no water bottle cages to make it easier to put on the shoulder to run over obstacles.
Cyclocross is fun. If you are nervous about mountain biking, cross is perfect. It is like a really easy mountain bike race.
Trials riding is my favorite style of riding to watch. If you have not seen Danny MacAskill ride, watch one of his videos on the internet. UCI Trials riding is basically riding a bike over obstacles. A competition consists of several different timed stages that a rider must complete without a body part touching the ground or obstacle. A rider gets one point for every second over the time limit he or she takes to complete the stage and one or more points every time a body part touches the course. The rider with the fewest points wins.
There are two disciplines within Trials, the 26” and the 20”. The difference between the two is the wheel size of the bike. The 26” runs a 26” wheel which was adapted from mountain bikes. While the 20” has a 20” wheel which has its roots in BMX. Beside the wheel size, Trials bikes are very similar in that they have a very high gear ratio to allow for more torque to hop between obstacles, low durometer tires for grip, and exceptionally powerful brakes.
I have dabbled a little in Trials riding, with a few scars as proof. It is fun to try, but in my case, far more impressive to watch.
Cycle ball / Radball
What do you get when you mix soccer with bikes on a volleyball court? Cycle ball, also known as Radball in Germany. Cycle ball is played on a 14x11m court with two 2m high goals on opposite sides. Two 2 person teams play two 7 minute halves, attempting to score as many goals as possible. A goal can only be scored by knocking the ball into the goal with both hands on the handlebars and both feet on the pedals. There is also a shot clock, similar to basketball, in which a team has 20 seconds to be on the attack. If a team does not take a shot in that time they turn the ball over. Like Trials, the rider is not allowed to touch the ground.
Cycle ball bikes are odd, the best way I can describe it is that it looks like a BMX bike with the seat coming out of the back, rather than the top. The saddle comes out over the rear wheel to make it easier to pop a wheelie so a rider can take a shot. Cycle ball bikes are also direct drive, like a track bike, so a rider can ride backwards as well as forwards. One strict rule is that pedals must be plastic with no exposed metal.
Cycle ball is fun. If anyone wants to be my teammate, let me know. I am sure we could make it to World Championships since the US does not usually field a team.
Artistic cycling is the only discipline I have not tried but possibly the easiest to describe. It is figure skating on a bike. A rider can compete as either an individual, 2 person, 4 person, or 6 person team. The rider/team performs a programme on an 11x14m floor and is judged very similarly to gymnastics by adherence to the programme and execution of skill.
An Artistic cycling bike is pretty much a track bike with the handlebars rotated up. They are fixed gear with a high gear ratio to allow for higher torque to perform single wheel skills. The “drop” bars are turned up to allow the handlebar to spin freely.
It is a very impressive discipline to watch.
So those are some of the other disciplines of cycling. I believe it is fun to try new sports, and I have to say if you ever get the chance try one of these disciplines. If nothing else, you can say you did it.