Yesterday I attended Joachim Parbo’s Cyclocross Clinic at Baylands Park in Palo Alto. Four-time Danish National Cyclocross Champion Joachim Parbo broke cyclocross down into three critical skills, explained and demonstrated each one, and then gave each participant hands-on personal instruction and feedback on each skill.
I’ve never raced cyclocross before. I have photographed cyclocross many times, but not recently. I photographed Cyclocross a lot in Sonoma county in the early 1990s, photographed Cyclocross Nationals in Tuolumne, CA in 1993, and photographed two races in Belgium in 2009, Dottignies and SuperPrestige Gavere.
Freinds have suggested I give Cyclocross a try. It would address all of my weaknesses as a rider and would probably be a lot of fun. My initial thought was to go buy a cyclocross bike and enter a race. If I did that, I’d probably get thrashed and frustrated. Having watched Joachim Parbo conduct this clinic, I now understand what I’d have to do to prepare for a cyclocross event and would be able to enter the sport much more effectively.
Joachim covered bike setup and went over three critical skills:
- dismounting & remounting,
- cornering, and
Joachim explained that a cyclocross bike must be set up for good bike handling and the rider must be able to accelerate and decellerate quickly. While criterium racers keep speeds relatively constant, in cyclocross, a rider must regularly accelerate from 5 to 25 mph, and the bike must be set up to facilitate this.
That said, aero bike positions are worthless. You must be able to pound on the pedals and you must be comfortable. For reference, here’s a photo of Joachim’s current cross rig.
Joachim made a point to many riders about brake hood position. Compared to a normal road bike, Joachim recommends the brake hoods be placed higher and closer to the rider. Otherwise, the setup isn’t too different than a normal road setup.
I noticed one other interesting detail on Joachim’s rig. He uses hydraulic disk brakes for maximum stopping power. Because levers for hydraulic brakes are not available in cross form, he has a cable-to-hydraulic adapter mounted under his stem.
Here’s Joachim discussing bike position with 2005 USA Road Champion Katheryn Curi-Mattis. He’s recommending she lower her seat. The tradeoff is a bit less leverage on the pedals and maybe a less aerodynamic position, but more comfort and flexibility for cross.
Dismounting & Remounting
OK, now for some skills. Joachim started with dismounts and remounts. In a cyclocross race, you have to do this a lot, so getting the technique down is really important.
Joachim had the riders perform a simple drill, approaching an obstacle, dismounting a few steps before and then remounting once the obstacle was cleared. He used a pretty easy obstacle and stressed technique over exertion. Technique was pretty simple — just dismount, grab the top tube, run a few steps, and then get back on.
Here’s Joachim demonstrating the remount at a walking pace.
The riders worked on this drill for nearly an hour with Joachim giving each rider individual critique and instruction. As a photographer, I noticed big differences in the skill of the riders. Their comfort with the skill influenced how many steps they took after the obstacle before they remounted and, therefore, where I had to be to take a good photo.
The critical tip seemed to be that the riders should push the bike forward before they jump in the air to land on it. Joachim demonstrated this push-forward technique and also the alternative.
Here are two riders remounting side-by-side with Andrew Yee from Cyclocross Magazine in the background taking their picture.
Joachim set up a simple downhill slalom course by dropping a few waterbottles on the ground and had the riders ride down it repeatedly. I remember doing the same drill when I learned how to ski, following the instructor’s tracks through the snow.
Joachim discussed the choice of apex — too early, too late, and just right — and demonstrated how to do it. After watching the riders a few times, he pointed out where riders were getting in trouble. On innocuous-looking turn 3, many riders would apex too late. This resulted in them having to go a bit uphill to get to turn 4, slowing them down, but also causing them to set up turn 4 incorrectly.
Here’s Lee Sloan riding through corner 2. Yeah, it looks like he’s racing. No, this is a clinic and the speeds were slow. Joachim’s focus is on technique, not speed or exertion.
Another important point is that, if you use sewup tires, make sure they are properly glued before you race. Fortunately, this tire came off at low speed and nobody was hurt.
The last skill Joachim covered was shouldering. This is the technique of picking up the bike for a long carry.
Joachim explained the process and steps involved in shouldering. First, you grab the bike frame with your hand on the down tube right where the shifters used to be (sorry young guys, yes we geriatrics used to have shifters on the down tube in the old days). Next, you lift the bike up and put it on your shoulder. Finally, you hold the handlebars. Joachim demonstrated a few ways to hold the bars.
Here’s a photo of Joachim instructing Richard Jacinto in shouldering technique.
Shouldering is commonly used for “run-ups” so Joachim had the group practice a runup with the shouldering technique.
A big thanks to Joachim for a fascinating and instructive session. Speaking for myself, even though I didn’t have a bike, I sure learned a lot. These simple techniques will make it easier for me once I do get a cross bike. I guess I’ll have to leave my camera at home.
I really appreciate people who really understand a subject and can explain it clearly. Apart from being a four-time Danish National Champion, Joachim Parbo is one of those rare individuals who really gets it and has a gift for teaching. Thank you Joachim for your insights!
Thanks also to Sterling Sports Group and Coach Matt McNamara for helping put on the clinic.
Oh, P. S. – I posted a full set of photos here.