Combine mountain biking with road biking and a steeplechase, and throw in a bunch of mud, sand and some rowdy, cow-bell-ringing fans, and you have what has become one of the fastest growing segments of bicycle racing in the country.
Boise's own cyclocross race series started its season just a few weeks ago, and already organizers are seeing more would-be cyclocross racers taking their first tentative turns around the track.
Brad Streeter, who organizes a series of races at Eagle Island State Park, said the average number of racers has gone from 80 last year to more than 100 in just the early races of the season. It's the continuation of a trend he has seen over the past several years, which has recorded roughly 20 percent growth.
Streeter organized races for 10 years, including the Southern Idaho Cyclocross Series--races in which riders can earn points toward overall national standing--but this year, he stepped back to hand over the series to the crew from Broken Spokes Cycling. BSC is using one of Streeter's Eagle Island races with select others held at Sandy Point and the Idaho Velodrome and Cycling Park to make up the official points series.
The racing season began in early October and will quickly wind to an end before Thanksgiving, making the cyclocross season as fast as one of its races. But considering the sport was created to fill the short fall off season, when both road and mountain bike racing have wrapped up, the abbreviated season makes sense.
"People who did road racing wanted to stay in shape," Streeter said of the origins of cyclocross, adding that it has the added benefit of breaking up Boise's abnormally long road racing season.
The sport first showed up in the United States on the East Coast, but has quickly made its way west. In larger Western cities, cyclocross races can draw more than 1,000 racers.
So, what's the appeal of a sport with such a short season? For many, it's simply the chance to have some laid-back, yet high-energy fun.
"It was a hoot," said Broken Spokes race organizer Jared Rammell of his first exposure to cyclocross. "You're out there just doing such a phenomenally weird sport that you couldn't do it and not have a smile on your face."
Rammell, who came from a road racing background, quickly fell for cyclocross.
"When else do I get to wear a leotard and ride a bike and jump off and get muddy and drink a beer after, or during?" he said.
Cyclocross courses lead racers across pavement, mud, sand and dirt on a course that includes obstacles that riders may have to go around, or jump off and carry their bike to navigate.
Streeter loves the technical aspect of the sport, since it forces racers to use strategy to make it through as quickly as possible.
"You're always on edge the whole time," he said. "There's no rest, you're pushing the whole time."
Cyclocross is also proving to be a draw for spectators who often start the party early from a vantage point that takes in the entire two-mile course. From there, they watch the battle as they ring cow bells, shout and patron the beer garden.
While the roughly 50 people who have been turning out to watch area races can't compare to the 20,000 that cyclocross races draw in Europe, the numbers are still a marked increase, Streeter said.
From the eyes of a racer, cyclocross is a very accessible sport.
"There doesn't seem to be as much ego in this sport," Rammell said. "So it's less intimidating to get started."
"It's a very open and welcoming group of people and it seems to attract not only cyclists, but people, who want to try something new," Streeter added.
Cyclocross is also a more affordable sport to start. While more advanced riders usually invest in a specialized cyclocross bike--featuring a road-bike style frame with knobby tires and brakes that allow the bike to roll better--most racers usually start out with a mountain bike, and "that's not shunned," Rammell said.
Entry fees for races are even less than in other types of bike racing, with $25 allowing a racer to compete for points standing, and $15 for those who just want to ride. Points earned in local races go toward increasing a rider's standing nationally.
This year, the national finals will be held in Bend, Ore., in early December, meaning many local racers will be making the trip west.
And while cyclocross has had a limited season, the construction recently started on a permanent course at the Velodrome, which will allow racers to practice year round and organizers to have an established home.
For this year, though, the race series will continue, with a race scheduled at Eagle Island on Saturday, Nov. 7. Races will also be held on Saturday, Nov. 14 and 21, and Sunday, Nov. 22, at Sandy Point. For more information on the series or practice rides, check out the message boards at idahocyclocross.com.
Both Streeter and Rammell hope more riders, as well as fans will turn out to take in the spectacle that is cyclocross.
"Heckling is encouraged," Rammell said. "For some reason cyclocross and beer go hand in hand."