The warm, beer-filled nights of underwear rides and bike-in movies have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean your fixed gear has to go into hibernation. The most hardcore cyclists pedal through frigid fall rain and Hoth-like snowstorms, equipped with fenders and goggles to stay dry and not freeze their faces off. Some of them even go off-road and race cyclocross, a recently buzzworthy and utterly badass sport that has a growing following in Milwaukee.
If you haven’t heard of cyclocross, it’s a weird mix between a high school cross-country meet and an obstacle race like the Warrior Dash—but on bikes. Racers climb hills, dodge barriers and slog through muddy courses for about 45 minutes, trying to complete as many laps as their spandex-encased thighs can handle.
Even if competitive racing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of good reasons to check out a cyclocross race. Mainly, the fans and the beer. Unlike road races where spectators stay clear of the course and cheer politely, cyclocross fans are known for guzzling ale and heckling riders. It’s particularly fun to watch races near one of the barriers, where rowdy bystanders gather to holler at cyclists as they bunnyhop over the obstacle or chicken out and ride around it.
In Wisconsin, the cyclocross season runs from early September through December, and this year the state championships will take place in Milwaukee’s own Dretzka Park on December 6. Before then, you can get acquainted with the sport at one of three other races in the area. Find one more excuse to wear this year’s costume at Halloween ’Cross in Washington Park (October 25); put on your beer jacket at the Estabrook Beer Garden Park Classic (November 1); or get in the spirit with Kringle Kross in Hales Corners Park (November 16). Or, if you’re looking for some general cold-weather biking fun, check out the Milwaukee Bicycle Collective’s annual Winter Bike Party fundraiser at Great Lakes Distillery (October 28).
Post-cyclocross viewing, you might be inspired to do as the bike messengers do and take to the city streets this winter. Just think, you could be one of those riders whom car drivers see whizzing down the new buffered bike lane on Second Street on a chilly January day as they think to themselves, How the hell are they biking in this weather?
“It’s like a monkey trying to take a square peg and stick it into a circle hole,” says Steven Feih, owner of the Milwaukee Courier Company. “They just can’t compute it.”
Feih never drives a car. For 15 years he’s battled Milwaukee winters on his bike, both for work and basic transportation. WUWM even interviewed him in early 2014 for a piece about bike messengers who braved the infamous polar vortex. So what’s his advice for newbies on those days when it feels colder than Winterfell outside?
“Don’t give up, and wear smart layers,” he says. “It’s frustrating, but it’s pretty badass when you finally reach your destination and you made it, you know?”