Cyclocross's Rise
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Credit: Photograph by Daniel Wakefield Pasley
Course designers deliberately lay out races in cloverleaf patterns, with constant out-and-back mini loops, making it remarkably spectator-friendly. By standing almost anywhere along the course, you can see an awful lot of action. Plus, with so many events back-to-back all day long, hundreds of riders are always either done for the day or waiting for their own ride, leaving them free to join friends and families crowding the sidelines, drinking, eating, clanging cowbells, and engaging in so-called "hand-ups," reaching out to passing racers with open beers and even rolled-up dollar bills taped to the breasts of inflated nudie dolls. Racers and onlookers alike wear ridiculous costumes at many a cyclocross race. Bend, Oregon, hosts a fully costumed Halloween 'cross race on the grounds of the Deschutes Brewery, and San Francisco has at least one underground cross-dressing race series.

Then there's the joyous heckling, the universal cyclocross tradition of onlookers screaming at every passing racer. I was the recipient of this after crash number four, when I got cocky and maybe a little sloppy, flying into a down-and-back-up-again sideways-canted curve so fast that both wheels slipped out at the same time, sending me face-first into the mud. Before I could feel sorry for myself, some maniac with a half-eaten bratwurst leaned over, hollering at me to get back up. I surprised myself by doing just that, wrenching my feet out of mud-caked pedals, peeling myself off the hillside, and forcing my handlebars back into alignment over my front wheel. Jumping back on the bike again, while that total stranger shouted, "Go, dude! Go!" I sprinted onward and crossed the finish line near the back of the pack, thrilled, rattled, and without a single injury.