Almost every cycling website/magazine/blog/webizine/whatever will have a “Top Upgrades” article.
Actually, Cyclocross Magazine has a pretty good one here.
I’m not gonna lie. If you have the money, the best cyclocross upgrade is gonna be upping your wheel/tire game. A set of lightweight, stiff, aerodynamic carbon wheels will do wonders for your ride. Tires, whether getting a good tubeless setup down or tubular tires, will increase traction, comfort, and overall speed. Sometimes I read these magazine reviews and wonder if those products really are that good. But with wheels and tires? Believe the hype. Tires and wheels are probably the BEST thing you can spend money on.
But honestly, a new wheelset is almost too obvious, too blingy. Since everyone else gives you the obvious, I wanted to give you the best NON-blingy “upgrades.” In quotes since I guess you’re not really upgrading something on your bike. In order to make this list, an upgrade has to make a pretty decent impact on your cyclocross racing…AND…it cannot be something you can see on your bike.
So without further ado, the top non-sexy, non-blingy, cyclocross “upgrades”.
Starting off the list is the bane of many cyclists, the thing which many have a love/hate relationship with (maybe just hate). The indoor trainer. (Turbo if you’re from across the pond.)
Completing a 90 minute indoor session in the garage is probably one of the most boring things you can do as a cyclist.
But think about the time of the year cyclocross is held. Do you really want to be doing intervals in 40 degree weather while it’s raining? Maybe you do. And what about warming up before your race. You gotta learn the track but nothing can help you complete the warmup in the most time efficient, controlled manner like a trainer. Also good for cooling down. Also good for racers who have real jobs. Even Timmy likes the trainer.
2. Getting rid of tubes
Ok, I know I already mentioned wheels and tires at the beginning of the post. I’m sneaking this one in because you can’t really see sealant once it’s inside your tires.
If you have a new cyclocross bike, the first thing you should do is figure out how to get rid of those stinkin’ tubes.
Tubes pinch flat, they get thorns stuck in them, and they don’t like low pressure. All these factors make them terrible for cross racing and even just riding around.
Using airtight rim tape and sealant for your bike means less time swearing and changing flats.
Even if you already have a tubeless setup or tubulars, sealant adds that extra level of security. I’m not a pro, so I don’t have a service course full of wheels with different tubulars glued up for different conditions. If a tubular goes bad, I either salvage it, or have to buy another one. Ugh. The Stan’s has saved a couple of tubulars for me.
3. Body Creams
I started using Embro about 3 years ago. I don’t like extra layers if I don’t need them. Something about racing just makes knee warmers and leg warmers seem so constricting and cumbersome. (So Cal caveat: The coldest temp I’ve raced is probably 50 degrees). So if it’s cool, I just slap on some Embrocation. This Russian Tea Mad Alchemy version smells like the holidays and works pretty well.
Using Chamois cream helps out in cross. Especially with all the mounting, dismounting, sliding across the saddle. There’s lots of room for the chaffage.
So use the embrocation. Use the chamois cream. Just please, whatever you do, do NOT confuse the two.
4. Tire Pressure Gauge
For cyclocross, tire pressure is huge deal. Huge. 30 psi may mean taking the edge off the bumps and having traction in corners. 35 psi could mean a sore back and sliding out.
Invest in either an accurate, stand-alone pressure gauge or have a pump with a gauge that works. The pump gauge doesn’t have to be accurate. It just has to be precise.
Which means it doesn’t matter if your pump shows 30 psi and in reality your tire is at 25 psi. It just matters that it consistently shows 30 psi at the same pressure, all the time. I use my 5 year old Park Tool pump for every race so I know what the numbers mean for me. I forgot the pump at this year’s Velocity Cross race. I borrowed the community pump. Yeah, it was less then ideal.
I got to admit. I don’t often have time for massage. There’s the money part too. But when I do go, it does make a big difference with feeling fresh and with recovery. I’ve noticed that going twice a month is when I notice the most benefit.
In the local area, I go to the Drayson Center for massage.
6. Bike Fit
One of the best things you can spend your money on that you can’t actually see on your bike. Getting a professional fit does make a big difference.
I go to see Jim Manton at ERO Sports for my fits. I remember the first time he fit me on my road bike, I noticed an increase in 7-10 watts within an hour of him adjusting stuff. That’s free speed people. Wasn’t training harder, wasn’t pedaling faster. The added bonus was improved comfort and control.
The caveat for cyclocross is that I have yet to do a ‘cross specific fit. Anyone out there know a good cross specific fitter? But in principle, a bike fit is something you could spend money on that really makes a difference. More then a new handlebar/stem combo or new jersey.
7. Work with a coach
And finally, my top non-blingy cyclocross “upgrade.” Work with a coach.
For a sport that is as unique as cyclocross, having someone structure workouts for you to help you get ready for your races is very valuable. The kind of fitness to win a Time Trial, or even a crit, doesn’t necessarily translate to cross. A coach can setup some brutal intervals for you. But there are so many added benefits of having a coach.
It keeps you accountable. You can focus on life since you don’t have to focus on making your training plan. You have someone to give you encouragement and also someone to tell you reign it in a little or pick it up some more.
For real-world athletes, those with jobs, families, etc, a coach really does help you out. I was able to progress to a certain level just training on my own. But I realized that if I wanted to progress, and at the same time not alienate my family and still have a career, I would need some help.
I started working with Joy McCulloch at Big Wheel Coaching about 2 years ago and I’ve been able to stay competitive, in tougher fields, with less training time.
An athlete-coach relationship is just that, a relationship. So ask around, shop around, and find someone that works well with you and understands your goals and life stresses.
So there you have it. You could always spend your money on a fancy new bike, new drivetrain parts, or a new seatpost. But before you drop the coin on some shiny bling, think about some of these other non-blingy “upgrades” that can really help out your cycling.
See you at the races.