Portland cyclocross is the pits

Cross Crusade #7 at PIR-13
Racing bikes is far from the only thing that makes our local cyclocross scene special.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

A funny thing happens every Sunday during the Cross Crusade races: The team pit area turns into a big group campsite where a love of cyclocross is the only thing you need for a reservation.

Our cyclocross coverage is made
possible by Sellwood Cycle Repair.

Team tents are common at bike races. They’re usually used as a place for competitors to warm up, stash their gear, park their bikes, and display sponsor logos and products. But at the Cross Crusade — a beloved local tradition now in its 20th year — these team tent areas feel more like the Oregon Country Fair. At Sunday’s race out at Portland International Raceway, the tent areas teemed with activity. They were a mix of raucous spectators (a.k.a. hecklers), beer, families, kids, food, fire, dogs, and more. The atmosphere was festive and communal, with people walking between tents and having no fear of crossing private boundaries. Everyone is a cyclocross fan or racer, so everyone is welcome.

I’ve been going to these races for years now and I can’t help but notice how these tent areas have evolved and gotten more sophisticated over the years.

Take bike parking for instance. On Sunday you could see all types of custom structures; from a cool custom fabricated metal design by The Spokesman team, to more rudimentary versions like this wooden A-frame by Filth and Fury or this wooden cross-bar between two bike stands at the Tireless Velo tent…

Custom rebar flower design with cup holder in the center.

Food is another staple in the tents. From boxes of donuts to fried bacon and sausages, the smells seduce racers each time they ride by. On Sunday I saw everything from your basic camping stove, to a full-fledged BBQ unit, and even a deep fryer that was cooking up whole turkeys!

“Have a sausage!” someone said as I walked by.

Fire pits are another place where teams have stepped it up a notch. There’s the traditional, big-hole-in-the-ground bonfire of course, but also classier versions like the metal, self-contained fire pit many folks have in their backyards, and the custom-fab, laser-cut design from The Spokesman…

Changing tents have also become standard equipment. I liked this double-wide model the folks at Team S & M/Sellwood Cycle were kind enough to let me use…

The layout of Sunday’s venue (a wooded and grassy area in the infield of the PIR racetrack) allowed for two separate tent camps to evolve: One of them — near a section of the course where racers had to navigate three challenging small climbs, hairpin turns and descents all just inches away from the tents — was dominated by more adult-oriented antics like (illegal) beer hand-ups and profanity-laced heckling. It was jam-packed with spectators and local team Trusty Switchblade hosted a “Heckle Me Corner” which ratcheted things up a notch…

Trusty Switchblade brand founder Jason Miranda ready for a day of heckling.
Dan Cheever was dressed for fun.
Jose Sandoval doing his part.
Hey! Be careful where you point that thing.
I think this man was just telling his friend he’s in first place.
Will race for a dollar.

The other side of the infield was a much tamer tent camp where kids and families were the norm. At times an open grassy area looked like recess at an elementary school playground where instead of balls and play structures, the kids had bikes…

Everywhere I turned there were these wonderful scenes of people just enjoying each other’s company and soaking in the atmosphere.

And of course there was plenty of serious racing going on too…

Shannon Skerritt showing the focus and style that makes him
a perennial top finisher in the Mens A category.
Unicycling is gaining in popularity with the young crowd.
The course was fast and relatively dry, but still tricky in the corners.

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly creates this type of magical mix of racing, community, and camaraderie; but I have some ideas. The race promoters and the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) put a priority on fun for everyone, not just elite athletes. In other words, the goal of these events is to simply have a great time — whether it happens on the race course and/or off of it. Another reason is Portlanders just love bikes and they’ve adopted cyclocross in a way that hasn’t happened in any other American city. We’re simply crazy for it.

Whatever the reason, this is a part of the cycling world that you’ve got to experience. We’ve still got another month or so left in the ‘cross season, so check out the schedule and try to make it out to an upcoming race.

See you out there!

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