Where flailing is an option: My day at a local team’s cyclocross clinic

Cyclocross clinic with Team Grouptrail-3.jpg
I’m not sure if it’s the mud, the bikes, or the donuts that gets kids so excited about cyclocross. Probably all of the above.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Cyclocross season has arrived. This means people all over Portland are busily cramming for the test of skills and wills that awaits them on the many mud-soaked and technically demanding race courses across the region.

For many local teams it’s become standard procedure to host a cyclocross study session — also known as a clinic — to get students ready. They happen at parks all over Portland. All you need are a few course makers, some willing pupils, something to use as barriers, and maybe a hill or two (staircases are a bonus) to practice run-ups. On Sunday morning I rolled over to Overlook Park in north Portland to see this phenomenon in person.

Next time you see a bunch of people biking on the grass at your local park you’ll know why.

Grouptrail is a local team that started up two seasons ago by local tech business owner Justin Yuen. Yuen is the man behind FMYI, a software company that makes tools for working better as a team online. When FMYI was ready for its first big product extension, conveniently named Grouptrail, Yuen immediately saw the opportunity to combine his work with his love of cycling. Yuen (who also happens to be Board Chair of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) wanted to support the local racing scene, encourage people to try cyclocross, and have a great excuse to bring friends and families together to have fun on the weekends.

Justin Yuen (orange helmet) started the
Grouptrail cycling team two years ago.

The Grouptrail Cycling Team took off and now has about 60 people, 40 of whom plan on racing cyclocross this season. That’s up from just five people (including myself) on the ‘cross team in 2013. Yesterday at Overlook Park about two dozen of them came out to brush up on their skills.

One thing that stands out about Grouptrail is how diverse the team is. Sunday’s clinic included beginners all the way up to Category “A” riders. There was 12-year old Abby Koonce, prepping for her first ever bike race; and then there was 35-year-old professional road racer Starla Teddergreen who’s in her ninth season. There were several families where kids and dad and mom all practiced together.

“It’s really fun and I like it a lot, especially going downhill,” said Koonce between drills. Her mom and dad both race and recently got her into a junior cyclocross camp at Alpenrose. Now she seems to have been bitten by the ‘cross bug and plans to race, “Unless the whole course is a puddle.” What’s wrong with being all wet and muddy I asked? “Well,” she replied, “you’re all wet and muddy.” (I predict that on her current cyclocross relationship trajectory, Koonce will look forward to the wet and muddy races by the end of the season.)

Abby Koonce, with her dad Peter waiting for his chance to pass her in the next corner (he’s ruthless).
A doughnut sponsor is imperative for any real Portland ‘cross team.
Koonce sisters: Amelia (9) and Abby (12).
Starla Teddergreen fresh off her road racing season.
The Shaffner family is not messing around this season. 7 year-old Anneka, dad Eric, and 9 year-old Stefan give their full attention to the instructor.
David Cushman shares his knowledge with the team. (The two people looking down are checking their tire pressure as instructed by Cushman.)

The clinic lasted over three hours. The organizer of the event, team member David Cushman, went over all the basics of dismounts/remounts, turning, getting over the barriers, tire pressure, and so on. One of the drills focused on getting a good start. I helped out on that one: Everyone lined up and awaited my “Ready? Go!” and then dug into their cranks as hard as they could.

Hau Hagedorn making the lift.


Result of a high-speed crash. That’s why we practice!
Starting line drill.
Homemade barriers.
10 year-old Cole Hagedorn.

The final bit of practice consisted of “hot laps” around the park going through the various features Cushman had set up. The frantic pace left everyone winded. And it also left them a bit closer to being ready for what is sure to be another great season of cyclocross in Portland.

A good day of practice deserves high-fives all around.

— Learn more about the local scene in our cyclocross section. Also check the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association calendar for the full schedule of camps, clinics and races.

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