Jeremy Powers was unequivocal. We called him for advice on how to pack a bag for a weekend of cross racing and the first words out of his mouth were “your headline should be: take two of everything.”
Now, that’s easy enough for Powers to say. His service course is stocked with enough equipment to make most bike shops blush, all prepared by a mechanic who has won awards for his technical abilities. But Powers’ assertion is still true – and if you need unbiased evidence, pay attention to posts tagged with #crossruinseverythingaroundme over the coming months. You’ll see a parade of mashed up rear derailleurs, broken shifters, and clothing that’s drowning in slick mud.
But everyone starts somewhere, and Powers had to learn a ‘make do and mend’ mentality at the start of his career – or “being balleur on a budget”, as he calls it. “I had to figure out some work-arounds at the start of my career. The best example is from the USGP in Portland, maybe ten years ago.”
“I only had enough money for one nice pair of tubular mud tyres, and my second bike had a pair of clinchers.” For riders at the top, clinchers represent a significant disadvantage both in terms of traction and their propensity to pinch flat. “One half of the lap was technical and muddy, and the other half was relatively smooth. My dad was working the pits for me, so I told him that I’d ride two and a half laps on the good tyres, then swap bikes and ride just the ‘easy’ half lap on the clinchers while he cleaned the good bike, then swap back.”
“It put a lot of pressure on my dad, who had to sprint from the pits to the bike wash and back again – I think he was working as hard in those half laps as I was. The moral of the story is this: equip yourself as well as you can, but don’t feel limited by what you don’t have.”
And with those words of wisdom in mind, here’s how Powers packs for a weekend of cross.
Take Two of Everything
“There’s nothing worse than getting cold and wet in the pre-ride, then having to stand on the start line with freezing hands and feet. Take extra gloves, socks, hats, jackets, bib shorts, anything that will keep you comfortable when the weather is miserable.”
“And here’s an extra note on gloves: get some made of neoprene. That’s the key to a race that’s wet and freezing.”
The Bin Bag
“There’s a lot to think about when you’re racing, so you want to make the day as simple as possible. Where are you going to put all that disgusting, dirty kit when you’re done with it? Bring a trash bag so you can just peel off the nasty stuff, stick it in the bag, and deal with it when you get home. It’ll free up some mind space to think about riding.”
“You’ve got to tighten up.” Tightening up, according to Powers, means trying to not look like you’ve just been dragged through a hedge backwards. Most cross racers bring a fresh stack of baby wipes to scrape the mud from their faces, but Powers takes it one step further. “This might seem like Too Much Information, but bring alcohol wipes, the sort you’d use to clean a graze. You don’t know how long it’ll be until you get to have a shower, and a quick wipe with some alcohol is a good way of keeping the ‘gremlins’ away. The only nice way of putting it is this, I guess: it’s impossible to ride a cross race with a saddle sore, so take preventative measures.
Embrocation warms your legs, but it also acts as a barrier to rain and cold. “You want to put on enough so that your legs are protected from the elements, but not so much that you look like you’re about to fight in the WWE. Oh, and make sure to put it on in the right order.” What’s the right order? “Bibs first, then embro. If you get it wrong, you’ll find out quickly.”
Buckets and Bathtubs
“We travel a lot, and I’ve washed plenty of bikes in hotel bathrooms. It’s never the first choice, but if you’re stuck at a race without a power washer, you can do a really good job of washing your bike with just a bucket, some good brushes, dish soap, degreaser, and chain lube.”