Slog Heaven

Swamp thing: sea of mud at the North Sea-Tac Course

Swamp thing: sea of mud at the North Sea-Tac Course     Photo: Tom Moran/stphoto.com

Nasty weather, frigid temperatures, and a face caked with mud are three reasons why cyclocross racing is, and will always be, a niche sport. Yet in Seattle, where 36 inches of annual rainfall make foul-weather riding a fact of life for the serious cyclist, necessity and obsession give it mass appeal. "If you must ride, then you must adapt," intones Tim Rutledge, 41, a local two-time national masters cyclocross champion. Every Sunday from October to December, Rutledge and some 180 other willing victims—many of whom race the modified road bikes to stay in shape during mountain-bike racing's off-season—happily hurdle barriers, slide down rain-eroded steeps, and shoulder their bikes through quagmires of signature Seattle mud on the mile-long obstacle courses.

But for the rest of us, cyclocross needn't be so extreme. You can ride your rig year-round on mountain-bike trails (you don't need us to tell you how to find them) and cyclocross courses, of which the Seattle area has more than its share. There's the Stelacom Park in Tacoma, where you'll tackle steep, sandy runs; and Olympia's Thurston Fairgrounds, a flat, fast track that snakes through a barn and some horse stalls—great for speed training. Just five minutes from the airport, the North Sea-Tac Course (host to the 1994 and 1996 national championships) corkscrews up and down grassy, gravelly hills that turn to soup after a good rain. At the other end of the runway, the South Sea-Tac track tests riders with long stretches of heavy sand notorious for sucking wheels to a standstill.

The Dirt: All four Seattle-area courses are open year-round. (For information, call 206-675-1424.) There's no fee to ride, but there is a $15 charge to race on Sundays. Gregg's Greenlake Cycle (206-523-1822) will be happy to fenderize your bike for rainy-day rides.

VOODOO WAZOO

VITALS: $1,416; 800-739-1900; www.voodoo-cycles.com
WEIGHT: 3.6 pounds frame, 19.1 pounds complete
FRAME: Handmade heat-treated Columbus chrome-moly steel
FORK: Kinesis aluminum
COMPONENT HIGHLIGHTS: Mudophilic Time Atac Carbon pedals
THE RIDE: True, cyclocross bikes are fast on pavement and dirt, but if you're actually planning to get your new bike dirty it better be durable as well. Traditionally, riders bought stock 'cross bikes and replaced weaker road parts with mountain components as they broke—an expensive and frustrating approach. No more. Log on to Voodoo's interactive Web site and assemble your Wazoo right the first time without the expense that goes along with a custom bike. However you trick it out, the Wazoo's lightweight steel frame absorbs the harshest of rocky descents without compromising lateral rigidity for sprinting. Too bad you don't have any choice about the aluminum fork, which transmits every bump and thump directly to your forearms. As if the sport wasn't brutal enough.

INDEPENDENT FABRICATION

VITALS: $1,295 (frame and fork); 617-666-3609; www.ifbikes.com
WEIGHT: 3.8 pounds frame only
FRAME: Hand-crafted chrome-moly steel constructed of a custom mix of lightweight Reynolds and True Temper tubing
FORK: Italian Deddacciai Uno steel
THE RIDE: There's hand-built and then there's hand-crafted. The former simply means that a person has welded together a set of tubes, but the latter means that after the initial work is done someone painstakingly finish-miters every junction, machines the bottom-bracket shell for perfect installation, and seals the tubes to keep out moisture. Independent Fabrication's bikes are hand-crafted, which is particularly important in the case of its Planet Cross because the very elements that make cyclocross so much, well, fun—rain, snow, road salt—eventually eat most steel bikes from the inside out. Designed with an extra-tall head tube for plenty of shouldering room while portaging and bridgeless chainstays for extra tire clearance in muddy conditions, the Planet Cross has been ridden to both national and world championships. Your performance may vary. —ANDREW JUSKAITIS

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