Cyclocross Heckling

Cyclocross is a unique sport. Essentially you redline your body’s tachometer at the start, keep it redlined, and try not to blow up before it’s over. And yet you don’t have to because you can take it as seriously as you want. The racing is as intense as you make it. That’s important because for 30 to 55 minutes you could be splashing through water, slipping through mud, dismounting and jumping over barriers, getting caked in dust, squirrelling your bike through sand or gravel, lugging your bike up some stairs or a hill, or navigating a tight turn in loose dirt with a bike on each side of you. Cross is not a sport for everyone, but anyone who rides a bike can do it. It’s a tough sport, but the suffering is much easier to endure when you’re smiling. So how does that happen?

“Good news, John. You’re gaining on that pregnant woman. Probably because she’s carrying twins, and you look like you have just the one.”

One fun part of cyclocross is the tradition of heckling. The term is misleading because it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) fit the dictionary’s definition. The purpose of heckling is not to embarrass or annoy the rider. It’s good-natured ribbing of people you know well enough to rib or witty enough to say to anyone.

I was in a race on Labor Day along with my brother, John, with the intent of having a heckling contest with him. He lost, but he also didn’t lose. Every time I heckled him as he passed by he broke out into a big smile. And for just a few moments he was not thinking about his burning lungs, his dust-encrusted eyes, or his tired legs.

“If speed were chocolate, John, you’d be an M&M. The kind with no nuts!”

Cyclocross is a great sport for spectators. Nearly the entire course can be reached on foot. People congregate at the run up or the barriers because those spots tend to be where noteworthy successes and fails happen. There is no heckling rule book but common sense applies. The races are usually family events so leave out the profanity. Also, heckling should not be cruel. Don’t ask the last place rider if they need help carrying their bike unless you know them well enough that they’ll take it in good humor. Instead, cheer them on and help take their mind off the sufferfest they’re enduring. There’s no need to be a jerk. Cyclocross is hard enough without someone slamming you.

“John, do you see what everyone else is doing on this hill? That’s why it’s called a RUN up.”

When it comes to fun and humorous heckling, you are limited by your own creativity. And Internet search engines. Electronic amplification is useful, especially if you want the rider to hear you over the crowd. And if there is a crowd, see if you can organize them to work with you. Get them do the wave as a rider goes by. Or have them all pump their fists and mime cheer and then cheer loudly only after the rider has passed by.

“Whoa, you’re faster than the speed of sound.”

See how that can work?

Hand ups also add to the fun. A hand up is an offering of food, drink or money from a spectator. Beer and bacon are common hand ups, but I’ve also seen chocolate and cupcakes. Again, you are limited by your imagination. But it has to be something the rider can reach, the rider can consume or pocket, does not impede the rider, and does not affect the race. A toaster would not make a good hand up. Toast would work, but you probably won’t get any takers.

Dollar bills make a great hand up, especially for junior racers. One option is to plant one in the ground at the top of the run up. Since the rider is off their bike they’re able to reach down, grab the buck, and tuck it into their jersey or shorts. (Make sure they know it’s there.) A dollar may be a small reward, but to a ten-year-old it’s money for a snack after the race.

“Hey, you need to stop by the pits. Your bike needs a rider change.”

Yeah, that one sums up my racing prowess, but I don’t mind. The Inland Northwest Cyclocross Series (See the link on begins on October 5 with the first race taking place in Sandpoint, Idaho. Bring a cowbell, something to hand up, and cheer the riders on. Be careful, though. It may entice you to ride a course and get in on the real fun.

Just don’t get between me and the bacon.

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