As if riding at break-neck speed on a bicycle over Manitoba gumbo, leaping across barriers and risking any number of catastrophes wasn't enough, the Fort Garry and Red River Racing Bicycle Clubs are taking the excitement and suspense of cyclocross to a new high (as in challenge), or low (as in the dark) depending on how you look at it.
On Sept. 17 at the Red River Co-op Speedway, DarkCross will make its debut under the speedway lights.
Sanctioned by the Manitoba Cycling Association, and sponsored by Wallace and Wallace Fences Ltd., DarkCross is part of the 2011 Manitoba Cyclocross Series. Racing begins at 5 p.m., with the grand 60-minute final for top A-class male riders going at 9:30 p.m.
"The dark is what really makes this race unique," said race director Chris Huebner. "It takes all the things that are fun about cyclocross and ramps it up even more. Some areas of the course will be darker than others, which is part of the challenge, but we will have bamboo torches and Christmas lights along the course."
Huebner said that riders will experience barriers about 18 inches high, which will mean they have to jump off their bike, pick it up, go over the barrier with it on their back without breaking stride. Among the barriers riders will face will be carrying their bikes up and over the grandstand, a mud pit in the infield and surfaces of gravel, grass, sand and mud.
Lindsay Gauld, 63, who has done everything on a bicycle from competing at the 1972 Munich Olympics to navigating his way through Winnipeg's rush hour traffic as a courier, says he's never done cyclocross in the dark, but he's willing to give it a try.
"I'll probably enter, but I'll be riding with a light on my bike, or a helmet light," said Gauld, adding that the event will help to make up for a few races he'll miss due to a bike tour he and his wife are taking in Cape Cod later this month. "The hardest part is at the beginning when everyone is in a bunch, but it usually strings out and everyone kind of finds their place in the group."
Hubner said that cyclocross favours the rider who has the skills of a mountain biker, but the speed of a road racer. He adds, however, that a number of things can even the odds. "If it rains, it's going to be really muddy, but cyclocross and mud go together and so we'll go rain or shine."
Jon Guenter, 38, and Vic Pankratz, 52, both say challenges such as cyclocross, are what keep them feeling young.
"I've never done one in the dark before, but I expect it to be interesting," commented Guenter. "Just the absence of light, or the shadows that are going to be thrown by the lights that are there, will create some interesting racing."
Guenter said that the bikes they ride are basically road bikes with one major adaptation of a wider front fork and back to allow larger tires that accommodate more kinds of surfaces.
"I love the different obstacles and terrain," said Pankratz, who also has never raced in the dark before. "Some places will be very bright and other places not so bright, so there will be different conditions, but that's why I ride a bike. It makes me feel like a kid."
Guenter adds, "you're never too old for something like this. It's a good time, good exercise and good fitness."
Spectators will be admitted free. For more information go to (www.darkcross.ca).