In much of Europe, cyclo-cross season is in progress, or getting underway. Until fairly recently, this form of bicycle racing was all but unknown in the US. Part of the reason for that may have been that around the same time that Greg LeMond was winning the Tour de France, bicycle racing was enjoying its first spurt of popularity in the US since the days of the six-day races, but mountain biking was also becoming popular. Americans who were just starting to pay attention to cycling subscribed to the “road racing/mountain biking” polarity. Some seemed to think that mountain biking and cyclo cross were the same thing.
Here is the difference between the two: In mountain (or, more accurately, off-road) biking, you ride—and sometimes jump or hop—over whatever comes your way, but in cyclo-cross, you might actually hop off your bike and sling it over your shoulder to ford a stream, wade through mud, climb rocks (or a fence!) or goose-step your way through un-strategically placed 2x4s, rocks or debris. Having done both, I think that mountain or off-road riding is about riding over whatever terrain you encounter, while cyclo-cross is more about getting you and your bike over any and all kinds of obstacles. To use a ski analogy, cross-country and downhill mountain biking can be compared to their skiing counterparts, while cyclo-cross is like the biathlon with bikes and without the rifles.
In the past, racers often fitted old frames with cantilever bosses and wheels with wider tires and treads suited to mud and other conditions for cyclo-cross. Bikes built specifically for that kind of racing are a fairly recent development. I’ve owned one in my life: a Voodoo Wazoo.
As you can see, the frame was made of oversized TIG-welded Reynolds tubing and stays, which made it stiff for a bike with its geometry. One result is that, even though it was somewhat heavier than my road bikes, it climbed well. It also remained stable even with a rack and full panniers. As you might expect, I rode the Wazoo on three loaded tours: from France into Spain through the Pyrenees, along the vineyards and chateaux of the Loire, and through the Alps from Lyon into Italy and Switzerland and back.
The only real complaint I had about the bike was that it had an odd chainstay configuration, which made it difficult to install a triple crankset and get a good chainline. I had one smaller quibble: When I bought the bike (complete), it came with V-brakes and Shimano “brifters”. V-brakes aren’t made to work with road levers, at least not the ones available at that time. Voodoo included a “travel agent”, which was supposed to compensate for the fact that road levers have less range of motion (or “pull”) than V-brakes are designed for. Alas, the setup never worked to my satisfaction; before I embarked upon my tours, I switched to cantilever brakes.
I bought the bike, as it turned out, during a transition from one model year to the next (1997-98). I expected to get the 1997 model, which had the same frame in a shade of green rather like chartreuse. As you can see, I ended up with the 1998 model, which was only available in a screaming bright orange. The color wasn’t my cup of tea; however, the components were actually, I thought, slightly better than the ones on the 1997 model. And I paid the same price for the new model that I would have paid for the older one.
The Wazoo is the sort of bike you’d want to have if you lived in the country and could have only one bike, but you wanted that bike to give you a lively ride while holding up to varied conditions. I might, one day, have Mercian build something like it for me—with lugs and in finish #57, of course.