13 March 2013

My Only 'Cross: Voodoo Wazoo

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.  


  1. It hasn't changed. I also switched from v brakes to cantilever brakes.

  2. I completely agree with your comments about 'cross bikes. I have a 1987-88 Bianchi Axis that I dearly love that is one of Bianchi's earliest 'cross bikes. Versatile, sturdy, fast, and an excellent climber, this bike can and does do it all. It has tremendous tire clearance, is lugged, double-butted good steel, and I think it was made in Japan. I have had this one a long while, and absolutely love it - it has Suntour's 7 speed paddles shifters and triple crank to get you where you need to go. I have run it with panniers and a rack and also neither and it is still a great ride.

  3. You have to know how to set up the travel agents. Apparently whoever assembled the bike didn't know what they were doing. Often they have to be set up in a different hole in the mount to make the springs "stronger" then loosening the centering screws to dial them in correctly. Otherwise they feel weak, and don't pull back from the rim correctly when you release the levers. I had a single speed road bike set up with road levers and V brakes, and I could lift the back wheel off of the ground at will. I say find a shop that has a clue, and try the V's again.

  4. Cyclocross bikes with cantilever bosses and wider tires have been around a very long time. They're not a recent development, they were just few and far between, and the sport wasn't heavily publicized until the last ten years or so. Here's a vintage Eddy Merckx cyclocross bike, late seventies or early 80's. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_ZfO4EcgunhA/TITsnbPgpcI/AAAAAAAAFsg/S_LKXIrNFBw/s1600/P1020235.jpg

  5. Yes, I would have to agree with the previous commenter, Anon at 8/22/13, 5:50pm. My cross bike is an Andre Bertin, bought in 1986 or '87 as 'new old stock'. It was probably built in the mid-80s. I rode it in cyclocross events in the Puget Sound area in the late 80s. There is a photo on my bike room wall of me in the 1988 National cyclocross championships held in Bremerton Washington.
    I've read Bertin was the French importer of Shimano, when most bikes had French components, more expensive ones, Campagnolo. I believe its Shimano parts are called Arabesque or Scrollwork, early 600. Brakes are Mafac cantilevers. This bike has a very flexible ride and can be hammered over rough, rocky fireroads as well as single track. I tried but never liked mountain bikes. Today the Bertin is a comfortable, fendered road bike for me. Incidentally, Justine will appreciate that my 'best bike' is a late 80s Mercian Pro, currently set up as a single speed.