Halloween will be different this year for most everybody.
But perhaps even more so for Central Oregon cyclists.
To them, it will feel a bit empty without the annual Halloween Cyclocross Crusade races, a Bend tradition that stretches back a decade.
“When I think of Halloween, I think of bike racing in town,” says Bend’s Matt Fox, who has competed in the Halloween races in Bend nearly every year since they started in 2011. “Walking around all the tents at the race and seeing everybody. … Every Halloween that I can think back to, it means we’re going to the bike races and there’ll be a guy in a giraffe suit, or whatever it is.
“That’s our standard Halloween.”
The festive event, which includes serious racing and silly costumes, drew 1,500 cyclists from across the Northwest last year on the Deschutes Brewery grounds.
The races were canceled this year, along with the entire seven-stop Cross Crusade series, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bend event is the only Crusade race not staged in the Portland area.
A form of bike racing most frequently staged during the fall and winter, cyclocross consists of multiple laps on a short course that typically includes pavement, grass, dirt and mud. Most races feature steep hills, stairs and wooden barriers that competitors must clear by carrying their bikes. Most cyclocross bikes are similar to road bikes but have knobbier tires and disc brakes to handle a variety of terrain and conditions. Races last from about 30 minutes to one hour, depending on the category.
Cyclocross, with the racers tightly packed together, and spectators as well, does not make for easy social distancing during the pandemic.
“It’s a huge, huge bummer, especially for those of us who love cyclocross,” says Bend’s Carrie Carney, who has raced in the event the past three years. “There’s definitely a specific type of person that loves cyclocross. It’s the big one for all of us. But I get it. Of all bike racing, cyclocross is … you’re so close with everybody.”
Steven Beardsley, the director of competition for the Portland-based Cross Crusade Series, says the organization considered hosting time-trial events with individual starts. But that, he says, would take away from what cyclocross is all about.
“That doesn’t feel like cyclocross,” Beardsley says. “Why even do that when a huge part of cyclocross is the camaraderie of racing with friends, and going back with your teammates by the fire and having a beer? Any solution that we were putting together lost that point.”
Fox says the most difficult part of not having the Halloween races this year is missing out on that sense of community.
“I can go ride my bike by myself any time I want,” Fox says. “But the hardest part is that community aspect that was lost. I can ride my bike, I just can’t do it with a lot of friends and people you normally get to see during the season. That’s a big loss.”
Carney agrees with Fox.
“I love the energy, I love the intensity, I love that it’s only an hour,” Carney says of cyclocross. “And I love the community of it. I think that’s the part we all miss. The community is so fun, just having everybody all over the course.”
Carney says that without cyclocross this fall she has been doing more mountain biking and gravel riding, as have a lot of cyclists in Central Oregon as they seek to avoid crowds.
“Some of them are doing longer rides, things that they normally wouldn’t do,” Carney says. “With no cross season, people are looking for different things. There’s so much good gravel riding around Bend. And we can take our cyclocross bikes, too, and still work on our skills and ride them on the trails.”
While the Cross Crusade Series plans to return in 2021 with its Portland-area venues, the future of the Bend race is in doubt. The event has over the years been staged in the Old Mill District area and on Deschutes Brewery land. In 2018 and 2019, the race course was limited to a smaller area on the west side of Shevlin Hixon Drive. The brewery has put some of that land up for sale, further muddling the future of the race.
“We always love coming out to Bend,” Beardsley says. “It makes it tougher as we get less and less room. We’re definitely working with Visit Bend and other folks to see if that Deschutes Brewery location will work again or if there’s other places where we can host the race.
“We’ll do everything we can to try to continue to come back to Bend. It’s a well-attended race, both from a racer aspect and a spectator aspect.”