Think 'cross is hard these days? Think again.

In the early days of 'cross, racers had to ride uphill, against the wind, both ways, in the snow, with hornets chasing them the entire time. Here at blackbird we have the photos to prove it. Monster runups, deceptive trench jumps, thicket pushes, water hazards, steep chutes and other things the like of which rarely, if ever, show up on a modern 'cross course (at least here in the states...), and certainly not at this magnitude. If you like your cyclocross torturous and miserable, you've come to the right place. Sit back, relax, and pine for the days before your time.

But first, a little tutorial. See, they did things a bit different back then... Remember, racers still didnt trust the derailleur even into the 1940s, and that held for cyclocross as well - bikes were largely single-speed, often with a fixed wheel. Brakes were still largely sidepulls at this time as well. Cyclocross ("cross country cyclo-pédestre" in its early years in the French-speaking countries) in many ways still resembled cross-country running or steeplechase... with a bike. Bushwhacking was pretty much the norm. So here's a few hints from, arguably, the grand old man of cyclocross, Eugène Christophe.

Once you've got that well in hand, it's time to move on, and into your regular dose of vintage 'cross pics from the 1930s and earlier. We don't hear much of this era, mostly because even then, it was somewhat of an outsider's sport (though many of the big names of the road races of the day participated), and partly because most of the documentation is in old magazines written in foreign languages. So I'm digging into my stash of the latter, in hopes of providing a welcome taste of the diabolical genius that was cx course design back in the early days - genius that, with luck, may live again...

If you've got commentary or questions on any of the pictures I put up, or if you'd perhaps like to add pictures and commentary from your own collection, you can get in touch at

Since starting this page at the beginning of the year, I've had a good bit of requests for larger versions of these images, ones big enough to display poster-size. My general response has been that they're small images to begin with (around 5-10cm is fairly typical), and that to get decent blowups I'd have to scan them at huge resolution (which I haven't - I've been scanning pictures in a month or two ahead of time). However! I've come to the conclusion that I'm very likely to try a test scan of an image soon here, and see about offering low-tech enlargements of an ocassional photo as limited runs... whether ill end up doing these as silkscreens, big photocopies, or inexpensive poster prints, i haven't decided - but in the meantime, you can wait around for the March 26th photo (that's a tease, innit?), from the 1931 Championnat Interclubs de Cyclo-cross, which will be the first image I try this with. If you're interested, drop me a line so I can gauge interest and whatnot... And if there's an image I've posted so far that you think would make a particularly good enlargement, let me know that as well, and I'll take it under advisement.

Shame, shame on me. I've been woefully neglecting this great idea of mine for the past several years - mainly because my scanner died a while back. As soon as I can get ahold of a new one (that's say, compatible with current OS X, which is what stopped my old one dead), I promise I'll get back to this.

24 Sep 2007

Championnat parisien de cross cyclo-pédestre, 18 Feb 1930

Photo from Match l'Intran, 24 Feb 1931

Valentin Tondeur, who was to win the championship of Paris thanks to Cornez rolling a tubie, takes a runup in the bois de Biscorne.


2007: January | February | March

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