Friday, November 20, 2009

The Mud Index Returns

Howdy 'cross fans,

Dave Carr here, some of you may remember me as a former 'cross racer and editor of this site. Today I'm an aging, balding, thickening former cross racer busy nurturing the development of two tiny future 'cross racers. But I still shave my legs and follow the scene.... Anyway, this fall I have been getting a few inquiries about an article I once published called the Mud Index. Originally written almost 10 years ago, this encyclopedia of mud types in cyclocross quickly entered the popular canon and has been endlessly quoted... until earlier this year when my web host abruptly shut down and the article disappeared. So, here again for your amusement, is the Mud Index, together with various annotations collected from fans over the years. Happy crossing!

The Mud Index
By Dave Carr

OK, you've all heard the old saying that Eskimos have nine different words for "snow" in their vocabulary or something like that. Well, it occurs to me that we need a similar depth of language to characterize Mud in cyclocross racing. After all, a keen understanding of Mud is the only way to survive this sport, particularly in some areas of the country.

Here, therefore, is my attempt at a Mud Classification System, or perhaps a Mud Understanding Dissertation--whatever, let's just dispense with the clever acronyms and call it a Mud Index. Whatever it is, it's highly unscientific.

Mud is ranked on a scale of 0 to 10, zero being hard dry dirt and 10 being liquid water. Other properties include material content, color, stickiness, and so on. One year when global warming and La Nina conspired to prevent any rain from falling in NorCal, I augmented the Grade 0 a bit -- fortunately in 2009 that hasn't been a problem.

Grade 0 - Dirt, and all facsimiles thereof like adobe, clay, hardpack, dust, rock and pavement. Fails to give your bike and body that virtuous muddy look that lets people know you're a cyclocross god. Not really relevant to a discussion of Mud.

0.1 - Pavement. Otherwise known as blacktop, concrete, tarmac, bitumen, etc, and usually a consideration only at crit races or the occasional short track XC. Roadies turned 'cross racers tend to like this stuff.

0.3 - Gravel. Basically, this is Pavement, badly maintained, and is usually found on top of Pavement. Functions like little ball bearings that turns a nicely apexed corner into a trip to the medical tent.

0.5 - Sand. Composed of rock that has been ground down into small granular pieces, mercilessly over the ages (like your teeth are ground down as you attempt to ride it). Found in Belgium, Holland, Fort Ord and Granite Beach. Since it's found on real Euro CX courses you can tell yourself in between grunts, "It's OK, this is real cross..."

0.6 - Flour. A heavy, soft, extremely fine dust. Found at this year's GP Clark Natwick at Golden Gate Park in the dug-in groove around all the tree roots. Sometimes behaves more like motor oil on the ground than actual dirt.

0.9 - Grass. The most enjoyable surface in the 0 category -- though in dry times Grass is often only found in a dry, bumpy cow field (at East Bay for example) but sometimes you get a nice piece of bermuda grass at Watsonville that makes you dream of actual mud.

Grade 1 - Damp Earth. Nice and soft, tacky. Makes a pleasant sound as tires roll over it. Fun and effortless to ride on. Ultimate traction. Never separates from the ground, or if it does it doesn't stick to the bike. Your bike could be so clean after a ride that friends think you never went out.

Grade 2 - Adobe Clay. A bad kind of damp earth, found in certain regions of the US. Soft and sticky enough that it sticks to shoes, but doesn't separate from the ground very easily. Slows down the bike and drains a rider's energy without apparent cause. Low moisture content. Fills the pedal cleats on the shoes, rendering them heavy and useless. Following a rain, this type quickly transforms into Grade 3.

Grade 3 - Play-Doh. Water content is up to about 20-30%, leading to major sticking action. Literally jumps from the earth to your bike. Accretes to the tires, filling the treads. Fills up the tight spots between the tire and frame tubes, and in between the cassette cogs. Causes the bike to gain ten pounds in a matter of minutes. Requires pressure sprayer and brush to remove.

Grade 3F: Frozen Play-Doh, as explained by east coast rider Mark Laser: "Hi, David: LOVE the Mud Index; it was forwarded to me by my teammate Fast Albert Greene of Woodbridge, VA. One thing that we have to deal with here in the Mid-Atlantic is frozen mud - not too bad if it's smooth, but very difficult to negotiate if tire ruts, footprints, or animals get frozen into the surface. Would it be appropriate to designate frozen mud with the suffix "F" after the relevant unfrozen state? (for instance, frozen Play-Doh like that encountered at Virgina Cyclo-cross Series race #5 would be Grade 3F.) Thank you for your scientific work on behalf of the cyclo-cross community and happy new year! --Mark Laser, Yellow Breeches Racing, Carlisle, PA"

Grade 4 - Peanut Butter. Less sticky than Play-doh; more likely to stay on the ground. Moisture content is up to 40% or so. This stuff is sticky enough that one can't really plow through it, yet it's slippery and makes it hard to control the bike. Ruts form which may yield to a tire, or send the bike careening off in an unanticipated direction. Requires ferocious pedaling to keep momentum. Occasionally a piece sticks to the tire and is thrown into the air; subsequently lands on another rider's face.

Clarification from NorCal master's rider Linda Elgart on the difference between Play-Doh and Peanut Butter. "I think of Play Doh as being a little dryer than peanut butter. You can’t form peanut butter into sculptures like you can with Play Doh. I was playing with some friend’s kids recently, and make a pretty good representation of a dinosaur in Play Doh. This would not work with peanut butter."

Grade 5 - Goo. About as thick and sticky as the energy gel you eat during a race, only brown and slightly less tasty, and more likely to be lumpy. Like Peanut Butter, Goo stays on the ground, but is less resistant to the advancing tire. At East Bay CX races this type often includes some content of cow dung or rotting flesh. In more pleasant venues Goo may be found on the verge of a wet grassy area where a few tires have passed.

Grade 6 - Slime. This is the level of mud where a rider really begins to have fun. Slime is wet enough that it sticks to everything but doesn't really build up on the bike. Sticks together well enough that it will fly through the air in large masses. This grade is used in TV commercials for four-wheel drive trucks, in which the truck slides around all over the place shucking mud in every direction. In a 'cross race, Slime often is found in corners where it can wreak havoc with traction, leading to a slide on your butt on the wet ground.

Grade 7 - Glop. This is the wettest consistency of mud that can still hold a shape. When tires pass through Glop, a furrow is left that heals up slowly over time to a smooth surface. Liquid water may come to the top. It's better to have thin 'cross tires to slice through this stuff, while fat MTB tires will float and plow and generally make a mess. Imparts a shiny appearance to bicycle and body parts.

Grade 8 - Slop. The bottom of a very wet mud puddle that is not refreshed by a creek. Still retains some lumpy qualities, unlike Grade 9 Soup. Splatters very nicely and stains clothing better than any other type. Renders your glasses completely opaque. Remember not to smile at your friends after a dunk in this stuff unless you want them to laugh hysterically at the mud between your teeth. Requires a good hose-off to clean, plus a few cycles in the laundry.

Grade 8.5 -- Goose Poop: Thick yellowish viscous liquid a la Watsonville. (Submitted by rider Chip Baker)

Grade 9 - Soup. 80-90% water, heavily laden with sand, particulate and goo, but without the lumps characteristic of Slop. Scientists might classify this grade as a "Non-Newtonian Fluid." Typical of a stream crossing where the stream flow isn't fast enough to refresh the mud. Will soak your jersey completely, while leaving the particulate matter all over the front. Doesn't stick to the bike, instead just runs off onto the ground.

Grade 10 - River Water. Might feature some residual brown color but doesn't stick to anything. Just wet and cold without any redeeming qualities other than it may loosen up thicker grades of mud from your tires and shoes.

Photos courtesy of Sabine Dukes, Velo Bella


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say there is Goo, Slime, Glop, & Slop, but my favorite level of mess in Cirss racing is Goop. Some of themost epic races I have been too on the East Coast and up North, and even a few races in northern california have had fields and pits of Goop, that sucked the life out of the legs and ruined drive trains and brake pads. You left out Goop, but Goop is the worst and best of the mud in the world. And no mud index is complete with out Goop being listed.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Dave Carr said...

RE. goop: fair enough, now tell me what number to assign and I'll add it in. And identify yourself so your contribution can be attributed. Dave

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My two cents....

Goop should be rated right about Soup with a 9.5 list.

Goop is the wet crud mud that swallows entire bike and rider and makes some courses un-rideable. Albert Zwiefel um..... Howie, excells in the Goop and Poop of the crud mud that is 9.5 on scale.

Mr. Carr we need a scale of wet years in Cross?? this would have to go down so far as a negative number on the wet weather index scale?? would you agree?

Also Mr. Carr what is the race in past nor-cal histroy where the worst mud conditions came into play? Remember that race years back at Soquel High where it was so muddy and bad that the race ripped apart the entire school grounds and they did not want races there again. Or that one race in the East Bay where Bob L. made the riders run thru a water canal crossing that was below knee level deep when he set the course up, but it rained super hard after and that canal crossing ended up flooding and it turned into a section where water was 5 feet deep and racers had to basically swim-run through the obstacle while carrying their bikes above their heads. Bob L. laughed the entire time!


8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my most muddy day was that race at the watsonville fairgrounds where you had to run for over 2 miles of the course
it was all running all the time for me as it was so muddy i could not pedal

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about the Nationals at Domain Chandon?? it rained 14 inches over the weekend, (10 inches on Sat)...

11:09 PM  
Blogger The Mad Cat said...

I think a grade above river water should be "swim" (and then probably not a classification of mud..) :-)

8:56 AM  

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