The 2014 Surf City Cyclocross Finals – Brian Vernor

The 2014 Surf City Cyclocross Finals
Words and photos by Brian Vernor

My own history of racing cyclocross with the Surf City Cyclocross Series is too long to recount in a short article. In brief, Surf City Cyclocross is why I made my first film, Pure Sweet Hell (which premiered ten years ago this month), and why I have kept cyclocross near to my heart since my first race as a junior in 1993.

There are many heartlands of cyclocross. I’ve been to Belgium, Spain, Holland, Japan, and all over the United States, searching for the best action, beautiful courses, and the cult-like communities which make up the cross scene in each of those unique cyclocross heartlands. I appreciate all of them, but I appreciate none of them more than my own scene. That’s how it should be. People here in Santa Cruz have doggedly stuck to the core of what is cyclocross in America. Cyclocross is a contradiction; it sucks to do, and it’s glorious to have done it. Cyclocross will never have the audience and participation of football, basketball, or baseball, though we involved are always trying to grow it while keeping it true. Truth comes first and growth comes second.

The Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville, CA, is the best cyclocross venue in America. The course is hard and scary. The elevation is considerable. The weather sordid. This venue should be the National Championship course, the World Cup course, the World Championship course, that we deserve. And I mean we in the sense of the international cyclocross community. The Fairgrounds deserves the respect of every cyclocross racer in the world. Many people have argued against the Fairgrounds hosting major events, but I race and to me the course is what matters. As a person who has found great inspiration in cyclocross, to make films, to make photographs, and tell stories, the race is truth and the venues which often host our major events fall short of cyclocross truth. Arguments about why one venue should be our Nationals, World Cup, World Championships, often stray toward business and more business, yet the bottom line is beauty.

The photos I present here are simply those I took of my friends this past weekend in Watsonville. I race with friends every weekend and every weekend I am inspired by them. Every weekend I expect the simplest of things, a race which is beautiful and ugly at the same time. That contradiction is what continues to inspire me to ride and also to pull out my cameras.


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  • Kyle McCormick

    Awesome post, so rad to race there yesterday!

  • Adam Sklar

    That’s some serious mud. Good day for a SS.

  • mywynne

    Very rad. And oooh that Rock Lobster SS is awesome – want!

  • Ham Sandwich

    i would let that muddy girl do unspeakable things to me.

    • Jamie McKeon

      dude leave those comments to yourself, it isn’t cool.

      • Ham Sandwich

        Sorry what I meant to say was “I respect that woman and hope she makes as much money as men for the same job. I also hopes she installs her Chris king headsets upside down.”

        • John Watson

          I’m sure she’s flattered…

    • ForrestCambron

      And there’s always this fucking guy.

  • Trenton South

    Raced in the c race yesterday there. My first race. A muddy mess, but came out with more respect for canti’s and everyone out there. That down hill was exhilarating and the run up was killer

    • John Watson


    • Alex Hoffman

      Hellz ya brotha, it was nice racing with ya!

  • Ian Upshaw Cuthbertson

    Nice one, Brian! I think my pops would’ve been proud!

    • Brian Vernor

      Whoa! If there was ever an American bicycle royalty your dad was KING. So many Americans owe their great enthusiasm for bikes to him. Thanks for the comment.

      • John Watson
        • Brian Vernor

          That photo is from Tilden Park, in Berkeley, after Tom won the cyclocross race there in 1971. Oldest US cyclocross photo I have found. Would love to see more that pre-date this.

  • SteveH

    I couldn’t agree more that the SC County Fairgrounds would make a great state, national, or UCI championship venue. I have enjoyed racing there every year, but never so much as yesterday, in the pouring rain.

  • sabazel


  • Sheila Moon

    Oh Hell Yeah! The Fairgrounds is everything that is good in Bay Area CX! This almost makes me want to get my fat behind in shape again – just to play in all that dirty mud! Thanks!

  • TrailYeah

    Looks like sloppy freakin’ goodness to me!

  • Marco E.

    Nice seeing both King Kog and Broakland kits out there, can’t wait til I get my Rosko and ride next year!! Great photos as always!!!

  • lars

    I can’t help but think this of this well written snippet from years ago about one of the Cuthbertson clan. Hopefully ok to post here…

    THE DEVIL YOU KNOW by Mike Ferrentino

    Well, looky here. This issue is one of those “buyer’s guides,” pages full of shiny new products aimed at boosting the ever-spreading flag of consumerism up the flagpole of our general consciousness. So it seems appropriate to spend a few minutes talking about Cory Cuthbertson’s bike. If there’s a solid counterweight to the force-fed perversity of rampant buy-new-stuff now marketing pap that’s shoved down our throats by an industry hell-bent on not only just its own survival but on expansion, ever bigger and better, then that counterweight is Cory’s bike. A bike, which, for lack of any better fitting description, is known far and wide as a dangerous, rolling shitbox.

    It’s a classic shitbox though. A fillet-brazed steel Bontrager cyclocross frame heated together in Santa Cruz during the prehistory of mountain biking by Keith himself. A bike ridden by Daryl Price to the national junior cyclocross championship back at the down of our sport. Or maybe 1987, but don’t quote me. A bike inherited by Cory when he was a tender lad of 13. A bike upon which he won his age group in that year’s district ‘cross championships, garnering a natty kid-size California bear-flag skin suit.

    A bike that he loved and rode for the next decade, all the while folding his ever-growing body into a too-small skin suit – which many of his friends suspect for the noticeable slouch that out boy Cory exhibits – riding and racing with a grace that many aspire to but few can match. A bike that never saw a wrench in the five or six years that I knew it.

    Five-speed freewheel, non-index Suntour bar-end shifters. A worn out chain running on worn out cogs and worn out chainrings, skipping like a fairy at Christmas time in every gear when pedaled forcefully. Death-defying Lilliputian drop bars, probably 40 centimeters wide, drooping narrower at their bottoms after a decade of landing jumps, wrapped in faded pink Benotto ribbon. Old non-aero plastic Modolo brake levers, pulling Mafac cantilevers sporting original pads weathered to the consistency of teak and offering the same lack of stopping power that any flimsy piece of aluminum pushing tiny blocks of wood into dented rims would be expected to generate.

    Saaverda cranks, an Argentinian company that spent the ’70’s manufacturing knock-off Campagnolo componentry (no joke), with visible cracks at both spindle ends and which creaked with protest at any attempt to pedal with conviction. Worn out bottom bracket with bearings most likely shaped like tiny metal footballs. Worn out and old KKT Lightning pedals with half-severed nylon toe straps. Hubs that were all crunchy. As previously noted: a classic shitbox. Everyone in the county deemed it unrideable. Everyone but Cory, that is.

    He rode it on group road rides. He rode it in ‘cross races. He converted it to a one-speed and entered it in a 50-mile mountain bike race. He rode it in the dirt, often preferring it to the feel of his mountain bike. He rode it well and he rode it fast. Once we were floating downhill on pavement, rolling about 25 miles an hour, and Cory on his shitbox drifted casually up onto a sidewalk, bunny-hopped a nearly 2-foot-high picket fence onto a lawn before wheelie-ing down the driveway and back onto the road, all the while slouched in on himself like some skinny cartoon character.

    He was also fond of doing this flying crucifix move. He’d get going fast downhill, preferably on dirt, then stand up and lean all the way forward, thighs pushing into the handlebars, arms outstretched, grinning into the wind. This, on a bike that most of us had a tough time riding in a straight line on perfectly smooth and level ground. He and that bike had an understanding. It never creaked or skipped gears when he rode it. They were like an old couple, fully in tune with each other. And they were magic to watch. There was a grace and smoothness about them that was beautiful to see. No waste. Just this pure and fluid motion.

    Nobody else could do that. If anyone had tried to ride that bike even half as fast as Cory, they’d have killed themselves and the bike would have died beneath them. Cory and that bike were like a fragile ecosystem. Everything in perfect harmony with everything else, all quirks and weirdness accounted for. There’s a term called dynamic homeostasis. It basically means that a systemic stability, a status quo, is maintained in spite of constantly changing input. Most of nature exists in this state, at least when we aren’t around to mess it all up. That’s how I like to think of Cory and that thrashed old Bontrager. They are in a state of dynamic homeostasis, adapting and adjusting to each other’s ever changing composition.

    That is a rare and beautiful thing. It can only come about over time, massive amounts of time. Cory spent his teenage years on that bike. He knew every little thing wrong with it; he worked around every one of those jagged and potentially flesh-rending future failure points until they became part of this intuitive map that he and the bike shared like a fingerprint. And he used that bike with every shred of his and its potential. That shitbox was perfect for him and he never wanted anything more.

    We should all dream about and hope for that. Because that’s what riding and life is all about. It’s not about buying next year’s shiny new stuff. That all tarnishes soon enough. It’s not about buying new technology to overcome your shortcomings. There will always be new technology and you will always have shortcomings and some punk kid like Cory on a thrashed old bike will always be better/faster/smoother than you. Sorry, but it’s true.

    And it’s not about buying new, expensive toys to prove your commitment to the sort of to justify your ego to you id. That’s just kind of sad. Once, during one of our marketing hype-ups that happen in Corpoland, we tried defining what this magazine is supposedly all about. Someone tossed out the line: “BIKE – Enjoy the ride.” Whether that fits or not, here, amidst the new and shiny sandwiched between pages of expensive glossy advertisements, it becomes a matter of conjecture. But that sentiment, “Enjoy The Ride,” that’s what I hope all of you are here to do. It’s what Cory does.

    • Brian Vernor

      The ‘shitbox’ story is a favorite of mine, too.

    • ForrestCambron


  • Patrick Dowd

    I had to sadly watch from the sidelines with a broken wrist. That downhill section looked like so much fun to ride and to have a Bay Area course with actual running! Looked like fun! I brought my little Micro 4/3 and shot as well, my pictures come nowhere near how good these are! Thanks for sharing.
    (Mine are up at