And honorable mention goes to Mark Weaver's site. Apparently he has some
sort of cyclocross shoe fetish, which I can't find, but here is his review
of ATAC's http://www.geocities.com/~velosapiens/november_index.html
Frame: general rule of thumb, 2 cm smaller than normal road frame, but can vary. You probably want all top tube cable routing (on the top of the top tube, not under or sides). This is so that the cables don't freeze up in the wet, and so they aren't in the way of your arm when you carry the bike.
Components: STI-Ergo is standard now, barcons are traditional. V-brakes with adapters work, but so do traditional canti's, as long as the rear doesn't gouge you when you swing the bike during running, hit your heel while riding, or interfere with the dismount (there are so-called "low -profile canti's, but they lack braking power, so V-brakes would be better).
Parts can be as cheap or expensive as you want, but ruining brand new polished Dura Ace or Record would be a shame. Better to use cheap stuff, or older, expensive stuff, rather than ruin new expensive stuff.
Gears: something in-between road & MTB. A single 44 or 45 is good with 11-28 or something close. Doubles can be something like: MTB 34-46 w/12-25 ; 38-48 w/12-28 or Road 39-47 w/12-27. These are all variable, based on course and rider preferences. You don't necessarily need 8 or 9 speed gears, they are very narrow, and clog with grass or skip, and are just more problematic than a wider 7sp with a friction barcon, which can usually always be adjusted to work, even when clogged, if necessary. Use what you've got, or can get easily, it really doesn't matter that much. Most cross riders have two bikes and a mechanic/helper at races to clean & repair bikes that screw up or clog during races. Not absolutely necessary, a MTB can be a spare in local races, or you can just pray for no mechanicals.
I've been running a 46/38 in front, and a 13-26 in back. I've found that I've never gone into the 38, so this season, I'm thinking of running a 42 in front, and a 12-25 in back; I figure that my top gear is pretty close to the same as it was with the 46, and I'll be able to run my chain more in the middle of the cassette. Am I making any serious errors in this logic? I plan on putting a Spot chainguard on the outside of the crank, a Third Eye on the inside, and a front derailleur as an additional chain catch. Is the front derailleur overkill in this application?
No, the Third Eye and the Spot are overkill. Just use the derailleur and lock it in place with the adjusting screws. You may have to spread the rear portion of the cage to prevent chainrub, and you can pinch together the front part of the cage to prevent chain deraillment.
Either you have some pretty easy terrain or the promoters make you run up anything remotely resembilg a hill. Why carry extra stuff if you don't need it? The Old Ones in 'cross use to use a 46 up front with a 14-28 freewheel; your setup sounds fine. They used chain guards to keep the chain on.
Position: seat height: same as road for smooth courses, a smidgen lower for rough. Stem: 1-2 cm shorter than road, 1-2 cm higher. Cross racing has heart rate data similar to criterium racing. Something like a long series of intervals. Races are around one hour for 1-2 Pro, and 30 min. or less for 4-5's, with others in-between. Learn correct dismount & running technique before you develop incorrect form and have to relearn. It's very difficult to be smooth and fast. You'll need to do some running training also, both with the bike & separate.
I've already gone for a slightly shorter saddle-stem reach and a higher stem on my 'cross bike (relative to my road bike). are there any general guidelines for saddle fore/aft position on a 'cross bike relative to a road bike?
Same as on your road bike. Some people lower the saddle by 1 cm to make it a little easier to mount and dismount. I leave mine at the same height as my road bike. Setback is also the same.
Tires and Tire Pressure: My experience has been that you get not only better traction, but more control and a smoother ride if you run lower pressure. However, on narrow tires, like a 28c, this increases the chance of pinch flats (on clinchers), or rim damage. I am running Michelin clinchers - Mud in the front and Sprint in the rear – at approximately 40 psi for most courses. It varies greatly with the type of terrain found in the course - more roots or the like calls for a bit more pressure to save your rims, whereas on a bumpy grass surface you can run pretty low pressure fairly safely. You lose a little speed on the road sections, but you generally gain much more speed on the off-road sections than you lose on the road.
Last year, it seemed that lower pressure was more in vogue. Dave Carr and Adam Myerson seemed in agreement when conditions dictated softer tires. I think Dave still has an article on his page http://members.aol.com/napavelo/cross.htm
What are people using for pressure? I have 700x28s and have been experimenting from 70-80lbs.
For racing, solid boards are really the best way to go. UCI rules require barriers to be 40 cm tall (16 inches) and solid across their entire width, but for training, you want something easy to set up and light enough to move around easily. You also want a practice barrier to be a bit ‘forgiving’. Also, when placing multiple barriers, they must be at least 4 meters apart.
I usually try a little light footed bouncing on the pedals as they're horizontal and then let myself drop a bit and weight the bike such that the tires squish a bit and then do an explosive pushup with my arms and legs at the same time. Once in the air, off the bike, your momentum upward will allow you to lift the bike at the same time the tires are bouncing back. This lightens the bike, in effect, and makes it easier to lift. Pulling up on the bars you twist them forward at the same time to help the back wheel off. If you are clipped in it is easy to yank the back wheel off with your feet.