Pedal, run, repeat: Making Cyclo-cross a family affair

The USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships are a home for cyclists of all ages and backgrounds. Masters riders of 70 years and older compete on the same circuit as pre-teens just getting started in racing and professional cyclists alike. A diverse group of cyclists has come to love the discipline of Cyclo-cross in recent years, relishing the challenge of cross-country riding through grass, dirt, and mud, combined with dismounting and carrying their bikes when conditions become too difficult to pedal through.

On any given weekend between September and February, you can find Steve Brandt, his wife Kristin, and their daughter Sophie grinding away through mud on the Cyclo-cross courses of New England. At the 2017 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Hartford, Conn., we caught up with Steve and Sophie to talk about their passion for the sport and the cars that help them enjoy it to the fullest.

Steve Brandt’s love of cycling dates back to childhood—when a bike offered the best way for a 13-year-old to visit friends in neighboring towns of central New York. Brandt became interested in mountain biking after high school and competed with college teams during throughout his collegiate career. Despite his strong affinity for the sport, the discipline of Cyclo-cross was mostly unfamiliar to him.

“At the time, I read all sorts of cycling magazines—the internet wasn’t really around yet—but they never covered Cyclo-cross,” says Brandt. “I really wish I knew about it then. It was just this sort of very fringe thing that I had heard about and at the time I wasn’t even sure if that was something I wanted to look into.”

Four years ago, Brandt—a former geologist who now operates his own one-man bike repair shop in Sherborn, Mass.,—was introduced more seriously to Cyclo-cross by the parents of one of his daughter’s playmates. Despite Cyclo-cross’s daunting challenges, after his first race, Brandt became an immediate fan.

Sophie Brandt races at the 2017 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships

“Cyclo-cross can look so intimidating to the outsider—it looked intimidating to me and I’ve been cycling my whole life,” he explains. “Once you try it, you realize that the atmosphere is very welcoming. There’s no real pressure to stay with any group—you can just ride within your own abilities, trying your personal best. Once you experience that, you realize that it’s not so intimidating and you absolutely get hooked.”

Brandt has served as a cycling missionary for members of his own family, passing on his love of the sport first to his wife, Kristin, and then to their two children, Anders and Sophie. Kristin got serious about racing after catching the biking bug through triathlon training. While Anders (14), prefers mountain biking, the Brandt’s 11-year-old daughter, Sophie has embraced Cyclo-cross competition and now competes in 12-15 races each season with her parents.

“This year, she moved up to a full size, adult bike and really wanted to make it her fall sport,” says Brandt. “In the past, she just tagged along with us and did some races, but last spring, when we asked her what sport she wanted to sign up for in the fall, she said, ‘No, I just want to focus on Cyclo-cross.’”

The Brandts attended this year’s USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Hartford in their 2010 Passat Sportwagen, carrying bikes and the tools and bike tire spares they would need on top of and inside the car. This car and their 2012 Tiguan serve as the family’s loyal steeds, conveying the Brandts and their bikes to all the Cyclo-cross races of the season and other biking destinations throughout the year. 1

“I have four bike racks on my car year round because I’m riding all the time,” says Brandt. “I like cycling for the fact that you can just roll out of your garage and ride for hours, but I use my car to transport myself and my bikes to new places, especially for mountain biking. I definitely take it all over the state to enjoy different terrain and of course with Cyclo-cross, we’re taking our bikes to a different venue every weekend. There are so many great cycling events around New England.” 1

Ever since his first post-college car, Brandt has owned Volkswagen vehicles, appreciating their styling and performance, in addition to their practical ability to support his cycling hobby. “I like driving rather than just getting from place to place,” he says.

Brandt even owned a 1997 Trek Edition Jetta, which features Trek branding throughout the car and came with a unique Trek bicycle. “Volkswagen has always been good to me,” Brandt says. “I love how they ride, I love how they handle, and they always treat me well.”

Brandt’s Volkswagen cars have enabled him to enjoy the sport of Cyclo-cross with his wife and children, fostering a special bond amongst the family.

“If your son or daughter plays baseball or softball or football, you’re not going out there and doing that with the kids. Cyclo-cross is much more involved with your children,” says Brandt. “Getting to ride these tracks and go over certain sections with them, evaluating turns and corners and obstacles together—and then especially at a race like Nationals—it’s really special to have that kind of bond with your children.”