Hand Up 101

Pretty much says it all. Photo by Meg McMahon


Hand ups are a huge part of SSCX. They can either make a race or ruin it. Most hand ups happen at the top of a runup or on a barrier section as the rider is going slow enough to manage the feed, and the person doing the handoff can set it up. But the problem is that the rider is likely at LT and can barely breathe. I almost died at Putney a few years ago when I took a cupcake hand up at the top of the runup, took a HUGE bite of that sugary goodness, and then realized I had nothing to wash it down with. It took about two laps for it to clear my throat.

Once it did and all that sugar hit my brain it was like I had a jet pack on the back of my bike. So in one sense, ironically, maybe taking a cupcake hand up is like doping and does give the racer an unfair performance advantage over the more serious straight racer. Perhaps this is the real reason people hate hand ups. I always thought people who didn’t like hand ups just hated fun… .

The Goods:  This is arguably the most important part of the hand up. It can be a hand up, hand down, hand off, or even as is popular with dollar bills, a stash. In the instance of a dollar bill, you can put it anywhere. On a stake, on a barrier, cone, in a beer bottle, in your mouth, etc., the more creative the better. At Cheshire CX, the delivery mechanism was a pink plastic pig. The dollar hand up separates the serious from those looking not only to have fun but also to get paid. But lets break it down.


Location: Find a spot on the top of a runup. Doing it at the bottom won’t work. The transition is too tricky. Mid-runup is pointless as the rider needs to be able to set it up. Ideally you will be on the left side (as you look up the course from the bottom, i.e., racer’s perspective) of the runup, as 99% of all ‘cross racers portage the bike on their right shoulder. It can be done on the other side but trying to reach across your body and bike to grab a cookie or beer doesn’t usually end well. Okay, you have established position. Now you need to make some noise. Unless the rider knows it’s coming, especially if he or she is DEEP in the pain cave, they really aren’t able to hear or see anything. All they are able to do is try to keep from puking and keep those feet moving in a painful death march.

Bring Da Noise: Cross superfans need to be loud. To get a racer’s attention you need to be louder than all the other drunken freaks on the other side of the tape. Scream your head off, ring cowbells, heckle, say crazy shit, anything to get the racer’s attention. Andy Huff may be the master at this. Watching him work at Lowell was like watching a master in action. Obviously after a few laps racers will get the idea. At Putney it took about half the race. We had an official who we weren’t really sure how he would feel about the feeds. Thankfully, he wasn’t a member of the fun police and got really into it. As long as you aren’t a drunken lout and are respectful it is amazing what you can accomplish.

The Exchange:  Okay, you have gotten the racer’s attention. They want a feed. Now you need to get that exchange down. 90% of the success or failure of a handoff falls squarely on the shoulders of the person doing the handoff. You need to do it right. Let the racer come to you. Do not shove it in their face. Put it at about head level and let them take it. Obviously if it’s a hand off, i.e., they grab the beer can or cookie or waffle with their hand, then no worries. It’s like a baton in a relay race – just put it out there and they will fly through and grab it. If it’s a situation where they are going to use their mouth, for gawd’s sake, be careful. We don’t want anyone losing teeth or crashing because you got too aggressive with your feed.

The two-fisted hand up. Photo by the incomparable Meg McMahon

Lift Off:  So how does a racer take the hand up? There are a couple of techniques. Using your mouth is great for when you are riding up a hill or if you have your hands full carrying the bike. The hand to mouth feed is tricky. You need to set it up from about 50 feet away. Grab that waffle, cupcake, what have you in your mouth and take a huge bite. If it’s too big to swallow whole just take a massive bite and start chewing. It is really bad form to spit out a high-quality cupcake. In fact, you pretty much will ruin everyone’s race by doing so. Okay, so I am not going to lie to you – this can be tricky. More than one racer has almost choked to death with this technique. Use your head. Chew it up and swallow!

Option B is literally grabbing the beer, money, etc., with your hand. This is great over barriers and in the case of beer, pretty much a necessity. Someone will be handing you a can of beer or a red cup. Taking that with your mouth is Cat 1 hand up technique. You, my friend, are a Cat 4 at best. Trust me. Okay, so your pal is handing you a red cup filled with Four Loko, what do you do? Do you stop and slam it? That has high style points and while racing in an elite race is good form. It ensures you don’t get in the way of the actual people racing in this contest.

I think it’s better to grab the beer slam it and toss it over your shoulder. A word on the toss. Try not to throw a half-full beer can back down the course at another racer. Granted, some get sick satisfaction out of being sprayed with beer as it goes flying over the side of the tape. It adds to the whole Heavy Metal aspect of the race. Makes it feel like you are in the pit at an OZZY concert. But no one wants to see an innocent bystander take one in the teeth.

The Stash: This has grown in popularity in recent years. I think it started at CrossVegas before they deemed fun as unseemly. The idea is to take a dollar bill and place it on a barrier or on a stake. It really boosts the morale of those poor bastards at the back of a UCI race. Here they are once again trying with every fiber of their existence to not get pulled when out of the blue – money! Everyone likes money! Dollar bills are probably the most popular, but as is shown above it can also be a great opportunity to do a cupcake feed. In New England we strongly believe the orange cone will singlehandedly destroy cyclocross. That cone is only there for one reason: a cupcake feed. It should never be a substitute for UCI-compliant sponsored snow fence and double tape.

Those are the basics. This Friday instead of another mind-numbing set of openers that will once again do nothing to improve your actual cross race, go out with a friend and dial in that hand up. Ice Weasels is coming and you had better bring your A game. We don’t want anyone dying because they didn’t learn how to take a proper hand up. Now that would ruin cyclo-cross… .

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