Underestimate Neher at Your Peril
31 August 2014
NorCalNevada cyclocross is replete with top national and world-class racers. But, the community is deep and inclusive with those that “abstain from all liquors of an intoxicating quality” to many that are simply intoxicating racers. One may see a bike messenger or a stodgy corporate head and the ages span nearly diaper to diaper. Out on course are many that are swift and strong or lean and mean…but then there is Chris Neher.
There are plenty of formulae to calculate ideal body weight from a persons age and height. At the edges, though, notable exceptions occur, such as a 90kg marathon-runner with a level of fitness better than that of an examining doctor.
Also out in the edges of expected norms, Chris Neher races ‘cross in NorCal, finds himself competitive, and completely fits into an embracing sport. Neher races for Off the Chain Bikes and, for the 2014-15 season, will focus on geared bikes in the B’s, though he will be seen in singlespeed too.
“I come from a motocross background,” described Neher, “and I’m looking for that bit of challenge as far as the bike handling goes, line control, and having to do more than just droning along the road. When I got in a couple of years ago I saw all sorts of people here. That is what kept me attracted to it because I am not your average cyclocross size and I’m able to be fairly competitive when I do things right. In the very beginning I saw this as a challenge riding my road bike on the dirt. As a couple years went by I realized this could work for me. This is probably the only form of bicycle racing I can be competitive at.”
Racing Category C in 2012-13, Neher tore away at Central Coast with five wins in the seven-race series. That same season, he also stood on the top step of the podium three times at BASP. Moving up to B’s last season, Neher still managed a couple of wins.
“Based upon the fact that ‘cross has a lot to do with atmosphere and not just the finishes, I did have a good season [last year],” continued Neher. “I did have a frame failure in the middle of the year. It was not based on a company’s fault but I had actually hit a barrier the previous year. Racing the same bike, early-to-mid season, I found out my frame was cracked. At that point, I lost a lot of mental motivation. I came out really strong the first part of the season but I didn’t hold that. I had a great [season] last year but my results were not where I wanted them to be the whole year.
“[This year] I want to be more consistent and I want to improve upon, as the season goes, and not go the other direction. I definitely don’t have to win the first couple of races. I’d like to get out there and view the first few CCCX races as training and getting used to racing. My goal would be by the end of the year in the Bay Area races to finish in the top-ten and get stronger as the season goes.
“I’ve always been the bigger guy. Now, I’ve never been the huge guy. I do think it goes both ways. Some of the skinny guys I might have been able to beat may think differently. But my girlfriend, all my friends, and all the guys I race with are absolutely supportive of it. Overall it’s definitely supportive because its almost unexpected. I go to road races and I think people laugh and look at me funny but I don’t feel that at a ‘cross race. That’s why I race ‘cross because it’s the least judgmental form of bicycle-racing that I’ve encountered.
“My local shop, we’re in a really small town and it’s Ma, Pa, and myself, get a big exposure from my racing. We’re a sponsor for the CCCX races as a shop. Other than that, it might get some other people involved that are intimidated because of their size. It’s a chance to say ‘hey, look, in this particular discipline it can be done.’ Overall, I let people know you don’t have to be 135 lbs to have fun and be competitive.
“In the sport I’m in, I am the exception to the stereotype. Don’t get me wrong, if I go to road races I get waxed. I can’t hang on in a 10-mile climb. In the one BASP race that I won last year, I heard a lot of heckling, whether it be good or bad, saying ‘you’re getting beat by the fat kid’. I actually use that as a motivation. It’s not like we’re in a downhill race and the bigger people have the advantage. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those guys that get to 140 lbs. In my lightest state I am 185-190. But in this discipline, on flatter courses, its the bike handling almost as much as the fitness.
“In cyclocross you get a lot heckling and that’s part of the game. It’s only motivation for me because if I’m out front that means I’m doing something right whether I’m big, small, short, tall, fat, whatever. The first ‘B’ Candlestick race I won it surprised people. They can go with it or against it.”
Neher works at Brian and Robin Lucas’ Off the Chain Bikes in Hollister, regarding the shop and the Lucas’ as his extended family. Myles Lucas, who took second in Elite Men at CCCX last season racing for ibis/Buy-cell.com, is also part of the family.