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How to build your own port-o-barriers

Who's thinking cyclocross! I am! I am! In fact, I never stop thinking about it. I just watched the 2000 Worlds again for the zillionth time last night. Love watching Groovy-daal work the mud. In other words, I watch and study 'cross as an obsession. Rewinding again and again and again to see how Ik Sven takes a line with insanely low tire pressure in the Dugasts; *or* how Erwin ports the bike Belgie style, finessing the bike on to his shoulder and arm around the head tube in such syncopation you need to see it in slow motion; *or* how De Clercq stutter steps his muddy climbs to conserve energy.

It's all in the details and that's where cross races are won and lost.

So, what makes a cross rider great? Technical savvy. I love putting pain to roadies who fumble through 'cross courses like a deer trying to walk across ice. 'Cross, if you haven't figured it out yet, is a game of not only sheer maintenance of power but also of utter grace. The power keeps you at the front but the grace ensures it is damn near impossible to bridge to you.

Technical savvy off the bike is what makes the best cross riders the best. And to be specific, it's the barriers that above all are the bottleneck and gating factor (no pun intended) to those desiring a podium spot. When you can flow effortlessly through the barriers and reduce all amounts of friction through your transition and get back on the bike fluidly, folks without those same skills fumble, waste energy and when they finally remount and get going again, they have to add those additional watts of power to get back on your wheel. Compound that wattage expenditure over the course of 60 minutes and those without your barrier skills have burned WAY too many matches.

So, how do you get better? Practice, dummy. And to practice you need barriers. Back in the day, we used to drive our cars to a schoolyard and pull out wooden boards we'd made. That is retarded, and this will enable you to be mobile by bike, carry 'em in a back pack and have LOTS of barriers as well to set up multiples. So in my quest to make American 'crossers LOOK way better than our stereotypical bumbling selves, behold my secret plans.

What do you need?

For 4 complete barriers you need

  • 16 22" sections of 1/2" PVC tubing (for the top bars).
  • 16 18" sections of same 1/2" PVC tubing (for the legs). NOTE: you may want to go as high as 19" for a bit more height on the leg tubes. The 18" tubes are high but just slightly lower than the UCI height.
  • 8 3-way joins for 1/2 tubing (buy extra 'cause they break)
  • 12 2-way joins for 1/2 tubing (buy extra 'cause they break too)
I bought all this stuff at the local hardware store for like $20 bucks. I had them cut it there into the section lengths specified above.

This is what the 2 and 3 way sections look like (the 2 way on the left, 3 way on the right). You can find them near the PVC tube section in your hardware store.

I drafted up a little diagram for y'all in Visio to show you how this stuff fits together:

When you get them all cut up, throw some stickers on the long top sections. This makes it SUPER easy when you get to your course site and pull 'em out of your back pack to know which are the top and which are the leg tubes. They all fit nicely into a backpack as follows:

And when you are at your site, set 'em up (takes about 2 minutes) and begin your practicing to dominate the competition! RM'ers training using the port-o-barriers in action:

Reader Comments (9)

great post!

the 'cross juices are flowing.

July 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Damn straight! My blood is already boiling for 'cross.

Belgium 2008, baby!

July 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

hi...trying to build up my barriers per your design...I bought the 3 ways which you have in your picture but the one's in the backpack look to be different and I can't figure out how to make them am i missing something...?
email me at

September 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPloJaa


The ones you see in the backpack are indeed the same ones from the plan. Basically each of the 3 sections for the top bar and all 4 legs (x 4 complete barrier sets) are all in that backpack you see. I typically keep the couplings in place to make them easier to set up for the next time.

Can you be more specific on what you need help with? I'd be glad to give some guidance!


September 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

DUDE- i love fellow 'cross blogs. you're getting a link.

is it cross season yet?

our team may make a set of these to practice on...


August 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteralliwannadoisbicycle

If I do my trig correctly, and there is a chance I do, The legs should also be about 22 in to have a 40cm height.

40cm * sqrt(2) /2.54 = 22.3 in

sqrt(2) because it's a right angle isosceles triangle.

Did you actually put a tape measure to the height?

I'm going to home depot this weekend and will try to make one in the store and double check.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Daaaaamn, dude. It's just a PVC set of pipes to jump over. HA! Kidding. Honestly, this is more eyeball than spatial geometry. I just ensured the legs were all the same length and the top tubs their same legnth, then slap 'em together when I get to the course.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Where did you get the 3 ways? Checked McGuckins and Home Depot and all I could find were 2 way connectors with one of the sides being threaded.

August 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Same trig anon as above:
Yeah, my Home Depot didn't have the corners either, but did (they have everything!!).
I also went with 1/2 instead of 3/4 tubing and only plan to use 3 sections instead of 4 lengthways. Makes it a bit more manageable.
Also the 22inches is right - when I build them, the top is about 42 cm from the ground at the corners and sags just a little in the middle. Also, having only 22 inch (or 21 - whatever you cut it to) tubes means less wondering what goes where.

August 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

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