Ever hear of Cyclocross? A good description is a bike race mixed with steeplechase. In cyclocross, riders race laps around a short course that usually features some pavement, some dirt, some woods, some steep hills and for good measure, some obstacles thrown in that require riders to dismount, work their way through and then get back on and ride some more.
The course is usually 2.5 to 3.5 km (which works out to somewhere between a mile or two for those of us metrically impaired), with a race lasting anywhere from 30 to 75 minutes. Maybe 80% of the course will be ridable, with the rest made of natural obstacles like creeks and fallen trees combined with man-made barriers like bales of straw and low fences.
Cyclocross bikes are more like road bikes than mountain bikes, though they do usually have knobbier tires and cantilever brakes that help keep mud and leaves, etc., from getting clogged up in them.
Cyclocross heats up in the fall and winter as road racing fades and has been big in Europe going back at least fifty years, though interest in the U.S. has picked up in recent decades. If you're looking for a new twist and a great way to keep in shape during the off season, you might want to check it out. Numerous cyclocross races are held, and most offer novice heats so you can give it a try without fear of embarassment if it's your first time.
Here's a helmet-cam video of a cyclocross race to give you a good feel for what it's like.
Image: Wacko Robinson/Flickr