On Sunday afternoon, a group of young cyclists and their parents riding in a line about as long as the Lincoln Children's Zoo train stopped for a water break at Bishop Heights Park.

This did not go unnoticed by the other large group of cyclists riding laps along a mowed path that ran through the woods along the Rock Island Trail.

Josh Rice, a longtime cyclocross rider and an organizer of this fall's set of Star City CX races, told a few other racers that they ought to invite the kids to test out the course.

It didn't take much to convince the Cornhusker Council Cub Scouts of Pack 39 to complete, for presumably all of them, their first cyclocross lap.

And then their second.

They were out on their annual bike rodeo, pack leader Andrew Duey began to explain, when his son flew past him.

“This is my third lap, Dad!” Alex Duey, 7, yelled.

"I'm gonna go catch him," Andrew Duey said.

They zipped down a mowed trail that looped toward a set of two barriers made of PVC pipe, pedaled up a hill slope and back to a group of parents, some of whom expressed hope that the course would exhaust their young riders.

Instead, it invigorated the cyclists who invited the kids on the course.

“This is the coolest thing ever,” Elisabeth Reinkordt, a Star City CX organizer, said.

By design, this fall’s slate of Star City CX races is intended to draw interest from beginners and grow the sport in Lincoln, she said. Watching a bunch of kids take to it on their first crack induced a celebratory fist pump from Reinkordt.

Before the Scouts showed up, Reinkordt and some of the other experienced riders were running others through an informal “cyclocross school.”

Lessons included how to navigate an off-camber turn, how to shift your weight as you power up a hill, when to dismount the bike in advance of the PVC barriers, which you’re supposed to jump.

If this sounds like snippets of different kinds of cycling events pieced together with a dash of "American Gladiators," it is.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who came up with Warrior Dash watched some cyclocross," Reinkordt said.

On a typical cyclocross course, the riders weave across a tapestry of surfaces -- grass, pavement, gravel, and, assuming there aren’t any kids on the swing set at the time, sand. There’s often a mud pit in there, too, because why not.

“I think you’re making this up as you go,” Sydney Brown told Reinkordt as the two rode up a hill to the edge of the Rock Island Trail on Sunday.

“Nope, I made it up Wednesday,” Reinkordt said.

The lead designer of the race courses is Craig Schmidt, who has been working with Lincoln Parks and Recreation to mow the paths at three city parks.

"We're using new locations, and we think racers are going to love the new features we're going to be able to incorporate," he said in a release about the cyclocross season.

At Sunday’s cyclocross school, there was nothing but encouragement for the riders. Over the next few Wednesdays, though, there might be a slightly different vibe.

There is an unmistakably impish quality to a cyclocross event. The obstacles and elements of a course are laid out in a way that throws one challenge atop the next for the duration of the set-timed race.

“Once you’ve got them sped up,” Reinkordt said, “how can you evilly slow them down?”

Cyclocross involves not only tight turns and lactic acid formation but also heckling, costumes and cowbells.

In Belgium, where it's Super Bowl-popular, spectators line the course and yell and taunt and tempt riders. Some of that's worn off at regional cyclocross events, Reinkordt said. Spectators have placed money on the barriers to see whether racers will briefly abandon the pursuit of glory for a dollar.

“Shenanigans are encouraged,” Reinkordt said.

Beginner races tend to last about half an hour, and pros tend to race laps for 45 to 60 minutes, Reinkordt said. She said the Star City CX races are a good introduction for beginners as well as great training for riders who race in regional competitions, of which there are many, on the weekends.

The series began at Seacrest Park on Wednesday, and included about 20 preregistered riders with no previous experience, Rice said. 

"That's exactly what we're trying to do, and I think it's going to build from here," Rice said.

Reach Cory Matteson at 402-473-7438 or cmatteson@journalstar.com, or follow him on Twitter at @LJSMatteson.