When I started racing years ago (oooh. almost 20 now!), I never thought I would ever return to the sweet simplicity of one gear. It's always been more gear combinations for optimum cadence, lighter weight components to offset the larger number of gears, or plusher suspension to ensure a smooth continuous pedal stroke aimed at maintaining 90 rpm!
Single speed.......to steal the phrase made famous (well sort of) by the company Niner Bikes....just "Pedal Damn It!"
This was to be my first race on my "new" single speed. I picked up a few months ago in a slightly used condition.....in a word I love it. "A return to a simpler time", I've said before. Indeed. One gear. No suspension. Cadence? Yeah right! Just "Pedal Damn it!"
So the scene was set for my first race which was to be at Cannonsburg Ski Area....how you say? Last week, a tractor trailer at work had flattened by race bike. Wheel, front brake and fork were damaged beyond repair and the frame had split on the top tube. The BB95 bottom bracket had cracks in it and cranks were floppin in the wind.....single speed it is! Here's an actual pic of the event:
Anyway, aside from the tragedy that befell my trusty Superfly, I was ready. The venue was not ideal. I was going to be in store for a fair amount of climbing. But I figured hey, this bike is like 3 lbs lighter than my Superfly so I should go uphill quick as lightning.....right? Well, not exactly. I would say that I made it up the hill and we'll leave it at that.
So I signed up for the expert/elite single speed class. I've raced plenty of expert races over the years and this is sort of where I've peaked. I don't train enough to race with the pros but I do well enough to stick with the pack in the expert class. Somebody forgot to mention that the expert/elite single speed class was made up of anything but normal people! Wow....fast fish
So I'm at the starting line waiting for my turn to go. The order appears random with single speeds (ss from her on out) and gear bikes all intermixed. I raise my eyebrows at this as I was always under the impression that geared bikes were faster than ss. Why slow the big guns down, you may be asking as well. Did I mention this is where the animals hang out? I'm looking from man to man seeing a bunch of 4% body fat jackals salivating at there chance to take the hill. I believe I must've looked a bit out of place as there we're no veins evident in my "softer" physique. I took a deep breath, and said to myself, "let's just go out and have some fun. First time out on the ss, don't blow up on the first hill."
Fast forward to the start. This is a time trial. Riders are going off every 15 seconds to try and split the pack a bit. I'm seeing all these monsters take off motocross style slinging dirt as they blow off the line. I clip in and notice a geared bike in front of and behind me. The guy in front looks about "average" for the expert class. The guy behind me I believe was actually breathing fire. What are these guys on? Anyway I watch the guy in front of me take off and thankfully doesn't bury me in a pile of roost.
Now I'm nervous. 15 seconds is all I have to try and take off and maintain a gap to the top of the hill.......oh wait the hill. I almost forgot that the starting line was at the bottom of the ski hill. No we didn't go straight up the hill, but it certainly wasn't flat either. I mentioned I was on a single speed right?
Beep, beep, beeeeeeep........I'm gone (no roost, but I think my back tire may have slipped on the rubber mat;) I hit the hill and I can actually see the guy that took off in front of me.......so I pinned it. I don't know why I do this. My body certainly wasn't ready for it. I tried telling myself to relax, this was my first race on the ss after all. Just relax. Uh huh. So up I went absolutely throwing myself at the hill only 45 seconds into a 2 hour race. Brilliant!
I pass the guy in front of me with 1/4 of the hill still to go. He mutters a meager, "go single speed". My heart rate is north of the Alaska at this point, I'm drooling and I'm 2 minutes into the race. Great! After a few more miles of rolling and twisting single track, I settle in and begin to feel in a groove. Just then the raging, fire breathing, bull scoots past me in shower of sparks as he rams through multiple gear changes.
After this I settled in for a lonely couple of laps, catching and cruising past a few geared riders while several other geared riders returned the favor. The only other single speeder I was to see that day was the beginning of a few ripples.
I heard another rider approaching from behind. I was about two laps in and had started about 3 position (1 minute or so) ahead of another monster looking ss rider. So far I hadn't seen him since the starting line and was beginning to gain some confidence that I may not get passed. As I rolled through a twisty portion of the course, I glanced back to see him methodically chewing away at my fragile lead. I was already running just below the ribbon, so when I kicked it up a notch, I gave up "comfort" for speed and proceeded to hold him off.
When I use the word comfort, this isn't the easy does it, tip-toe thru the tulips type comfort. This is more of the 170 bpm, snot blowing, comfort. This is the zone I usually dwell in before my hands begin to shake. So when I kicked it, I knew I couldn't sustain forever. And alas as I began to lose focus (and yes, shake a bit), I dipped a little to tight on a down hill corner, lost sight of the trail and rocketed into the undergrowth.
Crashing stinks anytime it happens. It really stinks during a race. There's dirt all over everything, you don't have a second to check if your gear is good, or wipe the blood off. You just get on with the mud and blood and turn the pedals over until the stars clear......This of course was no longer conducive to holding off the onslaught of the on-coming juggernaut. He caught and passed me.
I cruised through the finishing area after lap two and must've looked a bit peaked. Christa and the girls were there and while Carys shouted words of encouragement, Christa asked how I was doing. I felt better knowing that they were hanging out on the ski hill having fun supporting my bad habit....
It took me a mile or so to recover before I started putting good turns together and the nice thing about the single speed....less stuff to break. No excuses, my bike was fine, and so was I.....yup, step on it! I kept the big man in sight occasionally and to my delight began to draw him in on the climbs. I took a few chances and passed a few riders in "less than opportune" patches, but overall was just below the ribbon and doing ok.
Now I had worked my way to within striking distance (about 6-10 seconds now) when I heard but did not see, what sounded like a grizzly bear crashing through the woods. I slowed but did not stop as I approached a small withered looking bridge over a ravine. Off to the left was the ss'er I was chasing. He apparently was pushing it as well. He was laying off in the woods several yards from the trail down in the shallow ravine. I shouted out a quick "are you ok?" and when I received the response, "yeah, that was close" I knew he was good and pedalled on. He later recovered much like I had, but finished overall about 20 seconds back. The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. No sprint for the finish, only a few more passes (both on the giving and receiving end), and a gentle downhill glide to the finish.
26m 25sec , 27min 44 sec (crash lap), 27 min 20 sec, 27min 10 sec.
10 out of 13 in the Expert/elite ss class
29 out of 60-ish overall expert class
Those ss guys are fast fish indeed! As always, I hope to improve and stay competitive. Hoping to do better next time!