Friday, November 02, 2012

All About the SS

I'm not certain what exactly it is that causes the attraction for me. The simplicity, the simple elegance, the efficiency? Who would have dreamed that having just one gear could be so exhilarating?

As I've indicated before, I have been on-board with single-speed (SS) bicycles for some time now. It was way back in the spring of 2000 that a group of us started playing around with SS MTBs. A few years later, when I'd gotten into some road riding as well, the natural progression was toward the addition of a SS road bike. A few more years later and cyclocross came onto my horizon which was followed soon by a SS cyclocross bike.

By this time, pretty much all of my MTB ride group, in addition to their geared MTBs of choice, had dedicated, purpose build SSMTB bikes which we rode on a weekly basis. Despite having a SSMTB and getting back into MTB racing, I didn't really race much SSMTB at all even though there is a category for it. The first race I did on a SSMTB was the Landmine at Wompatuck State Forest, the day after a hurricane swept through. I also convinced Cathy to race her SSMTB, the thought being that it would be such a swampy mess which would do so much damage to the bikes that the simple SS drive train would be more reliable. Yea right, good though, but it was torture, sheer torture. After that it took a couple of years for me to give the SSMTB another try at the races but when I did my luck was much better. Despite that, I still reverted back to racing geared with a full-suspension MTB by default.

For cyclocross I recall the first race I did on a SS. This was before I had a true, dedicated SS frame, so I used a KHS cross frameset that I'd won at the Witches Cup converted with a Surly Singulator of all things. The year was 2007, my second season racing cross, and the race was the old Travis City Cycles Brockton cross race. There was no SS class so I just raced the 35+ masters event. It was good fun and I finished in the middle of the field, ironically losing handily I see, to my SSCX nemesis Curtis. The next season I didn't do much SSCX until the very last race, a new race called Ice Weasels. I'd registered for a couple of events, one of which was the SSCX race. I put the KHS back together as a SSCX rig and threw some spiffy Spinergy carbon tubular wheels of doom on the bike. The event was an absolute blast, had a good turnout and I had a ton of fun. I was hooked. In the process I also put a SSCX bike together for Cathy and she too really got into it.

The very next year, now 2009, I bought a dedicated SSCX rig, a Felt Breed that my friend Chris from the Bikeway Source hooked me up with. I rode it a ton, using it almost exclusively for the weekly CX practice sessions that we had going. That same season, I chose to jump back into the race waters with the SSCX bike at the MRC race, which was still held at the old venue in Wrentham. It was another miserable weather day and I again figured the SS would be more reliable and easier to clean afterwards. Again I raced the masters 35+ race in a near freezing driving rain, through epic mud and grime. I did OK and held my own in a tough field after leading for a good portion of the first lap.

To finish off that season we once again had the second annual Ice Weasels race, this time including snow and ice. The Felt Breed had some rear wheel issues so I built a spiffy new set up for here explicitly for the event. They were complete with winter camo Deep-V rims, red alloy nipples, radial lacing in the front and snowflake pattern lacing in the rear. I raced the bike in both the SSCX and elite races and made the podium in both, likely a 'career highlight'. At this point Cathy had a nice new Kona Major One at this point that Brian from JRA helped her into. It was a great bike and saw a lot of use, including the women's 3/4 race at NBX that year in addition to Ice Weasels.

I continued to ride the SSCX bike a lot and used it as my primary bike for CX specific training . In terms of racing, pretty much the only game in town was the Ice Weasels, which we did religiously. In 2010 I had a terrible year all around and it ended with an awful race at the Weasel, getting nailed in a starting straight crash by a racer who lost their chain while sprinting. I managed to keep it upright but got a big gash in my wrist and it bent my Mavic Ksyrium SSL rear wheel enough that it was rubbing hard on the brakes. A couple of laps in the freehub sheered from the hub body and it was race over. I recall Chip handing me a beer and I hung it up for the day, DNSing the elite race later on in favor of drowning my sorrows.

Last year it all changed for SSCX when Chip, Matt and Zanc put together a race series that spanned the entire season. Soon as promoters learned about it they jumped on board and we ended up have a good number of events. Cathy and I raced most of the events though we left the SS race as a just for fun, second race of the day. Other folks took it a little more seriously and only did the SSCX race. Others yet, even had SSCX pit bikes. There were a large number of legitimate competitors in just about every race who soon outweighed those busy drinking beer when a bike race broke out.

Curtis and Doug and Jeff from NY and Matt and Matt to mention a few were all in and taking no prisoners. It became serious business in spite of me. Cathy eventually caught on and migrated to one race per day but I was slow to learn. To top it all off, the final event of the year, the New England Regional Championships, even had a single-speed event. There was a jersey for the winner and a title. Cathy had an awesome race only losing out to Katina, who luckily was not from the region. My race was flawed with a couple of incidents and then I just plain got spanked by SSMTB standout James. It was not to be for me last year an I believe that I saw no victory at all.

This season all of that changed. The SSCX Zanconato series was bigger and better and I was going to treat it with the respect it commanded. No, or at least very little, doubling up has taken place this year. We put together neat new bikes built up with Cannondale frames using BB30 bottom-brackets which I converted using Beer Components EBBs. We took the really nice parts off from our old race bikes and put them onto these bikes. If I was going to race the race I was going to race it to win. After all, that is exactly what the competition was doing and let me tell you, the competition was all back and all treating it like a race. That said, I want to make it perfectly clear that despite the fact that we are all racing as hard as we can, there is an added sense of camaraderie withing the SSCX races. We actually cheer for each other while we are racing, we try to encourage each other. It is good, clean, honest racing. None of the BS but still all of the same intensity. It's pure, it's simple and by goodness if it isn't a whole lot of fun.

It has been a great season so far and I'm sad to realize that we really don't have that many events left. Great fun though and I'm hopeful that we see even more people coming into the events for next year and possibly, even more events. Everyone should give it a try, really. It will make you a better rider. If you need some suggestions, information or help converting a bike over to a SSCX, let me know. I'm happy to lend a hand if it means getting someone else hooked on it.


Anonymous said...

preach it, brother!

mkr said...

Can I have an 'Amen, brother?"!

rosey said...

Mike, it's been awesome to see you and Cathy, and many others fully support the single speed CX races. I wish more people would realize though, that for less than $1, they can zip tie their shifters and enter in the circus with us. It seems on most days, there are as many people on zip-tied single speeds as there are on dedicated single speeds. there really is no barrier to entry and zero need for people to spend money on more equipment (unless they want to, of course)

how do we get more people to drink the kool aid?

mkr said...

I think that getting the word out, just like this is doing, helps a lot. It is basically the same thing that has happened with MTBSS, where a subset will jump on board but others remain hesitant. I fully plan to do a post on the technical setup aspects of a SSCX bike, I just haven't gotten there yet ...