'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves - Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves - And the mome raths outgrabe."
to see the official course description (Yuba Expeditions)
to read Big Johnny's hilarious diary of the race (DrunkCyclist.com)
Click here to see my SSWC Photo
It was absolutely EPIC. If
you were there - you know exactly what I mean. If
you missed it - you should be ashamed of yourself.
I speak of course of the SingleSpeed World Championships which
was held in Downieville, CA on October 12, 2002.
of you who have read these columns before will recognize that this is
not the first time I will write glowing things about that little gold
rush town of Downieville. But
what I realize now is exactly why
I love this place so much. It's
because of the simplicity - one general store, one diner, one saloon,
and one bike shop. That's what it's all about - a lack of Complexity. No cell
phones, no email, no nothing. Just
you and the land, and what a drop dead gorgeous land it is around these
parts. Lack of Complexity.
Exactly the SAME reason I love riding SingleSpeeds so much.
It's the same thing. No
gears, no lockout, no anti-bob, no 3 link triangle, no rapid rise.
It's just two lungs, two legs, one gear, one brake …
Did I say one brake? More on that
later. I am of the opinion
that every cyclist should visit Downieville once before they die.
My visit this past summer (read about it here) was only a
prelude. The return visit
for SSWC exceeded my every expectation.
The change of seasons in these parts is just incredible.
Trees looking like they are on fire and the temperatures just
perfect for a little exertion. And exertion is exactly what we did as this town of 325
residents more than doubled it's population by hosting this event.
guess to host a World Championship, one needs to have a course that is
suitably challenging for the world's elite.
And that it was. Unfortunately
the other 99% of us got our asses kicked by 36 grueling miles which
covered over 6000ft of vertical climbing - with no gears.
Ouch. I arrived in
Downieville on Friday and met up with Rob and met a new guy Mark.
We made a plan to do a pre-ride of about 15 miles starting at the
TOP of the mountain. Carrie
dropped us off in the van and we had one hell of a sweet descent back
into Downieville. It was
definitely not SS territory but we managed to plummet through the twisty
aggressive singletrack with tempered aggression.
We actually passed a few armor clad downhillers riding full
boinger's. Puzzling look on
their faces. It was
actually hard to hold back somewhat as I had to keep reminding myself
that in less than 24 hours I would be riding UP this damn thing in what
could easily become an all day journey.
At the conclusion of the pre-ride everything had checked out
perfect. Felt great,
equipment was running great, trails were in great shape.
Get up in the AM and GO. After
sunset the temps drop fast, so following dinner and an early night at
party central (more on that later) it was off to snooze under several
layers of blankets at the Downieville Inn.
Saturday morning breakfast it was a short (and cold) 4 mile ride to the
race start. The
assembled multitude of SS nutters was truly a sight to behold.
I don't think there is a "politically correct" way to
describe this motley bunch - kind of like Woodstock '94 meets Halloween
Night in the Barrio. Riders
from Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and more.
The Brits were there in full force plus a strong showing from MSP.
Lots of California dudes, Colorado, Oregon - you name it.
Even a nice showing from AZ.
Also a very, very impressive assemblage of SS machinery -
everything from homemade conversions, top shelf offerings from the elite
manufacturers, plenty of disk brakes, a few suspensions, and yes quite a
few rigs that begged the question "you gotta be kidding me?"
The Schwinn cruiser with the coaster brake and ape hangers was
not at all out of place. But
the pilots - they were the real attraction.
Every kind of clothing (a lot of it not bike related), S&M
gear, body ink galore, and enough body jewelry to tell you for sure that
these cats could care less what their bikes weighed.
One Canadian dude had built a CD Walkman into his camelback
including stereo remote speakers like you would have on your desktop
computer. I must admit that
his AC/DC cd's definitely helped push us up the long climbs.
All around the start area there were riders powering down that
last Bud (plus two more in the jersey pockets for later in the race) or
passing around the old "pleasure pipe" loading to the hilt
with mother natures finest combustibles.
Plenty of wine sacks and bottles of Sangria had been fitted to
backpacks for what would surely be an epic day in the woods. It wasn't until the start flag dropped at 10 AM that it
really dawned on me that this was supposed to be a RACE!
course consisted of an initial 12 mile climb up 6000 ft of fire
road. Yes, you read that correctly.
Six G's of climbing - more than a mile - one gear.
This would actually be the longest and highest climb I
had EVER done. On
ANY bike. With ANY
kinds of gears.
So the plan for me and my Bianchi was to spin up the long
climb at a somewhat leisurely pace because even after the climb
there was still a hell of a lot of riding to be done.
I found that once things spread out a little, I was able
to find my pace and was actually passing more people than passed
me - always a good goal - including AC-DC speaker guy -
"For those about to rock …we salute you".
Kind of felt like that song was singing about us racers.
the pace was slow, you could not exactly slack off completely, as there
were checkpoints for 2 hrs and 3 hrs cut-offs. My
only real goal was to make the cut-offs, have fun if possible, and
finish in one piece. The
climb was long, long, long, cut-paste, cut-paste, blah, blah, blah.
Just when you thought it was over, it kept right ongoing.
Rob was already far in front - maybe I'd see him again, maybe
not. Didn't really matter.
I had decided to ride a 32-18 gear for the race and it actually
was not too bad to climb in. I
did stop twice to catch my breath, but for the most part I reached the 2
hr checkpoint in good shape. Now,
I know this is hard to imagine but the next 10 miles or so were actually
way harder than the initial
climb. Lots of boulder
fields, more climbs, steep as a mother and one incredible son of bitch
rock downhill that was so far beyond ride-able it was an absolute joke.
did I anticipate that this section was not even easily walk-able.
As I dismounted for what would surely be the hike-a-bike from
hell, I started to slide off the trail and in trying to recover I went
over the bars flipping the bike behind me.
No obvious damage, except that when I would pull on the rear
brake lever, it would not return. Hmm… as this is a hydraulic system, a potential trailside
repair would be no easy matter. I
could not figure out exactly the root cause of the problem until I
noticed that the lever was bent slightly and it seemed likely it has
binding on the lever housing. I
bent it slightly back into position and the problem was almost
eliminated. But I decided to "make it perfect" and the extra
fraction of a mm that I now bent it caused it snap off right in my hand.
GREAT - how in the hell am I gonna ride this course with no rear
brake? I hiked down the
hill and gave it a try, but there was NO WAY that I could ride with
front brake only. Problem
was that I was now about mid course so faced a hell of a long walk in
either direction I chose. But
then the engineer in me realized that I could likely take the left hand
(front) level and attached it to the rear brake.
Riding with rear brake only should be possible.
Took about 5 minutes to do the switch-er-oo, but actually it
worked out like a champ. I
found that I had to skid stop a lot more using just rear brake, but
otherwise it looked like I was back in business and at least could
A beautiful section of the
Second Divide Trail
passed the 3 hr checkpoint and for the first time all day
actually had some confidence that I would finish the race.
Caught up to Rob on some extended descent sections.
The rugged switchback downhills were actually pretty
exhausting followed by more climbing, but soon I head those
cherished words from a course marshal (as he toked away) -
"You're at the top - that's it - last climb is over
music to my ears I started down some of the sweetest singletrack
you could imagine. Funny
how I instinctively kept reaching for my left brake even though
it was not there. Kind
of like an amputee who still thinks he feels his hands or feet.
This part of the course was familiar to me from the
pre-ride and the effects of 3 powerbars,
1 Gu and 1 Cliff Mojo were kicked in full blast.
I had already ridden longer, harder and higher than I
ever had before but surprisingly I still had quite a lot of gas
left as I continued to swoop down along the river side through
the canopy of trees toward the finish line.
I actually thought the finish line was in town, so I was
abruptly surprised when I exited the singletrack 3 miles from
town and bang - there
was the finish! Five
hours, twenty minutes. I
know this sounds like total bullshit - but I had that feeling of
"Is that all?" I
guess in a sick way I was just really disappointed that it was
over. But that was
it - I had done it. SSWC
course the weekend was far from over.
As battered SS riders filtered into town, the Downieville Saloon
began to fill up. I guess
you could call it a late lunch. The
school house hosted a free Pasta feed that was actually pretty darn
good. Great lemonade.
Sat with some Canadians who seemed pretty cool about having the
next worlds in Vancouver - although word on the street is that an
Australia event is perhaps more likely.
Anyway, the pasta feed provided the necessary holdover until the
post race party got rolling later that night.
Huge amounts of beer flowing as riders claimed their raffle swag.
Damn those Brits can sure drink a lot.
Snagged a Ti bottle opener and a Timbuk Two T-shirt.
I'll tell you, for $20 you made out pretty well in this race.
Beer, food, raffle swag. Without
question the most cost effective race I have ever been to.
"Hey - did ya hear 'bout that damn bicycle race?"
but I figgered somethin' wuz up 'cuz a all them bikers hanging
'round town and drinking all that beer"
those damn idiots rode all way from Yuba campground up to Packer
Saddle and down through the canyon.
The winner had to get branded"
only that, but they rode bikes with out no gears"
Flo (the waitress): "Now
I'll tell YOU boys something.
They was the nicest bunch of fellows you could imagine.
Way nicer than those downhill guys we get 'round here. They might have drank a whole lot of beer, but at least they pee'd
in the toilet and not all over the streets like them other guys
almost hate to close out this story - just as I hated to say goodbye to
the SSWC and say goodbye again to Downieville.
It was now Monday morning after the race and I stopped at the
Downieville Diner (the one and only eating place in Downieville) to have
some breakfast prior to departing for home.
I overheard the following conversation between a logger, a old-time
miner, and Flo the waitress.
so it went in Downieville …….
Dave (October 2002)