Thursday, October 30, 2014

2 Serious 4 Singlespeed: Part 1


Introduction: It's known as the party class. In CXSS you might race a gorilla, battle with Batman or tangle with a triple tandem. Bacon, bananas and beer are acceptable hand-ups. You choose one chainring, one cog and seal your fate with burning lungs and acid filled thighs. There is no description of this class that doesn't include the word: Crazy. This made me wonder if my sullen disposition and oft poetic ruminations were simply too serious for singlespeed. Then I thought... screw it! I'm gonna write whatever I feel.



The Perfect Gear: Perfection is an ideal developed for suckers. Striving to attain ultimate glory with calculated inches is akin to maximizing horsepower with a new transmission. The vehicle is a tool. Only operators can fail. Only riders can lose. When I asked my local bike shop about dropping to 41t in light of my struggle to conquer ascents, they said no. Build stronger legs, they said. Build stronger lungs.

When a retailer tells you not to buy, we assume it's a sign of honesty or in this case, a sign of insight. Previous starts had been handicapped by circumstance but this time I had no excuses. I wrote the calculation on my white board: Leg power + Cardio = Victory!


Hammer Hill is my test track. A bow ribbon layout with two small climbs per lap. I discovered it by accident on a driftless Wednesday afternoon. This pair of retention ponds is surrounded by thick grass and sits below a 9 foot dip from the bike trail above. Mount Snow it is not but for my purposes nothing could be better. No pedestrians, no traffic, all focus.

First attempt to complete 5 laps, 10 climbs was a half-success. Churning hard and desperate each round sapped my energy and stole my reason. Grinding up to daylight I could see the top, strain to balance then drop a boot, inches too short. By the 5th lap pain became comfort, coordination took shape. Like a jigsaw puzzle starting to make a picture, I suddenly knew where the pieces went.


Second attempt brimmed with eagerness. Same gear, same velcro infused monoculture, same unforgiving ascents, new technique. SS is unique in that it must flow. The tug of each stroke applies equal force requiring body adjustment to complete the motion. No brakes on the descents using every mph to accelerate with efficiency. Then loomed the climbs. Heavy feet pressed hard, must hit the hill with intent. Standing, angled off-camber and determined. One hill done then two, then three, then a knowing grin, secret gained, then ten.

If fitness is half toil, half confidence then I was already 20% stronger. Conquering a virtual mountain without the need for a technological upgrade stirs something primal. It brings forth the fierceness our ancestors relied on to hunt and kill. It brings forth a warrior state of mind.

And then I thought... screw it! Why not cover all my bases? I pinched a black MCS 41t from the recesses of Ebay and put it on the next day. All that primal nonsense is nice but I'm not taking any chances. That starting whistle is where the preparations end. Discarding an available advantage would be my bad. Eventually the face of expectation frowns on all of us. At my next race I plan on smiling.



If Alex is your kind of crazy, then you should really check out his books. Click on the link below.


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