Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Waking up in front of the gates at Agua Caliente park, nestled at the outskirts of Tucson actually made me want to puke. With 3 hours of restless sleep, I was not prepared to jump on my bike and seek masochistic Zen with 50 other riders. In between dry heaves, trucks with bikes strapped to their roof, or crammed into their camper shell passed through the gates eager to find the camaraderie of the pre-race parking lot scene. Some waved at the bedraggled few, pathetically lounging next to their oddly long bicycles and makeshift campsite. Others merely stared, and missed the turn, only to come back and stare a bit more as they entered the Single Swizzle Race.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Single speeders are a proud niche of the de-evolution of bicycles. Out with the fancy advancements of gear shifting technology. In with the simplicity of â€œOne F-in Speedâ€� as a bumper sticker put it so eloquently. Some bikes go another step back in time to a fixed gear, where the wheels turn simultaneously with the cranks, AND they do this on technical single-track. These die-hard riders, unburdened by the distractions and complications of shifting gears have found a whole community of cyclists who strive to reach back down Darwinâ€™s step-ladder and come up riding just as hard as geared bikes.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Exactly what the hell we were doing there was anybodyâ€™s guess (including ours). I looked over at my bike with its rear cog set mutilated with only 1 only one proud cog left. My derailleur was stretched to its limit to keep the chain tension tight enough for the chain to stay in place. Sean had shortened his bike and it looked more appropriate for a single speed race. Goatâ€™s rig however, was the anomaly. A fixed gear Xtracycle that left most everybody shaking their head in disbelief. We did not look like we there to race. Which made sense, because we werenâ€™t.
For the most part, bicycle tourists are not extremely fast cyclists. Their day consists almost entirely of riding, but when youâ€™re carrying 100 pounds of gear, the temptation to flip into the highest gear possible and mash up a hill is largely ignored. You get used to taking it easy while touring on a bike, taking in the scenery. Itâ€™s a different kind of riding, itâ€™s not competitive race training. I experience enough â€œburnâ€� in my legs on a daily basis, and was not inclined to melt them on such a fine day. We had traveled about 5,500 miles on our bikes and had pedaled with just a handful of folks and we were really just stoked to have the opportunity to ride with 50 other people.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â After signing in and feeling bad that I didnâ€™t have money to donate to the organizers for all their effort, we were rolling out of the park. A couple miles of neutral riding before the ride really began. Hanging somewhat precariously out the backside of a SUV was a guy videotaping the event. His camera was pointed at the mass of cyclists who had taken over the road, and forced the cars to yield to the riders. It was a beautiful sight. After countless miles of â€œsharingâ€� the road with those 4 wheeled bike killers, it was nice to be a visible mass of riders. Most laws state that they need to leave anywhere from 3-5 feet in between cyclists, and anybody who has ever dared pedal their bikes on the roads knows that law does not exist in reality.
We reached the starting point and get a glimpse of our fearless leader, Dejay, the race coordinator, as he explained the course. He attempted an impossible feat: to give us directions and then claimed we were responsible for knowing the course, but, all I really heard was, â€œThis race will surely test your mind, body, and spirit.â€� I was pretty sure that the trinity he spoke of was wholly consumed with not puking.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The race begun uphill, and remained that way for a long time. A quick check in with Goat, verified that he shared my same passion for keeping the breakfast where it belongs, inside our stomachs and not on the ground. I slowly meandered my way up the hill, and was mildly taunted by the camera at various sections of the mountain road. Eventually, I realized, â€œThese single-speeders are freaking nuts,â€� and wondered, â€œJust what the hell Iâ€™ve gotten myself into.â€� With only gear they would just stand up as if they were on a fancy road bike and grind their way up the hill. Compensating the lack of gears with pure pain and a bit of insanity. They were fast. I was slow.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The top of the hill offered a temporary oasis of water and beer. Just watching the riders down the fizzy, foamy beer made my stomach turn. Through the gates was an hour of single-track marked by pink ribbons. A few turns of incredible trails settled my stomach as I pedaled with my only pathetic gear through half a dozen different types of cactus, ever mindful of the torture they can cause to both me and my tires. Within 5 minutes I stopped to see if a rider needed help patching a flat. 15 minutes later, everybody was stopping to see if I needed help patching my flat. â€œOh No.â€� I told them. Seemed easy enough; simple pinch flat. Each patch I checked would inevitably fail, since my tube was filled with Stanâ€™s, the flat-healing liquid would leak through the hole and penetrate the patch. I thought I would just need to put on another patch. Nope that failed. Then I tried ripping them all off and starting over. Failed again. Two complete patch kits later and about 20 or so people I waved by, I knew I was screwed. I was pretty sure all possible help had been flagged by. Fortunately, I was actually not the last person.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Two guys arrived and were able to give me a replacement tube. After about 300 pumps from my pathetic little bike pump, I was back on the trail, but my morale was low. The trail was incredibly fun. Then it went into a wash that switched from thick sand or endless boulders, that proved difficult (if not impossible at times) with the long Xtracycle frame. I was struggling towards the end of the loop trying to get traction on tiny but steep climbs. Having to push more than I would were I to have all my gear on the back. Eventually, I caught up with other riders and was able to enjoy the solidarity of this challenging event. I rode with one of the guys from Surly for a bit, and discovered that he had helped design the Pugsley, a bike I dream about every night and at various points throughout the day. â€œWhoah.. So you created the Pugsley..â€� I stammered while catching my breathe, â€œsoâ€¦.basicallyâ€¦you are my hero.â€�
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œYou guys are my hero,â€� he said, â€œyou came all the way from Alaska, huh?â€�
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I was too star struck to respond, â€œso is it true? Can you really ride on the snow??â€�
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œYeah. In about 8 inches of snow you can turn a nice figure eight.â€�
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I got a few more flats.. and thenâ€¦there was Milagrosa. A trail that could easily demolish your spirit, and possibly your bike. Endlessly steep rocky outcroppings smashed together into a tight single-track of drops, turns and impossibly narrow passages. A few dozen switchbacks into it I smashed my pedal on a rock as I careened down, lacking the control/skill to operate smoothly. All that remained of my left pedal was a 1â�„4â€� shaft of metal. The rest of the trail I spent trying to keep my feet from bouncing off the pathetic remnant of pedal, which at one point painfully found its way into my shin. The Xtracycle worked well enough for most of it, though because of the long wheel base, it would high-center on some rocks and I forgot to take off the kickstand leaving it to snag snag on rocks and stop my momentum instantly. Even with the broken pedal, I only had to dismount/walk less than tenth of the trail, which was quite an accomplishment in my book.
Â Â Â Â Â Â I rode in with Beer Brad who waited around for me after he heard my agonizing scream during the altercation between my shin/pedal shaft. He was riding solo in the 24 hour race next weekend and was asking if we were going to be there. â€œWouldnâ€™t miss it for the world.â€� I told him.
Piles of pizza awaited us among a cheering crowd of racers who were happy to see that the Xtracycle made it back. Everybody headed to Dejayâ€™s house for the post-race awards ceremony and slideshow. The event was sponsored by Fat Tire Brewing company and nobody was left thirsty. The awards ceremony was unique, with shwag being passed out based on criteria that had very little to do with anybodies performance in the race, â€œwho got hit by a car the most recently?â€� or â€œwho drank the most during the race?â€�
A critical mass of single speeders developed at the house and rode through the city to the Surly Wench for an after-race party. Riding through a town with 40 other bikers was a highlight of my week. The evening did not wind down until after 3 AM, far past my bedtime, and I was practically falling asleep waiting for the mob of bikers to crash out back at Dejays.
The guys from Minneapolis (Surly folks, and Hurl from Cars-R-Coffins) stayed up listening to punk rock and attending their drinks until the wee morning hours. Single Swizzle 07 was an event you would hate to miss. It was the first time Iâ€™d even pedaled a single speed bike, and would happily do it again just to hang out and participate in such a cool ride.