Chequamegon 40 Race Report, 19 September 2015
Why would you do that? That was the question I was asked most often -- answered below in three parts.
Why do a 40 mile mountain bike race on a single speed? If you've raced single speed, you probably get it. If not there's probably no good way to convey what makes racing a bike with a single gear attractive. Let's face it, having one gear means spinning out on the easy parts and it turns every hill into a muscular challenge. On several hills I pushed as hard as I could on the pedals while pulling as hard as I could on the bars to just barely make it up the hill. I probably could have walked faster near the top. As it happened, the gear I chose was adequate for most of the hills. I jogged and walked up most of the fire tower hill and one other because of steepness. It was super fun passing people on the last couple of climbs -- barely turning over the gear while others spun away. There's no doubt it adds to the challenge and when I look at the times of comparable riders I know, gears could have made my ride 10 minutes faster. So why do it? You'll just have to try it yourself to truly understand.
Why fully rigid? Why would anyone do a rocky, bumpy course without a suspension front fork? I mean yikes! If I had a single speed bike with a suspension fork I would most definitely have used it. That course is bumpy and rocky but there are no drops unless you go off course. Fully rigid adds some risk to the day but so long as I could see what was coming, it was all under control. There were two bumpy, grassy descents that shook my head so violently I couldn't see well at all! This was unnerving and caused me to add brake which of course increased the shaking. In 40 miles, two sketchy descents is not bad, however, it takes only one to ruin your day. I recommend a suspension fork.
Why drop bars? What? That's right my single speed bike, Flo, is configured for cyclocross. Flo is a single speed mountain bike with drop bars. For the cheq40 she wore Racing Ralph mountain bike tires. Good tires with low pressure are key, especially on a fully rigid bike. Flo did great all she ever asked from me was to stop using the brakes and I mostly obliged, judging from several Strava PRs earned on downhill segments. The drop bars didn't matter except for the need to tape up my hands before the ride to prevent blisters which can be caused by sliding back and forth on the brake hoods. The Rocky-style tape job pre-race had the added benefit of psyching me up (play theme song).
I set out to ride well and didn't worry about racing. Afterall the average age of the single speeders is probably 25 and my age is more than double that. It was with some disbelief and complete surprise that I finished 13th out of 55 in the SS category in 2:46:50. Overall a super fun day on the bike. Would I do it again on a single speed bike with no suspension and drop bars? You betcha! -Joey King
NOTE: Joey was not the only AMR racer at the Cheq 40, Nick and Brett were also racing. More updates to come!