The Kingdom Bike crew had managed to get a slot on the European Single Speed Championships, 2011 – in Maredsous, Belgium. And I had never ridden a single speed mountain bike set up before. My thoughts turned immediately to – somehow this is going to hurt. Skip forward to two weeks before the Champs, and I’m finally set up and ready to ride my first single speed ride. Left that one a bit late alright, but onwards we went.
20km into that first ride and my lower-back locked up. I had never pedaled out of the saddle so much before, and suddenly it’s dawning on me that, a) I should have done this ‘introduction’ a lot earlier and b) I was now going to have to start searching for someone that looked a lot like me and could ride a single-speed mtb. It was pretty pathetic. Or I should say, my school-girl whinging was pathetic. Endure onwards I did though, and managed to finish the ride, whinging, red-faced, scared of what was to come in the Euro Champs standard and not feeling to good about myself. However – something had changed within me…
A couple of contrast showers later and another trial ride the next day, and it started to get a little easier. Or maybe I should say – more, graspable. I have to admit, my eyes were opened very widely to the world of single speed riding – especially the mountain bike side of the sport. I’ve ridden with guys who used to ride a single speed road bike for the start of the winter training months and often wondered why they did and what was the point. But I’d never even considered it on a mountain bike. The technical ‘awakening’ came pretty early those first few rides. The simple fact that you have to pedal up and down nearly EVERYTHING was enlightening to say the least. And the level of focus and attention required was increased ten-fold. Slight rest here. Quick pedaling here. Dig in and get up this normally easy incline, don’t die, don’t die, don’t die! Yeah, the single speed animal was getting it’s claws in deep. And it’s addictive. It’s a completely different style of riding and those who do ride single speeds, having that knowing smile and winking nod with each other. They all ‘get it’.
Two weeks later and we’re in a clapped out rent-a-vibra-bus/van and screaming our way down the autobahn towards Belgium. The drivers seat was the best seat in the house – and had most room. Road trips are really best remembered AFTER the fact. Snickers, red-bull, terrible sandwiches of ration-like portion from petrol stations that look like small villages and paying for a piss? – Epic.
Road trip ‘vibro-bus’ style.
But what greeted us in this beautiful part of the quiet Belgian countryside was a like finding the Shire out of a Tolkien-esque tale. It’s evidently clear that the single speed world of mountain biking is ‘special’. This is not a criticism or a snide slag at people who ride single speed. No. Single speeders are tweakers, geekers and hawkers of the mountain bike world. Everyone comparing gear riding ratio’s, tyre width and rolling resistance, colour schemes and carbon forks, converted contraptions from god-knows-where, lamp-chop sideburns, inked-ankles and a secret level of determination to be unique and different. And we loved it. Everyone was so welcoming and open. Quick to laugh and stop for a chat. Share a beer and geek out. All the different nationalities mingled, jousted and joked – from noisy-Netherlandians to crazy French in onesie-morph suits, the level of weirdness was off the charts. But that’s why the event was sold out months ago, and the people who were there all fitted in.
Classic Single Speed Race gear.
Race morning was not fun though. Pre-race prep the night before was a full dousing of Belgian beers, waffles, pomme-frites, night riding (and more drinking whilst riding), face plants and minor bike-and-bush entanglements. But all we had to do was turn up and ride. Besides, we just passed an American rider in just his Y-fronts, helmet and mtb shoes. And he was followed closely behind by two guys in naked women outfits, who were passed by those crazy French in their multi-coloured onesie morph-suits. The level of competition was fierce. Very serious indeed.
Colour co-ordination is rife in the world of SS.
Five laps later, the race was done and won. A technical course that was challenging, fun and with just enough sections of oh-my-god-not-this-climb-again. Back to the beers and chillin’ – proper post-race-recovery. Back to the tent for some R&R and soak up some sun and max out on those wicked waffles… good times.
A rickety 11 hour van trip back home, and all the way back I’m questioning myself about whether to put gears back on my bike or leave it as a single speed for the time being. I can’t decide just yet. Am I converted to the Single Speed Life you may ask? That’s a tricky one to answer honestly, but as this entry is being written – the chain still sits on a single speed. In fact, I’m now thinking of changing the gear ratio, and possibly putting on some rigid forks. Maybe changing the tyre’s too for better rolling resistance. Oh lord, I think I just answered my own question.
If you ever get the chance, or even get just the slightest bit curious of the Single Speed world – don’t hesitate to try it. It’s easy to convert your bike and not expensive at all. But what you’ll get out of it, well – you’ll just have to try it to see..!
Here are some pictures from the event to try and show a glimpse of it’s uniqueness…and madness!