By: Ross Schnell
Photos: Singlespeed Worlds Rotorua
This years edition of Singlespeed World Championships were brought to us by the fine people of Rotorua, New Zealand. Marcus and the cast from N-Duro events promotions did a bang-up job of organizing this silly “little” bike race of at least 1000 costume clad, one-speed riders from all over the world. Thirty different countries were represented at this years event, that’s a good turnout for a country so far away.
When they first announced that SSWC’s was going to NZed I was more than a little stoked. Aside from the obvious (amazing trails, beautiful landscapes, good kiwi beer and did I mention amazing trails?) reasons, it was a great excuse to visit some old friends. The trip over seemed to last for an eternity–four layovers plus a 13-hour final leg ensured that we were totally sideways and ready for bed as soon as we got off the airplane at 6:55am local time. I caught up with the HIJHK’s (Heather and Jeremy) from Denver on, so I had some company to commiserate with for the remaining 24hrs of travel. They were smart enough to pack sleep-inducing magic pills. I on the other hand, managed about 17 minutes of sleep between the screaming baby next to me and the absurdly turbulent ride. Classic.
I’ve had the opportunity to ride and travel about New Zealand twice before, once back in 2006 and another trip this spring with the good folks at Spoke Magazine. I figured going into this trip that I’d have plenty of opportunities to visit with cool people, ride sick lines, and generally enjoy what the southern hemisphere has to offer this time of year. My experience tells me that trips to kiwi-land typically don’t disappoint, and this trip was no different. A cloudy, chilly first couple days gave way to sunny skies and warm temps by weekend, as promised by the nice hotel clerk that checked me in to my room. Evidently it always turns nice for the three-day Labor Weekend Holiday.
Knowing that I was coming here to defend a make-pretend World Title, I figured I damn well better show up in reasonable shape. Mission accomplished. I seem to be the king of coming into incredible form when its too late to win a real race, which proved successful last year about this time when I cherry picked my way to a win at SSWC’s. Fitness confirmation came in the form of a win in the 4-person Team title at 24hrs of Moab Nat’l Championships last weekend, plus the fastest lap(s) of the race. Surprisingly fit coming in, I deemed myself ready enough to defend. Apparently the reigning, multi-time New Zealand and Australian one-speed champion was ready for it as well….
Race day dawned with blue skies, warm temps, and the most incredibly dope velcro dirt that I’ve seen. With the exception of a rather muscly opening climb, the entire course was clearly geared toward riding a single speed. Nicely rolling climbs gave way to twisty, flowing descents with a minimal amount of high speed (read: 8+mph) pedaling sections so that gear selection was a no-brainer. This meant that the typical late-night, bar room gearing discussions each night were kept to a minimum amongst the geek-squad SS community. Bottom line was that the Whakarewarewa race course was mint, and came complete with beer-chugging shortcuts and course splits where the harder line was rewarded by a 10-20 second refund of time.
The 1000 rider start conundrum came good by the idea to start it “NASCAR” style around an oval-shaped, grassy infield track. While announcer guy promised a fair start for all, I couldn’t help but wonder how many rabid singlespeeders were going to freak out and pile up once the randomly selected gate was opened to start the race. As expected, pandemonium broke out as the gun went off and no less than 1000 brain-dead bike racers struggled around the oval and out the gate. I certainly can’t say I had the worst start, but it definitely could have been better. I figure I only had to pass 150-200 riders in the opening lap before catching the lead group. To my surprise, World Super Bike Champ Ben Bostrom was at the front killing it with the likes of JHK, Kashi Leuchs, Brent Miller, and eventual Kiwi winner Garth Weinberg. As I rolled up onto them and immediately went off the front, it felt like I had a good chance at the elusive repeat. And with proper pre-race hydration, it seemed as though the Speights beer-chug shortcut on lap one would be no problem… Turns out it was. A missed bottle (of water) feed going into the second lap ensured that I was absolutely cramping my arse off for the last 45 minutes of the race. At the top of each climb I was crippled with hyperextended, locked quad muscles that wouldn’t allow my legs to even bend. Yikes! The stars aligned that day to provide an amazingly comedic interpretation of what not to do if you’re trying to win something. Numerous missed turns and shortcuts start to add up throughout a race. The coup de grace was when I chuffed off the final beer short cut in a futile attempt at self-preservation. If I’d known how much longer it was I probably would have just taken the beer, it may have even helped numb the pain? As it were, I died a slow, painful death while still managing to catch up to Garth in the last few corners. As I pulled up next to him in the finish chute, we shot-gunned beers, side-by-side, mano-a-mano, for the honor of being named Single Speed World Champ. Turns out the kiwis know how to drink beer, and I was the first loser. Looks like I’ve got a lot to learn, and next year’s race is in Ireland so I’d better kick my beer consumption into high gear! Mom wouldn’t have been too impressed by another tattoo anyway…. Its all about the experience, and this race for me was one of the most memorable to date.
Up next for me are some Halloween shenanigans, Iceman Cometh, a grand opening celebration at Ray’s Indoor Park in Milwaukee, and yet another trip to Europe in November. After that I fully plan on camping out in my own bed for at least one month.