By Kristin Butcher
Photo by Reuben Krabbe
I'm not a racer. I've only zip-tied numbers on the front of my bike a handful of times, and those numbers were usually scrawled on a paper plate. But I've been racing my bikes since the first day I threw a leg over one and headed into the woods. And chances are, so have you.
I've raced the sound of tires behind me and chased fleeting glimpses of riders in front. I've entered time trials against darkness, increasingly short lunch hours and man-eating mosquitoes. Pursuing diesel-powered riding buddies, I've gone anaerobic as their wheels slipped out of reach--at which point I've been forced into sudden-death eliminations against the bile-laced lunch stalking the back of my throat.
I live for these unspoken race scenes and the way they push me to ride harder than medals and cowbells ever could. But sometimes I get sick of racing.
That's when I grab my singlespeed.
For the record, I'm not some holier-than-thou soul rider. The silence and simplicity of singlespeeds do not make me connect with the trail on a higher level, though occasionally the lack of suspension on my bike does make me connect with the land more quickly--usually face first. I do not ride a singlespeed out of some Luddite belief system. If I were truly anti-technology, I'd throw away my computer and become a runner. Then I'd shoot myself, because as far as I can tell, running sucks almost as much as running shorts do.
Yes, the steel used in making my singlespeed is every bit as real as aluminum and zombies. But mostly, it was just cheap, allowing extra room in the budget for things that really matter, like ironic stickers and boxed wine. Just like everyone who's ever called themselves a 'singlespeeder', I was doing it before it was cool, as it seems we're all under the impression that riding with only one gear became cool once
we started doing it.
Evidently, we--the self-proclaimed first adopters--are the bike version of people who email Chuck Norris jokes two years after everyone decided the new funny thing is cats with a penchant for grammatical errors. "Get it? Get it? Chuck Norris can divide by zero!"
Apparently, we're also slightly douchebaggy, but I'm okay with that, because no other bike allows me to sit on the side of the trail snacking on bacon and warm beer while somehow giving the impression that I'm fast.
The big secret is that riding a singlespeed when in crap shape is a win/win situation. If I make it up a hill, people think I'm a badass. And if I only make it 10 feet before I start pushing (mostly on account of general lethargy and a slight addiction to whatever Taco Bell puts in its 'meat'), people still say I'm a badass for even trying. What they don't realize is that walking up the hill--which I'd be doing no matter what bike I was on--is a hell of a lot easier without all those weighty drivetrain parts hoisted over my shoulder.
I can drink cheap, flavorless beer and no one thinks I'm drinking it just because I genuinely like the taste of watered-down swill. They think I'm very hip. Or cheap. Or a douchebag.