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Hard Times, Soft Ride

A Sea Otter sh*tstorm

Here’s Sh*tbike Challenge, Part IV-straight from our August 2008 issue. Catch up with the previous installments here.

Too often, we see bike racers striving to build the lightest, most efficient bikes possible.

They're caught in a vortex of conspicuous consumption propogated by advertising, marketing hype and Mountain Bike Action bar graphs that only leads to disappointment. These trendchasers all flock to the Sea Otter Classic. Touted as America's biggest cycling event, the race grounds are littered with costly, carbon fiber wonderbikes, and everything sparkles with shiny newness. There is no better event to race the old, beat-down Sh*tbike--a bike laughed out of production a decade ago.

Although this spectacle of cycling is set in idyllic, coastal California, exorbitant entry fees, overworked security guards and thousands of jittery competitors create a strangely impersonal experience. But it presented the perfect opportunity to borrow the infamous Softride and stick it to those riders who take it way too seriously. Besides, I felt surprisingly invincible on the beamed-machine; just negotiating a crowd of chuckling onlookers made me feel like a champion. Still, trouble lurked. The bike's fork was blown and oozing oil; the rear wheel had a radical hop; the beam bounced violently with hard, in-the-saddle pedaling efforts; the frame flexed with every sprint and I kept forgetting which way to twist the Gripshifters.

After conquering the expo, I set my sights on the expert-class short-track XC race and lined up 45 seconds before the start with a very convincing homemade number plate. A clipboard-carrying official immediately radioed headquarters and I spent the next 10 minutes weaving an elaborate story (yes, they held the start). I gave up shortly after a certain Bike magazine representative tried to bribe the official to let me race. However, it takes a lot more than a set of two-way radios and an army of rent-a-cops to keep the Sh*tbike out of action. I did what any ambitious Softride pilot would do: I registered under a false identity for the following day's pro race.

I would love to report that the Sh*tbike made mincemeat of the international field of pro racers. The truth is I was lapped before the halfway point. The five minutes that I spent bumping bars with the group were peppered with elbows and insults. I had to fight for position in every corner and focus on not catapulting over the bars on every mild descent. But the cowbells were more raucous, the screams louder, the laughter more hysterical than I've ever seen at a short-track race. Plus, just walking away from the ordeal unscathed and uninjured made for my most rewarding Sea Otter thus far.