Tuesday, October 26, 2010


What a sight! 950-ish (they didn't know for sure) single speed mountain bikes all slowly, slowly circling, waiting to be released. We had to keep moving in our paddock for two minutes before they would open the gate to let us out. And riding slow is not as easy as it sounds; there was much bumping and wobbling.

Finally we're off. A quick loop around the field and we enter the Whakarera forest, home to some of the best mountain biking trails in the world (really). But given that today we are sharing the trails with 950-ish of our new friends, things start out a bit cramped. Very cramped, as in we hit the first steep hill and were instantly walking. And walking...It was actually a nice easy way to start the day, good laughs and the mood was light as we pushed our bikes up the main climb.

Eventually things opened up and I was able to wake up the legs. Due to the random nature of the start, Stephanie was actually ahead of me, imagine my surprise after passing 50 or so riders when I came upon her back wheel. Her bike needed a few bolts tightened, so we pulled over for a pit stop. My mini tool was not able to squeeze into the tight space, but a spectator had a wrench that fit and we were back on our way. The quick stop gave us a chance to see some of the crazy costumes that were being worn, and while we wished we could have worn something fun, we were just happy to be here.

We had ridden the course a few days prior, so there were no real surprises...except the beer shortcuts. Mid way on the course was a choice, drink a Speight’s beer and take a bit of gravel road, or don't drink the beer and stay on the trail for a longer detour before meeting back up with the course. Not liking the taste of beer, my choice was an easy one (plus, who wants to ride gravel road over singletrack?) Stephanie opted for the free beer, but took so long to drink it, that even riding the gravel road "shortcut" its doubtful she saved any time.

The trails were in great shape, hardly any signs of the rain just days before. The crowds gathered in the expected spots (those with high chances of crashing) and were not disappointed. The best spot for viewing crashes was the stream crossing; I think it was the best, because the chance of injury was low. The stream was fairly deep, and with all the previous riding, it was impossible to see bottom. Even from other parts of the course I could hear the roar of the crowd when a rider splashed down. And even louder were the jeers if a rider tried to walk across the flimsy, rudimentary bridge that was off to one side.

The course was harder than I expected, the short ups and downs never allowing much rest. Half way round the second lap, the effort began to catch up with me. I had ridden many climbs others were walking on the first lap, and all off the big climbs on the second. Now I wished I had walked a few more of the steeper bits…this last climb had me cramping and barely able to walk my bike. I was not alone...ahead and behind I could see riders walking, and only a few tough souls were able to pedal at all.

Another trip through the stream and the finish line was almost in sight, but the (very) short descent was slick due to all the wet bikes and riders, and my brain functions were a bit slower than they should have been…so when my front tire slid sideways in the muck, I did something wrong and ended up flying over the bars and rolling judo-style to my feet. No blood no foul. I remounted and rode my crooked handlebars to the finish line.

Stephanie and Yvette were already waiting at the finish. Like many others, they chose not to do the two full laps (not a bad idea in retrospect). Loren came in shortly after, having properly paced himself to enjoy the ride (and not cramp up like I did).

The final act of the day was determining where this crazy event would be held next year. It was down to Ireland or South Africa. Members from each team had to walk across a field, stretching a bungee, then place a Speight’s beer can at the farthest spot possible. To make it harder, water was dumped on the ground making the surface slick. If the beer can fell over, only half the distance was counted.

And to no-one’s surprise, the Irish were best at carrying beer in difficult circumstances and will be hosting the 2011 Single Speed Mountainbike Worldchampionships. Guinness anyone?

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