45. Humbler TC: 17

It Was the Best of Times, it Was the Bester of Times.

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74k later and still smiling (photo courtesy of Dan Emsley)

Northumberland Forest.  Coburg, Ontario:  The 2017 Substance Projects Northumberland Humbler.

74 kilometres.

That’s the same as driving from the CN Tower to Barrie.  Well, 20k south of Barrie. 74,000 metres of singletrack, double track, old trails, new trails, fire road, access road, this side of the road, that side of the road, back to this side of the road again…  We even did a few sliart. That’s trails spelled backward.  You know, because we rode some of the trails in reverse.

1,400m of climbing.

That’s as tall as, well something really tall.

It was my favourite race EVER.

Let me say it again.  The Northumberland Humbler was, by far, my favourite race ever.

WHATTARACE!!!

Here’s why:

  • I actually started, raced, and finished my longest MTB race ever.  74k of BOOM.
  • It capped a two month spree of epic race awesomeness.  7 big races in 9 weekends, plus 5 weekly series races.  BOOM times 7, plus 5, divided by 9.
  • Northumberland Forest is one of my favourite places to ride–AND we got to try a new trail AND, a whole bunch of it was backwards.  MOOB (same joke as above)
  • I nailed a spot on the podium:  3rd place Clydesdale (and so what if there were only three Clydesdales and I was actually 2nd last place overall).  A podium finish is a podium finish.  One third of a BOOM.
  • I got to see my favourite biking sub-community:  the folks at Substance Projects.  A big Dan Marshall BOOM.
  • 18920700_10209226156674300_7681548033660034964_n
    Jeff Shikaze, Team Colin, and Hair (photo courtesy of Jeff Shikaze)

    And, after almost five hours of sweating in a helmet, there isn’t a single hair out of place. Thanks to my race photographer and Fatbike God, Jeff Shikaze for the shot, and thanks to great hair product. L’Oreal BOOM.

  • Honestly, if you peel everything away (the challenge, the exhaustion, the poison ivy all over my legs…) the Humbler was just a big boss, 4 hour and 48 minute long, rip (although it was considerably less time for the rest of the riders…).  Bike playing BOOM.

I’m not saying it was easy, because it wasn’t, but honestly, it wasn’t that tough either.  I started strong and with a smile on my face, I was still grinning at the halfway point, and I finished strong, with a bigger smile on my face.  This race is a very stark contrast to the desolation and hopelessness (yes, actual desolation) I felt for the ENTIRE Long Sock Classic. Very stark indeed.  While the LSC was my toughest race ever, the Humbler was the funnestest.

You might think funnestest isn’t a word, but if you raced the Humbler, you would know exactly what I’m talking about.

I still can’t believe we did it.  I still can’t believe Team Colin rode a full marathon distance, on a single speed, and it didn’t kill us.  Didn’t kill us?  Pfft.  Actually, I felt almost good at the end of the race.

The Humbler marked the end of a nine weekend racing spree that covered a good chunk of Ontario’s finest bike trails, a bunch of different riding disciplines, and almost 450k of race-pace, white-knuckle, maximum heart rate, riding…

Wait, what’s this about 9 weekend epic racing spree?

Well, from April 9th to June 3rd I raced almost every MTB race within 2 hours of my house.  Here’s my Facebook post from the day after the Humbler:

8 weeks
9 weekends
7 big races
5 weekly series races
3 shots on the podium
Over 7,000m of climbing (um, that’s almost Mt. Everest)
Just under 450k of racing (and almost half of it on a single speed)

Yup.

  1. Steaming Nostril (April 9);
  2. Homage to Ice (April 15);
  3. Paris to Ancaster (April 30);
  4. O Cup #2 in Kingston (May 7);
  5. Long Sock Classic (May 20);
  6. Singletrack Classic (May 27);
  7. Northumberland Humbler (June 3).

Oh, and five King Weekly Series races.

And yes, I know Team Colin really isn’t that good of a rider, and I know there are so many riders who are way more epically awesome than me (they ride longer, faster, harder, and better, and their results are way better than mine–like waaaaaaaaay better), and because of that, there’s usually no shortage of self deprecation on my blog.

But not today.

Nope.  Because Team Colin is now sort-of-in-a-periphery-way-kinda-almost-maybe-close-to-being in the same league as the big kid MTBers.

Not really, but almost sort of.  Um, why do I keep referring to myself Team Colin?

And even though I’m not the traditional (okay, actual) definition of epic MTB awesomeness, I always place first because I’m not racing THEM, I’m racing ME.  Although saying that, I also know that if I’m the “only person in the race”, I also place last, but that’s not the point I’m making right now.  Right now, I feel good about my riding, and I want to hold onto it for a while longer.  Besides, if you’ve ever seen my results, you know there’s plenty of opportunity for me to feel crappy about my riding.

You know, I feel better than just good.  For the first time in my racing career, I feel kinda badass.  No, I feel wickedly badass. As I wrote in blog #38, this season, I stopped QUALIFYING each race, and I started OWNING each race: The full P2A, the full Singletrack Classic, and three marathons (on a single speed)!  So cool.

By the way, I didn’t start racing the marathon distances because I COULD, I started racing the marathon distances because I wanted to see if I could.  The rationale and mindset leading to that decision is for another blog post, because now it’s time for a Race Report.

Race Report.  Northumberland Humbler:  Northumberland Forest (June 3, 2017)

The race started with the Humbler’s standard quick blast out of the start, and a rip up a moderate double track climb.  There was a short rider snag at the first bit of sand, but then we were up the hill, and immediately into the sweet singletrack goodness that makes Northumberland my favourite place to ride:  long stretches of fast and flowy singletrack, awesomely railed berms, and sweet MTB awesomeness at every tree, root, rock, and stalk of poison.  For anyone familiar with the trails, we took the Hogsback bypass, which winds, in the gruntiest way, around the actual Hogsback. The bypass skirts a giant climb, but that doesn’t mean it’s gentle.  It’s almost 2k of continual output, which took us to the 5k mark.  Once at the top of that climb, I knew we didn’t have a significant climb for a long time.  The next 15k was a blur of more awesomely flowing singletrack, speedy climbs, and long descents (that always seemed to end in a 90 degree turn).  At the first aid station, I took a minute to recover with Liz, who was being assisted by Dan Elmsly, and then we we crossed the street for a quick zip alongside a pioneer stone wall (the fun new part).

At approximately 20k (across the road from the parking lot) the race transported us to Ganaraska Forest for a long haul.  Yeah, the Northumberland Forest actually becomes the Ganny for a while.  No it doesn’t, but it sure feels like it.  On that side of the road, the trails morph from the fun Northumberland vibe to the raw Ganaraska vibe.  While the trails leading into Stonewall (the fun new part) were awesome, the trails leading away from Stonewall (the fun new part) are a mean, raw and grunty mesh of tight and twisty, rocky and rooty trail that’s better suited for its intended use as motocross track instead of a mountain bike race.  It wasn’t a walk in the park, but that’s okay, because I wasn’t walking, and I had my bike.  By the time we were back on “this side” of the road, we were spent.

Fortunately, there were a few FAST stretches of trail that led to a faster switchback climb, and down to the START/FINISH line.

I hit the START/FINISH for a quick recovery before heading out onto the trails for a repeat.

Even though I felt strong, the first part of the second lap was the hardest.  I knew what lay ahead, and I knew it was still 35k until I could stop pedalling, and I knew the pain had to kick in eventually.

However, surprisingly, the pain didn’t really kick in.  On the other side of the road, just after Stonewall (the fun new part) at the 65k mark, the race became a slog, but I knew it was only 10k of lousy-ness, so I counted the metres until it ended.

And it did.  I hit the aid station for a get-off-a-bike-stretch-and-drink, before the last 5k, and a few minutes later, I finished my longest MTB race.

Smiling.  Grinning.  I was even ready to do another lap.  I’m kidding.  I was sore and tired, and I think I would have had a temper tantrum if I had to get back on my bike, but I’m not kidding about my smile.  It was an ear to ear, open mouthed, sweaty and spent, dirt-caked and trail-grimy, poop eating grin.  True story:  On the drive home, I was smiling so much that I felt like my cheeks were actually going to cramp.

End of Race Report.

So that’s it.  I rode hard, I felt strong, and I did it.

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Enter a caption

These marathon distances are tough, but after three of them in four weeks, I feel like they’re now well within my realm of possibility.  I’m not good at them, but I can still finish.

I should rephrase that.  I’m not good at them YET.

It was an awesome day from start to finish–and I even won a set of pedals (courtesy of Bateman’s Cycle).

After the race, when the podium was finished, and most racers left, Team Colin relaxed for a post race chat/popsicle with my pal Raf (from Fatboy Nation), and the Emsleys (from Awesometon–totally a real place).  Dan Emsley gave me a bear roast to cook when I got home.  Yes, an actual bear roast.  That night, I roasted it, and Team Colin sampled Haliburton’s best.

Seriously though, what’s with me always referring to myself in the third person?

With all the fresh bear meat in my belly, I felt like I was Nick Emsley, and without even knowing it, I roared “I AM TEAM COLIN”.  It was kind of primal.  Maybe it was the fresh bear.  Maybe not.  Either way, I immediately thought “Were the heck did that come from, and what’s with this third person thing?”

And then it dawned on me.  I. AM. TEAM. COLIN.  Say that like Jean Luc Picard telling Gul Madred “There.  Are.  Four.  Lights.”  It sounds way more boss.  It’s not the epic bike racing spree, or the bike love, or the positivity, or anything else that makes me Team Colin.  It’s not even the hats (although they are pretty sweet).  It’s a feeling deep down in my belly–a primal fire in my belly–that makes me who I am, and I am totally digging it.

There are four lights, and I am Team Colin.

Ride

 

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Now THAT’S a big podium… (photo courtesy of Jenn Kennedy/Mike Orsan)

Post race update.  During the race, one of the lead riders was hurt.  Three of the leaders, Nick Emsley, Rick Landry, and Seth Stewart, stopped to help.  The three of them are awesome.  I can only imagine how tough it was for the three of them to step out of race mode to help a fellow rider–and Nick Emsley is 18 years old.  These racers demonstrated a remarkable level of fellowship.  I don’t know Jeff and Seth, but Nick sure made me proud to know him and his family.  Nice work Nick.  You’re an example for the rest of us.

To Jeff, Seth, and Nick, the three of you are the undisputed Humbler winners.

If you have something to say about the race, or anything else, comment on this blog, or send an email to: teamcolinblog@yahoo.com

 

 

 

28. Sausage Suit ITT

2016-10-sausage-suitSome Awe At A Race.

I raced my single speed in the Substance Projects Sausage Suit ITT on the weekend; a 30k romp around the Team Van Go trails in Dufferin County Forest. There is usually no shortage of the word awesome in my blog, and there was definitely no shortage of awesomeness to be had at the race.

Because riding a bike, racing a bike and everything about a bike is…wait for it…awesome.

And here’s why the Sausage Suit ITT was awesome. It wasn’t because of my performance, which was really really good, and it wasn’t because of the course, which was even more really really good, and it wasn’t even because of the weather, which was really, sublimely good for mid October. It was awesome for all of these reasons, and for one more big one: the people.

The people.

Dan Marshall is a people, and he’s awesome. His cast and crew are people, and they’re awesome too. The Team Van Go folks (the ones with the super cool VW camper vans) are people, and they’re farfegnugen (That’s German for awesome, right?). All of the racers are people, and they were awesome even when they were passing me. All the Team Van Go dogs, aren’t people, but they’re pretty awesome too.

Looking back, it was a perfect race. 74 (awesome) people raced, and a few dozen more (awesome) people came to support us.

In all, about a hundred people.

And that’s a lot of awesome.

But here’s the thing: Races usually change me on some way or another. Something momentous ALWAYS happens during a race that transforms me. At the Sausage Suit, there was no life changing realization about the universe (or bikes). There was no epic journey of discovery (about the universe, or bikes). There were no feelings of massive euphoria, crushing disappointment, frustration, or accomplishment (even though I gotta say, racing a single speed is always pretty beast, and comes with an inherent sense of accomplishment). Really, the day was just a bunch of people, getting together in the forest, to enjoy a beautiful mid autumn day–on bikes (even though some weren’t on bikes because they were behind the Substance Projects registration table, or they were under a tent in the middle of the forest–thanks Liz, you’re the best–or cheering on their loved ones from the sidelines, or sniffing each other’s butts). The dogs, not the people.

Also, since it was a late season race, and would be the last race of the season for many, nobody was amassing points, worried about the next race, or trying to perform, so the relaxed atmosphere was even more relaxed than Dan’s usually relaxed vibe.

Oddly enough, there probably were a few life changing realizations…and probably an epic journey…and some massive euphoria…and crushing disappointment…and frustration…and accomplishment.  It was a race afterall.  But I was too busy having fun to notice.

Because for every second of the day, I was playing bikes with great people.

Funnest Race Report Ever: Sausage Suit ITT (October, 15, 2016)

Befitting the name, the Sausage Suit ITT wasn’t a regular MTB race. It was not only a race that openly acknowledged we were a bunch of people stuffed into sausage suits, but it also had a time trial element: Riders started at 30” intervals, and either did one 15k lap, or two.

Janet Eagleson started each of us with enough energy and gusto—15 SECONDS–to carry us through the first bit of the–THREE, TWO, ONE, GO—race. And with her blessing, we rode.

We were at the top of a ridge, with a gentle descent to a pine forest, and almost immediately into the “Awesomely Fun, Horrible Pain-In-The-Arse” area. Although I think it’s actually called the Heckle Loop—even though I was heckled nary a once.

The Heckle Loop is the tightest, twistiest, coolest terrain park north of Joyride 150. It wasn’t impossible to ride, but almost. Without any speed or momentum, and only trees, pedals, and balance, it did a great job of centering us for the task at hand. Between the tight, tree lined berms, and the ramps, skinnies, and logs, it was like a day at the spa. A bike spa. Heckle Zone? Pfft, it was a huge chunk of peace. After navigating a few hundred metres of Zen, the race kicked into gear.

Well, I didn’t have gears, so I stayed in the same gear, but the race started.

We left the garden for a quick zip across some of the only single track we’d see that day, for a shot up a sweet, twisting, climb, that led to more and more sweet single track, some sweeter climbs, more and more sweet single track, a billion log overs (some of them were absolutely giant, and some were gianter), and then more single track. There was a sweet switchback climb knocked me off my ride for a quick hike a bike, and a few log overs that scared the awesome out of me. There were even a few ramped skinnies to keep us even more on our toes. Awesome.

We hit a few stretches of double track, but they were scattered, and2016-10-sausage-suit-itt never lasted more than a few metres. The Sausage Suit ITT was a single track spectacular.

That is, until what I thought was a sign announcing the Gorina Hill. It was Gorilla Hill, but I had a tough time deciphering the sign when I was in the middle of my race pace heart attack (vision is often a challenge during 2 hours of sustained cardiac arrest). I had a weak line, and had to dismount for an embarrassing walk. What am I saying, there is no line I could have taken that would have seen me ride my single speed up that hill.

I got on my bike just in time to see Ted Anderton from Apex photography.   He snapped this pic.

After shucking my way up the Gornia, I heard the awesomeness that was surrounding the START/FINISH line. Fun people having a fun time. Bells, whistles, and general whooping. It was a quick pedal towards the end, and I found myself at the bottom of the first hill. My family was waiting to see me lap, and I had the wheels to book it, so I sprinted up the hill, and around the post, to start my second lap.

Lather, rinse, repeat, and it was over.

Except near the end of the second lap, I chugged a beer with a gorilla. Don’t ask.

Sad face to see the end of one of the last races of the year, and the end of the Race Report.

30k, 2:24:36, 680m of climbing, and, cue release of doves, 3rd place Single Speed!

2016-10-sausage-suit-podium

While deeper investigation may reveal there were only 3 single speed riders in the 30k distance (and one more in the 15k), I finished only 15 minutes after the first place SS rider. There were over 70 riders at the Sausage Suit ITT, and a small handful of us chose to do it without gears. I earned my spot on the podium.

What a great time. I have to say, the ITT format was unsettling for me at times. Honestly, for the first 20 minutes or so, I felt like I was getting passed every minute. Not sure, but I think it’s because for the first 20 minutes I was getting passed every minute or so.  

Although seriously, at the start of the race, how did the next rider after me catch up to me–at the bottom of the first hill. He left 30 seconds after me, but I think he transported directly to my tail because I’m pretty sure he passed me within the first 30 seconds. Fortunately, I was in the middle of finding my zen, and he couldn’t pass until we left the garden. Take that, guy who can zap through space and time.

And hey, thanks Joyride 150, for giving me the skills to nail the Heckle/Zen Garden/Zone without stopping.

Anyway, with all of the faster riders out of the way, I had a chance to sit back (and stand up, grunting) and finish the race at my own pace, without the polite “Next chance, if you don’t mind song of the better riders to diminish my buzz.

After the race, we all gathered around the podium, and the cheers of support, and howls of sincere laughter, shone a light on the MTB family that lives in my heart.

A few of the dogs even stopped cleaning their genitals long enough to populate the podium in place of the absent riders. After a bunch of lengthy goodbye chats, and a quick shower in the Team Colin Support vehicle, we met the Team Van Go passel at the bonfire for a few minutes of post race chat before the drive home.

It’s funny, Dufferin Forest was the site of my first official mountain bike race 4 years ago (the 2013 Homage), and the sights and sounds and smells felt so familiar. Riding there is always a homecoming of sorts, and it gave me a great perspective on the last four years. I finished the 2013 H2I without a familiar face in sight—and it felt like it was the start of something big in my life. On Saturday, I finished the race with family and friends close by—and now it is my life.

Nothing momentous occurred at the Sausage Suit ITT, but a whole bunch of moments combined to make the day one of the highlights of the season.

Ride

 

 

PS

Wanna see my bike?  sausage-suit-bike

I bought a new fish eye lens for my camera.  Awesome.

12. SS at the LSC

For my Facebook status on the morning of the Long Sock Classic (race #2 in Dan Marshall’s XC Marathon series) I posted this:

Ganaraska Forest. Long Sock Classic. Single speed. Rigid fork. Not sure if I’m setting myself up for disappointment, or just a grueling grind of a day, but 20 years from now, I want to look back at my riding life and know that I raced a single speed not because I COULD (because today I’m honestly not sure whether I’ll make it) but because I WANTED to push myself.

I’d like to take credit for that thought, but Scott Glazier at Cycle Solutions planted the seed, and I just listened to him. I may have also been hearing Shia LeBouf’s character in the Transformers movie, when he was trying to convince Megan Fox to go for a ride in Bumblee.

And so, for the second time this season, at the start of a race, I looked down at my a with no gears. Also, for a second time this season, at the start of the race, I looked down at a bike with no gears and wondered why I was racing a bike with no gears.

The answer is because I wanted to challenge myself.   Of all the stupid, half baked, cockamamie ideas…  What on earth would push me, not just a Clydesdale rider, but Clydesdale rider at the top of the Clydesdale scale, to forgo gears on one of the toughest courses around?

Challenge.

And that’s not stupid.  Or half baked.  Or cockamamie. It’s awesome. Awe. Some.  I even dusted off the Team Colin support vehicle (my family RV) for the day. Sweet. It would have been sweeter if it was Bumblebee, but my RV has a shower.

Back to the LSC. The whole idea behind Dan Marshall’s Substance Projects is to have fun. But Dan also loves to build courses that are hard. He is a mammoth endurance racer who thrives on pushing himself to his limits, and he demands and encourages his racers to do the same. Substance Projects doesn’t run charity races in the park, they (HE) run badass XC marathons on killer trails. And the Ganny has hundreds of kilometres of killer trails to choose from, with some of the toughest climbs around.

Race Report:  Long Sock Classic (May 21, 2016)

Dan’s races are gaining in popularity, so instead of the usual 50 or 60 riders, there were just over 100 at the start line.

It started with a quick climb up some winding single track. Then it levelled for a second before hitting a nasty 2k stretch of dusty, rutted, rock covered, farm lane that was either straight up, or straight down.  The deep sandy mess at the bottom of each hill made for some sweet white knuckle ripping

My riding buddy, John, pre-rode the course and warned me about the sand. “Lower your tire pressure for some extra flotation”, he said. I always listen to John. It was a good thing.

When that treat finished, Dan gave us a break for few hundred meters, before starting the climb that haunts my mountain bike dreams all year: the hill on top of the hill. A 2k slog up gently winding track that finishes with…a steep climb up the rest of the hill. I wanted to pass the riders ahead of me, and I knew I had the legs to do it, but I held back because I was worried about that damn hill.

Damnit. I hate that hill.  And the hill hates me. But I always make it to the top. And to the other top too.  And this year I made it to the top without gears. Despite myself, I even passed a few riders too!

  • Team Colin: 1
  • Hill on top of a hill: 0

I usually spend the first 10k of a race hating every second of it, trying to warm up, and cursing myself for the decision to wake up early on a Saturday morning to race.  The LSC was no different, except that I was also cursing myself for leaving my Revolver (a bike with gears, not a gun) at the RV, and feeling unsure about whether I’d be able to even finish the race without gears.

Also, I was holding back because I was worried. I was letting the race get inside my head. My friend, Mark Summers, told me that I have to stop thinking and just race. “But that’s when I solve the world’s problems…” I told him. He was right though, so I let him inside my head, and I decided to race. He also said that a 30 second push to pass a rider yields huge results.

Push to a rider ahead of me, push a bit harder, and pass. That’s want I told myself.

Then, in between grunts and curses, I came upon a rider with one leg. Yeah, a rider with one real leg, and one prosthetic leg. It was like riding behind an internet meme.

“What’s your excuse?”

Or in my case, “Quit whining you big baby. Shut up, get out of your head, pedal your damn bike, and get to the finish.”

He was fast, and I had a hard time catching up to him, although in my defence, I only had 2 times as many legs as him, while he had 20, or maybe even 27, times more gears than me. I’m just saying.

I finally made it past him, and aimed for the next rider.

The next 15k were a blur of trying to keep up, trying to pass, getting passed, and passing.  Inside my head, I kept hearing my John “Relax on the handle bars and just take it easy.  Don’t tense up.”  So I tried to relax a bit, even though the Ganny has so many tight, twisting trails, and narrow tree gaps that keep us on our toes.

For some reason, the trail from about 20 to 25 was a killer. Even tighter, even twistier, and so so so climbier. Dan Marshall once told me “The secret of riding a single speed is to lay off the brakes”. Um, what about the trees? I tried to listen to him and keep my momentum, but I either felt like I was braking so I wouldn’t hit a tree, or braking so I wouldn’t crash on the down hill sections.

Also, the course this year had a lot more double track.  The gears on my single speed are okay on tight trails, long grinding climbs, and short grunting climbs, but they’re awful on double track. Too much time spinning.

With 1k to go, I was booking it to catch up to a group of riders, and I smoked a rock and got a flat. Boom (even my tires go boom)!  “Listen to me, bike”, I said, “If you think I’m going to stop now, I’m not”. Although in reality, I think I probably just yelled a few obscenities. I kept up with the rider in front of me, but I couldn’t pass him. I finished the race with a grunt, a smile, and a flat tire. I was even surprised at the finish with a visitor from the Ottawa chapter of Team Colin! Boom (that was me, not the other tire).

2:18. 67/101 overall. 7/9 Clydesdale. 7/7 Single Speed.

When it was over, the LSC clocked almost 700m of climbing. Dang.

It was a tough race: Gruelling at times, joyous at others.

Two more pretty cool things also happened during the race.  First, I feel like the single speed may be creeping into my blood.  Second, Team Colin played an even bigger role than usual. I only had one speed, but I had a symphony of voices inside my head. Thanks Team Colin.

Also, we’ve got new team hats!

Despite my poorer than poor results, while riding the single speed in the LSC, I felt more like a racer than ever. It says at the top of my blog, ”I’m a working father who trains for XC mountain bike races”. I don’t just train for them, I RACE them.

Ride.

 

7. Single Speed 101 (H2i)

Single Speed 101.  Also known as “My Lessons on a Single Speed”.

Gears?  Pfft.

Team Colin got schooled at last weekend’s Homage To Ice, the first of four in Dan Marshall’s Substance Projects XC Marathon. It’s my fourth year racing, and it was my fourth time doing the H2i, so I knew exactly what to expect.

No I didn’t. I didn’t have a clue. Aside from the fact that the course, trail conditions, and weather have been entirely different each time, this year I tried something new. I raced a single speed. To be more precise, I raced a single speed with a rigid fork.

I placed last in the single speed category (7/7), and 74/100 overall.

It was, by far, my worst actual race placing ever.

Horrible.

And despite this, the 2016 H2i was also, by far, my best ever actual performance ever. Ever.

Really, I didn’t even choose to ride a single speed. I didn’t even consciously choose to buy a single speed in the first place. I just did. As with most other things riding, it just happened organically.

Rewind to last year, when the universe conspired to put me on a bike with no gears. First, my riding buddy rides a single speed and always says they make better riders. It’s easy for him to say, he’s already a better rider. Second, two close friends of mine are avid single speed riders, and raced single speed exclusively for years. They love single speed bikes. By the way, they’re also better riders. Finally, in the late fall, I took my family to the York Region Take Your Family Mountain Biking Day. We won a $20 gift card for Spoke O Motion, so I thought I’d visit the shop on my way home, to support them. A Cannondale Trail SL was sitting on the rack outside the front of the shop. It was calling to me. Beckoning to me. Screaming to me. Also, it was half price ($699). A few days later, after conferring with the guys at my local bike shop, I bought it. Then it sat in my garage for two months because I was scared to ride it. True story. I bought a bike that I was terrified to ride. No gears? What the hell kind of torture is that. In late November, I met my friend, John, in Durham Forest for what we thought would be our last ride of the season. After packing my usual bike and gear, I put my single speed in the back of my van. Just in case. We rode for a few hours on our bikes with gears. You know, because gears make riding easier. Then, when we were cooling off, I said “Hey John, Do you think we should do a quick lap on my new single speed?” John never says no to a ride. So we did a quick lap on my new single speed.

It. Was. Awesome.

The weather held out for a few more weeks, and I had my new single speed out on the trails three more times before the snow fell. Each time, I loved it more. I didn’t love it enough to race, and it wasn’t like riding my Revolver–which is like poetry–but it brought a new dimension to the sport for me. Cool.

Fast forward to last Thursday. The H2i was sandwiched between the Steaming Nostril and Paris to Ancaster. Both of them are sort-of CX races, so I put thin CX tires on my Revolver (a 29er with gears). I could have changed back to my MTB tires for the H2i, but the CX tires were so hard to get on the first time…

And that was it. My Revolver was out of commission, so I got my single speed ready to race. My coach didn’t tell me to do it—mostly because I don’t have a coach, my friends didn’t tell me to do it—mostly because they’ve seen me ride, and my shop didn’t tell me to do it—mostly because they’ve also seen me ride. I was nervous, I was terrified, but I figured I was ready for a new challenge. Single Speed School was in session, and I was about to get a crash course.

Race Report:  Homage 2 Ice (April 16, 2016)

Two 15k (or so) laps for a total of 30k (or so) of sweet single track that was mostly quick, sometimes spongy, a little icy, and always awesome.

But no gears? Or suspension! (NOTE:  For $699, even when the bike is half price, you don’t get front suspension.)

The race started with lots of spinning on double track, and I was kind of annoyed. Everybody just took off, and I was left behind, spinning like I was in the wrong gear. But then we got into the single track. Boom. It took about 30 seconds before it hit me in the face: Single speed bikes are wickedly cool. With no gears to think about, and no shifting to fiddle with, I felt connected to the trail. Connected to the ride. Moreover, without a suspension fork, every bump was mine—but in a good way. I felt like I was a kid again, bombing through trails on my old BMX. I never chose the wrong gear. I never lost a pedal stroke while shifting. I didn’t bounce around. I just rode. And that’s what it’s all about: The ride. Let me circle back for a sec.  Actually, I bounced around. A lot. Without suspension, my deltoids (I think that’s what they’re called) were flapping so much, I thought I was going to take flight, but I was bouncing along WITH my bike.  I honestly felt like I was one with my bike.  Super cool.

Two laps: the same bloody giant hill twice; the same log overs; the same twists and turns; and the same connection to the trail. It was a game changer. I was schooled in the art of single speeds, and by the end of the race, I graduated to the league of riders who don’t need gears. And even though I finished last, I finished with a smile, and hard earned aches and pains. But none of it mattered because I knew I gave it all I could, and left nothing on the trail. It was all me and my bike. It’s never been about placing–only about riding. And I rode the H2i as hard as I could.

I don’t know whether I’ll race my single speed again, but I know that if I want to, I CAN. And that’s one sweet lesson.

Ride.

 

 

PS

As an added bonus to the day, two of my friends from Joyride150 raced.  Trish and Erin embodied the spirit of Dan Marshall’s races, and the cool atmosphere got that much cooler with their presence.  I even guilted my bike shop manager, Matt from Cycle Solutions, to race.  Sweet.