One town, one gear
Singlespeed World Championships roll into Durango

SideStory: The Worlds at a glance

Local singlespeeder and cocktail professional Glen Shoemaker rips down the Star Wars trail in the Test Track on Monday. Shoemaker, along with several hundred other singlespeeders will be vying for the coveted tattoo, if not bragging rights, as the 2009 Singlespeed World Championships come to Durango./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Brandon Mathis

Hold onto your iron horses, Durango. A different breed of mountain biker is descending upon town. The Singlespeed World Championships are rolling into Durango this weekend for five days of group rides, pre-parties, after-parties, camaraderie and general bicycle-related frivolity. But these are not your normal, run-of-the mill racers. In fact, many bristle at the notion, being careful not to mention the “r word” when talking about the event. There is no sanctioning body, no official time-keeping and even the course is shrouded in some mystery. And just to make sure no one takes Saturday’s grueling, highly-technical, 20-plus-mile course too seriously, costumes are highly encouraged.

Event organizer and singlespeeder Jon Bailey says Durango is the perfect backdrop for the highly-original celebration of bike culture known as the SSWC. A regular at past worlds, he said he often was left wanting more local trails and bike culture at the events. “We would go to other states or other countries to race, thinking it would be nice if we had more information, or if a ride was going on,” said Bailey. “This event is going to be a little more personal. Durango is a sweet place and if you travel across the world to get here, it’s going to be about getting out on the trails and meeting people that share the same feelings toward biking.”

The first SSWC was held in California in 1999 and has since grown steadily, from a handful of riders to 1,000 registered racers from eight counries at this year’s event in Durango. Bailey said the race is open to anyone, with the field including more than 150 locals, dozens of Coloradans and nearly 200 women. “There are people from all over the spectrum, from competitive racers to people who just built their first singlespeed yesterday,” said Bailey. “We wanted to keep it open, and Durango needs to represent. And it will."

Bailey is the core member of Passion Productions, a group of avid cyclists/artists that is masterminding this year’s event. The eclectic group has been holding smaller singlespeed events in Durango for years, like Rally of the Dead and Clipper Ship. Passion Productions also started a local bike polo chapter, which meets weekly at Park Elementary. Bailey’s home, known by most simply as “the Blue House,” is a groovy art/bike-culture gallery next to the Durango Cyclery that has served as ground zero for SSWC. “Cycling and the romance of art go back hundreds of years,” said Bailey with a nod to his unique décor, which ranges from rare thrift-store finds to animal skulls and even an old organ turned planter. “The bicycle has such aspects of freedom that an artist clings to. To combine those two, it’s a romantic journey. Essentially, we’re celebrating the bicycle.”

One could say the singlespeed, with its one gear and lack of shifters, cogs and derailleurs, represents the bicycle in one of its purest forms. Riders must rely on their own skill and lung capacity, using the contours of the terrain for momentum much like a BMX bike, adds event co-organizer Chad Cheeney. A coach with Durango DEVO, the local mountain biking youth program, Cheeney is perhaps the person most responsible for bringing the worlds to Durango. As per SSWC tradition, the location of the following year’s competition is determined not by winning the race, but another test of skill, typically completely unrelated to biking. At least year’s event, held in Napa, Calif., Passion Productions won its spot through a high-stakes bowling tournament followed by a dual of the ’80s video game, Ms. Pac Man. Never allowed to take place in the same country more than two years in a row, next year’s competition will be going abroad to a yet-to-be-determined location. “It will be amazing,” Cheeney promises, while refusing to divulge too much about this year’s locale-deciding competition

To say the SSWC is creative is putting it mildly. In accordance with years past, costumes, wigs, alter-egos and cross-dressing are just a few amendments to traditional cycling gear. Registration for this year’s race was a coloring contest, with media ranging from crayons to food products to body hair – all of which adorn the Blue House’s walls. Out on Saturday’s course, amid the suffering, racers will be treated to “course clowns” – various side shows along the trail that will be adding their magic to the scenery. Side attractions of past years have included everything from large, shirtless men serving up hot dogs and Budweiser to live bands and dancers. Oh yeah, and in lieu of a trophy, the winner gets a tattoo (or a brand if needles aren’t their thing).

As for the course, riders should expect a challenge. It is Durango, after all. “It will be a test of riders’ abilities,” said Bailey. “Even with the element of goofiness going on, this race is no parade.” Local pro mountain biker and two-time tattoo recipient Travis Brown says Saturday’s course will be one of the most demanding courses anywhere, with more than 22 miles of super technical terrain and more than 5,000 feet of climbing.

The SSWC09 magazine hit the streets this week. The rag is available free to riders or for $4 for spectators and collectors./Photo by Chris Giles

But more than just the race, the week’s events include group rides, art gallery displays, pancake breakfasts, back yard BBQs and more. The Gravity Boys, a group of downhill mountain bike racers, will be hosting a free-ride demonstration near Durango Mountain Park on Friday night, sponsored by New Belgium Brewing. “We wanted something to show people what is capable on bikes, and to get to see this 4 in person,” said Cliff Pinto, owner of Pedal the Peaks. Pinto described huge jumps with big airs and other options for riders to display their gravity-defying skills. “It will highlight local riders, ages 17 to 50,” Pinto said. Friday night’s rally will also feature six bands, New Belgium Brewing beer and the first round of the hosting competition, “Spin to Win,” with proceeds going to Durango DEVO, Trails 2000 and Bicycle Lemonade.

Edward Hines, with New Belgium, said the Fort Collins-based brewer was happy to be included, especially with the cancellation of the Tour de Fat’s annual stop in Durango. “It’s all about getting out of your cars and onto two wheels,” he said. “Durango is a bike savvy town, and we’re happy to be a part of SSWC. We like to think out of the box, and that definitely describes Bailey and the rest of the organizers.”

While SSWC is about celebrating the bicycle, it’s also about getting people involved. Jess Reed, a clinical social worker by day, is a coach with Durango DEVO and an avid singlespeeder. She said the SSWC, and singlespeeding in general, is a great way for female cyclists to network and connect. “It’s another exciting way that women can come together and ride,” she said. “There’s such a huge population of women riders in Durango, and so many are trying singlespeeds and bike polo saying ‘I can’t wait to do it again,’” Reed said.

Semi-retired pro rider Elke Brutsaert teaches women’s mountain biking clinics for Durango Mountain Bike Camp, and says that singlespeeds are a great alternative to geared bikes. “It’s so much less equipment, such a free format; you just go and have fun,” Brutsaert said.

Back at Passion Productions headquarters, Bailey is dealing with e-mails, phone calls, people stopping in to register last minute: his recent day-to-day routine. At bike shops throughout town, riders are bringing in bikes to get race-ready, bragging about costume ideas. It’s a unique display of organized chaos. “Things have changed every day for the last two weeks,” Bailey said with a smile. “Collaboration would be a good word for this whole thing. Everyone involved is lending their hand with their specialty. SKA is hosting the art show, a silent auction and the awards, and we didn’t have to sell it to get investors. Businesses just wanted to be involved. Nothing’s based on currency – it’s pretty much what’s making this event happen.”

So, as riders from around the world begin rolling this way, some are here to race, but many are coming simply to ride. “Eighty to 90 percent of the field are just people enjoying the experience,” said Brutsaert. “It’s going to open people’s eyes to a whole different subculture of cycling that exists out there, a different crowd coming to town than what Durango is used to.”

Above all, Cheeney, who has been known to sport jean cut-offs and Bronco jerseys as race-day couture, emphasized the spirit of fun associated with the SSWC. “We are doing this for the love of the sport, and we want to show people a good time, hence the full schedule all over town,” he said.

Gleaming about the upcoming events while sipping tea at the Steaming Bean, Reed is excited. “If you feel good about your costume and you feel good about the race, then you should be happy. I just hope mine doesn’t get caught in my chain.” •

The bizarre yet simple contraption that is the singlespeed: no derailleur, no cassette and much to the chagrin of many riders, no quick release./Photo by Stephen Eginoire



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