Before turning up to the small Australian town of Woodend for the Holgate Brewhouse Single Speed World Championships last weekend, I’d heard more than the odd tale about what a single speed mountain bike race was like and had experienced plenty of events that embraced the less than serious side of cycling. But nothing could quite prepare me for what was to come.
Somehow it was difficult to reconcile – even with the reputation for revelry that single speed racing has – that an event with the words “World Championship” in it couldn’t avoid getting at least a little serious on race day. Surely to ride any World Championship event in cycling, even if it isn’t exactly official, takes extraordinary preparation, skill and commitment. This actually held true.
I mean have you seen how much thought and effort goes into the preparation of those costumes to race in?
What about the skill it takes to ride single-track with no gears in a puffy costume or with a fruit bowl on your head as you do beer burps from the last hydration short cut.
And the commitment was exceptional. Never in all my life have I seen a group of people so willing to go that extra mile to embrace absolutely every opportunity to enjoy the amusing side of a bike event.
“Single speeders are just more fun,” said Kaitlyn Boyle, who made the trip from Arizona in the United States and also attended the 2015 championships in Japan. “It’s about the atmosphere, the opportunity to ride somewhere else, meet cyclists from all around the world … it’s definitely not about the racing.”
That it’s not all about the racing for most was something that became pretty clear when picking up the registration pack. The first hint, my race number. It was number one … just like the guy’s next to me and the girl’s next to him and every other single person that entered.
No results here. If you come first they’ll spot you, and anywhere else in the field, well, you may as well claim second because no one is going to know the difference anyway. Also included in the race pack were a couple of the other essentials like a beer glass and a spare pair of jocks with “winner” printed across them. Judging by the next couple of days these were meant to be worn over the top of your clothes, or perhaps on your head, anywhere really except hidden under a pair of jeans.
There were more costumes than you would usually see on Halloween, bike tossing, beer short cuts, racing on kids bikes, bonfires, bands and did I mention the beer?
Let the Carni-Velo begin
With riders descending from all around the world, the mountain bikers Single Speed World Championships needed to be way more than a single day or weekend event. It started on a Tuesday night in nearby Melbourne with a heat of the My Mechanic Rules competition, then moved onto various social rides – some of course to the pub. Then as the weekend approached the festivities kicked up a gear. As more and more of the Aussie riders flowed in, joining the single-speed enthusiasts from around the world, the campground filled and the outside walls of the town’s pubs were lined with bikes. The local riders had waited 13 years for another Australian World’s and they were going to make the most of it.
Saturday the event organisers had labelled the Carni-Velo started in earnest, with a bouncing castle, the strong man ring the bell hammer game and cyclocross – or something resembling it – at Hanging Rock. There was enough cold weather, rain and hail to dampen the enthusiasm of any crowd. But this wasn’t just any crowd.
There was actually a race on normal bikes, with plenty of sabotage, mid race course adjustments and a banana on the track in need of rehydration.
There was also a 16 inch wheel bike race.
And in a novel use of discarded budget kids bike, a Huffy toss, where the aim was to land it in a big garbage bin.
The day ended with a female punk band and the finals of My Mechanic Rules at the local pub, which had the most fantastic array of bikes stacked up against the wall, ranging from old school steel to carbon and titanium. It was a good chance to check them out, because all you could see after the race the next day was a whole lot of moving bicycle shapes with generous coatings of mud.
M, adult themes and partial nudity
Sunday was the day of the big event, a 40 kilometre race of one short prologue lap and two longer ones on the muddy single track of the Wombat State Forest.
But first there was a round of the all-important host country vote for 2017. The Australians won the right to host the World’s at last year’s event in Japan, with one of the challenges a hard rice eating competition. This round to help decide the 2017 host, was a dance off between Canada, the US and New Zealand, which despite the chilly weather ended up with a few clothes being shed.
Hmmm, excessive alcohol consumption topped off with partial nudity, maybe I should have left the kids at home!
The start was off the bike, so first it was a matter of finding a place to lay your bike on the side of a path, hopefully where it wouldn’t get knocked in the dam because it was way to cold to start with a swim.
Then it was a run to the bike, which with more than 300 entrants was more of a leisurely stroll by the time you hit the bottle-necks further back in the field.
It’s your choice … beer or death
The first lap was short, and pretty easy going, with the path through the muddy swamp the spot for the jeering and cheering crowd to congregate. It was enough to lull you into a false sense of security about how straightforward getting through the rest of the race was going to be, so when you hit the end of the first lap and got to make the decision between the longer route with the grim reaper trying to mow you down or the beer the choice was easy (even if you were among the ones who got handed an obscenely large cup).
Though with a beer thrown down way too fast and that funny feeling in the stomach that only a few good beer burps fixed, the next lap got a little trickier. It was longer and it was then that gearing and costume choice had the potential to make life a little more difficult.
A muddy climb strewn with tree roots and no option of changing gears, wide costumes and perhaps the added hindrance of a few too many beverages the night before for some, meant it was pretty slow going in much of the field. Others, though, took it in their stride.
Before long the riders at the pointy end flew by on their second lap while the rest of the field stopped to chat, admire each others costumes and maybe share a swig from that bottle of something that definitely wasn’t water which they had stashed on their bike. It looked like the vast majority of the field didn’t bother with that last lap because by the time they got to the end of the second it was time to raise a glass (or two) to the winners.
If you don’t want the tattoo, don’t win
It wasn’t yet time for events to move on from the race venue at Cammeray Waters and onto the evening bonfire at the campground. After all, sponsors Holgate Brewery had rolled out the kegs, yesterday’s rain had gone and the race winners had yet to receive their main prize – an exclusive kangaroo themed race winner tattoo that is the single speed equivalent of the striped World Championship jersey.
There were also prizes to be given away. The organisers even did their bit to encourage women in cycling, the numbers of which can at times be pretty slim particularly in the dirt disciplines, with a “discriminatory” prize grab. Although, if ever there was an event where the intimidation factor was low, which is a factor at times cited as a reason for women not racing, this is it.
Importantly the host of the 2017 race was also to be decided. The final challenge was a short race on the bike down a gravelly path followed by a quick run to the pier.
Then it was a swim in the cold water, with the first team to have three of their four competitors onto the rotunda the host the Single Speed World Championships in 2017.
The result – another year in the Southern Hemishphere as New Zealand won. Not only did they take out the hosting rights, but Tadeas from New Zealand also took out the men’s category of the race. He got his tattoo straight away, and happily obliged as the crowd yelled out “show us your tatt”.
And the first woman across the line? Perhaps the less that’s said about her the better. Sadly she broke the most important rule of the Single Speed World Championships – if you don’t want the tattoo don’t win.