What exactly is Single Speed Arizona? Well, first and foremost, it’s not a damn bike race. A cesspool of degenerates? Sure, but only for the weekend – some of these people are actually really good at adulting! One might argue that it’s a borderline cult with congregants making an annual pilgrimage to The Grand Canyon State each February to hike a bunch with our stupid bikes, commune, and praise Jah. The reality is that whether you’re escaping winter in other parts of the world, or your own reality for a whole weekend, being sun-drenched while riding/hiking bikes in February makes for a wonderful family reunion. Welcome to Arizona’s Premier Outdoor Recreation Conference.
The gathering has been going on for almost two decades now, born from one man’s narcissism in creating a grueling ride for him and his friends in celebration of his birthday. Thanks, Dejay! When Dejay moved back to the east coast a few years ago I was humbled to receive control of the reigns for the 2019 edition of SSAZ in Bumblebee. My birthday is also in early February, thank you very much. Nate’s 2020 endeavor in Bisbee was a successful chapter of pandemonium as we all wondered at which point a law enforcement agent for the National Forest Service was going to arrest him.
And, yes, we do have the world’s best aid station courtesy of Mr. Paul!
Kaolin Cummens and Flat Tire Bike Shop
A fixture of the Arizona off-road cycling scene, Kaolin Cummens made an impressive bid for hosting rights back in 2020 and wound up giving us all the delayed treat that was SSAZ 2022 in Cave Creek. Something to know about this year’s host is that Kaolin is extremely passionate about the community that he calls home. Owner of the WORLD FAMOUS Flat Tire Bike Shop, he strives to keep stoke high no matter the cost. The tattoos “Cave” and “Creek” read down his left and right shins as well as an Arizona state flag emblazoned upon on his forearm.
He and his wife exchanged wedding vows underneath a ceremony arch that they personally hiked up onto their local trails and he’s been known to get emotional at public meetings about trail access. Kaolin bleeds Cave Creek. His town, his rules. Except for when the sheriff gets called!
Saddle up in Cave Creek
The official motto of Cave Creek is “Where The Wild West Lives.” The town has a proud equestrian and ranching history but that only covers part of the story. Like all deserts, water has always been precious to the people of the Sonoran. Many of the trails in the area hover above and crisscross waterways. If you look down at the right moment you may even find a pottery shard from the prehistoric Hohokam people. There is a great story about the Civilian Conservation Corps putting strapping young men to work in the hills around Cave Creek, how they built the group campground we stayed at as well as countless miles of trails, and filled in old, dangerous mines. Their work even made the area a main artery for north/south cattle runs.
But as I travel along Trail 4 and find pottery shards along the way, I like the land’s gentle reminder that the history of people in this area goes back farther than any incorporation date or history book. It’s no secret that many of the trails in the Phoenix area began as indigenous pathways, but I’m always amazed when a relic plops itself right in front of me despite countless travelers passing by. Settled by Union soldiers, boomed by the discovery of gold, and now known for some rowdy biker bars and rodeo action, Cave Creek is just far enough outside of the big city that you feel the urge to “Cowboy Up.”
This year’s SSAZ had a charitable twist that we hadn’t seen before. Kaolin used part of our registration as a gift toward the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center which fosters native desert animals in need of rehabilitation or a new home. Friday consisted of a pre-ride in the Brown’s Ranch area over to the Center for a personalized tour for the 25 of us who dibs’d the available spots. The trails at Brown’s are nothing too technical (I highly recommend underbiking them for a great time), but when a bunch of single speeders get together – half of whom are still brushing the snow off their clothes – the vibes are high and it doesn’t take much to get to hootin’ and hollerin.’ We wrapped the ride at Flat Tire with a last-minute pizza order and so began the registration party.
The Infamous Trail 4
The setting for this year’s festivities was a 45-minute drive north of town up in the hills, with the haggard Trail 4 as our main host. Despite the hillsides surrounding the trail being covered in blood-lusting cacti, mesquite, palo verde, and Acacia (fuck Acacia – aka cat claw – specifically), many of the creek beds along the trail feature cooling pools of water shaded by sycamore and cottonwoods.
These same creek beds had previously been farmed by the Hohokam almost a millennium ago and, in the 1930s, the CCC built out the trail system with a complimenting campsite.
Long forgotten for decades, Trail 4 had fallen into a dilapidated state. Fast-forward to 2014 when Chris Reichel, after attending multiple SSAZs in Tucson that featured a stop at the lovely Chiva Falls, decided it was time to find his own local hold near Phoenix. After looking over maps he pushed and pulled his bike in and realized the potential for a great backcountry adventure with a cooling dip in the water.
Over the course of a year, he and friends took chainsaws to downed trees, hacked back bushes clawing at their skin, and pushed fallen boulders off trail. The result was a lovely SSAZ 2015 that put a new trail on the map for locals. The only negative to the resurgence of this beautiful gem is that trail access is for ALL and cattle/equestrian traffic make for some fantastic six-inch divots in the ground after a fresh rain.
Eh, Bee, and maybe a Si Ride
Kaolin organized the Saturday into an “Eh” ride and a “Bee” ride. The A group woke up at camp early to be shuttled back to town to start their 40-mile day at 9:00 am. The Bs, on the other hand, slept in and waited for a mass start that left camp at 11:00 am for their 25-mile course. Basically, the A ride was a big lollipop loop and the B ride was a “Point A to B.” Unbeknownst to Kaolin, I started putting out feelers for a “Si” ride. The thing about Trail 4 is that you can groom it for days on end and you’re still going to hike your bike.
It’s steep and loose descents make for a damn good time but no mere mortal is riding their single speed up those climbs. Knowing that you could “party ride” Trail 4 with your friends and then have a chill 10-minute road ride to the afterparty, the C ride was too sweet a temptation for most riders in lieu miles of trail that had been destroyed by equestrians.
Fun means something else to everyone, so hey! choose your own adventure!
If you left with the grand depart, you always knew when a creek crossing was coming up because you’d hear the sounds of beers being cracked, laughter, and joy before you could actually see any water. It’s quite pleasant keeping your spirits high with buds as you get your ass handed to you on this backcountry excursion.
Sections of T4 are literally chiseled out of the rock above the creek making for some high exposure while you attempt technical moves over and around suitcase-sized rocks.
The rocks seems to ether be committed to bucking your off your bike or giving way as soon as you made contact, making line choices key. Even after helping clean up sections just a month earlier, I could tell where recent rain had yet again washed away certain areas. Alas, nature always has the last laugh.
And then, we party
Riders reconvened at the afterparty to enjoy an open tab and regale each other with stories from the trail. Everyone’s arms were bloody and scratched all to hell. As much work as the crew had done to trim back the trail, Trail 4 is impossible to come back from unscathed. Highlights include endless flats, a broken crank, lots of cactus being pulled out of skin and a couple bandages that could’ve justified stitches.
Tucson’s finest, The Pork Torta blessed us with a live act that brought the party and left more than a couple folks bruised after a night moshing and wrestling in front of the stage.
Good food, free drinks and a bumpin’ afterparty were just what the doctor ordered. After a couple hours of collectively wondering “How do we get back to camp?” Kaolin miraculously arrived with a shuttle back up the hills. The next thing I know, it’s midnight and I’m hopping out of the truck at camp as planes of wood are being tossed atop the flames in the firepit. It wouldn’t bee a single speed event if no one was jumping the fire, right?
Laying in my sleeping bag early Sunday morning I could hear the sounds of folks getting after it, packing up and heading back home to jobs, families, and the rest of life’s responsibilities. I rolled out of my tent once the sun had finally kissed my site and found a breakfast burrito from Kaolin. A conversation between the leftover group got started up about next year.
Back to Tucson? Should I host at Bumblebee again? Hear tell Gold Canyon has got a lot going on for it… Wherever it may be, keep your ears peeled and your eyes open. We’re not always the most prepared but the family reunion always has room for more at it’s table. See ya next year!